The Making of Midnight Oil: Exhibition design and the translation of rock music from stage to museum

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Copyright: Osmond, Wendy
The ways in which museums construct and negotiate visitor experience are being challenged by expanding and converging modes of spectatorship and representation. This thesis models the relationship between live performance and its exhibition through an examination of the recently emerged genre of the rock music exhibition. The study explores historical antecedents, contemporary practices and explanatory models relating to this phenomenon, arguing that while museums continue to be gathering places for shared encounters and immersive spectatorship, design choices for modes of representation are subject to rapid changes in sound and imaging technologies, and associated meanings of fidelity. Exhibition development practices in museums lack a shared language that accounts for the changing paradigms of knowledge production driving the popular music exhibition phenomenon, meaning that new approaches are required from designers. A case study analysis of the travelling exhibition The Making of Midnight Oil (2014–2017) examines one such project from my designer-researcher’s perspective. Interviews with members of the creative team in different venues, analyses of visitor contributions and design documentation, and a reflexive approach to the theory-practice nexus produce a granular account of the mediation of experience from production to reception. The rock exhibition is examined as a site of negotiable discourses of liveness, authenticity and power, in which design is a key agent of meaning-making. A blended social semiotic framework, newly applied to exhibition design, is used to describe the re-presentation of source phenomena in this emblematic multimodal space. The outcome is an explanatory model of possible responses to the challenge of mediating liveness in the museum, in which exhibition experience is modelled as a dialogic co-construction of gradable meanings between members of a multidisciplinary team, visitors, and institutional and social contexts that are distributed across on-site, off-site, and online places. By identifying how different design choices select certain truth criteria for fidelity of representation, this thesis provides a shared design lexicon of broadened choices for the mediation of live events: a re-imagining of the exhibition design brief as a Modality question. It is designed to foster increased understanding and cross-modal experimentation in interdisciplinary creative teams.
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PhD Doctorate
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