Turning a museum visit into a multi-sensory experience
The exhibitions created by Christian Frommelt and Daniel Sommer of Dresden-based company Whitebox appeal to all the senses. Visitors can smell, hear and touch the displays. Anyone who wants to sample the experience should head to Rochlitz, a small town near Chemnitz, where the two 31-year-olds have helped design an exhibition in the recently restored castle entitled “A Story of STRONG WOMEN – 500 Years of Reformation”. “Our work is always a collaborative effort. The museum curators prepare the content and assemble the exhibits, and we figure out how to turn the whole thing into a visitor experience,” explains Christian Frommelt. The special exhibition in Rochlitz Castle aims to highlight the important role strong Saxon women played in spreading new ideas during the Reformation. Given that church history is a complex and demanding subject, the challenge for Whitebox was: “How can we simplify the subject? How can we help people grasp complicated information quickly and understand how it links to the present day?” says Daniel Sommer.
The sale of indulgences in 60 seconds
Frommelt and Sommer put short animated films on tablet computers to explain the practice of selling indulgences in the Middle Ages and the significance of the Reformation. “Even teenagers watch them,” they say, smiling. A computer animation lets visitors slip into the role of Biblical heroine Judith, who seduced the Assyrian general Holofernes before beheading him, thereby saving an entire city from destruction. The painting of Judith is one of 300 exhibits collected from all over Europe, including a genuine letter of indulgence dating from the 15th century. In their work, qualified architects Christian Frommelt and Daniel Sommer combine their planning expertise with an eagerness to try out new techniques. They are also not afraid of being provocative. “In Rochlitz, we’ve deliberately placed a Playmobil doll’s house for girls next to a historic wood carving of a mediaeval family,” says Daniel Sommer. “We want to raise the question as to whether and how our image of women and the family has changed since the Middle Ages.”
A young Dresden company with projects throughout Europe
Whitebox’s approach is proving a hit with clients. They are very busy and the company is growing. Proudly, but with no trace of smugness, they say: “This year has gone really well so far. We were involved in three bids for major exhibitions and won all three contracts.” Their other main field of business – fitting out retail premises – is also in good shape. It all began in 2007 when students Frommelt and Sommer were responsible for designing shop furnishings and managing fit-out for Gerstäcker, a European-wide supplier of artists’ materials. It went so well that the pair turned it into a business idea and set up a company – entirely with their own resources and without any grants or external funding. Their success proved that it was the right move, and commissions from all over Europe soon followed.
Staying closely involved with projects and customers is very important to Frommelt and Sommer. When a project reaches its final stages, the pair pack all their equipment – computers, printers and various tools – into large aluminium crates and set off to wherever they are needed for a few weeks – be it Rochlitz, Paris or Vienna. But home will always be Saxony.
The special exhibition “A Story of STRONG WOMEN – 500 Years of Reformation” runs until 31 October 2014 at Rochlitz Castle.