Helvetia Park is an interactive exhibit at the Ethnography Museum Neuchatel (MEN) in Switzerland directed by Marc-Olivier Gonseth with the help of Patrick Burnier, Yann Laville and Grégoire Mayor. I corresponded with Raphael von Allmen, a Swiss product designer, about the exhibit and the team who worked to create it. Allmen pointed out that the concept and content of the exhibit was developed and synthesised by the Ethnography Museum Neuchatel. Specifically, Allmen assisted Patrick Burnier and Anna Jones on the scenography of the project. These three individuals are just a part of the expansive team of photographers, reseachers, builders, graphic designers, among others that worked to make Helvetia Park a success.
Helvetia Park is a playful and immersive expression of current cultural ideas in Switzerland. The team has created a fairground exhibit with game stalls, and freak shows as a means of respresenting how a vast number of cultural ideas intersect and create tension. Allmen articulates how an interactive exhibit conveys the message that MEN aimed to convey, stating, “The exhibition addresses different aspects of Swiss culture. We have set it in an interactive fairground (popular culture) and use the different attractions to display more elaborate content (more specific/elitist culture). This makes it readable at various degrees, allows visitors to enter progressively and according to their interest into the subject. There is also some criticism about museums which tend more and more to turn into theme parks to try and attract more visitors.”
Simultaneously, Helvetia Park is a statement about Swiss culture as well as a satire of museums as attractions rather than an institution for curating and preserving culture.
Eleven fairground stalls, able to stand alone or together make up the exhibit. In a press statement the stalls are described: “Their aesthetic form responds closely to that of traditional fairground stalls but develops contrasting stories related to the theme of culture, its many definitions and issues of power at work.”
Helvetia Park is intended for viewers to engage in an experience, interacting as a means of increasing cultural consciousness and preparing for its implications. Unfortunately, pictures cannot inbibe us with the same feelings that the interactive experience can. However, the concept of an interactive exhibit is appropriate on a universal level, given that cultures across the globe are sharing in an increasing scope of interactive and experiential outlets available, from video games, like the Wii, to the ubiquitous 3-D films.