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IWM Duxford marks its centenary year with DX17

Why is it called DX17?

DX was the airfield identification code for Duxford during the Second World War and also forms part of the Airfield Signal Square, visible from the sky, while 17 is a reference to Duxford's centenary (1917-2017). DX also describes the act of listening in on long distance (short wave) radio, linking the radiophonic design of the installation with Duxford's remarkable history.

IWM's centenary is not the only landmark the museum recognises this year. 2017 also represents 100 years since work began on RAF Duxford.

To commemorate Duxford's centenary, IWM commissioned BAFTA award-winning artist Nick Ryan to create the site's first ever contemporary art installation, informed by its remarkable history.

The result is DX17, a spectacular and imaginative storytelling device that engages visitors in a tactile journey to discover 100 memories from Duxford’s past and present. DX17 is a futuristic and aerodynamic large-scale sound sculpture inspired by the themes of flight and innovation and, appropriately enough for a Duxford art installation, is roughly the same size as a Spitfire.

Ryan has scattered one hundred points of light across DX17’s surface, with each light containing narrative fragments, voices, sound, signals, moments, stories and anecdotes that represent one of 100 memories from Duxford’s past. New technology has been engineered for this project that allows audio to be encoded into these light sources, which can then be decoded by a receiver and turned into sound.

Before approaching DX17 in its deliberately darkened space, visitors will be given a pair of high quality headphones connected to a 'receiver' device. This 'receiver' can be used to scan the many points of light that illuminate the sculpture's surface, transforming these into sound and allowing visitors to tune in to 100 different memories. An immersive sound system also surrounds the artwork, creating a cinematic soundscape around the listener that complements what is heard through their headphones.

Artist Nick Ryan said: "I wanted to create a sensory artwork that allows the many people whose lives have been shaped by this unique and special place to speak for themselves and to transmit their memories to us in a direct and palpable way. DX17 is a sculptural object symbolising the extraordinary achievement of flight and making sense of 100 years of memories through sound, light and touch."

Diane Lees, Director-General of Imperial War Museums said: "Nick Ryan’s DX17 commemorates Duxford’s centenary in a unique way that is relevant to contemporary visitors. This futuristic sound sculpture will surprise and fascinate visitors, enabling them to physically and emotionally engage with personal stories of Duxford’s past and present, immersing themselves in this absorbing sensory experience."

IWM Duxford's DX17 exhibition opens to the general public on 16 June.