Landscapes of Life – Inside The NMA’s New Remembrance Exhibition

A new permanent Remembrance exhibition launches at the National Memorial Arboretum on 29 March. Ahead of the opening we spoke to Interpretation Curator, John K Hughes, to find out how the exhibition came together.

Landscapes of Life – the new permanent exhibition at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) – explores the different histories of Remembrance and invites visitors to embark on an emotional journey of discovery. 

Almost two years in the making, the exhibition uses unique displays, such as an immersive 270o multi-projector experience, to show how the practice of Remembrance in different cultures has been observed over time.

Interpreting Remembrance

The development of the exhibition was led by John K Hughes, Interpretation Curator at the NMA.

John K Hughes

John spent two years developing the Landscapes of Life exhibition

“There has been an aspiration to have some sort of permanent Remembrance exhibition at the NMA for quite some time and following some preliminary work, the project began in earnest in mid-2015,” explains John.

“Remembrance, in its broadest sense, is a tricky thing to explain and so one of the initial challenges was to define exactly what it means.

“This was the starting point and from this we developed themes that act as vehicles to help visitors grasp the concept.”

The themes running through Landscapes of Life include Symbolism in Remembrance, Reconciliation, Learning from the Past, The Living, People and Trees.

These act as a golden thread that stitches all the elements of the exhibition together, through a number of distinct displays.

A year in the life of the Arboretum

On entering the exhibition, visitors are invited to enter a drum-shaped theatre and experience 'A year in the life of the Arboretum', an immersive 270o multi-projector experience.

“This visually stunning presentation is accompanied with an evocative soundscape and presents different perspectives of Remembrance,” explains John.

“It demonstrates how these are reflected through the memorials, events and natural landscape of the Arboretum throughout the year.”

Remembrance through time

A timeline of Remembrance forms the backbone of the exhibition, and features showcased objects, scale models and video displays.

“Poignancy is often revealed in the most ordinary of items"

Some of the objects featured in the exhibition have a particular resonance for John.

“I have always been fascinated by objects and the stories associated with them,” he says.

“Poignancy is often revealed in the most ordinary of items.

“The personal diary of Private Walter Meade left open at his very last entry contrasts sharply with the stark, empty remaining pages.

“And The Princess Mary gift fund tin belonging to Private Harry Farr, displayed in the Shot at Dawn showcase, is the only surviving possession from this soldier who was executed for cowardice.”

Arboretum, by Helen Marshall

Arboretum, by Helen Marshall – an enormous photo montage installation - acts as a fitting back drop to the exhibition.

Depicting a woodland scene at the Arboretum (the Merchant Navy Convoy Wood), the montage was created using over 5,000 individual photographs submitted during a community engagement project. This is accompanied by a digital exploration of the work.

“Visitors can explore the amazing detail of the art work,” explains John.

“People are delighted when they discover themselves in this incredible installation.”

Personal Remembrance

The exhibition concludes with a space entitled ‘Personal Remembrance’, featuring an entire gallery wall dedicated to personal thoughts and comments about Remembrance and brought to life by portrait photographs, interactive touch screens and lift-up flaps.

“Landscapes of Life is ultimately about people"

“Landscapes of Life is ultimately about people and for me the Personal Remembrance area is perhaps the most meaningful,” John explains.

“It reflects the diversity of the communities we engaged with during the project.”

There is also a memory booth where visitors are invited to record and upload their own stories through a dedicated video kiosk system.

The memory booth invites visitors to share personal stories of Remembrance

“Each submission contributes towards a new national archive of Remembrance which importantly, enables us to capture contributions from veterans before they leave us,” says John.

“The entries we’ve received so far are truly fascinating. Some are heart breaking, but all reveal how Remembrance touches our lives in some way.”

Bringing new visitors to the NMA

Landscapes of Life was developed as part of a multi-million-pound project that saw the opening of a new Remembrance Centre in October 2016.

John hopes the exhibition will play an important part in attracting new visitors to the NMA

 “As Interpretation Curator I have dedicated the last two years of my life to this project,” says John.

 “It has been a real privilege and my hope is that it will move people and ultimately enrich their visit to the Arboretum.

 “I hope it will play a significant role in attracting new audiences to the NMA and provide more opportunities for engagement with Remembrance.”

Landscapes of Life at the NMA

Situated in Staffordshire on the edge of the National Forest, the NMA is the UK’s year-round centre of Remembrance. Landscapes of Life officially opens on 29 March. 

Book tickets here