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Exhibition as interface

Hannah Cosgrove


Johanna Drucker (2014) claims that we need a theory of the ways interfaces announce themselves to the subjects engaging with them. Brenda Laurel defined interface as a 'surface where the necessary contact between interactors and tasks allowed functions to be performed'. I think the idea of a surface is what begins to give this symbolic space a material aspect and it is important to realise that this idea of the surface being ‘symbolic’ demonstrates that there isn’t that much in interfaces that are tangible.

She states that interface is what we read and how we read combined through engagement. I think this is an important issue to raise as the engagement with the interface is as important as the interface itself and whether it is effective.

Because we are so used to seeing interfaces we don't see them as models rather we see them as cues for actions.

She examines the benefits of a humanistic design, which is subject-oriented rather than user-centered. It is argued that this approach would not just include accommodation to preference, habits of the subjects' thought, taste, and differences of reading. She looks at how we are adaptive to our environments and that the icon model is a way to organize our behaviors rather than representing the world. I think that this creates more than a surface between the interface and the subject, it moves past being symbolic and begins to become something with more depth. It is highlighted that because we are so used to seeing them we don't see them as models rather we see them as cues for actions. I think that this is similar to photographs in that we only see what is in the image, not the photograph itself.

This is engaging the idea is of it being human-centred and not just impersonal and generic.

The display is only there and we can only absorb it, there is not much challenging or interaction going on, user experience being reductively mechanistic. In the image below it begins to play with the idea of an interactive interface being used for curation.

Fig 1

Pijarski, K. (2018) examines that there was extreme but short lived intervention of critical postmodernism, also known as "pervert" modernism due to the presence of the photographic image. This defined art in terms of photography instead of photography in terms of art. This allowed for photography to have a claim for itself which the art world was not used to. Which I do not believe to be true as it still has political appeal today. Jorge Ribalta states that 'photography's triumph as art means its complete defeat as a document'. This relates to photography if it got completely immersed into the art world there would be a rise of an anti-realist discourse about photography, which destroys 'the political potential to link art to transformative radical politics.

In my opinion as well as photography becoming more and more established within art, other uses of photography are happening parallel to this. There are good examples of how online can work as an exhibition space but also as a place to view work whenever you feel like it (fig 2). Ribalta examines the developments within the photography world that have led to the rediscovery of zines and photo books. He states that they promised quick production, instant circulation and to be more accessible which provides a solution to the exclusivity of the gallery community.

Fig 2

But he highlights that the gallery spaces and their ability to absorb images together is still important and the exchange of ideas but they remain exclusive towards the wider public. Marcus Schaden, described by Aperture as a photobook evangelist, has been unenthusiastic about young photographers who he has claimed focus only on style not content. He also argued that "We need to go beyond that." I think there are definitely elements of truth to these statements but young photographers should not be automatically grouped. There are a number of young photographers creating books with very engaging content as well as older photographers. He claims that digital publishing presented a path forward for the publisher because of accessibility at a minimal cost and they allowed further contextual material. In my opinion they do not engage with the viewer the same way exhibitions or photobooks do as it is much harder to create an experience through a screen.

Fig 3

Finally, it could be argued that this type of exhibition would work best online but then it would lose what is really engaging about it. What is effective about it is taking it out of context (an online environment) and putting it somewhere different creating a new reality.


Cosgrove, H. (2020) 'Exhibition as interface' in Curating Photography: Poolside. TU Dublin: BA Photography [Online]. Available at


Drucker, J. (2014). ‘Interface and interpretation’ in Graphesis: visual forms of knowledge production. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Pijarski, K. (2018). ‘How to deal with liquidity’ in Rastenberger, A.K. and Sikking, I. (eds.) Why Exhibit? Positions on exhibiting photographies. Amsterdam: Fw Books.


Fig 1. Homepage (2020) Cluster ducks. Available at

Fig 2. Zuntz, R. (2013). Saving face installation.

Fig 3. Atkins, E. (2019) VVORK, 2006–2012. Screenshot of 3D index page.


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