How to talk about violence in the context of an exhibition
Several months ago we took on a journey that ended with the opening of an exhibition: “730 hours of violence”. A one month curatorial experiment that aimed to spark interesting questions about one big topic: violence today.
The challenge involved creating several artworks using three main ingredients: data (to prove that violence can be found in unimaginable shapes and environments), art (to materialise such ideas in the three dimensional space) and storytelling (to evoke an emotional response from the public).
At Domestic Data Streamers we had done exhibitions in the past, but this one was quite special in the sense that we’d be doing it all: from the curatorship to the actual production of the pieces. Today we present the two outcomes that stem from our experiment: the actual exhibition, and most importantly, the good calls we made throughout our design process. And, of course, we’d like to share these with you.
Good call number 1: Redefining who the experts are
Violence has historically been defined by very few (and often very privileged) people, but we mustn’t forget that it isn’t just an academic subject. We suffer because of violence, organise ourselves to fight it and even execute it without noticing. In a way, we are all experts on the topic. Our question was: how do we channel such valuable collective wisdom in a format that’s meaningful?
An example of how we answered the question is the first piece in the exhibition. The proposal invites the public to define “violence” using a personal representation of the subject in the form of an image. The result generates a collage of violent visuals created from hundreds of interactions.
A printer physicalizes the idea, printing the scenes chosen by visitors in a never ending loop. The user experience starts by letting the public know that their views contribute to the main narrative of the exhibition.
Good call number 2: Understanding exhibitions as spaces for conversation and exchange
At Domestic Data Streamers we stand for the idea of an “open curatorship” where visitors are active shapers of the exhibition’s storytelling. Participation is key, and for that, we use questions. We simply ask, and the public makes the discussion grow with their personal experiences and opinions.
Here’s how we did it: Six thermal printers hung from different points through the course of the exhibition. By means of a QR code the public could access a digital interface to answer the questions online: There was no type of censorship, just an open field. Each response sent from the platform was physically printed on the exhibition, generating a dialogue in the space with different opinions that coexisted, and contributed to a collective discussion.
And what will we do with these, you ask? The stream of responses will be analyzed and presented in the form of a report on October 2, 2021; the international day of non-violence. Stay tuned.
Good call number 3: Being creative with how we use data
It is always hard to get data on “invisible” matters: there are millions of reports on deaths and crimes and bombings but not so many on the silent aspect of it so we had to get creative with the data we used.
Three ways we used data in the context of the exhibition:
- Desk research: Your typical report reading, fact checking and getting lost in the depths of the internet… Nothing too exciting.
- Pulling data from unconventional sources: For instance using social media APIs to understand what the hottest topics related to violence are and what people say about them. Real time trend reports.
- Generating our own data-bases: Collecting personal experiences is the most unique and personal form of data. These can be processed using NLP and contribute to better, wiser conversations in the near future.
Don’t just use data, create it yourself!
Good call number 4: Using recognisable objects to talk about complex realities
The topic was already complex and displaying eight different violences could feel like a lot. So here’s the golden idea: Invite people to focus on the actual content and avoid distracting them with the materiality of the artwork itself. In other words, find everyday objects that people can easily recognise to make your point. Let the objects do the talking.
A good example of this in the context of our exhibition: Three hammers that wear down a gallery wall. Each at a different pace, marking the surface every time someone in the world sends a tweet related to hate speech or cyberbullying. Very simple AND effective. The hammers visually tell a story about attrition while creating a tense acoustic atmosphere. Just like that, people feel compelled to read more and understand the details on the violence represented through the piece.
Good call number 5: Going digital
The project is meaningful in a physical dimension (where people interact with the different artworks presented) but the overall experiment is interesting in a broader sense. How can its contents reach new audiences that won’t be able to join the conversation from Barcelona? The answer is going digital.
Having a digital environment from which to experience the project and interact with the questions has allowed a wider audience to live the journey we presented physically. As a result, we now have an exhibition that opens for 730 hours but a concept that lasts forever.
Hopefully this was helpful. And, hopefully, it is through questions, creative uses of data, personal stories and healthy debates that we can address such a complex issue.
We’re keeping the conversation open at www.730hours.com, so come say hi and become a part of our project.