by Manu SharmaSep 20, 2022
The term theatre brings to mind a vision of live performers presenting to an audience, usually live as well, experiences and events, real or imagined, to invoke specific emotions from them. Theatre has a sense of placemaking and world-building, which is inherent to its conception since time immemorial. This is only further fuelled by cinema. Another definition of the term ‘theatre’ that is not part of our daily colloquial, is the military definition of the word. Used as a way of defining an area in which important military events occur or have occurred in the past. The duality of the usage is stark. While one implies a leisurely activity staged for live spectators, the other is a stage that sees a great amount of violence and trauma that is often hidden from view. However, war reenactments and cinematic reproductions have added a filter through which we now view the theatre of war, as tales of reliance or serving a higher purpose for all of mankind.
An interactive and multi-sensory installation of military vehicles elaborates both versions of ‘the theatre’. Bringing to life the stories of not only the people who fought in the wars, but machinery itself. Housed within the National Museum of Military Vehicles (NMMV), in Wyoming, USA, is one of the world’s largest private collections of US military vehicles. A total of 475 fully restored military vehicles, artillery pieces, naval vessels, and aircrafts from different eras of American history are part of the installations.
The installation was conceptualised and realised by Roto, an interdisciplinary creative design practice, known for their ability to plan, design, and build immersive experiences for museums, brands, and to conceptualise architectural placemaking. Located in the Puller Gallery at the NMMV, the exhibits feature fully immersive design, media installations, themed lighting design, projection mapping, and lifelike figures and interactive activities. According to Allen Boerger, founding partner and COO of Roto, the studio approached each historical section in the gallery as an experiential scene stating, "This is not meant to be a passive experience. It’s both exploratory and cinematic."
Rather than simply showcasing the vehicles' technical ability and size, Roto set out to immerse visitors in a theatrical experience that is meant to replicate historical military engagements. Boerger commented on the studio’s concept stating, "To bring this to life, we put the spotlight on personal stories, real objects, and recreating authentic environments. The combination of these elements creates a fresh perspective and real a sense of immediacy. It’s history, but it’s also right here, right now.” There is something to be said about keeping the memories alive through active participation. It is almost as if by interacting with the installations the activity of war continues to be enacted.
Roto and the NMMV team bring the theatre to the gallery by creating winding trail cuts through a night-time jungle scene. These artificial landscapes are enhanced by the presence of thousands of hand-sculpted bamboo shoots combined with an elaborate projection-mapped moonlit environment to create a setting that mimics historical records. In another section of the installation, a US Firebase with a restored M109 155mm Howitzer is brought to life through an animated mural emulating distant battles and helicopter actions.
Roto collected anecdotal information from American veterans through interviews. Connecting factual data and the day-in-the-life memories is a key aspect of the installations. One particular installation sees three lifelike figures take cover behind an M48A3 Patton tank as they call in an airstrike. A Chosin Reservoir vehicle engine sputter and an authentic diesel generator causes the Firebase structure lights to flicker, the team’s research even led to ensuring that the Huey helicopter’s machine gun, which jammed up often, was modified with an authentic peach can from meal rations to help the ammunition belt feed into the gun more smoothly.
Boerger continued, “We want each person to experience a hint of what veterans did first-hand. And it’s so vital to get it right for veterans to ensure that their stories are told and displayed accurately. This means being laser-focused on every prop, every artifact, every detail, no matter what it takes.” The props, which are well over 300 items, were sourced directly from veterans, collectors, and surplus shops. The display speaks to the reverence and veneration often bestowed on the American military by its citizens.
Name: National Museum of Military Vehicles
Location: Wyoming, United States
Year of completion: 2021
Concept & exhibition design and build: Roto
Lighting: Lightswitch Theming: Brilliant Creative Fabrication