This review originally appeared in the most recent issue of Imperial College’s science magazine I, Science.
Wallace & Gromit, the nation’s most beloved plasticine duo, have arrived at the Science Museum. I went along with I,Science editor Mico Tatalovic to check out the new exhibition, Wallace & Gromit present A World of Cracking Ideas.
The duo are known for their crazy inventions that inevitably go horribly wrong, and it seemed that the Science Museum’s lifts were getting in to the spirit of things. As we waited for a ride to the exhibition floor one of the Museum’s sleek glass lifts arrived, but refused to open its doors before shooting off again. It eventually returned and we step aboard, only to find ourselves stuck between floors. “Perhaps we’ll get the stairs next time,” I said to Mico. Thankfully we were not trapped for long and, for the rest of the morning at least, the inventions on display behaved themselves.
Working in collaboration with Wallace & Gromit creators Aardman Animation, the Science Museum have recreated their home, 62 West Wallaby Street, and stuffed it full of things to see and do. With funding from the Intellectual Property Office, the £2m exhibition is designed to inspire the nation’s creativity and get us all inventing.
Visitors will find “Idea Stations” in each room of the house where they can scribble down their new creations, before sending them off to Wallace & Gromit through a suitably wacky delivery process, the Eureka Brainwave. This overhead conveyer belt channels ideas through the exhibition to the Thinking Cap Machine, which…turns them into paper hats. A bit of a let-down if you have just submitted your idea for the next iPod killer, but kids will love it.
As well as coming up with your own ideas, you can play around with Wallace & Gromit’s. In the living room you’ll find the Tellyscope, their answer to the television remote. After throwing enough balls at a target (both myself and Mico were hopeless throws), a television will move towards a massive sofa. Take a seat, and a series of levers move a gloved hand to select the button of your choice, which will play a short video clip. Very silly, very Wallace & Gromit. Other fun things include a slide down the plughole from the bathroom to the garden, where you’ll be to take part in a modelling clay activity.
It’s not just Wallace & Gromit’s inventions on display though. The Science Museum have dug through their extensive catalogue to find examples of weird and wonderful inventions from the real world. Displays range from an early electric kettle to 1960’s food packaging. You can also track the development of inventions like the telephone, from Alexander Graham Bell’s original to the latest shape-shifting Nokia prototype – unfortunately a model, and not the real thing just yet!
If old inventions aren’t your thing, there’s still a lot on show for Wallace & Gromit and fans. Sets from the films are lovingly displayed, and simply walking through the house really feels like you’re taking part in one of their crazy adventures. It would be very easy to spend almost two hours taking in everything the exhibition has to offer.
I have just one very minor criticism, of an ideological nature. A message throughout the exhibit is the importance of protecting your intellectual property by registering inventions with the Intellectual Property Office, and I have no qualms with that. Up in the bathroom, in a display all about music, was a poster that left me feeling rather different.
Nestled in a corner, away from the karaoke disco in the shower and a charming vinyl jukebox, it said that the music industry is the only way for artists could “avoid losing out to copycats” and “benefit from hitting all the right notes”. In other words, sign a record deal or go broke. In a world where internet exposure and digital distribution is making the music industry increasingly irrelevant, it struck me as nothing more than an out-of-place attempt at propaganda. I’m sure though that kids will just run past without a second glance as they head for something fun to do, so perhaps it doesn’t matter.
My woolly liberal sensibilities aside, Wallace & Gromit present A World of Cracking Ideas is well worth a visit. You might not learn anything as such, but you’ll be too busy having fun with all the crazy contraptions to care. The exhibition will run until 1st November 2009, and the usual fees apply: Adults £9, Concessions £7, with extra deals for families. Cracking good time, Gromit.