Auckland Museum's flash new interactive exhibition explores the deeper meanings of H2O. Jacqueline Smith dives in.
Sometimes children on Great Barrier Island find Auckland City parking tickets washed up on their beaches.
Auckland Museum's exhibition developer Janneen Love thinks that's a good-enough reason for city residents to acquaint themselves with the newest video installation Aqua.
As well as being flashy, and quite possibly the first 360-degree interactive exhibition to tour museums, Aqua runs through a beautifully-crafted, and deeply affecting narrative about all things water-related. Co-created by Cirque du Soleil and One Drop (a charity that aims to give everyone access to clean water) the 30-minute show is a celebration of the life force that is so often taken for granted.
Learning that water is precious, and does not flow out of the tap in many parts of the world, will not come as a surprise to museum-goers. Even children know that it's a good idea to have shorter showers or shallower baths and that it's not a good idea to throw your rubbish into the sea.
But rather than tell visitors that water is precious, Aqua shows, through a wrap-around video screen playing imagery from New Zealand and around the world, how all of us fit into the water cycle. Each visitor holds a glowing water droplet and is invited to use their body heat to manipulate the landscape on the projections; playing in the waves, or waving an arm beside a section of foggy screen to reveal a poignant quote.
"I've heard that there are places where you can just turn on a faucet to get water," says 8-year-old Said.
The man who makes it all happen is Martin Fassier, the technical director who has worked with Cirque du Soleil for three years. He sits backstage, in a rock star-looking control-room. Flickering away in the corner is "the brain", a series of control panels on wheels responsible for projecting the imagery that plunges audiences into a 360-degree, surround-sound, immersive experience.
"It's unbelievably complicated, even if it sounds really simple, because there is no beginning and end. So all computers consider the image as being endless," Fassier explains.
Though the system switches itself off to use no more than a light bulb's worth of electricity when on standby, the show itself uses more computing power than Love, Cirque's extravagant Las Vegas Beatles show, he says. A specially developed piece of software allows hidden cameras to capture the visitors' infra-red projections and use those images to alter the projections on the circular screen, in real time.
Of course the show is laden with messages. The infra-red screen demonstrates how humans can directly alter the natural environment, while the single illuminated droplet reinforces the idea that every drop counts. The 360-degree water projections represent the endlessness of the water cycle. Towards the end of the show, water and sand will stream from the same source, as the video projections explore how water relates to the world's growing deserts.
"That [stunt] is going to get people going, how is that possible?" Fassier says. He would like to keep the science behind that little bit of magic to himself.
Hopefully, on that very dramatic note, visitors will be motivated to act on their emotions, and to make a pledge to change their water consumption habits.
Genevieve Lussier, a visiting French-Canadian representing One Drop, can rattle off a list of frightening facts - that the average Auckland household uses 200 litres of water a day, while the rest of the country uses about five times more; and our neighbours on the Pacific Islands have some of the lowest rates of clean water in the world.
She says it's often too enormous to comprehend how turning off one's faucet properly will help someone in Africa, but hopefully the exhibition will help break it down.
"We are all connected to water," she says.
"If we pollute it here, we pollute it somewhere else."
When and where: Now on at Auckland Museum.
Tickets: Adult $15, child $5. Sessions begin at 10am daily.