A new permanent exhibition in the Netherlands Open Air Museum in Arnhem helps bring to life the Canon of Dutch History – the list of 50 topics that summarises Dutch history. Housed in the refurbished entrance pavilion, Kossmann.dejong’s design is imagined as a multimedia film set. The theatrical combination of physical, interactive and audio-visual media with unique collection presentations results in an engaging and fascinating visual narrative. The carefully reconstructed spatial collage of historic icons is interwoven with stories from everyday people, giving visitors an in-depth experience of the past from today’s perspective.
Stepping back in time
The new exhibition is distributed across four consecutive spaces. Visitors begin the journey in the tunnel-like introduction space that gradually takes them back in time, from the end of the 20th century to far beyond AD 1. How did we use to make light? What did children play with? And what foods did we used to eat in the past? These stories are shared by characters in a series of spatial film projections who share a glimpse into their daily lives both from today and the past. These fragments in time show how our living conditions continue changing over time.
The Story of the Netherlands
The second hall, the dome room, contains the main part of the exhibition. Here ‘The Story of the Netherlands’ is presented in ten chronological time periods. Visitors wander through spectacular multimedia sets, for example the shop and print workshop of cartographer Joan Blaeu, a church tower from the time of the Iconoclastic Fury and the everyday world of prehistoric hunters and gatherers. The integration of (romantic-) realistic elements add tactility and familiarity for a wide audience and film projections bring the sets to life. In the layered composition of decors, objects and film fragments, visitors are actively challenged to uncover information using a mix of media, hands-on elements and interactive games. For example, visitors can play a boating game in a wooden Kogge ship, where they experience how to trade with other Hanseatic cities. By collaborating with other visitors, they can open a treasure chest with collection pieces. Floor and ceiling projections emphasise the continuation of time, ensure visual connection and, in combination with dynamic light and sound effects, result in a vibrant spectacle. The parallelism of media enriches and deepens the story.
After this sensory experience in the dome room, visitors enter the third room with ‘The Land and the World.’ A large panoramic film shows how the land we know today as the Netherlands has evolved through the ages both geographically and geologically. Infographics and historic maps place these changes in a broader, international context. Graphic line patterns on the floor and walls reflect these connections. Designed as abstract layers of the Earth, the spectators’ tribune highlights the dynamic of a changing country.
The Canon as starting point
The last space, ‘Windows into the Past’, showcases the Canon of Dutch History in its monumental entirety. An 18-m-long interactive wall offers a chronological overview of all 50 windows. Here, visitors are activated to unlock more information and find connections between the Canon windows, in combination with playing a series of interactive games. In this way, a digital expedition unfolds along the different Canon topics, and visitors of all ages can compete at an interactive table to win the family game.
The exhibition design gives space for the visitors’ imaginations and connects important historical events with the lives of ‘ordinary’ people throughout time. It becomes clear that history is more than a collection of Canon windows: it is one continuing, rich story with infinite connections. The Canon of Dutch History forms a starting point to discover this treasure.
The Canon of Dutch History is designed in close collaboration with Redrum (film and animation designer) and IJsfontein (interactive designer), led by art director Pieter van der Heijden from XPEX.