Exhibiting the Formless: Rethinking display through the dematerialized home

Sanah Devika Rao, Rhode Island School of Design

View exhibition online: Sanah Devika Rao, Exhibiting the Formless


Traditionally exhibition design has been an object-centric discipline, from the private collection of objects to their museological representation. The single curatorial perspective embedded in the design of these spaces lacks acknowledged authorship and opportunity for subjective interpretation. Objects are material interpretations of immaterial ideas, however, displays seem to enhance their objective form more than the ideas they carry. Exhibitions on Home reflect this pattern of display at two extremes: one serving as an objective tool for popularization of modern domestic styles (Colomina,1994) and two, as future utopian form simulated with aesthetic design objects (Ambasz, 1972). The act of display is linked to consumption of material goods, more than the act of personal reflection.

This thesis demonstrates the ability of exhibition design to evoke and express ideas without the presence of the curated object. Shifting focus from the traditional physical display (material) to environments representing essence (immaterial) can better narrate the expression of an idea and its interpretations to an exhibition audience. To investigate this hypothesis, the thesis aims to explore the non-physical form of home (Plato, 2009) through the creation of a series of narrative environments to better exhibit the essence of homeness.

Living in a globalized world, the idea of home has transformed from traditional notions of domesticity and home ownership within an exclusively spatial interior concept, to a nomadic transcontinental sense of being that we carry with us. We materialize the non-physical home in objects of belonging we carry with us and spaces we perceive as familiar. Using the home as a catalyst, the thesis researches strategies for the absence of the object in activating the ‘display’ to reflect an idea and allow for its subjective interpretation. To test these design strategies, the siteless identity of ‘home’ will translate into a series of spatial environments. These environments will explore ideas of memory, time, community, belonging and comfort as universal gestures inspired and activated by individual experience. Every interaction will lead to a new interpretation. This can be applied as a technique to display any state of being, where the elimination of the object exhibits the formless.