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‘As you watch them trailing and flowing, dreaming and speculating, admiring this coffee-grinder, that milk and cream separator, the rest of the show becomes insignificant’.

In writing about the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, Virgina Woolf suggests that the audience should be seen as part of the spectacle of the exhibition. She also points to the everydayness of much of what was on display at international exhibitions and world’s fairs, which depended on commercial exhibitors for economic success.

The British Empire Exhibition was the latest in a series of international exhibitions and world’s fairs that had started with the Great exhibition of 1851 at Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. It also shared many similarities with commercial and trade exhibitions such as the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition (founded in 1908) that were held at venues such as Olympia. Exhibitions were also one of what Elizabeth Darling has called ‘narratives of modernity’ used to reform architecture and design. Exhibitions were thought to be effective forms of publicity for industry and also sources of education and entertainment for the public. Indeed, exhibitions were so popular with the public that they even gatecrashed trade exhibitions that were not intended for them.

This roundtable will be focused on the visual and material cultures of the spectacle of exhibitions. It will discuss the production and distinctiveness of the modern architectures of exhibitions and strategies of display, which often took forms of modernity outside of the modern movement in design. It will consider Woolf’s propositions that in indoor venues ‘Everything was intoxicated and transformed’ but in venues where visitors had to transverse outdoor spaces, ‘letting in the sky’ to visit exhibition pavilions the ‘Exhibition is in ruins’. Much writing on exhibitions has assumed they operate as forms of hegemony to gain consent for imperial and/or national projects. However, the roundtable will particularly focus on the role of exhibition audiences, not only as part of the spectacle but also their agency in resisting and contesting prescribed meanings.

Conference Location: Brighton, UK
Conference Starts: August 29, 2013
Conference Ends: September 01, 2013

CFP Submission Deadline: March 08, 2013

For more information, contact: Dr Deborah Sugg Ryan