From July 4 – 9 this year, a team from the University of Oxford, University of East Anglia and the University of the West Indies, Seismic Research Centre and Montserrat Volcano Observatory ran a multi-sensory installation as one of nine showcase exhibits at the Royal Society’s summer exhibition. Over six days, thirty volunteers helped to run the installation, manage the enthusiastic crowds of children and adults, and showcase aspects of volcanic and geophysical research.
The exhibit was designed around the ‘Curating Crises’ project [https://curatingcrises.omeka.net] funded by AHRC and NERC, which is exploring historical unrest at Caribbean volcanoes using data sources from archives – including the National Archives, the Royal Society, the British Geological Survey and the Montserrat Public Library.
The tag line for the exhibit was ‘sense, detect, imagine’. The idea was to explore how people living near a volcano might sense unrest; and how the detection of unrest feeds into the imagining, or interpretation, of what is happening underground, and what might happen next. To create sensory elements of the installation we had objects including an early 1900’s gramophone trumpet, with the sounds of bubbling geysers; an ash-covered cord telephone (from the 1990’s) with recorded eye-witness accounts of activity on Montserrat, and some tactile pots carved from scoria, impregnated with a mysterious ‘volcano scent’ that had been created for the exhibition. The highlight of the exhibit was the imaginarium – a ‘light up’ floor, controlled by a raspberry Pi. We ran this in two modes – one to represent the seismicity and movement of magma beneath La Soufrière, St Vincent during the 2021 eruption; and the second to run an interactive game on uncertainty and unrest, where the floor transformed into a map view of an island, which then turns out be a volcano.
The exhibit was busy for the whole of the exhibition, with over 4000 visitors to the building over the final weekend alone. Those who dropped by included Janice Panton, the Government of Montserrat representative; Turner-prize winning artist Veronica Ryan, and Cecil Browne, a Vincentian author. The exhibit is portable (with a van!) and will have another outing at the Oxford Festival of Science and Ideas in October.
Thank you to all of our volunteers, funders, and to the artists and creatives – Output Arts, Ωmega ingredients and Lizzie Ostrom – who helped to turn a 2-page vision statement into a physical exhibit in a little over six months!
Written by Professor David Pyle, University of Oxford