Creating an Exhibition – Part 3

Hello again and welcome to week 3! After last week, I was determined to press on in the project and make a new fresh start. We began our week waiting for our meeting with the art department because we had come to a good point in our planning and we needed to find out how much things cost. This meeting went really well. The message was basically if we can imagine it, they can print it! Furthermore, it was not as expensive as we were fearing so we came out of this meeting feeling confident in our ideas and designs. We pressed on, finalising our design ideas and making a list for what we thought could be sent to the printers. Our decision was to send off to the art department a rough list of what we were thinking of getting printed and just to see a rough cost and thus what was doable and what wasn’t.

The week was going well but in a design workshop, we had a discussion with one of our lecturers about the project which would cause us to refocus. After painstakingly going over our text (all 3 sentences!) to ensure that they were the best and the clearest that they could be, we invited one of our lecturers to review our exhibition and text. What came out of this conversation was that we had lots of great ideas, but that our exhibition was too broad. It was trying to do too many things. We had some history, some geography, some contemporary references etc. all in one case. We were encouraged to think of what role the object would play in the display (if any). Is it a prop? A metaphor? The centre of attention? It was this factor that we would have to consider while revaluating our case. However, it caused me to really think about objects within a museum and exhibitions. Our lecturers were questioning us why/ if we needed texts or object. Personally, I could not imagine a museum display without either. You need text to give context to the object and to tell its story. Likewise, museums are special because they are a space in which people can engage with objects that were ‘really there’. They were part of history or they are a particular specimen. They help to tell the stories of the exhibition. With our lecturer encouraging us to think about objects in the display really made me question my held beliefs and inspired me to take up this topic for my individual presentation. Ultimately, I still believe that objects and text are important within museums. They are the basis of the stories that we want to tell and are a tangible link to the past that makes the museum as a communication medium so unique.

Furthermore, with this questioning from our lecturer, it also made me appreciate the exhibition process. Apart from the issues regarding story and theme, I think I had imagined the road to installation to be quite smooth and that once we had the ground works of a story then everything will just come together. However, I am so grateful to our lecturer for questioning our idea. I know it made me worry about time, theme etc. but I think what it has done is given myself and my team valuable experience into exhibition planning. Things may go wrong. You may have to do a rethink. All this can have implications on everything else from digital, to time management to education. But what I have learnt is to not panic. Go away and think about refinement (by considering our key exhibition question) and remind myself that we were ahead in our time planning, so we have time. Moreover, by refreshing the project by revaluating it, we had a chance to make the experience even better for visitors.

I am now considering how this review process could be implemented within museums. We have a lecturer who is outside of our group looking in. A fresh pair of eyes. Perhaps a system of peer reviews between museums would be an interesting idea. A team from one museum can come in and review the design and narrative that another museum has been working on for a new exhibition. It would encourage peer learning within the sector, a sharing of ideas and techniques and, I feel, help make better and closer relationships between museums across the country. Another review idea could be asking a representative sample from the community to come in and express their views. By asking the community, who will benefit most from the new displays, they will be able to have a hand in its design and may be able to mould and adapt it to their needs, thus making it more applicable and enjoyable for the local community.

While feeling a bit lost, we decided that we should have a night to sleep on some ideas and come back the next day focusing in on one theme from the previous design.

When we had this meeting, two common themes arose. One was using the case a metaphor. Ideas of a kitchen or a food cupboard were the most popular. Secondly, was using a suitcase as part of the interactive to symbolise modern travel and link back to the jar. These themes all focused more thoroughly on the idea and theme of food representing home and eliminated ideas like the maps and historical context, in favour of presenting a narrative which included a personal and relatable touch. By placing ourselves within the exhibition and focusing on the jar as a metaphor for travel and bring home with you, I feel that we that we have made the object more relatable and thus understandable to the visitor. Our questions will prompt the visitor to place themselves in the migrating Spaniard’s shoes and ask what they will take with them that reminds them of home. All of this helps engage the visitor in our display.

If I had to adapt one thing in our exhibition, I would add a little more historical context for those interested. We simply give one sentence to explain the use of the jar, the people who used it and where they used it. As previously mentioned, I feel that text is important within a display, but I can appreciate that people do not want to read a book. An exhibition is a different type of communication method. We talked about using the blog as a place to put in extra historical context for the jar which is a great idea to address this. My only issue is that some people may not have time to follow up a museum visit with further reading. They may want to go and get the information there and then. Furthermore, I am worried about alienating certain demographics who are perhaps not comfortable in using computers or cannot use them. If we had more space, to address the educational need of our exhibition, I would like to have put in more context of the jar. By doing this people would have been able to learn about the history of the jar and why the Spanish migrated and thus giving context as to why they wanted to take home with them. Then we can bring the visitor into now, showing how they can relate to the object and thus to the Spanish centuries ago. But we needed a lot more space to enable this and putting this in one case, as we had tried to do, was too much and caused confusion.

By the end of the week, we had redesigned our case and interactive feature in order to focus more on our core message and had begun to debate what things we needed to buy, order, print etc. Thus it was a stressful but very productive week that has enable us to get back on track and ready for the final design week before installation!

I feel that I have improved upon my listening skills this week and I have been noting down minutes more thoroughly in order to keep abreast as to what is happening. There have been a few moments where I was unsure on what a certain workshop would definitely entail and so in the future, I think I just need to email tutors to confirm this in advance in order to better lead me group. The thing that I have learnt most thing week has been more on exhibition process instead of my own strengths or weaknesses but this is still a crucial lesson to learn and one which will definitely set me up in good stead for any future career.

Thank you to all who reads my blog! Any comments or responses to my exhibition review ideas, please post below or tweet me. I would love to hear your views on them and on exhibition processes.

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