Life behind bars: exploring Horsens Prison Museum
As the build up for the 2017 InAVation Awards begins, Charlotte Ashley looks at one of this year’s winning projects.
Home to political embezzlers, war criminals and even an escapee (who famously used a spoon to tunnel out of the facility) from 1853 to 2006, Horsens prison in Denmark has recently re- opened its gates to reveal what life was like for some of its most notorious prisoners using more than 100 projectors and screens.
The Horsens Prison Museum (Fængselsmuseet) picked up ‘Most InAVative Visitor Attraction’ at the 2016 InAVation Awards after re-opening on the eve of its 162nd anniversary in May 2015. Previously famed as the first prison in the country to work under modern criminal law principles, the 4,000 square metre facility continues to serve the community as a leading visitor attraction, and welcomed more than 30,000 people through its doors in its first six months after re-opening. Local integrator AV-Huset acted a sub-contractor for design studio Kvorning Design & Communication on the five-year redesign and refurbishment project (to be completed in May 2017) after successfully collaborating on museum projects in Norway and Denmark. Whilst Kvorning Design & Communication managed design and content during the four-phased installation, AV-Huset handled the deployment and programming of all AV systems and providing training to prison staff. Sub-contractor Alien Workshop, in close collaboration with Kvorning, handled filming and editing, programming and software installation of more than 30 screen interactives and camera tracking games. The renovation was funded in part by the Nordea-foundation (a commercial foundation that supports cultural projects in Denmark) who donated Dkr 21.8m (€2.9m). Kvorning Design & Communication aimed to deploy interactive technology in a way that would capture the mood of the prison yet also make the facility’s story accessible to a digitally engaged, 21st century audience.
Inside guests can curate their own AV experience by choosing from one of ten prison personalities as their tour guide on arrival. Guests may meet former prisoner Sonny Rasmussen, who tells them about smuggling in contraband and life in solitary confinement, or famous escapee Carl August Lorentzen, and follow a trail around the prison’s four floors featuring projections (using digital mapping) and soundscapes exclusive to that prisoner or member of staff. Stories range from complaints about ‘fish-day’ to drug problems in the prison, and were filmed using former inmates and guards rather than actors. This allows repeat visitors to potentially have a completely different experience on their next visit. The prison houses 20,000 exhibits in total, including cells, medical wards, kitchens, bathrooms and the church, all featuring authentic graffiti scribbles and distinct aromas recreating prison life. Specific experiences are activated via identity cards incorporating built-in RFID transmitters when visitors pass scanners in the prison.
RFID activation also begins short films depicting scenes recreating prison life on flatscreens around the prison. In total 37 interactive instalments are found in the museum, incorporating RFID-activated touchpoints, multi-touch wayfinder screens, tablets displaying extra information, or games featuring real-time camera tracking. The integrator also modernised the original television sets found in the prison with tailor made modern screens to make them fit for everyday use. “Use of interactive screens helps visitors get quick information about the person you are following. One of the screens contains interviews with some of the employees, including a prison guard, the nurse, and the librarian,” notes Michael Westergaard, head of sales and purchasing at AV-Huset.
At the heart of the installation are 59 Panasonic projectors, including more than 40 3,500 lumen PT-RW330E LED projectors, positioned to create seven life-size shadows of handcuffed prisoners and prison guards, as well as the ten other personalities met around the prison on the trails. The other projectors - comprised of two PT-RZ 370E LED models - provide insight into the lives of deceased prisoners with one-minute long HD films of handwritten letters, and eight ultra-short throw PT-CW 330E projectors targeting hard-to-reach areas in the prison. Visuals are accompanied by gloomy, atmospheric lighting and audio from Apart active loudspeakers, specifically selected to take up minimal space in the cramped prison cells. While the prison was excited about creating an immersive experience to capture the attention of young and old, the installation of AV equipment was foreign to them. Often working in cells as small as 8m2, Kvorning and AV-Huset had to strategically plan the placement of one, and sometimes two projectors in a way that would not compromise content or detract attention from the main attraction.
“We wanted to create exhibits that weren’t intrusive, so that it’s not obvious where the content is coming from,” said Mads Havemann, exhibition designer at Kvorning Design & Communication. AV-Huset were tasked with projecting images at a height of approximately 1.3m to be seen at eye-level, yet projectors also had to be out of sight at a height of 2.4m above. “There are many practical issues when you work in a building from 1860,” notes Westergaard. He continues: “We had a lot of experience from previous projects where placement of projectors was an issue, so we brought many ideas into the project. It took many special, custom-made brackets and a lot of maths, mirrors and UST projectors to find angles and places to install the projectors.”
When it came to content, the team looked to tilting for a resolution to the problem, yet then were faced with distorted image that would only partially be helped by keystoning. Eventually it was decided that content would be counter-distorted in AfterEffects to create life-like representations of prisoners and prison guards, with many projectors placed vertically above doors.
Whilst exploring the hallways visitors meet life-size shadows of prisoners and prison guards projected in intervals onto the corridor walls. Part of this set-up includes a 13-metre wide videoscape powered by the ultra-short throw projectors, for which one of Kvorning’s other sub-contractors, Alien Workshop called upon the largest greenscreen studio in Denmark to produce shadow-play content of the figures. Prisoners are also seen at the stairwells, where a walking figure is created via further on-site warping of content and two ultra-short-throw projectors tilted at a 45-degree angle. For occasions when images need to be projected onto the ceiling, projectors were concealed by being mounted upwards inside cupboards in the prison, with lenses projecting upward through a hole in the roof.
The key factor behind choosing LED projectors was their low energy consumption according to AV-Huset. Working to a tight budget, their costing also helped. As the pricing of LED projectors dropped throughout the planning stages of the project, Kvorning Design & Communication and AV Huset persuaded the museum to shift from prioritising the operation and maintenance costs of projection to investing in projectors with a long life expectancy and low running costs for their 50-hour weekly shifts instead. Key account manager, Lasse Werner, notes: “There is no full-time technical support on-site, so it was vital to fit projectors that we know will last for several years without the need for maintenance.” AV-Huset forecasts that projectors will have paid for themselves after seven years.
The integrator opted for Brightsign Ls422 media players to deliver content across the prison to prison-wide screens, projectors and speakers, programmed to allow show-control exhibition lighting to match the narrative of the content, with support from the RFID scanners.
When visitors finish the tour, their experience meeting the notorious prisons of Horsens Prison can continue with them outside the prison’s gates, as they are invited to choose their identity on a touchscreen and get more insight sent to them via email.
Reflecting on the project, director at Horsens Prison Museum, Anne Bjerrekær, says she believes the technology has helped transform the prison. “People love it here, because we have brought back to life the prison and they get a feel for what prison life is like.”
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Apart SDQ5P active speakers
InOut P-01 panel player
Neets ZuLu control system
Beetronic 15-in LED monitors
Brightsign LS422 media player
Ctouch 84-in Leddura XTS 4K and 60-in Laser touchscreens
Dreamoc 3D rotating cube
iiyama 15-in touch monitors
LG 32-in SE-3B-B displays
NEC 42-in MultiSync V423 displays
Panasonic PT-RW330E LED projectors
Prolite 21.5-in touchscreens
Specktron WDL3500i and WL-430 UST projectors
Viewsonic 23-in & 27-in touch monitors