by Andrew Dewdney and Victoria Walsh
Distributed Aesthetics and the Purification of Hybrids in the 21st Century Art Museum
How are artists, curators and theorists responding to the new conditions of hypermodernity and chrono-reflexivity within the spaces and time of the art museum? Marked by a distributed archival aesthetic, post-digital culture directly challenges the museum’s logic of collection, as well as exposing the flaws of the atemporal modernist aesthetic hang.
Art museums have responded to this situation through asserting the temporal specificity of ‘exhibition’. During the performance and event programme of the Tate Tanks in 2013, Chris Dercon described the museum of the 21st century as ‘a new kind of mass medium’ – defined by the durational practices of artists, interactive audience technology and social media, and online broadcast and archival practices. Such a description, whilst recognising a convergence of art and media practices, does not yet recognise the temporal paradoxes that are emerging from network culture which is everywhere busily inverting the foundational logic of the museum as a place of aggregation and object display.
While curators talk of new opportunities for curating, commissioning and collaborating with artists in ‘event’ time, the museological and archival urge to freeze-frame and rematerialize the elusive, ephemeral and immaterial practices of the artist for collection can be understood as one more attempt to maintain the modernist aesthetic temporal order – through what Latour describes as the purification of hybrids, which in reality proliferate faster than the speed of even the hypermodern museum.
Based on two international artistic and curatorial research projects the paper argues that the destabalisation of the historical temporal certainties of the art museum are rooted in the problematic fiction of the ‘contemporary,’ which, in the chronopolitical context of the migration of people, data, and objects, can no longer hold.
The paper will particularly draw on the collaborative research undertaken by the Curating Contemporary Art Programme at the RCA with the artists Lawrence Abu-Hamdan, Kader Attia, Camille Henrot, and Leo Asemota and the RCA / Tate research collaboration focused on the role and impact of the digital at Tate.
Professor Victoria Walsh is Head of the Curating Contemporary Art Programme at the Royal College of Art, London. She is currently Director of the RCA’s major research project into ‘Curatorial and Artistic Research’ as part of the EU-funded Museums in an Age of Migrations programme, working with five partner projects including the artists Kader Attia, Camille Henrot, Lawrence Abu-Hamdan, and Leo Asemota and MACBA, Bétonsalon, Stedelijk Museum, and Whitechapel Gallery, She was Director of the Tate / AHRC funded project ‘Cultural Value and the Digital: Practice, Policy and Theory’, Co-investigator of ‘Tate Encounters: Britishness and Visual Culture’, and is Co-investigator of ‘the Tate research project ‘Art School Educated: Curriculum Change in UK Art Schools 1960 to present’. She recently led the reconstruction of Richard Hamilton’s 1951 exhibition ‘Growth and Form’ for the Tate / Museo Reina Sofia retrospective and her latest exhibition-display ‘New Brutalist Image 1949-55’ at Tate Britain.
Professor Andrew Dewdney is a research professor and PhD supervisor working within The Centre of Media and Culture Research in the School of Arts and Creative Industries at London South Bank University. He is an editorial advisory member of the journal Photographies and the Intellect Journal Philosophy of Photography. His current work brings together his expertise in new media together with that of museum studies in looking at the impact of networked culture upon forms of exhibition and display in galleries and museums. His current research is focused on the impact of online networked cultures upon analogue archives and their representations in museums and galleries. Currently he is collaborating with The Photographers’ Gallery, London, on the development of their Digital Development Strategy. He is co-author of Post Critical Museology: Theory and Practice in the Art Museum was published by Routledge in 2013.