Behind the Scenes – Butterflies Up-Close

Some time back, I sat down for an interview with June Chen, our Butterflies Up-Close exhibition project officer (overseeing the exhibition planning and build). Sitting in the Butterflies Up-Close exhibition classroom amidst the construction hustle, June shared with me what it means to be a project officer in charge of an exhibition.

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Before installation of the exhibits

How long have you been working here?

Coming to 2 years.

What exhibition projects have you worked on so far?

Singapore Innovations and Butterflies Up-Close

Can you share what it entails to come up with an exhibition like Butterflies Up-Close? How many people are involved and what are their roles?

There are a few approaches to coming up with an exhibition.

Usually, the team comprises a project officer that takes charge of liaising, budgeting, and the development of the narrative and content of the exhibition; an exhibition engineer who looks into the workings of each exhibit and prototyping exhibits, and a designer who advises on the look and mood of the exhibition and exhibits. The team also looks into various aspects of exhibit development, for example, how to bring across a scientific idea through an exhibit, and how to ensure the durability and safety of an exhibit.

If there is already a clear direction on how to approach the exhibition narrative and design, the project officer will work with the exhibition engineer and the exhibition designer to fix and guide the direction for the exhibition build. The team will also look into elements such as how to bring an idea across, and how to ensure the durability and safety of the exhibits. If all goes smoothly, it will take about 9 months from conceptualisation to design to build.

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Butterfly cutouts getting spray painted before installation

In the case of Butterflies Up-Close, the exhibition started with a design tender to come up with the narrative and design concept for the exhibition. It culminated in a week-long workshop with partners and the design team to look into exhibit ideas, examine the pros and cons of the gallery space, and determine the circulation and flow of the exhibition. The storyboarding took about 2 months to complete, with a focus on young children. The exhibition is pitched at their level, showing the life cycle of the butterflies and how they survive each stage. The most exciting part of the exhibition is the live butterflies enclosure where visitors get to come up-close and personal with the butterflies. Through this interactive exhibition, the team hopes to provide an educational and engaging experience to visitors and to spur their interest in invertebrates.

Which is your favourite exhibit?

This is a tough question, but I would say it would be a tie between the Emergence Video within the ‘Research Pod’ that gives an insight to the life at the adult stage of butterflies, and the mechanical exhibit “Caterpillar Race” that shows how caterpillars move.

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Completed Research Pod before landscaping

What is your biggest takeaway working on this project?

Build an effective team, and trust them. I am truly blessed to have the support of the Butterflies Up-Close working team in Exhibitions group (Rene, Li Xian, Alfy, and Kim), our design consultant firm, and the fabrication company that was on-board this project with us.

BU Project Team
June (centre) and her project team (From left: Li Xian, Rene, Alfy and Kim)

We’ve faced a couple of major challenges e.g. ambiguity and budget constraints (both not unusual though, in project management), taking over an assigned exhibition hall with multi-levels and odd configuration, dealing with major delays and working with an exhibition partner, but the wisdom and expertise from each and every one aforementioned have helped to fill in my knowledge lapses in certain areas, and significantly contributed to the projection completion. This experience has ascertained my need to believe in and trust the capabilities of my teammates, vice versa, as we deal with uncertainties and challenges together.

Placing the final product – Butterflies Up-Close exhibition on ground for visitors to experience is just the completion of the first phase of the entire project. Through feedback and observation of visitors’ interaction, we hope to make the exhibition more enriching, meaningful, and relevant as time goes.

Keen for an up-close encounter with hundreds of butterflies at Science Centre Singapore? More information can be found here.

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