Teo: As Canada’s national natural history museum, your institution has long-standing expertise in scientific research and exhibition development, with a dynamic travelling exhibitions program. Last year you announced the North American tour of a major new exhibition, Planet Ice, which explores the mysteries of the Ice Ages and tells a story of ice and cold. Why did you choose to create this exhibition?
Angeline: Many of us are not aware that we are still living in an ice age and that for the first time in human history, we could soon be living on a planet with no polar ice sheets and no glaciers.
Conceived and created by the Canadian Museum of Nature, Planet Ice uses the entry point of the Ice Ages – and the megafauna everyone knows and loves – to explore the unexpected and hidden message that ice and cold were vital to shaping our planet’s past and present and are critical to our climate future. This unique approach puts an unexpected spin on an often-presented topic.
Climate change can sometimes be seen as a challenging topic to address in exhibitions. How did you decide to engage your audiences with these contemporary issues?
Planet Ice emphasises the experiential and the participatory, using accessible and engaging texts, and dynamic interactives and digital experiences. The story takes visitors on a journey from the deep past to the present, exploring the role ice and cold have played in shaping the landscape, climate and biodiversity. The CMN’s vision is to make the experience a gathering place where relevant and timely ideas are shared, where conversations are begun, and connections are made, on a framework of factual and science-based information.
Planet Ice contributes to this vision by fostering dialogue on climate futures. With this exhibition, we pose “Big Questions” facing our planet’s future and we encourage visitors to think about what they are seeing and its relevance to their daily lives. We felt that posing these questions and presenting the subject through a well-known and beloved framework (the Ice Age) would have the potential to open visitors’ hearts and minds to new perspectives.
What are the most important “science moments” your team has created in the exhibition?
Planet Ice is a very interactive exhibition. As visitors take a journey across 80,000 years of history, they discover with an historical interactive path how ice and cold have shaped landscapes and how certain animals and plants adapted or went extinct. There are surprises in the exhibition. Visitors can get up close to some complete skeletons of extinct megafauna: mastodon, smilodon (a sabre-toothed cat), short-faced bear and a giant beaver that stood six feet tall. They can even bring some extinct creatures “back to life” thanks to an amazing interactive component created by Montreal’s Moment Factory that is gesture-activated.
Planet Ice also has some “cool” digital interactives that are always a must-have for an educational experience. To support the introductory section explaining what ice is and how it forms, visitors are invited to create their own snowflakes, which they can then display on the main screen in the exhibition, find online (snowflake.nature.ca) and share on social media, as a digital souvenir of the exhibition. This engaging interactive was created by the museum with Simbioz (Montreal, Quebec).
Another popular exhibit interactive is a dynamic 3D topographical table (Glaciation Island), created by Simbioz and Robocut Studio (Montreal, Quebec). Using a custom, 3D-printed surface with a 4K downward projector, visitors can better understand how the power of ice has shaped the landscape and created geological formations, including lakes, rivers and valleys.
The exhibition also includes an interactive hopscotch where visitors can jump onto floating glaciers and sit in a traditional Canadian ice fishing hut making for the Ultimate Canadian Experience (eh?). These interactive experiences were a hit with visitors of all ages in our galleries.
So original specimens, models and artefacts are a core part of this exhibition. Could you tell us more about the collection that tours with the show?
The dramatic story about ice and adaptation in Planet Ice is presented through 120 specimens, artefacts and models, as well an interesting cast of characters that includes the woolly mammoth, short-faced bear, giant beaver, American lion, and Neanderthals.
The story of how life — including humans and our ancestors — adapted to cold icy conditions is fascinating. Among the many impressive displays in the exhibition are life-size, scientifically accurate models of a Neanderthal man and child, created by the renowned Kennis brothers in the Netherlands.
The exhibition also includes rare cultural objects, including Neanderthal tools and never-before exhibited artefacts from the Dorset and Thule cultures of the Canadian North.
What kind of audience was this exhibition preliminary created for?
Combining environmental science, natural sciences, human history and culture, and created with inclusive design and accessible interpretation, Planet Ice was designed to offer wide appeal and be suitable for visitors of all ages.
The exhibition demonstrates that learning about climate change does not need to be a dry experience, nor one that needs to create anxiety among visitors. It can be treated with immersive and educational interactives that will put the visitor into an active thinker mode for the future of our planet.
What is coming up for the exhibition, could you tell us a little bit about the tour?
In 2022, the Canadian Museum of Nature and the American Museum of Natural History (New York, United States) joined forces to tour the exhibition. After premiering at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, the exhibition travelled to the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. Planet Ice: Mysteries of the Ice Ages is made possible thanks to the support of Tour Partner Polar Knowledge Canada.
Live webinar - 12 September 2023
Join the team on Tuesday 12 September 2023 at 2pm EST for a organises a behind-the-scenes live webinar about the new touring exhibition.
Scott Rufolo, PhD, Curator of Paleobiology, Daniel Boivin, Head of Design, and Angeline Laffin, Vice-President, Experience and Engagement at the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) will host an in-depth look at Planet Ice’s intriguing content, immersive design and audience impact followed by a live Q&A.