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Historische Huizen Gent: a characteristic perspective on the past and the present

Bridge between the old and the new

Historische Huizen Gent unites 7 top monuments in Ghent: Gravensteen, the Belfort, St. Peter’s Abbey, St. Bavo’s Abbey, Museum Arnold Vander Haeghen, d'Hane Steenhuyse and the Town Hall. These monuments are the face of the city. They are the silent witnesses of prominent developments in the past and of the changing needs and ideas in society. Historische Huizen Gent values monuments as bearers of significance for people now and in the future and it researches any possibilities to use the physical and virtual environment of these historical houses as much as possible. It is developing active access and is looking for innovative methods to achieve this goal in way that is modern and daring. Historische Huizen Gent wants to build a bridge between the old and the new, between heritage and modern innovative access techniques. The monuments become open houses, locations where modern people and spirits from the past can come together.

Fiction?

The Historische Huizen Gent team has not shrunk away from adding a dose of strongly substantiated fiction to the historical truth wherever it saw fit. When sources dry up, we allow fantasy to begin. Both the movie guide Alison and the comic series of the same name in St. Peter’s Abbey are good examples. It is a clever mix of fact and fiction, of grand-scale and small-scale history, of sincerity and playfulness. The line dividing the past and present has always been fine. Increasingly, our historical houses are becoming theatres for our history, playing with meaning and identity and mixing our ideas about authenticity with fiction.

Experience and imagination

In our exhibitions too, testimonies, emotions and atmosphere are vital ingredients for an authentic experience. Our exhibitions tell a story through authentic objects in new contexts and through using the latest techniques. We have gained much experience by translating dramatic events from the past into exhibitions or other formats such as the movie guide. The auditory element plays a very significant role. After all, exhibitions are no longer purely visual, but also try to stimulate all the senses. We can learn a lot from the theatre- and movie industry regarding these matters. However, we have no need for imposing effects or full re-enactments; we opt for more controlled and subtle approaches. Today the literary and somewhat theatrical approach and working with a kind of ‘interior monologue’, preferably performed by an actor, has become our trademark. We constantly balance between scientific and sensual or emotional aspects. Still intuitive and experimental in exhibitions such as The Flemish on the Titanic, this method was successfully remodelled and substantiated. L’Oiseau bleu. Op zoek naar geluk (The Blue Bird. In Search of Happiness), the 2011 fairy-tale Maeterlinck exhibition took these elements even further, both on the imaginative direction and the audio guide, which became a true radio play in the expert hands of NTGent.

In this way we strive for a thriving relationship between information and relaxation, between serious and light-hearted. Heritage creatively translated into the present. With this approach, we want to interest young people in history and culture. Please let us know if we have been successful, or what you are missing.