19 Nov 2013.

An exhibition should generate emotion

On the problems of exhibition design
by: Damjan Geber, Creative Cirector of Brigada

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Adris pavilion at the Weekend Media Festival, author: Brigada, 2013, An exhibition of Adris group’s annual reports held in Rovinj’s former tobacco factory. The entire space consists of ten white cylinders, each functioning as a “mini pavilion” presenting one annual report. By “entering” a mini pavilion, visitors could create their own micro space where they could briefly get away from the bustle of the festival and view the exhibition in peace.


The role of design in an exhibition

An exhibition is typically organized by curators who, through the exhibition itself, have something they wish to say. The essence of a good contemporary exhibition is that it not only speaks through the exhibited works, but also problematizes particular themes.

In this sense, how the exhibition as a whole communicates with visitors is very important, and so is the role of the designer or architect, as someone who creates space. They must communicate the same story – the curator’s message – through the exhibition space and all of the elements of the exhibition that are not exhibits themselves.

Unfortunately, in Croatia there are very few exhibitions like this. For the most part, they are retrospectives that linearly follow an artist’s work and hardly, if at all, reflect the space.

An exhibition should not be just a collection of works hung on the wall, as it is itself an ambient work created by the curator in collaboration with the designer or the architect. The curatorial story through space and the method of displaying the exhibition are closely linked.

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The Culture of Smoking: From Taboo to Taboo, author: Brigada, 2012, An exhibition in Glyptotheque HAZU focusing on the role smoking has played in artistic and popular culture by bringing together paintings, posters, photographs, films and ephemera created over the last 150 years. Taking inspiration from the phenomenon of smoke, the main goal of the agency Brigada was to recreate its very essence in the gallery space itself by completely altering a well-known exhibition space. Playing with the idea of taboo, their intention was to design an anti-exhibition – a display that hides the exhibits even from the museum itself.


The tasks of an exhibition designer

Designers must give the exhibits added value through space; they must create atmosphere. This may be achieved through the spatial organization of the exhibits, the guidance of visitors through the space, the relationship between light and shadow, sound, textures, and ambience, depending on the concept.

Spatial experience

Exhibition designers create experiences in space that correspond to those conceived by the curator through the exhibits. In Croatia, it often happens that the design of the exhibition, of the spatial experience, is developed separately from the exhibits, so they are almost always in conflict, like two different projects competing with each other in the same space. This has a direct impact on the success of the exhibition. The design of the space may be excellent, but if the space gives visitors a feeling that does not correspond with the story the curator intended, then it makes no sense.


Knowledge that exhibition designers must have

Above all, exhibition designers should have at least basic architectural knowledge. They must know how to communicate a feeling through space, and that is something that is largely learned through architecture, and partly through design, sociology, psychology, and scenography. Marketing knowledge is also useful, but most important is knowing how to handle space.

Approach to exhibition projects

It is important to join the project as early as possible, even during the curatorial concept phase, to try and develop parallely with the concept rather than joining a nearly finished, “cosmetic” project. If we can collaborate from the beginning on the development of the story, we can see how the curators think and consider how their ideas can resonate throughout the entire exhibition space. Our task is actually to ensure that all visitors get the same feeling as the curators do when they look at the exhibited works. The exhibition as a whole should generate emotion in visitors.

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Trends in exhibition design

Today the trend with exhibitions in general, not just with their design, is to address a narrow story, theme, or problem in a much broader way, bringing together different forms of art as well as exhibits from different cultural spheres, media, and life in general, for example the exhibition in Belgrade about life during the era of socialism.

As for design, the trend is of course increased interaction with visitors, multimedia and so forth – not as an end in itself, but to serve the idea of the exhibition.


Best examples

There are some fine examples in Croatia such as the exhibit Ki sit ki lačan (Those Well-fed and those hungry – in Istrian dialect) that happened in Pula (Istria) last year and was thought-out in every detail, thoroughly prepared, located in a space without intrusion, using the space in the best possible way. Even the extreme height of the former church was used well by placing a pendulous table that can be seen as an installation from bellow, and as an exhibit from the upper floor gallery.

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Those Well-fed and those hungry, authors: Mauricio Ferlin, Tajana Ujčić and Franko Lukež, 2012, The Archaeological Museum of Istria

Also, the exhibition Kod Cuculića (At the Cuculić’s) held at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka – magazine already wrote about it –  that paraphrases the designer’s apartment (Cuculić is a Croatian graphic designer). The exhibits are integrated into the setup organized as a stylized apartment, emphasizing the omnipresence of design in everyday life.

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At Cuculić’s, authors: Šesnić&Turković, 2010, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Rijeka

The exhibition of the British visual artist Anish Kapoor, who intervenes in the entire space in which his works are exhibited, is also notable as an international example. He is the first artist who literally took over the Royal Academy in London a few years ago, and that was the most successful exhibition of a living artist in Great Britain.

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Wax, author: Anish Kapoor, 2009, Royal Academy London

A fine and recent example is Google Web Lab, the exhibition of the digital laboratory in the London Science Museum where the visitors could interact with the internet users all over the world by using musical instruments and robots; or a very successful exhibition Dance Your Life in the Paris Pompidou, whose authors succeeded in answering a challenge – how to exhibit dance – by mixing different media and encouraging visitors to completely immerge into the subject.

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Google web lab, authors: Universal design studio and MAP, 2012, London Science Museum

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Dance Your Life (Danser sa vie), authors: Christine Macel and Emma Lavigne, 2012, Pompidou Paris


Written by: Damjan Geber, Creative Director of Brigada

This text was originally published in online magazine.

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