The CELL exhibit at the Denver Art Museum was one of the most interesting and unsettling experiences I’ve ever had from any type of museum exhibit. Located in a building across from the main DAM building, The CELL is pretty quiet and on the day I visited I was the first person to go in the exhibit that morning. When you first walk in, you see a large steel beam at the corner of the lobby against a window. At first you are un aware of what it is, but soon you see the surrounding images of 9/11 and realize that it is a steel beam from the World Trade Center.
But that is only the lobby, and the actual exhibit begins once two main doors open to a long curved hallway. In the hallway on both walls you are surrounded by screens, all plays the same short movie. The movie is meant to be a brief overview on terrorism, and shows you various interviews, attacks and survivors of the different horrific events. Some of the footage is very graphic and brutal, and sets the tone for the rest of the exhibit. Unfortunately when I was there, there was a problem with the audio and I wasn’t able to hear any of the dialogue from the movies being shown on the screens.
After the movie finishes, the doors at the end of the hallway open and you proceed into the second part of the exhibit. This part is more like a traditional exhibit, and is filled with various objects in glass windows and boxes. The objects however are not you typical museum artifacts or works of art, instead they are reconstructed weapons, bombs and equipments used by various terrorists over different attacks. Each object has a description of how they were used for the specific attack, and other information about the different events involving these weapons. This section of the exhibit also has a brief section on terrorism in Colorado and goes over a history of different terrorists or terror attacks that took place or almost took place in Colorado.
The final part of the exhibit is by far the main part of the exhibit and is meant to leave a lasting impression on you. Two doors open once again, transitioning into the next part of the exhibit but this time they don’t open into a hallway but into a dark, open room. The room is shaped somewhat like an L, but the every wall has a screen that goes from floor to celling. So you are essentially in a 360 degree movie theater. Once the doors close, the screens turn on and you realize that they are simulating a 360 degree display of a part of Downtown Denver. The footage you see is of people enjoying a normal day, kids laughing, people chatting and cars driving by. Text appears on the screen of people reminiscing about a specific event, specifically quoting them for things like “I was walking my kid to school” or “I was driving to the dentist.” You can tell that the film is setting you up for what its like when terror strikes: it just comes out of nowhere. And all of the sudden, flames erupt of the screen and an extremely loud BOOM comes over the speakers and simulates what it would be like to be caught up in an explosion in public. You start hearing sounds of chaos over the speakers, people screaming, glass shattering, alarms, sirens, ect. Everything turns to chaos and you feel very frightened and shocked. The movie then transitions to actual footage from real terror attacks and their aftermath. You see footage of bombings, massacres, 9/11 and much more. You also see montages of different people in pain, suffering and devastated from trauma or hearing the loss of loved ones. All of this carries on for a couple of minuets, but eventually fades to black with only text appearing on the screen. The text says something like “It can happen to you. It can happen to anyone, Terrorist attacks can happen anywhere, anytime.”
The film then ends, the lights turn on and the doors open so everyone can leave. As soon as you walk out, you come out into a meant to be guest interactive room, that seems to be almost for kids. Its filled with uplifting messages of what you can do to prevent terrorism and stories from survivors on how you can help and what you can do. There are guides and instructions for the best way to go about reporting terrorism, and what our government is currently doing got try and counter it.
After leaving the museum and looking back on it a few weeks later, I have to say I didn’t like the experience or find it beneficial. One of my main issues with this exhibit was that they didn’t warn you about anything that you see once you are in the exhibit. I understand the people at the CELL are going for shock value and are trying to alarm their viewers, but this could be something that could really be traumatizing for some people, such as young children or people with PTSD who have actually experienced a terror attack. There wasn’t any warning or description of what you see, at least I wasn’t given one, and that was something that I felt needed to be there. I also didn’t like the interactive part of the exhibit at the end, because you walk out of a very disturbing and realistic simulation of a terrorist attack, feeling very shocked and frightened, to a room that reminds you to report suspicious behavior to authorities, which most people are already aware of. Overall the CELL is trying to alert people to the realities of terrorism and how close to home it can actually be, but I felt that their way of going about it could’ve been much more well done and handled differently.