On behalf of the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Snøhetta has designed the exhibition design, visual profile and catalogue for the exhibition “Emotions in Antiquity and Ancient Egypt”. As the title indicates, the exhibition displays precious ancient artefacts and sheds new light on how human emotions can be read into these historic objects, whether fear and reverence, love and joy, sorrow and loss or even hope.
By translating cutting-edge research on emotions in Antiquity and in Ancient Egypt into a physical and intimate space of contemplation and reflection, the exhibition invites visitors to sit down by a specially crafted sculptural table where historic objects may be touched and studied up-close, weaving an intimate relationship between the modern man and woman and the ancient civilizations of the past.
The exhibition’s focus on human emotion is inspired by Marina Prusac-Lindhagen’s cutting-edge academic research on emotions and archeological material.
In the exhibition catalogue, Prusac-Lindhagen explains how emotions can be understood both as culturally specific and universal expressions. However, she argues, “[…] the ability to grasp and understand one’s own emotions and those of others is a fundamental quality of humans. [It] provides a figurative bridge connecting past, present and future”.
Following the idea that human emotions can be universally understood and interpreted across cultures and centuries, Snøhetta has designed an exhibition that emphasizes the emotional qualities of carefully selected artefacts from the museum’s collection from the classical Mediterranean world and the ancient Middle East.
These ancient objects, most of them ornated utility articles, statues and glassware, but also two mummies that were given to Norway as a gift by King Oscar the 2nd, are displayed across a highly technical wooden table made from dark smoked oak measuring 15 x 3 meters.
The table features a series of heavy benches encouraging visitors to sit down and come up-close with the over 200 exhibited objects of the collection to fully grasp their emotional value.
By weaving past and present, the table invites visitors to talk about the displayed objects and the historical periods they represent. Small, delicate lamps add room for personal contemplation of each object, as if the visitor was sitting in a library or in a study room.
Designed by Snøhetta and manufactured by Henriksen Snekkeri, the table places each object at eye level, creating a sense of proximity and mutuality between the visitor and humanity’s ancient ancestors while igniting the senses and the imagination.
The most delicate pieces of the collection are displayed out of reach or behind climatized UV glass cases. The latter are cleverly incorporated into the wooden table, ensuring the artefacts are securely stored while also allowing for the museum to easily undertake necessary maintenance routines.
The table becomes an installation, inviting visitors to sit down and even touch some of the displayed objects.
The exhibition sits adjacent to the “Víkingr” exhibition, which is also designed by Snøhetta, and both exhibitions can be experienced for the next five years at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. The “Víkingr” exhibition displays the most important objects from the museum’s broad selection of Viking artefacts, including the world’s only remaining Viking helmet.
By exhibiting precious historical objects in a contemporary format, both exhibitions speak to modern museum goers and create new relevance and context to some of the most significant objects in the Norwegian and Scandinavian cultural heritage.