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Interface Media Group Partners With NMAICreates presentations for National Museum Of The American Indian (October 12, 2004)
When it came time to begin the journey of producing A/V material for the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), the newest and most innovative of the Smithsonian Institutions holdings on the National Mall in Washington D.C., everyone knew that the voyage would not be an easy one. So Kathy Suter, the media coordinator for the museum, turned to Interface Media Group, initially to create the Museums Welcome Wall, and in the end, to complete an additional 7 separate, unique video presentations: the Making History and Hurricane and Calm sections of the Our Peoples Gallery; The Threshold, Membership, St. Laurent Metis and Igloolik sections for the Our Lives Gallery; an outdoor Greetings module, as well as 18 stand-alone audio environments.
Kathy Suter explained, ?As the design in some of the galleries evolved it became apparent that we had fairly complicated programming coming together... both with the presentation ideas and with the physical exhibit space. I knew I had some very creative and technical challenges to overcome if I was going to get these projects produced. Based on their reputation in the field and their past experience, I knew Interface had the talent on both the creative and technical sides to bring it all together and make it happen.
The NMAI houses the largest and most extensive collection of Native American art and artifacts in the world - approximately 800,000 objects representing over 10,000 years of history, from more than 1,000 indigenous cultures throughout the Western Hemisphere. The hallmark of the museum is that all aspects of the exhibitions and programs are presented from the Native perspective - ?in the Native voice.
To begin, Kathy Suter worked with Interface to create the museums Welcome Wall, the first visual display that visitors see when they enter the museums atrium. Located above the welcome desk in the main hall of the NMAI, this video montage is projected on four screens joined together to appear as one. The screens stretch 22 feet wide and the 19 minute video, produced and composited in HD, is played as a continuous loop off of computer hard drives. Images of Native Americans were composited over landscapes and cityscapes of the regions they represent. The on-screen hosts ?Welcome visitors in their native tongues and as they speak their greetings are written out in their native languages, composited over the scenery throughout the montage. For the opening festivities, elements of the Welcome Wall were reformatted for use as a Greetings segment, exhibited outdoors on giant Jumbotrons.
Of that first project, Suter relates, ?We built our relationship over time. We started on the Welcome Wall so the Interface team got a lot of perspective on how we were approaching things and how Native people approach things. They started to absorb the NMAI point of view about communication. The entire Interface creative team threw their hearts into it and listened to what we were saying. Expressing the Native ethos, and I am not Native, is complex. We are all outsiders to this process. They were very good at listening to me try to articulate what my curators and community leaders told me was really important.
Vice President for Interface and lead creative director on the project, Jeff Weingarten, says of the process, ?Working with Kathy was a great pleasure. She and her team pushed our creative and technical boundaries and at the same time gave us the opportunity to learn and grow. Each of the media we collaborated on developed a personality and a sensibility unique to that exhibit and the perspective from which it grew. Many of these pieces were conceptual ideas that took on new life as they came off the written page. Kathy was able to articulate the vision and was comfortable enough with the creative process to let it blossom in ways none of us could foresee until we dug into it.
The Making History section of the Our Peoples Gallery illustrates how historians have told the story of Native peoples by relying on images, drawings, paintings, and photographs that were created by non-Native Americans. It further explores how scientific texts and schoolbooks of the 18th and 19th centuries defined Native peoples.
This presentation uses three 37 vertical plasma screens which have been placed among seventeen George Catlin paintings borrowed from Washingtons Renwick Gallery. The piece features Native American actor and director Floyd Favel as the host. Using their Sony HDW F900 camera package, Interface shot Favel in a vertical format on location, as well as at the museum itself. In the final piece, Favel appears to be moving between the monitors interacting with himself and other museum staff.
?Technically we went in some unusual directions; from the extreme horizontal of the Welcome Wall with its 8:1 aspect ratio, to the vertical 9 x16 across 3 screens of Making History, adds Weingarten. ?Making History was a labor of love. From beginning to end it was a stimulating challenge. Working in the vertical format and then multiplying it across 3 screens made for some interesting shot blocking and subsequent editing. Floyd delivered a great performance which really brought the whole piece to life.
Interface created four modules for the museums Our Lives Gallery. ?All the elements Interface created for us have been remarkable and in the case of both The Threshold and Membership the pieces are actually closer to visual art than to traditional information transmission. These pieces have no voiceover and no on screen text. They are experiential. We articulated the museums vision and left Interface to their own devices. They gave us that beautiful balance of art without going so arty that we lose the visitor, explained NMAIs Suter.
Interface lensed the Native American volunteers in their HD sound stage. The shoot was done over green screen to facilitate the creation of a multi-layered composite. An abstract background was created in order to place the visitors not in any one environment, but rather to reinforce that Native Americans are continuously present in modern society. The final installation shows one side of the corridor flowing into the gallery, the other flowing out.
For eighteen stand alone audio environments situated throughout the museum, Interface provided overall sound design, recording and mixing. ?When ambient nature sounds were needed they were often conjured up from original recordings. At other times they edited interviews into cogent little stories told strictly through audio, stated Kathy Suter. ?Although we wanted these settings to be realistic, they also had to be interesting so we did exercise some creativity in the design of these audio environments.
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