Does your family measure the years with height marks on a doorway to the kitchen? My family did not, and I was always struck by the practice when visiting homes that did. British artist Roman Ondak has taken the concept and worked it into a participatory installation at the Tate.
More on this exhibit here: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/tateshots-roman-ondak-measuring-universe
This is something we talk about often during the design process. We are not creating exhibits based on science fiction. Our content goals are firmly rooted in a reality of experience, moments that already exist, truths. But we aren’t looking to recreate opportunities for existing experiences either. When you walk into a museum you aren’t expected to pretend you are somewhere else, although an experience can often be enhanced by doing so. There is a middle ground. It’s ten percent theater, thirty percent education, and sixty percent this third thing, the magic of the common vernacular rephrased in a language that brings a user into a context they are familiar with but in a form that highlights the thirty percent. The content. Content is king. Transference and communication and the experience of the content. Art often gets this right in a way that we as exhibit makers could never dream of. It makes sense. The content is driven by one thinker, the artist. It can be a super singular idea sharply focused and pointed such that it gives the viewer room to react in a way that an exhibit will never be able to do. But the point of this post is to talk about how this thinking finds its way into our process.
We are wrapping up the fabrication of an exhibit we designed for the Worcester Historical Museum. One of the interactives is a timeline in a diner. We took 100 years of history and condensed it down to three time periods, each marked in this “visual vernacular” by a public phone from that era. The content is transferred through two means – the telling of stories via the handset of each phone, and by newspaper clippings from each era directly applied to the walls adjacent to each phone. Ten percent theater, thirty percent education, and sixty percent the tools of the visual guiding the visitor into the most important component, the content.
In Ondak’s piece at the Tate the content is ______. You fill in the blank. That’s half a joke. That’s the artist’s privilege. But it’s also what exhibit makers can learn from looking at art.