Filled with wonder and mystery, myth and legend, the Whispering Wood gallery at Oxford's Story Museum is an immersive exploration of the ancient roots of storytelling, its origins, spread and survival across the world over thousands of years. Every tree has a story to tell, inspired by centuries-old spoken tales and unlocked through a series of challenges, created using objects, interactives, digital media and aural storytelling.
We designed and created eight trees, each representing a different story and culture from around the world, such as the stories of Anansi first told in Ghana, ‘The Cap Seller and the Monkeys’ from the Indian collection of stories The Panchatantra and ‘The Fox and the Crow’, a fable traced back to India, collected by the Greek Aesop and by the Hebrew scribe Berechiahha-Nakdan, thought to have travelled to Oxford 900 years ago.
Creating the natural aesthetic of the trees whilst combined with a robust and durable solution presented a real challenge for the design team. The trees needed to replicate the appearance of bark, including knots and gnarls, each individually crafted to accommodate the requirements of the different stories and activities. Prototyping solutions provided the best outcome and after a series of tests, a scenic approach was chosen, using various thicknesses of rope woven together to create the appearance of bark.
Upon engaging with the trees, visitors activate various sensors, such as audio, proximity and pressure sensors, built into an interactive linked to the story. Rewards for successful completion of the task include a built-in showcase in the trunk lighting up to reveal a hidden object. Conveying the sensory and personal perception of spoken stories, we introduced a sense of fun and personality into the trees by introducing eyes which light up and ears to whisper to and peepholes to see into, all created from gnarled knots in the bark. Working with the client team’s AV integration and supporting hands-on interactivity, the trees come to life to tell their story!