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Evoluon 2 (crop 1)

Evoluon, Eindhoven, 1968

Evoluon, Eindhoven, 1968

Science and technology exhibition, Evoluon, Eindhoven, 1968
UoB Design Archives

Evoluon 2 (crop 1)
Britain Can Make It 1 (crop 1)

Mural in the Furnished Room, Britain Can Make It, V&A, London, 1946
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Britain Can Make It 1 (crop 1)
Taiwan 1 (crop 1)

Sketch of exhibition layout,
National Museum of Natural Science, Taiwan, 1986-88
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Taiwan 1 (crop 1)
Britain Can Make It 2 (crop 1)

Tea Bar, Britain Can Make It, V&A, London, 1946
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Britain Can Make It 2 (crop 1)
Taiwan 2 (crop 1)

Interior view,
National Museum of Natural Science, Taiwan, 1986-88
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Taiwan 2 (crop 1)
Exhibition 1

Construction of exhibition space,
Britain Can Make It, V&A, London, 1946
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Exhibition 1
Taiwan 3 (crop 1)

Interior view,
National Museum of Natural Science, Taiwan, 1986-88
UoB Design Archives

Taiwan 3 (crop 1)
B&BwFord

President Ford, Robert Staples, and Barbara Fahs Charles
with model of the "Levitating White House," for the Ford Museum, 1980
Staples & Charles

B&BwFord
Francisco 2 059

Sketch of Australia section,
Commonwealth Institute, London, c. 1961
UoB Design Archives

Francisco 2 059
Festival of Britain 2 (crop 1)

Fashions Hall, Britain Can Make It, V&A, London, 1946
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Evoluon 1 (crop 1)

Gallery view of The Senster,
Evoluon, Eindhoven, 1968
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Evoluon 1 (crop 1)
PhotographyandtheCityinstallSI19681

Installation view, Photography and the City,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1968
Staples & Charles

PhotographyandtheCityinstallSI19681
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General view
Evoluon, Eindhoven, 1968
UoB Design Archives

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Co-production

 

Claire Wintle
 Claire Wintle
Admin
Joined: 2 years ago
Posts: 55
Topic starter  

Dear Suzanne, Dear Andrea, thank you both for your wonderful presentations. I very much enjoyed hearing about these examples of exhibition making from across time and the globe. Together, in your explorations of methodologies for understanding exhibitions, decolonial and immersive design, collaboration, conflict, empire and the shifting roles of exhibition makers, you’ve created a perfect foundation for the conference and all the panels which explore those topics – you are indeed the perfect keynotes! Thank you!

My question relates to the co-productive practices that you both discuss in your papers. The recent case studies that you explore (District 6, Ferrowhite, Bunjilaka Gallery) are completely inspirational, and a model for future design. But, I wondered about the inevitable power relations that infuse all co-productive practices (no matter how well conceived), of client/designer, designer/maker, colonised/coloniser, as well as gender, class and ethnicity. As researchers of the (historical) exhibition making process, how did you investigate and grapple with these inequalities and complex relationships? Also, do the case studies offer any useful principles for future co-production that might undermine these power relations?


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Andrea Witcomb
 Andrea Witcomb
Joined: 1 year ago
Posts: 7
 

Dear Claire

Thank you for your lovely comments. So, in the case of Bunjilaka, there are some interesting things to note about the model of collaboration that was used here. If we think of different ways of working with community as along a spectrum between 'consultation' and collaboration, I think Bunjilaka may well be say three quarters of the way towards consultation. First point to make is that the Museum worked with a group of Elders called the Yulendj group. You can see a description of it and 'hear' from various members of it here: https://museumsvictoria.com.au/bunjilaka/about-us/first-peoples/yulendj-group/

You can also see more of the exhibition here: https://museumsvictoria.com.au/bunjilaka/about-us/first-peoples/. Some of the multimedia I showed from my own recordings is shown here in total.

The collaboration, which is also described in the exhibition in an acknowledgements area, is completely embodied in the exhibition itself. First of all, there is the use of first person - these are not just quotes, these are members of the Yulendj group communicating their perspectives on various issues, talking and writing in first person. They talk about the significance of the possum skin cloak, about the meanings of reviving and mantaining traditional cultural practices, about the meaning of family, identity and Country. Of experiences such as the Stolen Generations (the removal of Aboriginal children from their families against their will and their institutionalisation or placement in 'white' families, the oral family stories of fighting for their Country (Frontier wars) as well as for Australia, of community, sporting and cultural practices and so on. 'Western' knowledge is marked in a different font and in a different voice from Aboriginal voices. It is also far less present than Aboriginal voices, a point that angered some members of the audience who thought the exhibition was not 'scientific' enough. (You can see a review of the exhibition by an archaeologist by the name of Vines in the Museums Australia magazine in I think Feb 2014 for an example of that kind of response). Secondly, all the objects were chosen in collaboration with the Yulendj according to Senior Curator i interviewed. She also told me that the design itself, down to the graphics on the 'wallpaper' on the walls was decided upon through conversation with the Yulendj group. I think the commitment to privileging Indigenous Voices and Perspectives is there in the content, in the quality of the fitout which is extremely high and in the narrative structure, which as i have tried to illustrate is an argument about the need acknowledge the past, particularly the lack of a Treaty and work towards a new future. It is a hard hitting political argument but its approach is not to make you feel guilty but to get you to understand the impact of colonisation. Problems with it?  Perhaps an over romanticisation of Country and not sufficient attention to the social and economic conditions of Aboriginal people in the State of Victoria today. But i also think that was a strategic decision to support the wider argument that they wanted to make. So, while I don't know about the inevitable compromises that must have been made, I do know that there is a strong ongoing relationship with this group of elders and the communities they represent. In terms of methodology for revealing power relations, i think the contrasts i drew between the 1986 exhibition at the Migration Museum and this one show you some of the things i look for - use of voice and tense in interpretative text. Close attention to what it is that the use of juxtaposition is revealing. Temporal narratives within the exhibition. Whether or not the interpretative strategy magnifies or reduces the space between subject and object. I am interested in examples where that distance is minimised not because it erases power but because it encourages a space for critical reflection in which your relationship with those on display is the subject of discussion rather than 'the other' being objectified by being rendered as something disconnected from everyone else (us). Hope that goes some way to answering your question.


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Suzanne MacLeod
 Suzanne MacLeod
Joined: 1 year ago
Posts: 6
 

Hi Claire, Hi Andrea,

In the examples I talked about, there are a mix of approaches - from elements of expert-led design (all the decisions taken by the museum/designer), participatory design (something akin to the example described above by Andrea where a collaborative process enables participants to present their own sense of self and where when it is done well can remove distance to some extent and position us as visitor in a more equitable relationship with the person speaking to us) and co-production (where the institution and design, in a formal sense, thin). I think it is worth drawing attention to these actions as they are steps taken purposefully to challenge power relationships (D6Ms determination not to expend too much energy involving themselves in professional debates and to, rather, create a space where dignity and coming together to generate new forms of subjectivity (relations to self, other and environment) amongst a group that had been oppressed, was priority) and open up a space for reflection and discussion, difficult conversations and new relationships. Both District Six Museum and Museo Taller Ferrowhite are of interest to me because they push through the formality of much museum making and emphasise relationships. They are also run by teams that are deep thinkers - who recognise that their intellectual work - and a clear sense of what they don't want to be (what they counter) - is a key part of their methodology. I looked at around 70 examples of museum making from over the last 70 years in the project (and ended up writing up 28 of them). A few observations that emerged from across the study...

The museums where genuine co-production was taking place (very small in number) in different ways understood that museums are generative of ways of being - they understood that they could loosen their grip on conventions of museum design and specific notions of museum experience to work with others in space and create something new. These teams were very aware of the potency of the spaces they were working in. Far from empty spaces ready to be filled up with graphic panels and collections, in different ways these teams explored the consequences of the space of the museum and its surroundings (their specific museum) for the people who inhabit them. They were keen to understand the ways in which a museum might limit relationships and experiences through its forms and set up and wanted to challenge that. This seems really crucial to me as it is all about decisions about space and design and how these decisions have social and experiential/subjective consequences (not cause and effect but more like opening up scope for...).

I'm also interested in capital and processes of economization in museums. This is growing and we see more and more the spatial and social/experiential impact of economically-led decisions in museums. These museums actively seek to work against those processes and be something counter to the unequal space of capital. Far from fixed, they are constantly in the process of being made and this process is unashamedly utopian - in the sense that there is an aim of generating a spatial and social landscape that nurtures and enables. It provides a method for pushing beyond the current structures of society rather than passively working within them. When museum spaces are produced from the perspective of the institution and through professional concerns, even if they involve participatory processes, they will, as scholars have noted of spaces in general, tend towards the homogenous. Similarly, the marketing-led approaches that currently dominate the cultural sector and which see cultural organisations focused always on marketing their ‘offer’ to specific ‘audience segments’ and where there is even discussion of ‘segment clash’, lead cultural organisations along a path toward a form of museum making based on conformity and social segregation. Spaces designed for creative lives demand a more authentic process of working with others, with all the complexities, challenges and contradictions this work brings. 

I hope that goes someway to responding Claire. Suzanne


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Andrea Witcomb
 Andrea Witcomb
Joined: 1 year ago
Posts: 7
 

Hi Suzanne

Your answer struck a note of recognition in me. Yes, I think describing the Bunjilaka case as an example of participative design is accurate. The institution is still very much present - it doesn't disappear or attempt to disappear. What it does do is use its power to open a space that prioritises a different set of voices. In so doing it also produces a new space for itself of course. In a way there is an interesting dialectic going on - the institution reinvents itself by staging its own encounter with First People's voices, literally allowing a dialogue between western and Indigenous world views and taking care that Indigenous world views are fully supported. In there is the audience - which in the case of the First Peoples exhibition consists of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The exhibition is interesting for the way in which it speaks differently to both. I gave an account as a non Indigenous person, trying to articulate what I think the objectives of the exhibition were towards someone like me and trying to analyse how that was achieved. It would be equally possible to undertake an analysis of what the objectives were for Indigenous audiences and how these were embodied in the exhibition as well. In fact, what is significant here is how those strategies work as an ensemble and can speak to both audiences at the same time but with slightly different messages. For someone like me, the message is very much to understand the impact of colonisation and the work that remains to be done not only to acknowledge that impact but to create a different future. I can also see that for an Aboriginal person, the message would include, among a variety of things, pride, a sense of collective resilience and continuity despite change, affirmation of survival and community, affirmation of centrality in Australia's history and its future. And like you, my interest is in how all of these things are enabled and produced to spatial and design decisions, along with, in my analysis, choices as to whose voices are privileged and how. For me, the fact that the institution retains power is not necessarily a bad thing because it is doing something positive with that power - it is trying to enable new worlds and in that sense it is, as you put it, designing creative lives. But it is doing so within the mold of the institution we call a museum, whereas your examples are it seems to me, dissolving and reinventing what we mean by the concept of the museum. Both are trying to do good as you so brilliantly put it in the introduction to your paper.


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Claire Wintle
 Claire Wintle
Admin
Joined: 2 years ago
Posts: 55
Topic starter  

Dear Suzanne – I hadn’t realised that your project spanned 70 years! I wonder how collaborative and co-productive practices have changed over that time – is it a linear progression, or…? I can also read the book when it comes out next month, of course!

I am very much struck by your emphasis on space and the role that it plays in generating museum practice – I’ve just listened to Kate Rhodes’ presentation in Panel 4 and she very much speaks to that too.

Andrea, thank you for your careful responses. Your mention of a specific Acknowledgments area in the museum makes me think of Sara Woodbury’s excellent paper (also Panel 4), which focuses on the need to publicly (and financially) acknowledge hidden labour in museum projects. On a different note, I also wonder if Byrony Onciul’s paper on the limits of what can be said in exhibitions of colonialism might be interesting to you, if you haven’t seen it already:

Onciul, Bryony. "Telling Hard Truths and the Process of Decolonising Indigenous Representations in Canadian Museums." In Challenging History in the Museum: International Perspectives, edited by Jenny Kidd and et al. London: Routledge, 2014.

I very much like your methodology of examining the space itself, and the affective impact of the exhibition, as well as interviewing curators and participants after the event about their impressions. I’ll be sharing this with my students in the coming academic year!


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Suzanne MacLeod
 Suzanne MacLeod
Joined: 1 year ago
Posts: 6
 

So many amazing presentations to listen to - I need to catch up!

I can respond to your questions at the same time I think. I looked at lots of examples of museum making - some really famous and well known (though of course the design methodologies have tended not to be written about even on the very well known exhibitions/museums) and others less so. What I found was that there were really amazing socially-engaged and compelling exhibitions (exhibitions and museums where the intent was to enable creative lives) that were the result of expert-led design (barely any collaboration at all) as well as amazing examples of user-centred design (lots of social science methods around consultation/audience advocates etc.) and participatory design (where participants get involved in design decisions). I was interested in examples where an emphasis on designing for creative lives could be traced and I found examples that were the outcome of all these different methods. And, of course I found the examples of co-production which really do something quite different like Museo Ferrowhite. They feel as though they belong to a different paradigm. I like Andrea's point about the institution retaining power not necessarily being a bad thing and agree completely. The majority of the examples of brilliant projects I describe remain within the institutional form we would recognise as a museum. I definitely didn't find a linear progression Claire. I found great early examples of what we would now call narrative design (which were expert led) and lots of user-centred design from the 1960s up to the 2010s when it seems to run its course. The examples of co-production (used in the very specific way described in the talk) are more recent and interestingly are in very specific contexts. 


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Megha Rajguru
 Megha Rajguru
Joined: 1 year ago
Posts: 1
 

Dear Suzanne,

I very much enjoyed your keynote lecture. Many thanks. (Andrea, I have blocked out time today to listen to yours and am very much looking forward to it).

The theoretical framework, Suzanne, of Lefebvre and thinking about exhibition spaces through autogestion is refreshing and productive and brings to light radical ways of exhibition-making for redress and repair. While I was listening to your lecture, feminist graphic design practices of the 1980s came to mind that were produced within communities, challenging patriarchal graphic design practices. I have three questions (apologies if these are too big to deal with here. Feel free to choose one!)

1. How would these models of co-produced exhibition design in D6 and Ferrowhite be employed within the context of our national museums that were formed within the very epistemological frameworks that drove capitalist modernity?

2. I was extremely impressed by the two museums' design approaches. In light of your comments about our museums (western?), how can museums such as D6 and Ferrowhite resist the logic of capitalism, where radical practices are most likely than not, appropriated or expropriated?

3. I was also concerned about the use of such practices within the context of populism and whether this approach to co-design and co-production can only have positive outcomes.

 

With thanks. Cannot wait to read your book.

Megha


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Suzanne MacLeod
 Suzanne MacLeod
Joined: 1 year ago
Posts: 6
 

Hi Megha - these are big - and brilliant - questions. If I take the first one, the answer would be with great difficulty. I found very few examples of genuine co-production. That said, it is possible to think about 'moments' in the production of space and the particular production of space that dominates at any one time and about varied productions and possibilities of space existing side by side. In that sense, these ideas (which I find convincing and helpful) could be brought to bear on even the most restrictive and conventional museum spaces if there was a willingness to do so. That said, and thinking about your 2nd question, D6M and Ferrowhite are led by deep thinkers who perform a kind of 'intellectual activism' (I took this from Rassool) and who are working all the time to reflect on the spaces they are working in and why they are there. The designers in these museums get deeply involved in the lives of the people who use the Museum and perform their role in quite a different way to what we might expect - discussing, socialising, thinking and collaborating, making and remaking, adding to and using the space with others. At D6M, the original 'designer' was an artist who developed a whole set of ideas around this idea of a receptive and generative environment. I suppose not getting co-opted to other purposes for those people is about their focus and determination to counter those forces - to actively resist and challenge and work with others to create a counter reality. I can imagine that in certain circumstances and in the less skilled hands, such processes could have negative outcomes and so I don't think the methods are easily transferable. I do think they are inspiring though and that they tell us a huge amount about the ways in which museums change space and set up all sorts of relationships and close down others. These museum makers understand that and choose to do something different that is located in lived experience (rather than in the space of ideas). I do think these ways of thinking and working could be worked through in a national museum - though they would fall foul of institutional rules around space, bureaucratic systems and ways of working/production values etc... I hope this ramble goes some way to responding Megha, Suzanne

 


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