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The immersive technology bringing ancient stories to life

An interest in how the ancient and the modern co-exist is nothing new for me. During the week, I work at an agency which produces – among other things – state-of-the-art immersive experiences, while at the weekend, I volunteer as a gallery guide at Plymouth’s museumThe Box.


Jane Atwill, Marketing Coordinator


I was intrigued to see how the latest exhibition at The Box, Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters, would achieve its aim to immerse people in the creation stories of one of the world’s most ancient cultures – the Aboriginal people of Australia.

The exhibition takes visitors on a journey in the footsteps of the Seven Sisters through artworks, sculptures, animation, digital installation, and immersive film. In Aboriginal culture, the Seven Sisters were chased through the land by the evil sorcerer Wati Nyiru, changing form as they went and shaping the landscapes of Australia. Eventually, they ascended to the sky and became the Pleiades cluster of stars.

So, what can event leaders learn from the approach taken to this award-winning exhibition and the media plaudits it has earned?




Image courtesy of The Box, Plymouth


1. Storytelling comes first. Like any good event, the technology is there to enhance and help people to engage with the story you are trying to tell. The technology is not an “add-on” but an integral part of the story. A film of Aboriginal elders welcomes you to the exhibition and gives you permission to enter their lands. An immersive installation introduces you to the themes and images you will see throughout the exhibition. A field of flowers and a rainstorm highlight the strong connection Aboriginal people feel with the land, while a sky full of stars and a creeping serpent remind you of the journey of the Seven Sisters. The footsteps which appear are echoed in the footsteps painted on the ground, so that you are literally and metaphorically joining the Seven Sisters on their journey.

2. Make your event an experience and not a tick-box exercise. After journeying through galleries full of Aboriginal artworks, sculptures, film, and the ever-present Seven Sisters, you reach the immersive dome. Visitors lie down to watch a 360-degree film (you can see some of it here) which transports you to the ancient rock art site, Cave Hill, and explains how the Seven Sisters ascended into the stars. The characters which peer down at you from the virtual sky are identical to the Seven Sisters sculptures you have followed around the exhibition. This state-of-the-art animation and immersive film gives the wow factor that every event needs, while never straying from its purpose of communicating these ancient stories.




Image courtesy of The Box, Plymouth




Snake sculptures and kuḻaṯa (spears) 1982–2001 by Ikula, Niningka Lewis, Mildred Nyunkiya Lyons, Nora, Jean Inyalanka Burke, Billy Cooley, Pulya Taylor, Nellie Nungarrayi Patterson, Tiger, Kanginy, Reggie Jackson, Walter Pukutiwara and Mr McLean, Maṟuku Arts © the artists/Copyright Agency 2020. Image: National Museum of Australia. Image courtesy of The Box, Plymouth




Minyma Punu Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters Tree Women) 2018 by Tjanpi Desert Weavers: senior artists Nyurpaya Burton, Illawanti Ken, Rene Kulitja, Niningka Lewis, Mary Katatjuku Pan, Tjunkaya Tapaya, Carlene Thompson and Yaritji Young; assistant artists Julie Anderson, Maureen Douglas, Naomi Kantjuri, Serena Ken, Michelle Lewis, Wanatjura Lewis and Maringka Tunkin © the artists, Tjanpi Desert Weavers. Image courtesy of The Box, Plymouth


3. Start a discussion with your content. Aboriginal elders co-curated this exhibition and approached the National Museum of Australia themselves because they were concerned that this part of their culture was being lost. A Songline is, in effect, a path of knowledge. The path of the Seven Sisters raises questions about how we interact with the land, sustainability, gender relations, and the impact of colonization. It poses questions to visitors and, like any good event, encourages us all to come together to find the answers.




Artists from Tjanpi Desert Weavers let their tjanpi sisters fly, Papulankutja, Western Australia, 2015. Image: Annieka Skinner, Tjanpi Desert Weavers


This exhibition brings together all of the elements of an effective event: a powerful narrative, an experience enhanced by innovative technology, and engaging content. Even its setting enhances the questions raised by the content. Plymouth was the start of many journeys which ended in the colonization of other nations, with Captain Cook setting off from the city in 1768. This raises clear questions about the versions of history we have been taught, how we help other voices to be heard, and why it’s important to have experiences that immerse us in another culture and way of thinking.


Banner image credits montage photographs by Sarah Kenderdine, Peter Morse, and Paul Bourke. Seven Sisters rock art reproduced with the permission of Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara and the Walinynga (Cave Hill) traditional owners.



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