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On the 6th and 7th of November 2013, the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds staged a conference entitled ‘Imaginary Exhibitions’. Considering my recent thoughts about objects and their relationships to museum contexts, the conference abstract seemed to address some of the questions about the politics of display and the structural nature of devising and curating exhibitions.

Imaginary Exhibitions
The papers ranged from methods of depicting the invisible (in Robert Barry’s ‘Inert Gas Series’) through to transcribing the exhibition into a publication or online space, creating unrealisable connections in scale and location (as with Circle magazine and Le Musée Imaginaire), or plans to transgress the gallery walls in order to reintegrate art back into society. In fact, many of the ‘imaginary’ proposals suggested a utopian ideal to create spaces of engagement, rather than the contemplation of objects. Unfortunately, the scale and logistics of these plans led to many of them being unrealised.

Take, for example, the case of Giacometti. His public art proposal ‘Projet por une place’ aimed to consider how spaces might be constructed and designed in relation to and in conjunction with objects. However, this proposal was not realised and only made it to the maquette stage which currently exists as a small wooden object within the Guggenheim collection in Venice. Other projects included Tania Doropoulos’ discussion of the failure of the ‘1959 Situationist International Dynamic Labyrinth at the Stedelijk Museum’, whereby extensive plans were drawn up for a labyrinth to be built within the gallery walls with a simultaneous three day dérive to take place across Amsterdam.

Unfortunately, the level of bureaucracy required to intervene in the gallery structure led to a breakdown in communications between the Stedelijk Museum and the Situationists, who produced a damning report before pulling out of the project altogether. In it, they stated: “[The museum] have favored, to the hilt, minor modernists and the enfeebled young followers of the modernism of 1920-1930. They have been able to do nothing for true innovators…”

Art and Technology
The paper I found most interesting however, was ‘Nothing to Show for It: Art and Technology in the age of de-materialization’. Presented by Dawna Schuld of Indiana University, the paper discussed the successes and failures of the Art and Technology programme and subsequent exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Despite emerging as part of a corporate agenda, the use of technology to explore the dematerialisation of the art object, systems aesthetics, and aeronautic experiments, seemed to place the experience (as opposed to the object) back at the centre of the art making.

However, the programme was fraught with difficulties. Originally, 78 artists were selected to take part in the initial programme to develop new technological proposals. However according to the report, by the time of the exhibition three years later, only 14 had produced exhibition-worthy pieces. In addition certain experiments, such as the anechoic chamber or the Ganzfeld installation, intended to challenge and distort perceptions of the audiences, but were criticised as a kind of fascist game which exerted unnecessary control over audiences.

Surprisingly, LACMA have just relaunched their Art and Technology programme, and are currently showing a retrospective of James Turrell’s work, including a Ganzfeld installation called Light Reignfall, where participants are required to sign a waiver, owing to the fact that “the Work has been known to cause epileptic seizures and that experiencing the Work may result in serious injury, including… partial or total disability, paralysis, death, and/or severe social and economic losses.”

All in all, the conference was a good grounding in ideas about the ways in which artists and curators can work with existing structures to produce a work that exists as something other than a kind of museum reliquary. Although the papers tended to focus on the ‘invisible’ rather than the ‘imaginary per se, it created an interesting framework for further discussion. Furthermore, the introduction to the work of Andre Malraux through ‘Le musee Imaginaire’ has enabled me to develop a new brief for a curatorial project at the start of next year.

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