• Research Project at the BTK by Emily Smith

THE MUSEUM OF … a Research Project at the BTK by Emily Smith

What insight can small-scale, colloquial exhibition-making practices offer the future of exhibition-making, specifically around the display and design of cultural phenomena?  

“The Museum Of...” is an on-going research project at BTK drawing from discourses around Communication Design, Museology, and Visual Anthropology. The practice surrounding exhibition-making ranges in complexity and communication directives—small object texts and eye-catching wall graphics;  technical informational panels and emotional text/image compositions; thematic hierarchical typography and functional way-finding systems; exquisite exhibition catalogs and utilitarian ticket stubs; promotional posters throughout the subway and viral social media campaigns. Everywhere one looks, design demarcates and mediates the space around material culture and the stories told. 

Ethnographically-informed design research into an everyday colloquial design practice might provide a deeper insight into how the layers of design, intertwined with display and curatorial practice, function. How do choices in exhibition-making shape (and are shaped by) cultural phenomena, shared aesthetic values and social practices? How are informal design practices learned outside the field of professionalization influencing cultural production? Not only how are professional visual communicators shaping the world, but how are we shaping those that emulate or reject our practice?

The multi-sited research, situated in Berlin/Brandenburg, looks closely at several local museum practices—small-scale, colloquial museum practices, where curatorial, display and design production is practiced by individuals outside of the professional field. Rather than immediately prioritizing the seem-less-ness of clear communication, what can we learn from such lay practices? In what ways can exhibition-makers integrate these lessons into further design problem-solving? The thick description of anthropology aims to contextualize processes and products. Might this shed light on how our professional practice mediates cultural production? Engaging in participant observation with local museum practitioners, the research aims to more deeply understand the transmission of design knowledge. And finally, the re-representation of research (in an online, spatial or printed context not yet decided upon) would stem from a more critical awareness of the authoritative potential of professional design and display practices. Such a discursive approach values the ethnographer and the designer, the professional and the layman, the researcher and the researched.

The project is intended to unfold in three phases with an integrated focus on student involvement: 

  1. On-going independent study or other credit-based, practice-led research interwoven into course curriculum. 
  2. Research presentation and discussion series
  3. Installation, printed publication or website “The Museum Of...”