Behind the Interactive Walls of Jersey War Tunnels
This interactive installation about the Jersey War Tunnels is an example of how history can be presented in the future.
We caught up with Freedom Media to find out more details about the installation and how they used disruptive technology to translate a historical event into an interactive installation.
Hey Phil! We came across your interactive installation that currently takes place at the Jersey War Tunnels. Can you tell us about the concept behind this project and why you chose the War Tunnels?
The Jersey War Tunnels approached us to revamp their ”Fortress Island” exhibition following the success of another exhibition we produced for them in 2016. They asked us if we could produce something high-tech and interactive. This exhibition is all about bringing life to the story of how Hitler fortified Jersey during the World War II occupation. Most of the information we were provided was statistical, so we wanted to find a way to engage the audience without necessarily having to read a lot of text.
We’ve read that the War Tunnels are Jersey’s largest tourist attraction. Can you share the importance of the tunnels and what other kind of cultural actions usually take place there?
The Jersey War Tunnels are quite unique. You can explore over 1,000 meters of tunnels, dug over 50 meters underground by more than 5,000 slave labourers. They are a living memory of World War II and it can be quite an emotive experience for many visitors. They receive many visitors from around Europe, but it’s also important for locals to rediscover their past and for the younger generations to understand the significance of what their elders lived through.
For the installation, you used the Touch Board and Electric Paint. Are you an engineer/maker yourself?
Freedom Media is a full-service creative agency and my primary role is heading up video production. Exhibitions have not always been part of our portfolio, but I had built a relationship with the team at the War Tunnels and they asked whether our team could apply our storytelling approach to create an exhibition, and we jumped at the chance. Examples I had seen online all seemed to be temporary expos and art projects. We had to do a lot of research and development before we were confident that we could create a permanent exhibition using this technology in a damp environment. I’m delighted we found a solution.
How did you find the idea of integrating IoT tools to make the installation interactive? What was the most challenging part?
I knew of Bare Conductive from looking at gifts for my 5-year-old son. When I first shared the idea with my colleagues I think they thought I was being over-ambitious, but as I researched further we grew more confident that it could be achieved. The challenge was not being able to find any examples of similar projects to learn from. Even things like learning how best to seal the ink were a challenge, as we were offered different advice from electricians, decorators and builders. We had to test every element. Our sensors are also positioned a relatively long distance from the Touch Board, so there were challenges on how far the signal would travel to trigger the actions.
From the video, we understand that you used conductive paint as a sensor. Can you share more details about the technical part of the project?
Once deconstructed, our set up actually seems relatively simple. The Electric Paint sensors were applied using laser cut stencils, with a bit of hand painted touch-ups on some edges. Because of the humidity in the air, we actually had to bring in some heaters to dry the ink over a few days, as it didn’t set without them.
To get the signal from the public facing side of the wall to the back, we hammered long copper nails through the wall. Once they had the ink painted over them, they became hardly noticeable. We applied two coats of clear matt varnish (oil based- very important) on top to seal the paint in and prevent smudging.
Behind the wall, we connected regular wire to the nails and ran it all to the touch board. We needed to move the board to the centre of the wall, as otherwise, the strength of the signal was too weak to reach from the furthest sensors. Our Touch Board is connected via a USB extension cable a custom built computer, which is tucked away in a corner. We created our artwork and animations using Adobe Illustrator and After Effects, with a sound design in Pro Tools. These assets are loaded into our software solution, Resolume, which takes the midi signals generated from the touch board and uses them to trigger the effects. We’re running 3 short-throw projectors over the heads of the visitors, which are edge-blended to create the 5.5-meter canvas on the wall.
Working for a creative agency means always looking for new tools to incorporate into and showcase your projects. How do you find new tech tools that will solve your problem and also create something that’s not just a classic project?
Our focus is always on finding the right story and then deciding the best way to communicate it. At Freedom Media, we have a really talented team of diverse thinkers who are always looking for new ways to engage audiences and try out different techniques. This technology hasn’t been used in Jersey before, so I’m delighted to have been able to bring something new to the Island. It’s also about trust. Jersey War Tunnels believed in our approach and ethos enough to trust us with an exhibition, even though we didn’t have one in our portfolio at the time, and they’re thrilled with the feedback received. We’re driven by this kind of success and it keeps us pushing forward and seeking new opportunities.
How did you find working with the Bare Conductive technology?
I’ve really enjoyed working with Bare Conductive, not only is the paint an excellent product to work with, but the kits have been exactly what we needed. In addition, the customer support when we’ve had questions has been first class. We’ve got more things we’d like to do with Bare Conductive, and I’ve also made good use of it at home – as the new Lamp Kit makes an excellent night light for my sleeping baby!
Images & Video: Freedom Media
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