The Ligatures of Life: Difficult exhibitions and the role of the designer
The increase of ‘difficult’ exhibitions within contemporary exhibiting marks a significant shift in the way communities tell their stories. Upending the more traditional, heroic narratives of nationhood, difficult exhibitions speak of genocide, gender violence, contested histories, war or death, presenting unique pedagogical challenges for exhibitors and visitors alike. Despite the availability of related literature from a wide range of disciplines, the contribution from communication design has been negligible–even more so from a practice-led perspective. Addressing this gap via a methodological bricolage, ‘The Ligatures of Life’ frames the difficult exhibition as a performance of ideology, employing multimodal, semiotic resources as its actors. This research has questioned the role of the designer across four distinct projects for the non-profit organisation, PROOF: Media for Social Justice: Broken?, Picturing Moral Courage: The Rescuers, Unearthed: Stories of Courage in the Face of Sexual Violence, and Ferguson Voices: Disrupting the Frame. In order to better understand the designer’s role and establish a model of best practice, an interpretive model has been developed that combines critical hermeneutics with social semiotic, multimodal analysis. The CHaSSMM Model has shown significant value in fostering a critical distance between the designer and practice, revealing underlying power structures, and assisting in the articulation of tacit knowledge between an exhibition’s team.