It is key to understand that the environment in which the work is displayed informs how we interpret the work and instructs as to which lens we view it – whether it is religious, valuable or trash.
An online collection takes artworks out of these spaces and places them onto our screens, screens that, with the advent of phones, can now be placed anywhere we like. Now that these artworks can be accessed anywhere, and in any environment, we have “stripped artwork of its mystery/religiosity” (Berger). This is exciting, democratising and empowers the audience. It shifts power away from the institution both in guarding access to the artwork, but also in defining what meaning we attribute to it.
I believe that as designers of digital experiences, we must be aware of our responsibility as builders of the context for an online collections. Designing the digital home of online collections means that I find myself once again, holding a pair of digital scissors in hand, with the power of recontextualising the meaning of an image. We have the power to “manipulate the meaning of artwork” (Berger) both through its digital home (its environment) and treatment (crop, focus, movement, sequencing and sound).
Most importantly, and in the spirit of the proudly Marxist Berger, we must acknowledge that seeing is a political act shaped by context and acknowledge and ask ourselves, how do we navigate our role and responsibilities in creating the context in which these artworks are displayed?
These responsibilities are not abstract – they have concrete applications in the real world. Some of these questions we need to ask ourselves are:
- What information and imagery do we prioritise and what does that say about our own prejudices?
- How do we sequence images on a page and what impact does it have on features such as image carousels? (“The meaning of an image can be changed according to what you see beside it or what comes after it” (Berger))
- How do we showcase works when the frame it lives in (i.e the screen) is not fixed?
- What manipulations do cropping, focus and movement do to an image?