Designing History and Exhibiting Prejudice
The exhibition 'Cross-Currents: a history of the crossing of the Brisbane River', was held at the Queensland Maritime Museum, from October 2001 to April 2002. Various items were made specifically for the exhibition. For example, an indigenous bark canoe was constructed, an interactive audio-visual timeline created, a videotape compiled from hitherto unseen silent film of the construction of the Story Bridge, etc. As co-curator the exhibition I was involved with the selection and display of items, in editing text and writing scripts. My background is in visual communication. Thus, whilst sharing a concern over the interpretation of historical material, I was also concerned with how this material should be displayed and with the effect of this representational display on the audience. This exhibition offered interesting comparisons between the rhetoric associated with the image and with the rhetoric of the image itself. In trying to untangle the various threads of this exhibition I use the structure of classical rhetoric to help deconstruct the verbal and visual message. The semantics of exhibit display and pragmatics of vision are also considered. My involvement with 'Cross-Currents' led me to reflect on clarity and obfuscation in the communication of history, on informational gate-keeping, and how the medium frames content and validates meaning. The medium of communication influences perceptions of authenticity and reality through implicit and explicit statements. For example, the edited film sequence of the construction of the Story Bridge eliminated much footage of 'dignitaries' parading before the camera whilst including every frame of the 'workers'. This, of course, was the result of a deliberate decision. So the finished video was as much a reflection of the values held by those who put it together, as it was about 'content'. But then so was the original footage. This was true for the exhibition as a whole, where a similar process of item selection (and rejection) reflected the bias of those involved-and the designers of the exhibition were very much part of this process.
(Australian Historical Association)