Exhibition as experiment: a study of science and culture at the Science Museum

Waller, Laurie. 2015. Exhibition as experiment: a study of science and culture at the Science Museum. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis is about experimental exhibition, as both concept and practice. It asks what happens when experiments take place in public and in what way exhibitions might be said to be inventive formats.

An exhibition about the invention of electronic music in London's Science Museum provides the empirical focus through which I explore these questions. Called Oramics, the exhibition is focused around a recently 'rediscovered' optical-synthesiser called the Oramics Machine, designed in the 1960s by the composer Daphne Oram. An exhibition about electronic music studios in which engineers and musicians collaborated to create new sounds, in Oramics we find styles of experimentation considerably unlike those of the professional sciences. Inviting us to consider the proposition that the experiment has a life beyond the laboratory, the Oramics exhibition is also said to be experimental in its curatorial procedures and in its formats of public display. In Oramics we find an exhibition that assembles together both heterogeneous styles of electronic music experiment and multiple modes of experimental practice.

The analysis of the thesis explores how, and in what ways, the Oramics exhibition might be understood as an experiment. I formulate and advance the proposition that we can understand the Oramics exhibition as an experiment in the relations between science, culture and the public. The analysis of the thesis is presented thematically and organised around three modes of experiment that are central to Oramics: the curatorial experiment, the electronic music experiment and experimental public display. Drawing on literatures from social studies of science, I apply the concept of the “public experiment” to the Oramics exhibition in order to give a materialist analysis of how relations are made between these very different modes of experiment. In concluding, I discuss some of the ways in which the Oramics exhibition might be said to be inventive with respect to relations between science, culture and the public.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):




Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology > Centre for Study of Invention and Social Process (CSISP) [2003-2015]


3 February 2015

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Date Deposited:

03 Feb 2015 16:06

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:07



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