Iteration, Iteration, and Metamorphosis
According to Merriam Webster, the definition of iteration is the repetition of a process. In the MuseLab, setting up an exhibit involved many (many) iterations. Our professor warned us early on that this experience would be all about iterating. After we received the proposals from the Fall 2016 Museum Communication class, we still had a lot of work to do before the exhibit could come to life. We started by developing a logic model and prospectus, then planned our schematic design, and finally, created a script for the entire exhibit. The script itself had many (many) iterations.
The exhibit contained four sections – each one around a chair and its unique fictional story. Development of some sections went smoother than others. One section of the exhibit—the floral chair - proved especially tricky. By the time it was all said and done, I couldn’t even count how many times we had changed it. This particular section started out (from the fall course proposal) as a story of families and their connection to the chair over the years. Unfortunately, it was both too similar to another section of the exhibit and extremely detailed (too much to actually fit in the small space we had) and therefore needed to be modified. My teammate (another CE project student) and I went around and around with new ideas about the section. Could we use the existing story and alter it? Or change it completely. Was it a murder mystery? Was it a chair beloved by many cats over the years? The chair’s broken leg added to the mystery of its story and we wanted that to be an important element. Finally, it hit us – the chair was an artist’s chair that had been present in many of the artist’s sketches. Many artist’s models had sat here, we decided. We did keep one aspect of the original story: the chair was from France. This too added to the richness of the story. After much work, we were elated when this iteration was approved.
If you thought that was the end of the story, think again. Remember iterations? They don’t stop there. Once we started to install the exhibit, the changes kept coming. First, we decided that the chair’s leg had been broken by a model who was posing for the artist but that story was difficult to convey and frankly, wasn’t very interesting. Later, it was determined that if the artist had broken the chair in a fit of rage over a painting he was working on, the story would become much richer. The placement of curtains, sequence of artworks hanging on the wall, and interactive elements all went through multiple iterations (we did quite a bit of protyping here and with the other chair vignettes).
I could go on and on, with the end result being that many elements – no matter how big or small – went through iterations in a process that could be likened to a metamorphosis. It felt like an onion was being peeled, slowly revealing layer after layer until the center made an “aha!” appearance. If we hadn’t been working under deadlines, it’s quite possible that we never would have reached the center of the onion. I discovered that in exhibit design and installation, there is no perfect. There are only iterations.