The ‘We Vikings’ exhibition, at the Fries Museum in the Netherlands, presents a new outlook on Viking culture and is spread across six exhibition spaces. While the term ‘Viking’ traditionally evokes images of ‘ferocious, blonde Scandinavian warriors who went on raids along the coasts of Europe with big ships,’ recent scientific research has concluded that this vision needed nuancing. The exhibition shifts the classic image of ‘Vikings as invaders’ and instead presents how the close contacts between Frisians and Vikings resulted in a shared North Sea culture.
The museum aimed to analyze this shift in perspective of the Viking era by highlighting artifacts and abstracting histories through emotionally charged exhibition spaces. Additionally, the exhibition aimed to be accessible to both the average aged visitor as well as young children; who can become Vikings themselves with props of helmets and swords. Using abstract metaphors for plunder and murder, allowed this traditionally gruesome topic to be child-friendly.
To achieve an emotional transition among visitors, vastly different atmospheres were created to fill the six exhibition halls. Varied materials, colors, lights, projections and soundscapes create unique appearances for each exhibition room. The spaces about raid and plunder have dark-colored walls, spots of blood-red light and are made of burned wood that gives a mysterious and slightly terrifying feeling. This is in total contrast to the rooms about trade and cultural exchange; where calm and friendly interiors are made of light-colored wood with gentle soundscapes that give a peaceful ambiance to the rooms.
Despite the strong presence of the emotive interiors, the historical objects on view play the most important role in the exhibition. These artifacts are proof that Vikings were pirates and not a nation. They are presented with care, where the strong lighting design truly makes them the stars of the show. All other media functions as a context for the story behind these archaeological artifacts.
The design of the exhibition, in harmony with the beautiful objects, tells a substantive and exciting story about the relationship between the Vikings and Frisians.
OPERA Amsterdam: Jeroen Luttikhuis (director), Roel Geurts (3D and 2D designer)
Studio Louter: Barend Verheijen (creative partner), Pepijn Wilbers (creative partner), Sarah van Kerkvoorde (content designer)
The Fries Museum: Femke Haijtema (head of exhibitions), Jos Taekema (head of collections), Diana Spiekhout (curator), Lisa Klompe (project management), Sjoerd Looper (project assistance)
Daniel Hoogterp (Fries Museum construction), Arent Maring (Watjeziet Print), Thaumar Rep (Shosho Visual Effects Supervisor), Lennart Klein (Klevr Sound designer)