The Fourth Wall
Considering the fourth wall in the user experience:
The fourth wall is the imaginary “wall” at the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled box set in a proscenium theater, through which the audience sees the action in the world of the play.
The idea of the fourth wall was made explicit by philosopher and critic Denis Diderot and spread in 19th-century theater with the advent of theatrical realism, which extended the idea to the imaginary boundary between any fictional work and its audience.
The term “fifth wall” is often used by analogy with the “fourth wall” for a metaphorical barrier in engagement with a medium. It has been used as an extension of the fourth wall concept to refer to the “invisible wall between critics or readers and theater practitioners.” This conception led to a series of workshops at the Globe Theater in 2004 designed to help break the fifth wall. The term has also been used to refer to “that semi-porous membrane that stands between individual audience members during a shared experience.” In media, the television set has been described metaphorically as a fifth wall because of how it allows a person to see beyond the traditional four walls of a room.
Disney vs. Museological & Cultural Exhibitions
In the age of mass consumption where exhibitions are viewed as part of the entertainment offering, more and more designers and museums call for immersive experiences to create greater sense of wonder and to attract wider audiences.
Optimally, an exhibition resembles a total immersion. What could be more exciting than being completely absorbed mentally, shutting out everyday life and experience a whole new world through the exhibition? […] Walt Disney was a masterly creator of immersive environments. The Disneyworld attractions are in fact 3D film projections with completely fixed routings and sequences of scenes, and nothing has been left to chance or to individual imagination. The Disney imagineers control it all: the route and often even the means of transport that guide the visitor through the experience. However, the impact of these experiences is short lived, notwithstanding their obvious quality and professionalism. They fail to shed light on anything new, nor do they invite reflection. For Disney, the event and its immediate experience are paramount. Regarding museological or cultural exhibitions, this addresses the need for finding substantial after effects.
Herman Kossman, Narrative Spaces: On the Art of Exhibiting, p.86.
Related blog: immersion that leaves room for individual imagination.
Immersion: reality* set to produce enhanced, intensified experience.
Herman Kossman, Narrative Spaces: On the Art of Exhibiting, p.86. The text below is loosely quoted from the same source:
In the context of exhibition design, the challenge is to immerse the visitor in a narrative that does allow some room for individual imagination!
Why? Because the visitor still needs to be able to relate to the narrative/exhibition, relate in the way that they can become part of it, without losing their own identity. It all comes down to credibility! In other words, immersion with critical distance.
This is the type of immersion that actually touches the visitor. It makes the visitor “look again” at what is presented, it makes him leave the exhibit as a different person, changed!
This is where immersion is notably at play, because it doesn’t require the reality of the place to be completely detached from everyday life, but it does demand a fair amount of deviation. This is crucial for the narrative of the poetry of the place to touch people. As such, exhibitions need to be places of singular, memorable identity. Like books or cinema, they establish environments for a story. In books and cinema, the environment is a virtual one; in exhibitions it is real.
*alternative artificial reality, which is by no means unreal.