We purposely do not give visitors any traditional didactic tools that tell them what to think or do. They can decide for themselves what they want to explore. The museum provides insights but draws no conclusions. When you enter at the top of the building’s monumental butterfly staircase, an Art+Com installation shifts your perspective. On a screen, you see yourself in the space. Suddenly, the room’s ceiling flies off and animals peer inside, eyeing you from above. Are you still that big as a person? And then there is the scent tunnel. You don’t have to guess what you smell but experience what it does to you. Soundscapes, such as a deafening downpour, may disturb you. The Groote Museum heightens the senses to emphasise how you experience nature with your whole body.
ARTIS, Amsterdam (NL)
To enter the Groote Museum is to embark on a personal expedition. As you and your body move through the museum, you continuously compare yourself to plants, animals and microbes. Through these comparisons, you discover that you are much more connected to the world around you than you may have thought. You cannot exist without it. What makes you who you are? How do you differ from a salamander? Do your shoes say something about how connected you are to the earth? This museum is for anyone who is open to question themselves and their environment. Kossmanndejong developed the exhibition design of the Groote Museum.
The building is the only original collection piece. It was created in 1855 to study and organize nature. Because we want to show that history, we highlighted the building as much as possible. For example, we left the central axis completely free. But sometimes our visual language competes with the building’s symmetry, representing how our view of nature has changed over the past 150 years. The story does not sit neatly in display cases, sorted by biological class. Instead, the showcases’ glass doors open and the animals step outside. The barriers between ‘man’ and ‘nature’ begin to recede. In the East Wing, there is a new workshop for everyone where something happens every day. In this way the boundaries between the building, the exhibition, the visitors and nature blur.
Alexander von Humboldt is an important source of inspiration for the Groote Museum. Von Humboldt was one of the last generalists, studying biology, geology, philosophy and science as a whole. Observing and freely associating were essential to his practice, as was describing his findings in a poetic way. In the museum we compare a human’s lungs with a tree’s canopy. Another display compares a plant’s roots with the ground beneath your feet. The ground beneath your feet represents your ecological footprint. It is with those feet that you walk on beaten paths and have ingrained habits. Those habits need to change to keep our planet liveable.
“The most dangerous worldviews are the worldviews of those
who have never viewed the world.”
Alexander von Humboldt
We organised the exhibition into twelve themes, each based on a specific body part. Each theme has a collection that acts a starting point for associative themes that all say something about you and the world around you. A work of art, an interactive display or animation represent some themes, whereas others make use of the existing showcases in a more traditional way, like a display case full of skeletons (with red vertebrae). Biology’s underdogs have a starring role. One showcase houses live earthworms because without worms, there is no food.
Before this project started in 2016, the Groote Museum stood empty for about 70 years. The showcases remained empty without a collection to fill them. The building felt like a time capsule. Its 170 metres of showcases used to be filled with thousands of biological objects. People in top hats viewed ‘nature’ from a distance, systematically arranged behind glass. Even now, the visitor must get the feeling that they are the first to discover this secret. It was a balancing act to create a modern, dynamic exhibition that at the same time enhances the original building’s expressiveness.
The Groote Museum developed in a unique way. A small project team has worked together intensively for five years. From the very first hour, they integrated content with design like a game of ping pong, in which the design always takes the content one step further and vice versa. That meant a lot of starting over, but from an increasingly strong vision. In this special collaboration, Kossmanndejong and ARTIS examine humans’ place in the world from different perspectives: the micro with Micropia, the macro with the Groote Museum and soon the interplanetary with the Planetarium.