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Major Research Project

Throughout the duration of my master’s degree at Toronto Metropolitan University, I was required to complete a major research project that had both written and visual media components. I worked with Dr. Kathleen Pirrie Adams on this project, whose background is in media theory, curatorial studies, and music museums. My second reader was Salman Rana whose background is in entertainment law.

The first phase of this project was focused on research. I read several articles and reports which focused on transmedia, physical/online communities, marketing, and music media. Over this period, Dr. Adams and I refined my thesis to “how does the use of transmedia marketing in music promotion animate or convene communities?”. I used a case study methodology and opted to analyze the conversation, convention, and content surrounding Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, Beyonce’s Lemonade, and Ye’s Donda. I was also given the opportunity to interview professor Skye Paine from the YouTube channel Professor Skye’s Record Review as well as Camden Ostrander, who co-wrote the season of the Spotify-owned podcast Dissect on Because the Internet and Swimming/Circles.

After completing the first draft of my paper, I then worked with Dr. Adams to create concepts for an exhibition which would take place on Toronto Metropolitan University campus. I then designed a trifold using designs which could be used to market the show and which would be printed as pamphlets for visitors.

Stem trifold layout design with red hand, multicolour Stem word, and blue mouse Stem trifold interior layout with acknowledgements, yellow lemon, and QR codes to album playlists

Below is an excerpt from this paper which details my reflections on the exhibition component of the project:

Exhibition Reflection:

photo of Stem gallery

“The Stem exhibition was created to compliment this paper and expand on its themes of connection as a result of transmedia marketing in music. Throughout my research, my view has shifted on the studied albums and this space was meant to be a creative and physical representation of their significance and deep meaning. As such, this exhibition displayed a fan’s view of transmedia stories created by prominent musicians.

Each of my case study albums has been personally and culturally significant in some way. Since I already unpacked the latter, I will now expand on the former. Because the Internet by Childish Gambino was one of the first real hip-hop albums with which I connected and Lemonade by Beyoncé was released at a time when I was beginning to immerse myself in album storytelling. Lastly, I followed Ye’s chaotic Donda release while analyzing alongside the larger Ye online fan community the visual and literary symbolism of the project in the summer of 2021. Its continuously transformative and customizable nature marked a, no doubt, significant shift in fan-artist-music relations and the concept of the album in general.

I created this exhibition with assistance from several members of my family in my home city of London, Ontario, Canada. Two of the key words that emerged during its creation were “stem” and “essence”. Capturing the core qualities of these works and their personal meaning and translating that into the gallery was and still is the ultimate goal of the work.

The exhibition set-up was a challenging process, to put it diplomatically. The room in which I was to display my work was full of tables and chairs, had holes in the walls from the removal of mounted televisions, and had a broken front door. The room, after working through those issues, is shown below:

photo of room before Stem gallery photo of room before Stem gallery photo of room before Stem gallery photo of room before Stem gallery

The space was not originally meant to be used as a gallery and my exhibition was the pilot project in its transition. In order to create a more professional looking space, I had nine flats moved into the room on which to display work. These also needed to be painted which I completed with my father. Below is the outcome of that undertaking:

photo of flats in Stem gallery photo of flats in Stem gallery

My original plan can be seen below. I wanted a bench to be placed in front of the wall projector in the first half of the room. The back half would then house the Donda Stem Player in a custom display case, clothing hung from the ceiling, and flats covered in posters. These were for presentation but also to help block the light from the back window and cover the extra televisions that were not in use. The glass wall on the other side would have flats behind where I would hang silhouettes so that viewers could see themselves reflected in the figures and also to cover the workshop behind the gallery.

photo of Stem gallery layout

As I set up, my supervisor, Dr. Kathleen Pirrie Adams, and I realized that the initial presentation was not adequate and worked to continue to tweak the positioning and display of items. I was instructed to play with the items and take pictures to see which methods of display worked and what they did to each of the selected garments/works.

After a few days of experimentation, we came up with the final layout. The posters would be used to cover the back window and the flats would only have silhouettes taped on them. The Childish Gambino and Beyoncé silhouettes would be hung inside the gallery while Ye’s would be hung outside behind the glass since he is typically the most guarded of the three figures (represented also by the infamous Donda vest) and because his pose was the most dynamic. They were also displayed in the order of their respective album releases.

photo of Stem gallery photo of Stem gallery photo of posters hung up in Stem gallery

The Stem Player stayed in the middle of the room, however; we decided to turn it away from the door to create a sense of movement in the space and cause viewers to have to walk around the object. The Donda vest was hung from a pipe near the front of the room to give a sense of the posthumous figure’s spirit watching over the stories/exhibition and Ye in the background. Its placement on the white pipes also created nice contrast and echoed the mechanical nature of the creation of an item like a screen-printed bulletproof vest.

photo of Donda vest at Stem gallery photo of Donda vest at Stem gallery

The clothing I collected for Because the Internet was thrown in the corner as it felt inline with his story since The Boy in the script does the same with his clothes (“Act I”). They were placed beside his silhouette as well. The boots, meant to be reminiscent of Ye’s during his livestreams, were tied and displayed off-center but still aligned to recall their militaristic connotation and suggest more movement in the gallery. Although unintended, their placement also proved to act as an invitation for visitors to compare shoe sizes and take pictures. These were placed on the flat wall beside Beyoncé’s silhouette as we wanted the items to feel as if they were “holding hands”. Each of these items have meanings rooted in the selected albums; however, as the exhibition eventually proved, their connotations are not limited to said works. The silhouettes also acted as shadows of the various items within the gallery.

photo of Gambino silhouette and mock clothes in Stem gallery photo of mock Donda boots and Beyonce silhouette in Stem gallery Photo of person comparing shoe sizes with boots in Stem gallery

A lemon plant was placed on a box in the corner between the first flat and the left wall. This was a slightly tongue-in-cheek choice since the exhibition was called “Stem” but did not, other than the lemon tree, actually involve plants in any way other than in imagery. One viewer commented that the back wall’s presentation was bookended by references to Lemonade which was also an interesting interpretation.

Lastly, the dress made to resemble Roberto Cavalli’s from the “Hold Up” music video was displayed on a backdrop stand to create a sense of fullness, vitality, and adoration within the object (“Ch 2 – Denial”). Additionally, partially translucent yellow scarves were hung off of the arms and a fan placed behind the item to create a ghost-like recall of the movement and animation of the dress in its original context. A mock-“Hot Sauce” bat was hung by invisible string above and in the middle of the dress to recall “The Sword of Damocles”, something which Ye referenced in his video for “POWER”, and the implication of power alongside responsibility (“S2E6 - Power”). Spotlights were placed on the dress, Because the Internet clothes, and Stem Player for emphasis since the room was dark with the windows covered. A video walkthrough of the exhibition can be seen here.

photo of mock Beyonce dress and Hot Sauce bat in Stem gallery

The videos were presented in the way originally imagined and were the part of the exhibition that resonated most with visitors. When I opened the gallery, I introduced the space and discussed how it was meant to be experienced by listening to condensed versions of the albums which inspired my curated work. I routinely explained that it was the viewer’s choice which to consume and that the environment was meant to be one of reflection. A majority of the visitors briefly looked at the clothing items and flats before sitting with the video switcher. Typically, they adjusted the videos to match the moods of the songs that they heard. This created a space of reminiscence and nostalgia. Several of the visitors commented that the videos reminded them of locations where they grew up (from cities in Canada, France and even India) and were surprised to find out that they were from my home city of London, Ontario and the surrounding area.

photo of stream deck switcher in Stem gallery used to change videos photo of visitor watching videos in Stem gallery photo of visitors watching videos in Stem gallery photo of bench and projected videos in Stem gallery

The visitors I knew often inquired about the meaning of the rest of the items within the gallery and their placement. Some even searched up the albums on Google to try to understand. I explained to each that the exhibition worked better when the viewer knew as little as possible. For some viewers, the extended time length in the small space allowed them the opportunity to explore these questions and come to their own conclusions, which was the experience that I intended. The messy clothing from Because the Internet proved the most intriguing and unfamiliar. To one individual it represented the shedding of skin and to another the messiness of life. One visitor even picked up the items and examined them before throwing them back down. Their new placement then became a part of the exhibition and an unintended mirrored activity from the Because the Internet script.

Several visitors told me that they had never experienced music in the way that they had within the gallery and that it was a profoundly moving or meditative experience. As a result, I considered the gallery a success. In addition to the quality of the work, the gallery also provided a space for contemplation about one’s relationship with music, media, and environment and where the stem of this lies: is it the album? The artist? The curator? The viewer? The elements? All of the above?

An opening ceremony was held on June 15, 2022 at 1:30pm for the Toronto Metropolitan University staff who were connected to the project in some way. A closing ceremony (called the Exhibition XTRA) was held on June 18, 2022 at 3:00pm to commemorate the end of the experience. These days were the busiest and saw up to 24 guests in a day. Coincidentally, I finished the takedown of the project on June 21, 2022 which was the anniversary of the original release of the 12-inch, 33-1/3 vinyl record and thus, the beginning of the album itself (Thill).”

As I mentioned, I designed posters for my case study albums using royalty free images from Unsplash. Check them out below!

my Because the Internet album poster my Lemonade album poster my Donda album poster

Here's one of the other unused designs that I also really liked!

photo of mock Beyonce dress and Hot Sauce bat in Stem gallery

This project has truly helped to merge my passions for music, digital media, and storytelling. I cannot help but think of these things in my spare time so it was nice to pour this obsession into something productive and focused. Throughout this process, I was able to discuss my work for an audience several times, most notably in one of Dr. Adams’ undergraduate classes. I also completed a substantial academic paper which can be downloaded here

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