Working together? The interaction of words, works and visitors in art exhibitions

Speaker: Jennifer Blunden, (University of Technology, Sydney)

When: Thurs 3 March, 13:00

Where: Baines Wing (SR G.16)


In recent years, the amount of verbal text that typically appears with displayed art in museum exhibitions and collections has increased dramatically, as museums embrace an ever-expanding array of technologies, resources and media to deliver spoken, written and multimodal interpretive texts to audiences on site and at distance.


While the language of displayed art has been a strong focus within social semiotics for several decades (eg, O’Toole 1994, 2011; Kress & van Leeuwen 1996, 2006) the language that regularly accompanies displayed art remains relatively unexamined from a social semiotic perspective compared to other forms of public and educational discourse.


This seminar draws on recent theoretical developments in systemic functional linguistics (SFL) and multimodal social semiotics (MSS) to explore the complexity of meanings and relations involved in the interaction between words, displayed artefact and visitor in several art exhibitions. Using a range of texts (labels, children’s trail, audioguide, guided tour) from a recent doctoral project and a research fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the seminar will focus in particular on the belief, deeply held within the museum field, that the verbal texts help visitors look more ‘closely’ or ‘deeply’ at the works on display. It will also consider how theoretical concepts can be ‘operationalised’ to provide a valuable toolkit for museums in both developing and evaluating museum texts.


About the speaker

Jennifer works and researches in the museum and cultural heritage sectors, with a longstanding focus on communication, accessibility and public engagement. She is a research associate at the University of Technology Sydney and a creative producer in the Exhibitions Department of the State Library of NSW. She is currently undertaking a 12-month research residency at UCL’s Institute of Education, where she is carrying out an in-depth study of the discourse of art.

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