‘Exhibitions are nothing, if not a space for an enhanced and new experience, the sharing of culture, mingling of views, and imparting of knowledge.’

Zygmunt Baumann describes the human race as a liquid society, one which is never in an end state but perpetually evolving. Changing times bring changing cultures, changing beliefs, better technologies, and new problems. Hence, the experience of a space, too, keeps changing with times and seasons, often witnessing permanent structures being unable to keep up with this pace. An exhibition follows a similar suit. An essential part of everyday life, in the context of social and cultural environments, they play the role of encompassing this evolving society into small pieces of experiences, to inform, educate and enable the public to live with it. They are not just places where the visitors mingle with artwork but also social spaces that enhance interaction and cultural interpolation. They are potent spaces that offer information in the form of an experience, playing a crucial role in the development and upliftment of society, as a whole. In addition, their ability to act as places where collective and public cultural activity occurs, allow them to have a pivotal impact on the form and function of cities. So, what is making upcoming exhibitions lose on to this ability to create an entire world in itself?

Is our obsession with permanence trampling on the experience of temporary exhibitions? - Sheet1
The Imaginarium exhibition, held incorporating fibre glass lights, in a semi-open space. ©David Dernie

The Tipping Water on The Side of Permanence

For the longest time, permanence has been quested for, sought after as a comforting idea. A society following a collective culture of being attached to stability, it has associated itself with security, power, and control. Frequently romanticized and considered a phenomenon that conducts human activities, the desire of permanence seemed to be a core motivation for both the community of architects and people. With temporariness constantly being pinned alongside ‘death, destruction and deterioration’; it is recognized as a construct lacking material durability and the ability to be able to last for longer than defined. Temporariness, owing to its need-based nature is associated with poverty, shortage of facilities, an unfortunate event, or an answer to a bump on a smooth road. Playing an essential role in cultural appropriation, it has an undesirable and ruined notion attached to it, being questioned and abandoned at an incompetent pace. This incessant attachment for permanence witnesses a negative impact on the effect of temporariness and, subsequently, on the works that lay their foundation on it. 

Importance of Exhibition Spaces?

The job of the architecture of exhibition space is to communicate with its people. Not just one that educates through information, but one that makes the public feel and takes along with in the form of memories. It is a necessary form of cultural value in itself, presenting art to the public in a well-strategized manner, often through a story or a series of questions that leave the viewer thinking. As philosopher John Dewey puts it, “an experience is the reward of that interaction of organism and environment which, when it is carried to the full, transforms into participation and communication.” Exhibition spaces must provide the public with these varied experiences, interacting with the environment and the required atmosphere. Exhibition space needs to allow a deeper viewer engagement, creating a thoughtful and almost spiritual experience with the audience; which, in the words of Dewey, are essentially molded by the atmosphere it is a part of.

Need for Temporariness In Exhibition Spaces?

With each exhibition having its dynamics, concept, scale, space configuration, suggested paths, visual fields, etc., space plays a significant role in the creation and evaluation of its character, leading to the relationship between the exhibition and its visitors. Its temporality, narrative form, and its ability to express a point of view are all components of its inherent nature; with its visual form, dimensions and scale, quality of light, etc. defining the perception of the spatial boundaries and structure. The notion and construct of impermanence- for exhibition spaces- hence, becomes almost undeniable, because it creates memory and emotions which remain in the hearts and minds of the audience. 

Furthermore, an exhibition is perhaps architecture’s most potent ally in exploring the social impact of design, analyzing how spaces shape actions and relationships. It offers a manipulable realm of make-believe that can reflect on real situations, society, and places. It provides the chance to explore emotionally, in movement, and gesture. Considering the evolution that the society experiences at an accelerated rate now, the need for temporality becomes inseparable; one that the construct of exhibitions is being ripped off, in the current age.

Is our obsession with permanence trampling on the experience of temporary exhibitions? - Sheet2
The Bonjour Experience exhibition, held in the open, India Gate lawns. ©SpaceMatters

Declaration of The Upcoming Exhibitions

The many years of exhibitions have witnessed temporary exhibitions abandon traditional, chronological arrangements, to reveal correspondence among people and the culture it wishes to indicate, coming up with the usage of the context, the available materials, and alterations in the smallest ideas of lighting, paneling, interfacing areas, etc. Something this intricate and culturally appropriate requires effort, imagination and an explicit understanding of the environment, both tangible and intangible. With the increasing desire for reduced time and flawed understanding of efficiency, we are sacrificing the entire essence of such exhibition spaces and their cultural involvement. Constricting ourselves with the same rectangular rooms built with typical styles for placement of ‘panels’ and accommodation of ‘installations’, we are being left with exhibitions that differ only concerning their content; rendering the idea of varied experiences moot. 

The lost love, of society, for the notion of permanence, is leading to an era that is losing its culture through the loss of what propagated it. This leads us to ask the question, 

“If the erosion of cultural authenticity is making such places bland and meaningless to most of its users, is the romanticization of the construct of permanence even leading to architectural longevity?”

Author

Currently in the fourth year of her B. Arch. course, Agamya Goyal is a voracious reader and writing enthusiast. Her curiosity in social issues, the simplicities of spaces, and its working with people are what help her garner ideas. Holding her interests in landscape, traveling, and poetic documentation, she believes that a well-brewed coffee is an exemplary companion.

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