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Symposium: Curating NoThing. On Notions of Dematerialization in the Exhibition Context at The Royal Institute of Art

The Royal Institute of Art

Dora García, The Mnemosyne Revolution.

Curating NoThing. On Notions of Dematerialization in the Exhibition Context
Symposium by Nina Möntmann, RIA.
September 15, 2017, 10am

Royal Institute of Art – Kungl. Konsthögskolan (KKH)
Box 163 15
SE-103 26 Stockholm


Participants: Ivana Bago, Daniel Birnbaum, Dora García with Victoria Durnak and Nora Joung, Annette Jael Lehmann, Ana Texeira Pinto, Sven-Olov Wallenstein
Concept: Nina Möntmann

How can an exhibition, the traditional arena for curated things, be a medium to reflect the implications of information and virtuality in art and society? With art’s own interest in processing and communicating information and transferring data, the physical and visual appearance of classical exhibition formats has been challenged. The concept of "dematerialization" was introduced to the arts in the late 1960s in connection with conceptual art practices. Mainly in the US, in Argentina, Brazil and Eastern Europe, the reduction of the materiality of art works was connected to a political agenda. According to the critic and curator, Lucy Lippard, conceptual artists placed "the idea above the material" as a way "to reflect on or stimulate a Utopian extreme" in times of protesting the Vietnam war and struggling for minority rights. The Argentine writer Oscar Masotta, however, relates the dematerialization of the art object to the potential for mass communication as a tool to mobilize a large group of people, in the times of military dictatorship.

By exploring the relations among new information technologies, objects and the human being, the conceptual exhibition Les Immatériaux at the Centre Pompidou in Paris 1985, curated by Jean-Francois Lyotard and Thierry Chaput, could be regarded as a link between a conceptually and a digitally evoked process of dematerialization.

Today digital technologies produce an omnipresent reality, which takes place to a large extent in virtuality. Artists are not only using digital media as a matter of course, but also thematize the proliferating virtual existences of the economy and social relations in their works. In addition, a turning toward dance and theatre can be observed, which likewise require new curatorial approaches as well as institutional structures and exhibition formats that go beyond the traditional role for performative arts to framing exhibitions with occasional events.

In this context, the conventional format of exhibitions as a relational composition of objects is at stake and several fundamental questions arise: What function does the art institution and its collection take on in a world of big data? And in relation to the turmoils of global conflicts, can we imagine a dematerialized art institution as a political arena, offering a safe space to rethink a “Utopian extreme”? And finally: do artists still need the exhibition as a format or medium? The symposium aims at opening this discussion on the changing roles of exhibitions, institutions and curating in the context of dematerialization.