Miller Gallery Exhibition
Environments Design, Environmental Typography, Interaction Design
Exhibition design for works of Han Kang and Im Heung-Soon
As faster hardware and software merge the physical and digital environment closely together, users are exposed to more opportunities to interact with digital media in physical environments.
The shift from the digital environment to the hybrid is a change as dramatic as the shift from analog to digital.
The current emergence of environments in which the digital and physical homogenously exist foreshadow a potential change in not only how we perceive reality, but also how we will behave and interact in the spaces.
As designers, it is important to be mindful of how to generate possibilities that have not existed before in a purely physical or digital environment and how to build in affordances of those possibilities within that space.
Despite this change, the principles that drive the design should be consistent regardless of what type of environment it is. Scale, proportion, proximity, navigation, sequence, and concept narrative are all relevant to the hybrid environment as well as the physical environment.
Im Heung Soon
Im Heung Soon is an internationally acclaimed film director whose works re-frame historical conflicts in the contemporary context. Throughout his works, Im highlights the generational effects of historical events and attempts to bring light to the individuals who have been alienated and marginalized in the course of modern Korean history. By narrating and documenting people’s story and creating an image that “will be a testament to that era and an opportunity to view our current selves and our perspectives from various angles through the lens of that era,” Im redefines the purpose of historical narratives in today’s world.
Han King is a Korean writer who has written many Internationally acclaimed books such as “The Vegeterian,” “Human Acts,” and “The White Book.” Through personal and cultural narratives, Han takes audiences to surreal environments that highlight the tension between life and death.
Design an pop-up exhibition at the Miller Gallery in Carnegie Mellon University that incorporates an digital interaction.
Why do we need to design a gallery space?
Exhibiting film and sound artworks in conventional galleries creates many issues that impede the audiences’ experience of the artwork. Some people are not used to the practice of watching film outside of a theater or a living room setting. Putting on headphones and trying to focus on content-heavy artworks in a space filled with other people might be challenging.
Artworks are cultural artifacts. They are independent entities that have causal force in society because they generate cultural experiences. Gallery spaces, museums, and any environment that holds an artwork, should become the mechanism through which the artwork communicates to the audience the intended experience.
In the 2018 Carnegie International, there is one Korean team that is designated a corner spot at the CMOA. The team’s exhibition presented poems and video installations that discussed about the democratic revolution of 1980 in Korea and quietly endeavors to spark a conversation of democracy to Pittsburgh/International audiences. This is the first time the two artists worked together, but both artists reveal a deep interest in the paradox of the human condition by exposing the tension between life and death.
Lack of Physical Imposition
I hoped for more physical imposition from the actual artifact. The scale of the work seemed too small for the space. It is even more difficult to experience the artist’s work when it is very likely that the audiences may misunderstand the nuances of the poet’s language because it has been translated.
The exhibition that the artists collaborated for the Carnegie International resonates with me because both artists take on an international standpoint on democratization. One of the major events in my lifetime was the Arab Spring of the early 2000’s, and it surprises me that South Korea, Argentina, Zimbabwe, Nepal, and many countries have only been democratized for a few decades.
I had a emotional response to the depiction of raw humanity that the artists successfully establish in the content. But that experience only came from my prior-knowledge of Korean history and a visceral relationship to the ethnic tragedies. Although I believe that in an exhibition as long-standing and culturally significant as the Carnegie International there is a certain respect that should be given to the original space of the museum, I generally felt that the environment did not contextualize the audience or bring the audience into the work space.
Framing the Question:
How could I create an environment in the Miller Gallery that contextualizes the work of Han Kang and Im Heung-Soon to an international audience? Can the space inform the work and the work inform the space?
My early inspirations came from spaces for spiritual activity or religious rituals.
The common theme that threads across all the selected works is spirituality and the emotional experiences of coping with the transience of life.
I researched environments for folk spiritualism, churches, cathedrals, and traditional meditative spaces. The lighting, acoustic profile, temperature, materiality, ceiling height, window placement, and other embedded design details of such spaces provided me with a direction I should work towards.
The primary priority of the project was planning the sequence of user's interaction with the exhibition space.
Once I knew the target experience from the moodboard, my design choices in terms of layout revolved around how I could compose a sequence/journey that narrates a story of the fragility of human life.
The sequence is guided by the numbering way-finding system, floor typography, and contrast in materiality.
For this project, I focused on the color profile and spatial ambience to communicate reverence and solemnity within the exhibition space.
I began by generating multiple color swatches inspired by the moodboard and research on the artists’ works. Since I was constrained in controlling the lighting, I approached the challenge by distinguishing a color palette that reflected the tone and manner of the art works.
I focused on using high-key and low saturated tones. I recited concepts of afterlife, transcendence and meditation as keywords in shaping the color environment.
I incorporated candle lighting as part of the interaction of the exhibition. Lighting the candle activates the heat sensor, which in turn plays the video.
Candles are widely associated with memorializing death. The act also promotes solemnity and self-reflection in certain cultural contexts.
By encouraging the audience to interact with the journey of the exhibition, the viewing experience becomes more immersive for the audience.
In addition, the cultural barriers in understanding the work may be a big discouraging factor for viewers. The candle light serves as a universal language that provides an access point in connecting with the artwork.
I used Little Bits to quickly prototype what this interaction will potentially feel and look like.
Goodbye - Im Heung-Soon / 6mm video, 24min, 2006
“In autumn of 2004 father passed away in his 69 years old. This video shows process of funeral and death of father who had spent prosaic life of laborer.”
Memento- Im Heung-Soon / 2 channel projection, 6mm video, 15min, 2003
“‘Memento’ is made up of a recent filming of my family members in a photo shoot and family photographs taken throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The work compromises of souvenir like personal photographs from a family album and pictures of public monuments gathered from sources like text books and internet.”
Winter Through a Mirror - Han Kang / Translated from Korean to English, 1st of 12 pages
The ceiling wasn’t high enough for large works but I thought that there was a certain sense of intimacy in the size of the room. I find the scale of the work and the wall size disproportionate. The content is calm yet unsettling, but the presentation is static and doesn’t create the atmosphere of the work.
There was no evidence of thought on the typographic choices of the work. Communication happens at multiple layers. The exhibition seemed to assume that the audience could detach themselves from the physical environment and appreciate the work in abstract meaning.
Non-generous Viewing Distance
The common headphone and display screen format. The screen is too big for the viewing distance. There is nothing that invites me to interact with the work in any way. I am confused the entire time because I need to figure what the work is about while trying to experience the visuals and sounds. The room is also behind a burgundy curtain that can easily be mistaken as a wall.
Disconnection to Materiality
The hard and rigid materiality of the space interferes with the spiritual and fluid visual language of the film being played. I feel more distanced from the work because the physical environment does not promote the atmosphere illustrated in the film. The room has a warm color temperature. Floor is granite and lighting is dim. Interior is non- decorative and mundane. The red slab floor tiling blended with black wood against a warm-white wall does not inform the audience the theme of the artworks.
Floorplan of Miller Institution of Contemporary Arts
The viewing areas were distinguished through contrast in materiality. Wood was used to implicate enclosure and enhance user’s focus on the work.=
Work descriptions have been moved to the ground so that users read the content as if in a journey.
Color swatches of different shades of atmosphere. Left is color on white background, Center is color on neutral background, and Right is color in darkness.