“What’s Real? Investigating Multimodality”: A Collaborative Exhibit

By Autaum Hollinger

What’s real? That’s the question undergraduate and graduate students are exploring for a class project that will culminate in an exhibit in the MuseLab in the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) on the third floor of the University Library.

The exhibit is scheduled to open on Thursday, May 1, 2014, with an hors d’oeuvres reception from 7 to 8 p.m. All are welcome, but an RSVP is requested.

The “What’s Real?” project involves five integrated teams of seven or eight students each, who are enrolled either in the “Packaging, Promotion and Retail Environments” or “Interaction Design: Spaces and Systems” courses in the School of Visual Communication Design (VCD) or the “Object Knowledge” course in SLIS. Participants will conceptualize, design, build and install the exhibit in seven weeks.

“The focal point for the exhibit will be a top hat, each group viewing it through the lens of a particular modality – sound, movement, touch or text,” SLIS Assistant Professor Kiersten F. Latham, Ph.D., said. “Each team will have a space in MuseLab to focus on their assigned modality and to explore what’s real, or what they perceive as real, in an environment.” Latham teaches the Object Knowledge course and coordinates the museum studies specialization in SLIS.

Latham said she has been working on this project since September 2013 with Visual Communication Design (VCD) faculty members Jessica Barness, assistant professor, who teaches the Interaction Design course, and David Middleton,Ph.D., associate professor, who teaches Retail Environments. While each instructor had a different reason for pursuing this project, based on the focus of his or her teaching, all three shared an interest in the opportunity for collaboration between the departments and the hands-on experience and portfolio-building for the students.

Patrick Lowden, a VCD junior in the Interaction Design class, said his goal in signing up for this course was to get some experience that is unlike anything he has gotten in other classes.

“Being able to design around an exhibit or space was something I really wanted to do because I haven’t done that before,” he said. He added that having all five exhibits in one space “forces us to streamline our ideas to fit them into the allocated space.”

Each group will use a variety of media to engage visitors who come to the exhibit. Latham, Middleton and Barness presented their classes with a topic that would allow the students to explore the how in addition to the what of an exhibit. For this exhibit the what is the top hat, and the how are the different modalities (sound, movement, touch or text).

“A top hat is lighthearted enough that we could accomplish this in seven weeks without having students spend enormous amounts of research to hone in on the topic. The top hat reaches into various parts of our culture and our world. It proved to be an interesting, enjoyable thing to work with.”

At the center of the exhibit is an actual top hat borrowed from the Portage County Historical Society.

“The top hat focus has made things very interesting. It’s an abstract and almost forgotten type of relic,” Lowden said. “You don’t really see people wearing top hats anymore. Doing research on the history of top hats has been really interesting for me, and trying to design around something you have no experience with has been challenging but fun. In my group, ‘movement,’ we are trying to have an interactive piece, all about the movement of the top hat through dance.”

Before opening to the public, the exhibit will be evaluated by a jury made up of design and museum professionals: Jim Engelmann, Exhibition Designer, Design and Architecture, The Cleveland Museum of Art; Kevin Fromet, Design Consultant, Studio Graphique; Jake Kellogg, Senior Art Director, Point to Point, Inc.; Christopher Seeds, Interactive Designer, Findaway World; Natalie Ata, Instructor, Kent State University, and Designer, CraftLab Design; Reggie Tabora, Group Creative Director, Rosetta; and Kimberly A. Kenney, Curator, McKinley Presidential Library & Museum.

“What’s Real?” will be on exhibit in the MuseLab through Dec. 10, 2014. The lab is open to visitors on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the academic school year, and on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment during the summer.

Latham said, “The MuseLab is a component of the Museum Studies specialization in the School of Library and Information Science, but it can be used by students, faculty, researchers, members of the community, the creative community, museum people in practice — who can all come in and try out things they wouldn’t normally be able to do. It’s truly a space for experimentation and collaboration.”

Photo #1: VCD student Joe Wathen uses the MuseLab vinyl printer.
Photo #2: VCD students Danya Dargham (left) and Lauren Haase work on their exhibit for “What’s Real? Investigating Multimodality.”


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