Norwegian crime fiction exhibition designed for visitors-cum-detectives

Labyrinth: Tracing Harry Hole has been designed by Nissen Richards Studio and takes visitors on a journey which can be navigated via clues.

Nissen Richards Studio has designed an exhibition in The National Library of Norway in Oslo, which seeks to mirror “the curational vision of creating a labyrinth”.

Named after its inspiration, Labyrinth: Tracing Harry Hole focuses on the main character from the popular Norwegian crime novel series by Jo Nesbø. The idea is for the exhibition to become a “detective game for the visitor” by “mimicking clues that Harry Hole might find and weave together” in the books, explains the studio’s director Pippa Nissen.

She adds that the labyrinth’s “winding routes with no centre and one way out” is also meant to be a metaphor for “pathways within your brain or feeling trapped within a problem”. To guide them visitors can use a red line painted across different surfaces, which represents the red thread that Hole uses to connect clues in the stories.

“The literal idea of a thread also relates to the labyrinths of classical Greek mythology, where Ariadne follows a thread through a labyrinth created for her by Theseus,” says Nissen. Woven together throughout the space are six rooms that aim to explore different themes.

An example of the capsule areas within the walls of the exhibition

To create a sense of “fluidity” between them, Nissen says that the studio included artefacts from the collection and historic context as well as “stage setting devices”. Within the curving plywood walls of the exhibition are “capsule areas” (miniature rooms), containing books, manuscripts and translations that feature “precious items relating to the author directly”, Nissen adds.

Nissen Richards Studio tried to make the exhibition blend in with the library it is hosted by. According to Nissen, in instances where the stage set elements reached the perimeter walls, books were placed within them. She adds that the initial plans for the shape of the labyrinth were inspired by the architectural detail of the library, as it is “surrounded by bookshelves and books” and features “tall white sculpted archways that curve across the space”.

Nissen explains that “balancing accessibility requirements” initially meant “creating spaces that felt too tight, or restrictive”. The solution was using curved ply to give “an increased sense of spatial complexity and tactility”, she says.

Since maps play a significant role in the Harry Hole novels, Nissen says that the studio designed and used a series of maps throughout the exhibition, “from maps of Oslo depicting where his novels took place, to historic maps from the libraries archive and even a beautifully painted monster map”.

From the outset, visitors have access to a model of the labyrinth, giving them a preview of the journey. This is designed to illustrate themes that are present in the novel series, as its author Nesbø “recognises that a sense of place is important to us as humans”, says Nissen.

Elsewhere visitors are subjected to the Police Procedural area, which Nissen says consists of “four angled cameras to film visitors as they go through the exhibition in real time, underscoring the idea of surveillance”. This section includes a “crime wall”, that seeks to “mimic the visual language of an actual crime investigation wall, with backlit negatives and mugshots”. Visitors can see their own faces in among the potential suspects.

Natural materials like raw ply and printed sterling board are used across the space, which Nissen says is “meant to give the exhibition a sense of texture” and make it tactile, while also giving the impression of “an urban landscape”. She adds that the colour palette comes from the covers of the novels, so was restricted to black and red, which has “an obvious connection to blood”.

The exhibition is already open to the public and closes on 5 November 2022.

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