MET Studio has designed the 'Special Forces: In The Shadows' exhibition, which recently opened at the National Army Museum in London's Chelsea. It is the first major exhibition since the museum's re-opening in 2017 following a major refurbishment.
The exhibition looks at the issue of security, both home and abroad, covers the history of the five regiments of the UK Special Forces (UKSF) including the SAS (Special Air Service) and SBS (Special Boat Service); how they recruit and train their officers, operations undertaken and their public image.
Collaborating closely with the National Army Museum team, MET centred on the notion of secrecy; peeling back the curtain on the UKSF. Communicating a dual view of the UKSF's influence, a large two-way Mirror Box - the 'Operations Core' - sits at the centre of the exhibition containing the secret and covert world of UKSF. Visitors inside the mirror box can look out, whilst those outside, cannot see in. It's a simple visual trick that acts as a metaphor for the influence of the UKSF on our lives: there for us, but not seen.
"The exhibition experience is not just about having an interesting collection of objects, it's about giving visitors through design, an added layer of interpretation to secrecy," said Peter Karn, Creative Director at MET. "With this exhibition, you feel like you're going into an inner sanctum and seeing things for the first time. This is the whole idea behind the core mirror box exhibit. All is public record but it offers a covert and playful element 'I can see you but you can't see me.'"
On entrance visitors are confronted with large sculptural clusters. Bold graphics in striking colours, drive home hard-hitting facts about the many threats, such as terrorism, cybercrime and disease, currently facing Britain and how the Special Forces exist to prevent such threats. At this introductory stage, visitors witness the Special Forces from a known perspective; the facts about UKSF, historical relevance, what's seen in the media and so on. But, navigating through the exhibition, there's a moment when the lid is lifted and surprise hits them.
Throughout, MET has used clever visual design and interaction to play on the sense of secrecy. The story of 'The Originals,' the SF team formed in WWII to sabotage the Nazi's, feature their image with doors covering the eyes to protect their identity. Interactive games on backlit screens depict a series of landscapes asking you to 'spot the sniper.' Touch screens feature a tough Kim's Game memory test. Filmed interviews with UKSF experts debunk the myths around being 'super human' and give insights into what it takes to make the cut. All engaging the visitor to give a deeper understanding about what it takes to be a UKSF soldier and their covert role.
"What I think is really successful about the design is that the whole team, MET and National Army Museum, understood from the outset that everything we set out to do together, was to give an emotional connection to the visitors," Karn concluded.
Photography: Gareth Gardner