Designing the best Finno-Ugric exhibition in the world

Echo of the Urals — Estonian National Museum’s permanent exhibition

Echo of the Urals
Jan 27, 2017 · 14 min read
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Estonian National Museum: the building and the context

In October 2016, the new building of the Estonian National Museum opened in Tartu, dedicated to telling the story of Estonians and other Finno-Ugric peoples. The building stands on the end of an old Soviet runway and arches over tiny lakes — an unusual setting, but “the Estonian National Museum is not a usual sort of institution. Its past is wrapped up with that of the country itself.” For the museum to get its own purpose-designed building was a nearly 100-year dream in Estonia.

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The new Estonian National Museum. Dorell.Ghotmeh.Tane Architects.
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The museum building. Dorell.Ghotmeh.Tane Architects.
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Echo of the Urals: the story of the exhibition

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The Uralic language tree. What does a language sound like?
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spring / summer / autumn / winter
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Ethnofuturistic approach to old and new

The entrance hall walls are covered with stucco and feature recessed graphic figures and symbols, inspired by ancient motives of petroglyphs. All symbols — featured throughout the exhibition — were designed from scratch and are unique to the exhibition. The design team took an ethnofuturistic approach to design. This meant ‘inhaling’ the ancient diverse cultural patterns with their graphics, stories and artefacts, and ‘exhaling’ a contemporary, yet inspired take on traditions.

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Immersive environment

To make visitors see the bigger story behind everyday objects at display, much effort was put into designing an immersive environment. To carry the visitors seamlessly through the display, a river of light was designed, dividing and uniting the areas presenting the main ethnic groups. Animated fish swim along the LED screen river: once a visitor steps onto the bluish glowing river, the fish swim away startled; when people stand still, the curious fish return. Sound solution mimics the river movement, splashing and gurgling like a real brook.

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Worldbuilding with photo murals

To bring exhibition halls to life and to show living conditions of the people portrayed, the walls of the four main exhibition spaces were covered with photo murals of the locations. Five separate expeditions were made to capture the nature or the built environment of the indigenous people. Each expedition tested the photographers and also their gear that was donated by Canon Overall. Not only did they have to handle extreme weather conditions with temperatures falling below -35C, but also landscapes that were impossible to pass with cars. Not to mention that it took around 30 minutes to capture one panorama, which added a remarkable complexity.

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Technology helps to tell the story of indigenous people

Video: Taiga Films, Music: Martin Kallasvee
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A massive soundscape to bring the story to life

The exhibition also contains a sound installation that represents sounds of nature which correspond to different seasons featured in various exhibition halls. Estonian sound artist and designer Taavi Tulev was responsible for creating the sound installation that covers nearly 1000 square meters and uses 126 speakers to emit sound from 140 channels.

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Conclusion: the test of time

Eventually, it is for the visitors to decide if Echo of the Urals truly is the best Finno-Ugric exhibition in the world. What we do know for sure, is that the exhibitions in the new Museum building welcomed over 100.000 visitors in the first three months. The only way to make your own decision whether the exhibition meets its challenge is to visit the museum. And you are always welcome to let us know what you think!

How to visit

To visit the Estonian National Museum and the Echo of the Urals exhibition, please see the museum’s website for opening times and tickets.

Team

Concept: Art Leete (University of Tartu)
Chief Curator: Svetlana Karm

Contact the Exhibition Team

team@echooftheurals.com
JANKEN Wisespace / Velvet Design / Estonian National Museum

Download Press Kit

Images used here:

Kaido Haagen, Kristjan Mõru, Ken Oja, Tõnu Tunnel, Tarmo Haud, Takuji Shimmura, ERM

Echo of the Urals

Estonian National Museum permanent exhibition

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