Behind the Scenes – Designing a Magnificent Minibeast Safari
As this week it’s National Children’s Gardening Week, I thought this was the ideal time to share with you how back in 2009 I spent a lot of time in my garden exploring and taking photographs when I was tasked with creating one of my favourite exhibitions, a big exhibition about some of the smallest items in our collections – minibeasts.
As the panels explain, Minibeast isn’t a scientific term, it is just used to describe a very small animal. You may also call them ‘creepy crawlies’. Whatever you like to call them, these are amazing creatures that you hardly notice around you because they are so small. Their world is our world but on a very different scale. A garden to them is like a great city to us, full of places to live, feed and explore.
With this exhibition, I wanted to explore the amazing life of things you find lurking in the garden and the feeling of being shrunk into their world… If you’ve seen the film ‘Honey I shrunk the Kids’ you’ll get the idea…
The first two obstacles to overcome was making these tiny specimens fill the space, and to make you feel like you’ve been shrunk into their world. Cue, abundance of ideas, and me roaming around in my back garden getting a bug’s view on the world, and also taking lots of photographs of these wonderful creatures. Amazingly, when you see some of them up close, they look as though they are from an alien world.
Setting the scene
I wanted tall grass, all around. This led to a lot of head scratching to make it a reality, followed by wood and green paint. Not an easy task, when you’ve got a tall open space, that needs to look as good from above as it does on ground level, and you can’t fix anything to the tiled floor.
Firstly, we adorned the walls of the gallery in huge grass shapes, cut from wood and vinyl to give it a 3d effect. We positioned screens and cases, for visitors to meander through. The screens having grass cut-out inserts for the visitors to peak though and catch a glimpse of what was next in store for them on their safari.
I enlisted the help of my nephew, who I photographed with a magnifying glass and we had the image produced on a huge banner to peer down on the tiny visitors below.
We had some wonderful giant butterflies, purposely made for the exhibition, to sit on top of the cases, and a giant spider that sat expectantly on his web in the corner of the gallery, daring its prey to get close.
If you have read one of my previous blogs, you may remember that this was also the first incarnation of our versatile columns. – We created four tall grass-shaped pods, which towered up into the gallery void. I didn’t want these just to be for decoration so each of the four pods performed a function –
Towards the entrance we had a Magnifying point, a place to pick up your magnifying glass to get a closer look at our tiny specimens. A dress up point, so visitors could roam around the gallery like their favourite minibeast. Next on the journey was the colouring point where you could colour in your favourite minibeast and add it to our minibeast jungle. The fourth pod was a discovery point – a place where visitors could find out more, uncover our wormery and test their knowledge gained around the gallery in our minibeast challenge.
The backdrop of the exhibition created, we move on to the key elements – the minibeasts. Extremely tiny and delicate, we created bespoke cases to house them. The exhibition aimed to give an understanding of lots of different insects and give children the knowledge to tell the difference between them. We put each minibeast in their order with a simple explanation above of how to identify them.
Each wall was carefully planned out to accommodate all of the different minibeasts you might find in your garden.
Near the entrance to the gallery we had information on how minibeasts are related and the main types of minibeasts.
Then throughout the gallery we dotted interesting facts on leaves and lift up flaps.
And finally, we created a quiet space, where we created a honeycomb pattern of bookcases, where visitors could sit and read, look through microscopes, and find out more about these amazing creatures.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a look back at one of my favourite exhibitions and hope it encourages you to Discover and explore a whole new world of bugs and mini-beasties that can be discovered in your garden or outside spaces.
More images from the Magnificent Minibeast Safari Exhibition can be found on our past exhibitions page of the website.
Helen Cann, Design Services Officer, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery