MET Studio have been commissioned to create the new War Horse: Fact & Fiction exhibition at London's National Army Museum in Chelsea. The exhibition is initially scheduled to run for a one-year period from Autumn 2011 and is aimed at a family audience. War Horse: Fact & Fiction will tell the incredible real-life story of the use of horses in warfare right through British military history, tying in with both the original War Horse novel by Michael Morpurgo (who has given the exhibition his support) and the smash-hit and award-winning War Horse play taken from the book, currently running at the New London Theatre, Drury Lane. A War Horse film, taken from the novel and directed by Steven Spielberg, is also due for release in late 2011 in the US and early 2012 in the UK.
"The exhibition will be a separate entity from the book, play and film, although inspired primarily by the book," explained MET Studio Associate Peter Karn. "It will focus on the fascinating facts that lie behind the fiction, keeping the main focus on the story's World War One setting, but additionally tracing the story of horses in war right back to medieval times. As the original novel was based on fact, but brought fact to life in a hugely memorable way, so we hope to animate this extraordinary history both artfully and evocatively."
MET Studio was appointed to the job, which will be housed in a 480 sq m gallery (double the size of the normal temporary gallery) after a 5-way pitch against other UK consultancies, winning out because of the high level of their immersive and experiential approach to the project, which will include two experiential enclosures to build pace, using sights, sounds and smells to create atmosphere, before climaxing in sculptural horses in full charge against a 'fiery red dawn' backdrop.
"For a family audience," added MET Studio Design Director Lloyd Hicks, "it was important to strike the right balance between creating an entertaining and enjoyable experience and not underplaying the sometimes harrowing notes from history, including the incredible statistic that over eight million horses died in the course of World War One."
The exhibition, beginning with a peaceful introductory area showing horses in their natural lush and tranquil environment, will go on to cover a historical timeline that takes visitors from medieval knights to the 'glory days' of the cavalry at Agincourt, the Crimea and the Boer War, before the horrors of World War One, where the old era and the modern age collided and where a war that began with cavalry charges ended with the dominance of the horses' replacement - the tank. It will also include artefacts from the Museum's own Collection, some of which have never been displayed before.
"War Horse: Fact & Fiction is a major project for the Museum and required a high impact, interactive and accessible design that appealed to our family market," commented National Army Museum Director Janice Murray. "We feel that MET Studio's approach will help us to deliver our visitors a dramatic and immersive experience, whilst showcasing a huge variety of objects from the Museum's Collection."
The journey of war horses, from their home environment through the processes of requisition and transportation to battle, death, remembrance and legacy will be highlighted, with the two experiential areas focusing on life below decks of a transport ship and the terrain of 'no man's land' in WWI, whose centrepiece will be a full size battle horse model made of wire and caught in barbed wire, now being created by Scottish artist Laura Antebi - echoing a key moment from both the book and the play.
Rather than using classic 'set design' or diorama approaches, MET Studio created a series of flowing graphic panels, which initially seem to be nothing more than a series of abstract shard-like forms to house information and interactives, but which are finally revealed from the perspective of the gallery visitor looking back on the space as a huge-scale charge of horses going into battle.