Part museum exhibition and part virtual world, Jessica Rosenblatt’s MFA thesis, Fitting In, is a unique interactive exhibit that aims to transport its participants to another era. This project uses the powerful technique of somatic interaction as an alternative to the passive museum exhibitions that dominate history education today. By combining theatrical techniques, motion-triggered events, dynamic video-projection, a detailed physical environment, and a variety of wearable costumes, Fitting In brings an unprecedented level of immersion to its treatment of the past.
Fitting In was inspired, in part, by Jack Finney’s Time and Again, a novel in which a man travels into the past by meticulously recreating a room in turn-of-the-century New York, literally “placing himself” into a different historical context. When a curious bystander enters the space of Fitting In, they are walking into another meticulous re-enactment, one in which their actions will help maintain the consistency of the past. In the antechamber, they will be fitted with clothing appropriate to the American Antebellum period. They can choose to wear the male costume (a suit of the period) or the female costume (a corset and dress). They will then be given a brief history lesson and trained in the appropriate etiquette and posture of the day, so that they can blend seamlessly into the environment during their journey.
Once they leave the staging area the user will find themselves on the streets of 1860’s America. This area is a 3-dimensional corridor complete with various pieces of video-projected scenery. Through sensors placed on the costume, the exhibit tracks the participant’s position and bearing. If they maintain the proper form and posture, the illusion of the past will remain consistent; if they falter, the projected scene will fade back to the modern world. Only by becoming physically a part of the past can the participant remain in the 19th century.
Fitting In keeps the user engaged through immersive visuals and a sense of somatic presence. When re-emerging into the 21st century, users will bring the visceral sensations of 1860’s life back with them; they will have gained experiences that inform their understanding of the past. To learn more about Fitting In, and the intersection of interactive environments and historical education, you can access the full text of Jessica Rosenblatt’s thesis paper by clicking here.