Contemporary exhibition design as a boundary breaker

Marco Borsotti
Politecnico di Milano, DABC-Dept. of Architecture, Built Environment and Construction Engineering/Italy, Milan.

Raffaella Trocchianesi
Politecnico di Milano, Department of Design/Italy, Milan.


The proposal argues that the contemporary exhibition design, which pursues an intensely ‘narrative’ vocation, constitutes the privileged communicative tool that intercepts visitors by engaging with them in an ongoing dialogue that reveals the conflict in them (and in all of us) that is latent, the terms of stereotyped ideas and commonplaces.
Referring to Jacques Hainard and Marc-Olivier Gonseth’s ‘Principes d’exposition’, in fact, “to expose is to disturb the harmony/to expose is to annoy the visitor in his intellectual comfort […] to expose is to fight against discounted ideas, stereotypes and stupidity” and to achieve this, the exhibition must be equipped with its own design grammar capable of generating new relationships, intercepting every type of memory to transpose it into space and action. The design of the exhibition makes the perception and understanding of different points of view concrete, thus positioning itself as a generator of opposing ideas: not simplistically an “interface”, but a true integrated environmental system, analogical and digital, which works in symbiosis with the curatorial contents, amplifying them and making them available and involving, according to the principle by which “form follows content [a concept that] translates ideas, content, and messages into form, giving them not only form but also attitude and significance in the process”. (Brückner, n.d.) These principles will be analysed through a number of case studies organised according to three thematic categories, which reveal the implementation of a social mission of the exhibition that, in overcoming the conventions of visualisation, addresses the topic of the ‘boundary’, in the Kantian meaning of the term, that is, a dynamic space of ‘otherness’, which can be crossed and overcome by positioning oneself as the promoter of an alternative cognitive system. These categories are “the fences of the commonplace” (exhibitions Fetish Modernity/Helvetia Park), the “chains of the past” (exhibitions Our Colonial Inheritance/Our Land) and the “fences of reason” (exhibitions Documentation Centre Displacement, Expulsion, Reconciliation/Museo Laboratorio della Mente/In Prison).

Keywords: Exhibition design, narrative, boundary, commonplace

Marco Borsotti.
Architect, PhD in Interior Architecture and Exhibition Design. Associate Professor at Politecnico di Milano/DABC Dept. He works on Exhibition Design and Adaptive Reuse with a special focus on Cultural Tangible and Intangible Heritage and interior spatial and narrative interactions.

Raffaella Tocchianesi. Architect, Associate Professor at Politecnico di Milano/Dept. Design. Director of the specialization Master IDEA_Exhibition Design, she mainly deals with Design for Cultural Heritage in terms of museography and exhibition design, communication and enhancement of local areas, new models and narratives of cultural experiences, the relationship among design, humanities and arts.