The museographic language outside the museum environment

The museographic language is not only used in the museum field1. This is actually nothing strange: the musical language surely belongs to a large auditorium with excellent acoustics, but that does not prevent this language from being used effectively in the melody of a lullaby whispered by a mother to her baby.

In this same sense, it is possible to use the written language to write a bestseller for profit, or to use it to express gratitude in a note attached to a bouquet of flowers. Similarly, the museographic language is available to all kinds of communication objectives, which opens up exciting prospects for the future that are already taking shape, although not always in and explicit manner.

Like all languages, the museographic language can be used for an infinite number of communicative purposes and in different fields, not only in the educational context of a museum, which is its typical environment.

Sports balls cut open to show their internal structure in a commercial area dedicated to sports. Photo: autor.

In the photo above, a large area dedicated to sporting goods exhibits soccer balls cut open, in order to communicate their internal morphology to the customer, who can observe, touch and try them fully and freely. An infographic, a photo or a short video could have been shown for the same purpose, but the company has judged that the communication would be more effective exhibiting the tangible object and phenomenon, in this case with the legitimate commercial purpose of selling goods.

A mockup of a bedroom, in a commercial space dedicated to furniture.. Photo credits.

There are many ways to display merchandise to the customer when it comes to furniture. Presenting them as they are meant to be arranged (see photo above), contextualized in large mockups of different domestic spaces, gives the client a detailed, close and relaxed physical and emotional contact with the furniture —and also encourages conversation about them with other visitors—. This dynamic seems to be very effective, judging by the sustained investment that a Swedish company is making in this regard. Something similar could be said of the colorful fish or vegetable stalls typical of some food markets.

Sample accessible to the client of the internal structure, composition and materials of a certain mattress in a commercial space for beds. Photo: author.

In the mattress section of a big store, it is possible to see a sample of the structure of a specific mattress model that can be touched and tested by potential buyers. In this way it is possible to understand the arrangement of springs and fabrics in the mattress, and check its elasticity and softness. Someone with the intention of selling mattresses has thought that things such as photos or videos would not be as effective in communicating the virtues of their product as using the power of the tangible object combined with the phenomenon.

On-demand orange juice machine available in a supermarket. Photo: autor.

If the purpose is to offer hundred percent pure orange juice, so that the consumers have no doubts about its freshness and natural origin, an on-demand, orange juice machine allows them to witness how the oranges are squeezed right there for them. The witnessing of the object (oranges) combined with the phenomenon (squeezing oranges), in real time and immediately (i.e. without mediation), communicates in this case the unappealable and evident freshness of the resulting juice. This is an excellent example of the potential uses of the museographic language. Other ways of communicating how the juice has been obtained would not offer the powerful communicative efficy inherent to what is presented rather than represented.

Dirty pool filter. Photo: author.

The photo above corresponds to the real case of a pool maintenance employee who was fed up with users with long hair not observing the rule of wearing a swimming cap in order to prevent the filter from getting clogged. He decided to display —right next to the pool— the real pool filter completely saturated with tangled hair, next to a small label that explained what that object was. The sight of the dirty filter not only impressed the pool users, but also sparked an intense conversation among them. There may be those who believe that it would have been enough to locate something like a good photo of the filter —rather than the filter itself— to achieve the same communicative result, but I contend that the effect would not have been the same. I do not think there would have been a better way to communicate the importance of wearing a swimming cap in a swimming pool than using the native resources of the museographic language.

Currently, certain establishments dedicated to food or leisure, such as certain pizzerias, British pubs or amusement parks, use the typical scenography of the museographic language, combining models and even real artifacts, often with great historical rigor. In these projects —which are often called thematizations—, the reproduction of real environments is not only accessible, but also becomes the space where the service takes place, offering an surrounding or immersive effect that improves the experience of the customers.

Interior of one of the establishments of a chain of pizzerias, set with various elements typical of traditional Italian restaurants, in some cases incorporating ornaments or real artifacts. Photo credits.

One of the author’s most memorable school experiences involves one of his primary school teachers, Mr. Lamigueiro. This teacher, on his own initiative and from time to time, brought into the classroom an object that was special or even mysterious to the students, something that in the 70s in Spain was particularly easy to achieve. The object in question —for example, a car engine piston damaged due to lack of lubrication— passed from hand to hand among the students, while the teacher asked everyone what the object in question might be, prompting an interesting debate.

Burnt piston of a car engine. Photo credits.

In those years, shoeboxes with silkworms also proliferated in classrooms during the spring months. The tiny worms were born from their eggs, ate mulberry voraciously for a few weeks, built their silken cocoons thread by thread and butterflies were born, which laid eggs again before dying. That shoebox with holes in the lid may have been the smallest «exhibition» that has ever existed, but at the same time one of the most exhaustive regarding the use of real and tangible objects and phenomena.

They are examples of the museographic language in the school environment,a context in which this language has an enormous unexplored journey ahead.

The museographic language is still in its infancy despite appearances, but its application to countless communicative purposes points to a bright future with exciting prospects and potential. This will surely happen by explicitly recognizing the museographic language as a full-fledged language, at the service of any communicative purpose or message to be transmitted, and also by offering adequate training for its efficient use.

Next: The auxiliary resources of the museographic language.

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  1. It could even be said that the museographic language existed before museums did, insofar as objects have been used since time immemorial as communicative tools, as carriers of an attributed meaning. For example, the war trophies of ancient civilizations.
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