by Emma Bloomfield
Today’s post again features our colleague, Dr. Emma Frances Bloomfield, who shares more about her visit to Ark Encounter and the apocalyptic rhetoric she found there.
As a follow-up to my previous post, I’d like to focus on a few specific material and sensory elements of the Ark Encounter and how they contribute to its apocalyptic arguments. During my site visit, I was struck by the ark’s structure, materials, textures, and sounds and how they amplify the Ark Encounter’s message of an impending second coming.
To enter the ark, people must first queue up in snaking lines and enter loading ramps, similar to how animals might have been loaded in Noah’s time. Once onboard, visitors are surrounded by long hallways of unpainted wood, terracotta pots, and dioramas of life on the ark. The Ark Encounter forgoes modern technology, where possible, to give the structure an aura of authenticity. Doors to cages have simple sliding wooden bars and the ramps show wooden dowels instead of nails holding together the railings. The interior of the ark is lit up with soft, glowing lanterns instead of fluorescent light bulbs. Traces of contemporary construction are covered with wood to mimic ancient construction techniques. Although visitors know that the ark at Ark Encounter was completed about a year ago, the constructors have strategically hidden many signs of that fact. These elements help constitute the ark as an authentic replica, lending authority to the Bible as the source of the ark’s production.
The open space gives visitors a strong sense of the ark’s vastness and how many crates could fit inside. Visitors are not in a traditional museum, but a recreation of a time and place lost to people today. Seeing and moving among the crates gives visitors a sense that the ark could have existed and survived the flood as recorded in the Bible. To heighten the experience of authenticity, the Ark Encounter plays sounds of animal noises. When visitors pass by cages, they are greeted by the presence of animals (though they are not real) in multiple senses. There is a lingering smell of fresh cut wood and hay, especially through the first section of cages. Throughout the three decks of the Ark Encounter, the floor is covered in small scratch marks that mimic the scraping of thousands of animal feet being loaded into cages. Visitors are immersed in an experience that seems real—a simulacra of Noah’s ark—that seeks to provide evidence for the Bible’s version of the past.
Audio is also used to amplify the urgency of the Ark Encounter’s arguments. Underneath the animal grunts are the roaring waves of the ocean. Completely encased in this huge wood structure, visitors can only imagine the storm that might be raging outside. As visitors exit the Ark Encounter, they descend from the top deck and are deposited in a gift shop under the lofted structure. This descent moves visitors from a position safe aboard the ark to the underbelly of the ship, out of safekeeping were the next apocalypse to happen again.
Visitors are transported from their everyday life to the sights, smells, sounds, and textures of life onboard Noah’s ark. Without historical evidence available for display, the Ark Encounter uses material elements to create a journey that involves the visitors’ senses in Noah’s story. Exploring the grandeur of the large vessel, the visitors are enveloped in the possibility of the ark’s existence. Thus, their experience may be characterized as a sort of resurrection of Noah’s Ark, in a sense resurrecting it from the mountains of Ararat.