Meeting on the museum floor
Images: Liisi Eelma and Minna Hint,Heard Story, installation
(with video), Untold Stories, Tallinn Kuntshalle, 2011 Photo
and Pipilotti Rist, Selfless In The Bath of Lava (1994), as installed at Eyeball Massage, the Hayward Gallery, 2011/12 Photo Linda Nylind
Lara Perry, Principal lecturer, University of Brighton, UK
In the classical 'white cube' art installation that evolved in
the mid-twentieth century, artworks are hung at eye level and at
regularly spaced intervals that allow for the contemplation of
individual artworks in isolation. The rationale for this model of
installation is that the viewer should be allowed to contemplate
the work in an undistracted (for which we should also read,
disembodied) state - they should lose awareness of their bodies and
immediate sensory surroundings in order to become fully,
contemplatively engaged with the artwork.
The marginalisation of sensory engagement beyond the visual with artworks in the museum is under increasing scrutiny. While there are various ways in which one might account for the insistence on visual interaction (to distinguish the act of art consumption from that of ordinary consumption - shopping - for example), one way of reading this idealised relationship between artwork and viewer is as a relationship of mastery: the viewer is invited to fully and completely apprehend the work, and to claim knowledge of it, through looking. This effect of mastery in the museum is consistent with art museums' role as agents of disciplinary knowledge of art history, and we might see the installation of the individual artwork in its 'white cube' form as one that fosters the functions of authority and mastery within the museum collection.
In this presentation I will explore the question of whether the collocation of touch, smell, or even simply a disturbed angle of visual relationship reshapes the relation of subject/object, knower/knowed that structures the relationship between viewer and art object in the conventional museum installation. Examples that may be useful to consider include the exhibitions of Pipilotti Rist, which use unconventional installation arrangements; the installation practice of artist Mike Nelson; but also innovative curatorial practices that address the body (and not just the vision) of the viewer.
Do these strategies suggest ways in which we can expand the art museum, and reformulate its presentation of collections and artworks in ways which would disturb and expand the 'discipline' of the museum collection?