Blog #3: Digital Exhibitions and Technology

Cooper Hewitt Sign

Incorporating digital elements into exhibition spaces puts the visitor experience at the centre of the design and shifts the focus from the presentation of an artwork, to the interaction with the work.

In this blog post I will be expanding on some of the ideas from my first blog post, but rather than focusing on platforms like Instagram as a way to access art, I want to look at how digital technologies are used within the design space itself.

With smartphones and digital technology ever-present in our modern day society, incorporating this technology into the way we experience art should be obvious. The ability for work to be digitised, and for artwork to be created digitally with programs like Photoshop, Illustrator and Canva, highlights how some elements of the art world are keeping pace with our obsessive use of technology. Interestingly, not all galleries are keeping pace.

So how do visitors interact with a gallery space? 

Traditionally, gallery spaces are thought of as white cube spaces with pictures hung up on the walls or statues on plinths. The space has been carefully designed to showcase a particular artist or art movement by someone who is considered an expert in the field, or a curator: visitors stand and look.

With the gradual increase in technology, an exhibition may have initially had a webpage with some information and some pictures. As technology and art practice progressed, galleries were also introducing media based works with projectors or moving images.

In my first blog post I talked about Instagram as a means of interacting with art or an exhibition, and how exhibitions should factor in how influential a platform like Instagram can be in the presentation of an exhibition.

Now, I want to talk about a case study of integrating digital technology into the exhibition itself and how it changes not only how we view the exhibition, but how we interact within on a more engaged level than just posting a photo online.

Institutions like the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum (NY) demonstrates how entire gallery and exhibition spaces can centre on our relationship to technology and our interactions with space.

The Cooper Hewitt Design Museum is housed in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion: a historic, Georgian style house built over the turn of the 20th century. Originally a private residence, the building began renovations in 2008 and reopened in 2014 to the building it is today, highlighting the interactive capabilities of design, architecture and history.

[caption id="attachment_515" align="aligncenter" width="341"] Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, New York.[/caption]

Visitors are guided through the museum and the interactive displays with the use of the Pen (capital P), with which they can select exhibits, store information and customise their gallery experience.

Users are encouraged to take photos and post about their experience online. After their visit, they can access information about the exhibitions and displays they interacted with via the website.

By allowing visitors to establish their own exhibition record, they can personalise the entire experience through choosing what exhibitions or elements appealed to them, and creating their own exhibition catalogue that they have additional access to.

Why should galleries and museums incorporate digital technology?

As technology has pervaded the very fabric of our being, from fitbits to mobile-phone controlled light switches, we have come to expect technology to be the central element in our day-to-day entertainment. We are increasingly more reliant on the internet, movies, ebooks and screens in general as our main way to pass the time.

In order to appeal to younger generations, institutions like galleries and museums need to accept that people are unwilling to leave their smart phone at home. Allowing visitors to take photos, and feel connected to an exhibition through their interaction and activity, increases the audience engagement and increases the marketing and presentation of the exhibition through platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.

Including technology in the fabric of the exhibition itself, through interactive displays and user-based technology, turn the visitor's attention from "what is the Instagram-potential of this exhibition" to "how do I get in on this exhibition?" That is, the shift goes from how to I re-present this, to how do I get involved in this.

The aim for an immersive exhibition space allows visitors to feel a personalised experience and encourages users to to participate with each display and the continue the experience even after they have left the museum. With free wifi, visitors are encouraged to post online, with numerous displays designed for user photography.

Hashtags like #immersionroom show how technology is changing not only the way we are entertained and engage with the world around us, but in a clear and deliberate way, institutions like the Cooper Hewitt deliberately deliver the technological experiences that we have come to expect from entertainment.

The Cooper Hewitt Design Museum is a clear example of the importance and possibilities of incorporating digital technology into exhibition spaces, and how it can transform a space and the way we interact with it.

What exhibitions have you seen that did or didn't make the most of technology?
Let me know in the comments below.


Feature Image and Museum facade image from the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum. Used under non-commercial Creative Commons copyright licensing. See more here.