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Complexity_in_Museum_Exhibition_Design

always tries to

always tries to perfectly imitate the reality of what is being re-presented in the form of appearance and details, but not necessarily scale; 2) The distinguishable difference between the model and what it stands for – partly due to the displacement in time and space between the reality and its imitation; 3) The double distinction within the exhibition – one between the system of representation and the external world, which is then reiterated by catalogues, plans, or signage to distinguish between the actual exhibition and the plan of the exhibition (p. 448). Design hence enables at least two levels of complex representation: the construction of threedimensional models and the graphic presentation of the design interpretation. This notion reinforces the existence of two distinct orders of being within the system of representation – ‘the order of things and the order of their meaning, of representation and reality’ (Mitchell, 2004, p. 449). In the realm of museum exhibitions, as a system that generally signifies culture, design plays a direct and authoritative role in conveying what will be construed. The role of design in current museum practice Beyond the theoretical scheme of representation, design has a prominent role particularly in the exhibition’s development. The role of design involves: materializing the narrative concept, showcasing objects on display, orientating and planning visitor’s experience, and modifying the exhibition to meet the measures of success (Alexander & Alexander, 2008). To better understand the design role in an exhibition, this paper examines Michael Baxandall’s (1991) framework of museum exhibit operation. The framework focusing on object-oriented exhibitions, proposes a triad among which three independent yet related agents are involved: the artefact makers (people who created the collected objects to represent their culture), the exhibition creators, and the viewers. These three distinct agents each pursue their own purpose; they interact in the space between object and label, where the viewer actively processes and mediates between a visual object on display and textual information in a label format. It is within this intellectual space that the design affects all three agents. For the artefact makers, the overall design of an exhibition highlights and/or downplays certain aspects of their culture; the decision/execution of the exhibition creators cannot equally represent all aspects of the artefact makers’ culture. For the exhibition creators, the design, in the form of components and techniques, is not a neutral medium through which a meaning/message about the artefact makers’ culture can be transmitted unaltered. As for the viewers, the design can guide their interpretation of the objects on display by either enhancing or limiting the message about the artefact makers’ culture through the representation. Out of the three agents, only two can be managed, the artefact makers and the exhibition creators; the viewers, particularly their interpretation of the presented culture and response to the exhibition remain unpredictable. Figure 3: Baxandall’s model of exhibition The concept of ‘entrance narrative’ refers to the audiences’ preconceived notion – the variable disposition of the viewers’ knowledge and beliefs. Despite the influence of design elements and information provided, the viewers will act by their own lights to their own ends within this intellectual space (Baxandall, 1991). Entrance narrative is considered as the most powerful determinant of a visitor’s response (Weil, 2002). It thus proves to be a challenge for many museum exhibition creators since there is no guarantee that the viewers will grasp the intended meaning/message.

Another critical aspect in museum exhibitions, in which design plays a major part, is the visitor’s learning in the museum. According to Falk and Dierking (2004), design is one of the eight key factors fundamental to museum learning experiences as it controls the exhibition’s physical context; ‘Whether the medium is exhibitions, programs, or web sites, learning is influenced by design… Appropriately designed exhibitions are compelling learning tools, arguably one of the best educational mediums ever devised’ (p. 142). Despite the exhibition creators’ good intention to induce, facilitate, and promote learning, there is an issue of authenticity with the use of design. The design components/techniques could compromise the accuracy of an exhibition’s contents. The twofold uncertainty of museal representation via exhibition design involves 1) the presented culture being a construct based on exhibition creators’ interpretation, 2) the exhibition creators’ construct being inevitably subjected to and fabricated by design techniques – what the viewers ultimately see or interact with. The question remains ‘Even if the equipment, processes, and costumes are thoroughly researched, is the demonstrated craft over-romanticized?’ (Alexander & Alexander, 2008, p. 263). Notwithstanding the authenticity issue, design is still a useful means to mitigate. Baxandall (1991) posits two design-related aspects to consider for an exhibition’s design development: context and freedom and information. First, the exhibition’s context of viewing needs to indicate cultural differences, signalling the cultural relativity of the viewers’ interpretation and the subject on display. Second, there needs to be less exhibition creators’ control of the viewers’ interpretation by allowing the well-informed viewers to create their own interpretation. The trend of technology-integrated exhibitions The recent profound changes in museum exhibitions attest to many museums’ desire to attract more visitors, underlining their need to remain relevant and financially viable. This trend involves: [Museums] expanding their range of exhibitable and often controversial themes and experimenting with new exhibition techniques and styles of development. Exhibitions are increasingly filled with interactive elements, multimedia and networked technologies, catchy and conversational labels, and objects out from under the glass. (McLean 2004, p. 194) To extend and update their role as educational institutions, museums modify their style of delivery beyond the traditional display of objects in a rational order; they engage visitors with ‘settings, objects, ideas, performances, conversations, and as a whole, with experiences’ (Alexander & Alexander 2008, p. 274). The use of sensory stimuli entices and captivates the audiences’ attention. Multimedia applications, such as audio-visual and touch-screen interactives not only put the narrative and the displayed collection in context for visitors, they also enrich the visitors’ learning experience. The sensory approach is crucial to good interpretation because museum exhibitions are by and large nonverbal, sensory experiences; by eliciting visitors’ participation, either psychological or actual, and combining sensory perception with rational analysis, these delivery styles better explain contents (Alexander & Alexander, 2008). Some traditional ‘static’ design elements entail illustration, artefact labels, display arrangement, lighting, and diorama. Now these techniques have come to include physical interactives, graphic panels, multimedia applications, immersive experience, and so on. Psychologically, the range of choices of design elements helps diminish museum fatigue and boredom by adding appeal and change of pace to the exhibition (Hein, 2000; Alexander & Alexander, 2008). More importantly, technologies help relate objects to each other and produce meaningful visual narratives (Hooper- Greenhill, 2006). With the ability to create a broader and more cohesive picture, the sensory approach as one of many exhibition design strategies has become integral to communicating a message in museum exhibitions, particularly in the narrative-oriented type. The sensory approach, achieved through design in the form of interactive elements and networked technologies, can be a powerful tool in imparting knowledge and information, especially with its emotional appeals. However, it is important to remember that the sensory approach should only supplement and not replace the conventional means of words and verbalization as audiences can also get caught up in such multi-sensory experiences (Alexander & Alexander, 2008). The more

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