En ︎︎︎ Fr

Designing an online exhibition (and archive) on a Black Canadian art collection.


Challenge: Design an exhibition portal and archive on contemporary Black Canadian art that is tactile, art-forward, and fosters reflection.

Artexte is a Montreal-based library, research centre and exhibition space for contemporary art. Their unique and extensive print and digital document collection holds over 30,000 documents covering the visual arts from 1965 onwards. [1]

Mutual Design was tasked to design Dr. Joana Joachim’s Blackity’s online exhibition portal. Blackity offers the visitor multimedia information on contemporary Black Canadian art between the 1970s and the 2010s—anything from photographs, sculptures, videos, scanned documents, and audio snippets—all of it part of ARTEXTE’s collection.

“During our interviews with Artexte’s users we realized that many of them cherished being able to touch the exhibition materials. Artexte is an art library as well as an exhibition center which makes the relationship to the artwork unique, different than in other art spaces where touching is not allowed.”

- Cecilia Portillo, Mutual Design.

The needs of ARTEXTE and Dr. Joana Joachim were unique: the online portal needed to act as an archive, an exhibition space, and as an intimate arena to foster reflection and tactility. In addition, it required to accommodate the needs of researchers, archivists, curators, and librarians—for example, by adding features to access one-click citations and other contextual information for each piece.

In addition to the information architecture challenges, we wanted to approach the design process with a participatory lens; and to use this project as an opportunity to reflect on how the documentation of Black Canadian Art practices could influence our understanding of technology, archival practices, and human-computer interaction design.

Thus, after several conversations, interviews, and codesign sessions, we departed from Dr. Joana Joachim’s initial on-site sketches of black lines with different widths, and let those sketches mark the creative direction of the website design and the filters we created. As the several filters of decades (year), piece category (item type), and multimedia companion to the art pieces (didactics) were selected, the website will visually transform.

In Dr. Joana Joachim’s words: “The upward motion of the disconnected stripes emphasize the fragmentary nature of this history echoing the trends around documenting Black Canadian art practices. Thinner bands represent a small number of documents during a certain time period in the collection whereas thicker ones represent an abundance of information.” [2] 

Visit the exhibition portal at https://www.artexte.art/en/blackity


[1]  https://artexte.ca/en/about-us/ 
[2] https://www.artexte.art/en/blackity

Recommended readings

[1] Ward, Matt. 2019. Critical about Critical and Speculative Design.
Access the article at: https://speculativeedu.eu/critical-about-critical-and-speculative-design/