Why Digital Museums Need “Walls” Part 2: Bear 71

This is the second post in a 3-part series on reimaginging André Malraux’s Museum Without Walls and what it means for the future of digital exhibitions.

I passed trees and train tracks, watched a cougar pad through the snow and dig its front claws into the trunk of a tree. I saw a merganser and her chicks waddle over a rocky path while, across the lake, ravens picked at the carcass of a decaying deer.

Bear 71 was elsewhere in the park, hunting for food and walking past another of the dozens of trail cameras placed throughout the Banff National Forest. But I could still hear her voice through my earphones as she narrated the story of her life. With a biting mixture of lamentation and resignation, the she took me from the moment she acquired her electric collar at age three until her tragic demise a mere eight years later.

Technology may not have advanced quite so far as to enable us to listen in on the eloquent thoughts of a Canadian grizzly, but it can provide a remarkably compelling online experience of real-world events. Bear 71, the interactive documentary by Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes is the future of digital storytelling and probably the future of online museums.

Allison and Mendes combined first-person (first-bear?) perspective with wildlife research data and low-res documentary footage, organizing and overlaying it upon a navigable, data-visualized representation of the Banff National Forest. Both functionally and aesthetically, the work evokes the high-tech, eternally connected culture of Web 2.0 alongside the dark, visceral awe of nature– both its beauty and its ruthlessness.

This is the Museum Without Walls of the future. It is a collection of materials accessible to anyone with an internet connection– but with a spatial navigation that enhances meaning to an extraordinary degree.

If you have 20 minutes, explore Bear 71. You won’t regret it.

In my next post, I’ll unpack further implications of Bear-71-like digital exhibitions.