Wednesday 13 November 2013

The architecture of reassurance

Last week I woke up to an energetic flurry of tweets back and forth between Seb Chan and a bunch of other overseas folks I follow over his blog post "Completion", participation and purpose. In it, he asks whether we care enough about - or have any way of measuring, "completion" of the experiences (be they online or physical) museums make for visitors.

Amid that flurry, Fiona Romeo got called in on the basis of a talk she'd recently given at the Pratt Institute on storytelling and exhibition design. Romeo promised to write up and publish her talk, and she duly has.

I find her observation reassuring pragmatic. Romeo covers the claims museums make for storytelling and the issues that get in the way. Firstly, we assume visitors will follow our story in order, and they usually do not. Here's where Romeo's background as a designer of digital experiences for Disney parks gives her a fascinating perspective. Quoting from Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The architecture of reassurance she notes that "Each Disney ride was designed as if it was a film, with establishing shots and jump cuts" and exratcs this quote
Vehicles swivel as they move forward, putting the passenger in the position of a moving camera that looks first in one direction and then another.
Second, visiting shows is tiring and we get sick of standing up and reading. And thirdly, the ternal struggle to use language that conveys concepts and an artist's or curator's intentions, while being (a) extremely broadly accessible and (b) compelling and/or entertaining.

Romeo then describes two exhibitions she worked on that tried hard to deliver on a narrative structure. These were complex, highly interactive, large-scale shows and her write-up makes for good reading. The puncline? Both exhibitions resulted in books being written to make the most of the narrative that was developed. Highly recommended reading.

(Plus, Romeo name-checks The Phantom Museum, which I really love.)

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