Past residents of Tudor building brought to life

Curious House, interactive exhibition at Bishops' House, Sheffield
Curious House, interactive exhibition at Bishops' House, Sheffield

Visitors to Bishops’ House Museum are coming face to face with characters that could have lived in the house over the past 500 years - through interactive technology.

In Curious House, the brainchild of designer and researcher Caroline Claisse, five portraits of people from the 16th century to the 1970s can be activated to tell the story of the building over the years.

As part of her PhD at Sheffield Hallam University, Caroline joined the Friends of Bishops’ House, the group of local volunteers who run what is one of the few surviving Tudor buildings and the best surviving example of a timber framed construction in the region.

“My PhD research looks into designing multisensory experiences as a means of engaging visitors and the community in the appreciation and valuing of local heritage,” she explains. “Through designing interactive exhibits, I am exploring the potential of using design and technology to create novel experiences of heritage and investigating ways to bring technology to places like Bishops’ House.

Over the past year she and a group of museum volunteers have created a series of interactive exhibits for visitors to experience the history of the place in new ways. “With Curious House we wanted visitors to engage on personal and multisensory levels with the house by telling stories about the different families who might have lived in the house before it was turned into a museum.”

Inspired by the history of the place, five characters were created to imagine how life was at the house between the 16th and 20th centuries and content recorded at a series of workshops. Each character is represented by one interactive portrait and visitors are invited to activate them through showing the characters different objects. 

“As a result, the portraits can be described as ‘mini theatres’ that imagine how the interiors of Bishops’ House changed through time,” Caroline continu,es. “By being digitally augmented with audio, light, moving image, 3D printed artefacts and automata, they encourage a multi-sensory experience; one portrait even releases smell occasionally.

“The characters have different responses to the objects. Mary from the 16th century is surprised and a bit scared and questions what is going on while Anne from 1971 reacts very differently.”

The project was funded by Sheffield Hallam University and builds on the success of Curious House (2016) - an exhibition for which Caroline and fellow artists Lyndall Phelps, Rachel Emily Taylor and Louise Finney created new work in response to the house, its association, and collection.

Caroline Claisse is a doctoral student in the Art & Design Research Centre at Hallam where, under the supervision of Prof Daniela Petrelli, Prof Luigina Ciolfi and Nick Dulake, she is pursuing a practice-led PhD working with tangible technologies to prompt audience engagement in museums.

Before coming to Sheffield to start her PhD and to teach MA/MFA and BA students at Hallam, French national Caroline graduated from the Royal College of Art where she was later a visiting lecturer and worked on projects for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, National Trust, English Heritage and Historic Royal Palaces in UK.

Curious House can be seen on Saturdays and Sundays between 10am and 4pm until December 10.