Things that Talk

Controller, Installation, Multi‑user
Reviving Digitised Heritage

How can multiple narratives around a single historical object be transformed into an engaging and informative exhibition?

Centred on a single scientific object, Things that Talk is an exhibition that offers the public the opportunity to discover its historical depth through new and playful forms of interaction. The object is revealed through many stories – sometimes controversial, always surprising – that it has generated. Resulting from a collaboration between the EPFL Laboratory for the History of Science and Technology and the EPFL+ECAL Lab, Things that Talk does not simply describe the origin of these scientific objects, but reveals their uses and consequences and draws our attention to contemporary issues.

Things that Talk

Museum exhibitions typically present multiple historical objects linked by theme or typology. Each one has a small label describing when and where it is from. However, rarely do exhibitions engage with the rich stories that surround each piece – their context, their creators and their politics. We also lack a connection with the objects, what is their legacy today, and how do they reflect contemporary issues?

In this project, the EPFL+ECAL Lab collaborated with the Laboratory for the History of Science and Technology (LHST), whose mission is, among other things, to promote the UNIL-EPFL Collection of Scientific Instruments. The collaboration aimed to find a way to engage and inform visitors using digital content to contextualize a single historical object within wider themes.

Working with numerous digitised documents, and the expertise of the LHST, the lab’s team set about building interlocking narratives drawing themes from history, politics and sociology. They also worked on strategies to present these ideas in physical and digital space through prototyping and co-creation.

Creatively presenting connections between diverse themes helps museum visitors engage with and learn about the science and context of historical objects.

Things that Talk

Things that Talk is an exhibition that focuses on a single historical object. Blending archival images and original content presented on a digital screen, visitors can explore interwoven narratives behind the piece via custom-made interactive spotlights. These reveal hidden links and details that allow the visitor to generate their own understanding of the themes raised.

Things that Talk was exhibited at the EPFL Pavilions in April and May 2022.


Nicolas Henchoz

Project Management

Béatrice Durandard

Research Assistant

Lucie Houel

Creative Coding & Software Engineering

Delphine Ribes, Dr Cédric Duchêne, Yves Kalberer, Gabriel Luthier

Sound Design

Dr Cédric Duchêne


Béatrice Durandard

Graphic Design

Lara Défayes, Emily Groves

UX Psychology

Andrea Schneider

Photography Credits

© EPFL+ECAL Lab / Calypso Mahieu

LHST Content and Curation

Pr Jérôme Baudry, Director
Dr Ion-Gabriel Mihailescu, Postdoctoral researcher
Dr Simon Dumas Primbault, Postdoctoral researcher