Small Budget, Big Impact

Our recent collaboration with Freedom Media in Jersey to design a new interactive gallery called Whispers and Lies at the Jersey War Tunnels shows that an exhibition can have a big impact even on small budget.

Jersey War Tunnels Whispers and Lies, museum design

The gallery looks at one of the most contentious issues of the occupation – that of collaboration. Whilst most quietly resisted the occupation and remained steadfastly opposed to it, some ended up informing on their fellow islanders.  The reasons why they did so are explored interactively in the gallery.

We cannot imagine what people went through during the war years. Nor can we appreciate the desensitising nature of occupation with its associated paranoia and fear. From today’s moral perspective therefore some of the reasons for betrayal would appall us. However, many others are less black and white and we can empathise with them. Through this display, we wanted to explore where todays audience’s moral tipping point was.

During the war, the Nazis bribed those who wanted to inform on others, instructing them to write secretly to the Commandant or the Gestapo in St Helier. The War Tunnels have a number of these chilling letters in their collection.

We use six different scenarios that span the spectrum of this disloyalty. These range from settling old family feuds and being annoyed and jealous with those fraternising with the enemy to receive luxury goods, to parents needing money to get drugs for very sick children, or preventing a bigger injustice by informing on one who was about to inform on others.

In the gallery, six large envelopes, addressed to the Nazi command, adorn the walls. Each holds a letter communicating one of the situations, which is revealed by sliding it out of the envelop using a handle made to look like a Jersey wartime stamp. As you walk through the gallery, each subsequent letter reveals a more complex and morally difficult predicament.

To deepen visitor unease, each station also includes a large archive photograph to illustrate its circumstance, which is yet further enhanced by ambient soundscapes of such emotional noises of children crying, girls laughing, and even clandestine radios playing.

Before starting their Tunnel tour, visitors are given a graphic envelope. At the end of this gallery, they are asked to decide whether or not they will use their letter to turn on one of their fellow islanders. To make this decision as visceral as possible, visitors have to physically post their envelope through an original WWII post box. If they decide not to they are asked to discard it in another slot. Each slot is monitored with a movement sensor that counts each letter. In the next gallery, which contains a vignette of the Commandant’s office, a digital counter displays those numbers so that visitors can see who joined them in their decision and who did not.

Which way would you go? It is an interesting question and one that, as the lead designer of the piece, I still wrestle with.

(Images by kind permission of Freedom Media)

Click on the button below to go to our dedicated Jersey War Tunnel project page.

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