11 months ago


Complexity in Museum Exhibition Design Napapong Matt Naparat, Carleton University, Ottawa, Abstract Complexity in Museum Exhibition Design is an exploration of the complex dynamic between design, culture, and the system of representation – exhibition. This literature review, as part of a master’s thesis research in progress, stems from recognizing the fact that museum exhibition techniques communicate visually and through other senses, the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of an exhibition’s development process, and the current trend of audience interactivity through technology and other media in museum exhibitions to engage with the viewer and promote learning. This paper examines how design, as a means to construct as well as to communicate in museum exhibitions, influences the representation of culture, ultimately affecting the audience interpretation. With an aim to raise awareness among museum practitioners, particularly designers of their design choices in creating an exhibition and their implication, this paper thus intends to provide a comprehensive understanding of the balance between design construction and exhibitionary representation. It addresses both the complexity of issues and phenomena in design as well as the complex approaches developed in their response. To analyze the complexities of museum exhibition design through both theories and current practice, six areas under investigation include: 1) Design in the system of representation and its limitations, 2) The role of design in current museum practice, 3) The trend of technology-integrated exhibitions, 4) The interdisciplinary aspects of exhibition design, 5) Examples of existing museum exhibitions and their techniques of representing, 6) The implications for future museum exhibition design. Keywords exhibition design; museum practice; interdisciplinarity; cultural representation; media and technology. Modern museums and exhibitions in many ways are a product of the Enlightenment – mediums to represent ‘a community of learning and knowledge, a concordance of taste, scholarship and industry, among the countries of Europe’ (Déotte, 2004, p. 52). With this in mind, it is understandable that museums have come to assume their stereotypical yet vital roles as pedagogical institutions. A recent American Association of Museums survey indicates 87% of respondents deem museums trustworthy while 67% trust books and only 50% trust television news (Marstine, 2006). The influence and authority of museums are prevalent as ‘the public generally accepted the idea that if it was in the museum, it was not only real but represented a standard of excellence’ (Cameron, 2004, p. 66). However, increasing competing sources of information and recreation do affect museums’ foothold and popularity in today’s culture. To reaffirm their function as social/cultural institutions and remain financially viable, there emerged a trend in museum exhibitions resorting to entertaining and experiential values (Weil, 2002; McLean, 2004). The museums’ choice of using design components/techniques to supplement the traditional goal of education is self-evident through today’s ubiquity of new media and technologies in museum exhibitions. It is also a response to ‘the pressures of the market and wider demands for hi-tech and interactive experiences’ (Henning, 2007, p. 29). Museums with their didactic pursuit have over time honed a unique ability to teach by showing (Hein, 2000). The museums’ system of representation had undergone a series of transformations from the Renaissance curiosity cabinets, to the Industrial Revolution showcasing techniques (Greenhalgh, 1988), and including the recent urge to instil capitalist values of innovation and consumption via hierarchical arrangement of objects (Marstine, 2006). The advance of technology, in some ways, changes the role and priority of museums and exhibitions alike. For instance, the

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