09.12.11

Legacy of liberation

AUTHOR: Inavate

The Liliesleaf Legacy project explores the events surrounding the capture of the “Rivonia 12”, members of the SA Communist Party and ANC who served life sentences after their capture. The farm, that was the façade for liberation struggle activities and the location of the capture of six of the trialists, now houses exhibits to explain and explore the struggle against the Apartheid regime.

In 1963 police raided Liliesleaf Farm just outside Johannesburg in South Africa and, in one of the most important events in the country’s recent history, arrested key members of the ANC and SACP. Nelson Mandela, who operated undercover at Liliesleaf for 18 months, had been arrested on lesser charges in 1962, but promoted to accused no 1 in the Rivonia Trial based on evidence found during the Liliesleaf raid.

Forty-eight years later and Liliesleaf is now preserved as a museum and visitor centre that ensures the events of July 11, 1963 are not forgotten.

It was July when I visited the site this year. And, as well as being the same month that the raid took place, the date is important because what I saw was a snapshot of what is essentially a journey of discovery, played out in the exhibits and presentations throughout Liliesleaf.

What is distinctive about Liliesleaf is many of the key figures involved in that fateful raid and subsequent trial are still alive. Whilst some, such as Mandela, are hugely prominent, others played their part in history and disappeared into rural South Africa or further afield.

Exhibit and AV design, as well as content development, were handled by a joint venture between Digital Fabric and Cultural Kaleidoscape. Consultant Gavin Olivier not only designed the attraction’s exhibits but has also been involved in unravelling the story of Liliesleaf, tracking down and interviewing the still living characters involved in the story.

This journey has created a unique facility. Each exhibit is designed to tell someone’s story or explore a specific theme. The technology used is chosen according to the story being told.

The site is not large but is made up of a collection of buildings and outhouses and exhibits are dotted throughout the sprawling attraction. Finally, exhibits have been added as funding has become available. The site has grown organically and gradually. Therefore, a centralised rack room has never been possible and there are several pockets of equipment distributed across the site.

In AV terms, probably the most dramatic change at Liliesleaf was when a funding injection allowed systems integrator Sonic Factory to install a fibre backbone and link the previously distinct exhibits together. An extensive system of sleeves and manholes were installed across the site for AV, data and security infrastructure. Switching and distribution is handled across a Cisco network with Moxa IP interfaces at control points.

This allowed a Medialon system to take overarching control of the site. Control of players and displays, including trigger sensors and timing devices, was centralised. An added advantage with the Medialon solution was that exhibit and security lighting could also be centrally managed.

The site has now grown to exceed 50 channels of media so the Medialon control solution has become essential. “Control is a two level system,” explains Olivier. “The overarching control software is the Medialon Manager V5. This handles the user interface, timing and scheduling. But we’re not using Alcorn McBride at each node for local control. So tier one is the Medialon Manager and it is then talking over IP to all the Alcorn McBride local show controllers.”

Olivier says there are many reasons why the site has been created this way and notes some advantages. “It’s more cost effective and it also gives us more autonomy. If a PC or fibre link went down and we lost the Medialon system the Alcorn McBride kit can keep running in the local environment.

“The Medialon system also gives us a nice human interface. So technicians can set up the local control in the different exhibit areas but they are all scheduled and managed by Medialon. The tour guides, that are running the site, can use a very friendly interface to start everything up and shut it down at the end of the day.”

A newly built visitor centre provides an orientation gallery for the museum. Visitors can access information on key players in the Liliesleaf tale via a 32” Screenvision touchscreen that connects to a database of names and biographies. Content accessed on this monitor is replicated in a projected image from a Panasonic PTD4000E XGA projector for the benefit of larger groups. Housed within this space is a 60 seat auditorium. A projectiondesign F3+ SXGA+ projector fires onto a 3m Definition screen. This space utilises Alcorn McBride players and a DVD player, Shure gooseneck and radio microphones and a Soundweb London Blu processing system. This gallery is sometimes hired out for private use providing funding for the Liliesleaf project.

Some of the museum’s exhibits are held in the original farmhouse. In what used to be the lounge area, along one wall is the Cabinet of Curiosity. This is a large digital map of Liliesleaf that unpicks certain stories about the site through animation. Discovery drawers below the map can be opened by pressing buttons and different audio tracks are triggered to explain certain facts about the Liliesleaf story. The drawers are interlocked so the various audio tracks cannot be triggered at the same time.

“It’s quite a complicated control system,” explains Olivier. The drawers are driven by stepper motors that provide us with flexibility in terms of direction and speed. We have limit sensing at each end and the motor's speed is controlled by DMX, allowing us to ramp up the speed to save time and then reduce it for a soft closing. This equates to a lot of inputs and outputs across the 18 drawers and the entire system is run from several Alcorn McBride IO64's and a DMX Machine.

“This is a good example of how the Liliesleaf control system operates,” continues Olivier. “The timing and the logic is programmed in local software loops within the Alcorn McBride controllers. These are then told in a general sense what to by the Medialon system, but all the logic and complexity in that instance happens locally in the Alcorn McBride kit.”

In the house’s dining room a huge, white table has been installed. Two projectiondesign units beam down on this surface and two modified gaming cameras, mounted with the projectors in the ceiling, allow visitors to interact with content via gestures over the table. Interaction then triggers flash files which play out on the table to provide information on operations at Liliesleaf using video, images, audio and text.

Also in the main house is an exhibit of some of the lesser known people involved in the Liliesleaf tale. This is housed in a bedroom and is one of the more recent additions to the museum. Here, Olivier says they wanted to create a quiet space to allow visitors to enter and contemplate on people involved in the story.

There are six Screenvision video screens and two listening posts. Audio is localised and delivered via RSF Freesound headsets. “Localised audio is a key consideration,” notes Olivier. “We have to make sure we don’t have a cacophony of noise. We have more than 50 channels of media running across what is not a terribly large site. It would be very easy to make it into this big noisy space with too much going on. We’ve been very careful with what we’ve done – specifically with audio. We’ve made extensive use of Panphonics sound showers and obviously with this new room introduced headphones. Amplification is handled by Alcorn McBride and Axiom kit. Where the exhibit has required loudspeakers they have opted for JBL and Atlantic Audio products with a number of Visaton Marine units employed in outdoor audio panels that are exposed to the elements. All speakers are discretely mounted and most are not even visible which is testament to the incredibly respectful and sensitive way the whole site has been approached.

The majority of the displays used throughout the Liliesleaf site are from South African manufacturer Screenvision. They comprise 15”, 19” and 22” monitors. Olivier also managed to get his hands on an NEC MultiSync X431BT display which is not yet formally distributed in the region. The 43” panel has a 16:4 ratio and Olivier’s team has recently developed some bespoke content that really utilises the unique shape of the product. This is used within the same space as two further 42” Panasonic displays.

A 65” Panasonic plasma panel is also housed in the old garage outbuilding that has 12 seats. Olivier ultimately wants to use this space to provide visitors with an exit film before they leave the site. When I visited this room was used as an alternative orientation space in the event of the 60-seat auditorium being occupied. The display is mounted on a custom bracket and rack space is localised behind the unit.

Liliesleaf has also managed to get its hands on the truck that was used to smuggle arms through Africa to the ANC's military wing, MK. The vehicle was specially customised to conceal weapons and disguised as an overland safari truck. Tourists who unwittingly helped to smuggle the arms across the continent were interviewed as well as the truck driver and people who assisted along the way. This footage is played out on a Screenvision display that rises up from a concealed position at the end of the truck on a motorized lift, installed to protect the monitor against dust and moisture.

The Liliesleaf project is a process both in terms of technology and content which is great because the approach means the technology suits the information provided for visitors. The team is constantly unraveling various details and meeting and interviewing those involved. Sometimes a chance meeting leads them to another key player and each time a different side of the story is uncovered an exhibit can spring up to tell someone else’s story.

“We follow a very strong policy in our exhibit design team of not using technology for the sake of technology,” explains Olivier. “If we just need a text panel we use a text panel. But at the same time we like to be adventurous and when it’s appropriate we grab new technologies. Each technology solution is a vehicle to tell a particular story.”

The approach is clear to the visitor. This embracing of new technologies is evident in the inspiring, engaging and varied exhibits. But, the overwhelming feeling is a peaceful and calming space. It’s the perfect atmosphere for reflection and testament to the team's dedication and passion to the project.

Tech-Spec
Audio
Alcorn McBride audio players and amplifiers
Atlantic audio loudspeakers
Axiom amplifiers
JBL loudspeakers
Panphonic Soundshower localisers
RSF Freesound headsets
Shure gooseneck and radio mics
Soundweb London Blu audio processing
Visaton Marine speakers

Video
Alcorn McBride show controllers and video players
Cisco 24 port fibre switches
Definition projection screen
Kramer interface and format conversion equipment
Medialon Manager V5 software
Moxa IP to i/o interfaces
NEC MultiSync X4131BT display
Panasonic PTD4000E XGA projector and plasmas
Projectiondesign F20 and F3 projectors
Screenvision monitors and touch monitors