Wednesday, 8 January 2014

A Case Study on the Curatorial Studentship at Tate Liverpool.


I intend to focus this exploratory case study on the institutional aspects of the Tate Liverpool Curatorial Studentship, with particular reference to ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ and its place in art history. Tate is a non-profit organisation and a vital part of the museum and institution industry in the UK. During my three months at Tate, I developed both the knowledge and experience required to create diverse and ground breaking results as part of a well-structured exhibitions team. I was not only involved in ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ but also Chagall: Modern Master and Mondrian and his Studios: Abstraction into the World. Evidence of my interpretation ideas are still visible as part of Tate Liverpool’s recent collection change Constellations, where I suggested the use of wall graphics. This suggestion was used; allowing me to remain part of Tate even after the studentship had ended. Galleries tend to attribute such ideas to exhibition teams as a whole rather than to individuals, particularly when it comes to the curating and interpretation of collection changes, yet when, as an individual, your idea is highly regarded, to be a part of it as a whole is an exciting prospect.

Tate Liverpool offer a curatorial studentship annually and exclusively to one student on the MA Art, Aesthetics, and Cultural Institutions Programme at the University of Liverpool. The Tate Studentship offers the chance to work within the Exhibitions and Displays team at Tate Liverpool, on a variety of different projects. The successful candidate was to work on the exhibition ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’, the first exhibition to explore glam style and sensibility in-depth. As well as carrying out loan research and administration, they were also to be present during the installation and observe behind-the-scenes of realising a large-scale international exhibition. There were opportunities to feed into discussions about future exhibitions and collection displays at Tate Liverpool Programme Group meetings, as well as being involved in the 2013 Collection change which would see both floors of the collection displays renewed. In an online recommendation made by Eleanor Clayton (Assistant Curator: Exhibitions and Displays at Tate Liverpool) it was stated that “Tiffany held the Tate Liverpool Studentship for three months during a very busy time at the gallery, providing enthusiastic and important support to the exhibitions team. Additionally, she was keen to share her ideas and contributed to cross-departmental meetings.” (Clayton, 2013)

It was mandatory that all the correct procedures were undertaken once accepted as the curatorial studentship holder. A Human Resources Consultant requests all previous addresses and a passport copy sent to the correct Tate location for the position, this is in order for a Disclosure Application to be processed. The processes undertaken by institutions in terms of administration and validation could be described as being as ritualistic; they are as much a part of the institution as the art work within. Everyone, from the director to the catering staff is bound to the institution by paper, their work trapped underneath the glass of rules and regulations, health and safety and political correctness. The ritualistic approach to organising a gallery, is mirrored by the ways in which we visit such institutions, the ceremonial private views, the way we navigate the space, the way we know from experience, not to touch, not to break, when to keep looking, when to look away.

What is ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’?

‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ is the title of an exhibition that took place at Tate Liverpool between the 8th of February and the 12th of May 2013. It was also the basis for a number of other related events. Events that coincide with exhibitions are of the utmost importance as not only do they provide the public with workshops and other necessary educational outlets but they also allow us to gain a greater understanding of the artworks, the concept of the show and various ways in which one might interpret those things.

“Glam, a visually extravagant pop style exploded across Britain during the years 1971–5. … Glam! The Performance of Style is the first exhibition to explore glam style and sensibility in-depth. The exhibition investigates artistic developments in Britain Europe and North America through the prism of glam, examining painting, sculpture, installation art, film, photography and performance. Bringing together more than 100 artworks the exhibition will reveal the genealogy of glam.”

(Tate Website, 2013)

The glam era took place during the early to mid-seventies and did not really exist prior to or after that period but was responsible for a number of sub genres that formed because of its previous existence. Glam started in the UK and although it was present in the US, it didn’t really sell or take off in the same way. The marketing team at Tate decided that for the purpose of the public they would embrace the entirety of the seventies, something that although not technically true to the glam era, allowed space for the interpretation of event themes as well as audience participation and understanding, i.e. Tate Collective focused their events on an era just after that of glam, which involved people who made glam ‘glam’ but without the restricted time period.

Events such as ‘Glam! 21st Century Factory’ which was based on Warhol’s ‘The Factory’, a studio which existed until the mid-eighties and was based at three different locations in that time, although the idea was not specific to the glam era, the concepts developed were; concepts such as heightened aesthetics, self-staging, experimenting with style and identity. Inspired by the magnificent, timeless, pseudo superstars, androgynous and free, caught up in the swirl of cultural and historical events that made Britain. The pre punk, post hippy politics that shaped the artworks created during the glam era have provided us with paths and concepts many emerging artists choose to follow today. The narrative of the glam era spoke to more people than the punk era did as it was much more accessible, it was a full tilt proactive form of expression. Bearing this in mind, it allowed for the artists of the glam era to truly embrace new ways of creating art. This was not to be a seventies nostalgia exhibition but more of an insight into what the glam era did for art and design and how it is still relevant and reflected now, in 2013.

“With its close proximity to popular culture and associations with kitsch and frivolity, glam is apparently beyond the framework of high-modernist and formalist ideology. Glam, though, can be interpreted through Charles Jencks’ formulation of postmodernism as a term describing stylistic tendencies from the 1960s onwards. Broadly understood as a challenge to the rationalism of modernism, and applied by Jencks in relation to architecture, postmodernism was seen to prioritise eclecticism and pastiche over spontaneity and unique creative authenticity, effectively presupposing the collapse of modernist notions of progress. In this sense, postmodernism finds purchase with the stylistic eclecticism of glam, which combined a sense of revivalism and – crucially – futurity through its synthesis of visual iconography, from Marlene Dietrich to 1960s Pop art, Americana, high camp, and space-age chic.”

(Pih, 2013)

Curator Darren Pih managed to successfully connect every piece of ephemera, every sculpture, every video, every painting and every object, absolutely everything on display, to the glam era. Preparing for ‘Glam!’ involved mass organisation of object lists on TMS (The Museum System), especially when the time came to find images online for objects without images on TMS. It was paramount for the touring institutions that the ‘Glamscape UK’ and ‘Glamscape USA’ object lists were checked for a lack of images by comparing the numbered detail leaflet provided for the public with the objects on display and the objects on TMS, Google Images was then used to find and upload images of the objects. Taking precise measurements of the objects was then required as without measurements it would be difficult for the tour partners to create their exhibition plans. It was then a case of listing all of the video works and the ways in which they were displayed so the information could be passed over to the tour partners of the exhibition, Schirn Kunsthalle and Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz. The sheer amount of preparation done by an initial curator of a touring exhibition is quite intense as the tour partners need to adhere to the initial exhibition layout and concept prior to the arrival of the objects. All of this happens in a relatively short amount of time.

Relationships between tour partners, artists, galleries, dealers and couriers can make or break an exhibition. Therefore, impeccable administrative skills are fundamental when undertaking the majority of the behind the scenes work that make an exhibition, simple tasks such as how to scan piles of documents all at once rather than individually, telephone lists, answering calls, transferring calls, taking messages, loan administration, writing letters, filling in spread sheets, working on research, how to draft and redraft, to create labels using a printer, to print on letter head paper, how meetings work and are organised through Microsoft Outlook, where to find free meeting rooms, how to invite people to meetings, how to understand agendas, attendances, targets, minutes etc., how to answer a phone confidently etc. are all completely necessary and common sense is something often taken for granted. Letters for Francesco Manacorda (artistic director) to sign were placed in a ‘to sign’ tray and were analysed meticulously, the spacing had to be correct, the fonts and all of the formatting including the paper they were printed on had to be absolutely perfect before they were sent. Writing a letter using Tate formatting, such as font types and sizes, not using ‘th’ or ‘st’ in the date and eight spaces between the end of the letter and the signature takes some getting used to but this consistency across all correspondence makes for aesthetically pleasing archive documentation. 

Organising the digital folder for the loan correspondence on the T Drive, which is where everything scanned or edited was to be saved provided other members of staff with a clearer, more efficient system. The more complicated, or specialist administrative elements are taught by those in the know. Work such as pulling a report on TMS (The Museum System) organised by section, exporting it as a .pdf, sorting out each work by section and editing the work using a physical print out before going back and editing it again on TMS. This was particularly important when it came to the objects used in the ‘Glamscapes’. Advanced TMS Training is incredibly useful and definitely improves an individual’s ability to work with an exhibitions team, without sufficient database training one is unable to thoroughly complete tasks without additional or external help. By reading through the training documents prior to the training itself, one is able to develop their knowledge of creating a TMS loan record for short term loans in exhibitions and displays, object records and exhibition records even before being given full access and editorial rights on TMS. This familiarisation with TMS is something that must be practiced before being able to edit and create records as it is both a sophisticated and troublesome programme where some elements are easy to forget.

Cultural Institutions are forced to be resourceful when it comes to digital work as they often do not have the software which could easily improve their work load, an example of this would be the use of Paint rather than Photoshop to create numbered plans; this meant the plan would need to be recreated every time the numbering changed, whereas if one was to use Photoshop, one would only have needed to change the numbers on certain layers, not the entire plan. This is something the public are unaware of and would perhaps take for granted whilst viewing an exhibition, the amount of extra work needed due to the use of old technology is astounding. When creating the labels for ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ on QUARK, using a .PDF report pulled from TMS (The Museum System) containing all the works that required labels, organised by section. Microsoft Word was used to rescale images of each work for the floor plan of the exhibition. When creating labels using QUARK, it was important to remember to add guidelines prior to printing in order to know where to cut. Each label was to be cut by hand using a small desk top guillotine. Each label was printed individually, using black ink on white card. These labels were to be slid into perfectly positioned transparent plastic label holders once the works were in their final location on the gallery walls, a task undertaken by the art handlers.

These rescaled images are known as ‘icons’. The scale in this case was two centimetres to every metre and Tate measure all works using millimetres so it was imperative to come up with a formula to use whilst resizing both the height and width, in that order as to simplify the task at hand. The size used to rescale icons that do not have measurements or dimensions, such as installation work, exhibition prints, films, projections etc. is usually down to the specific needs of the assistant curator and curator. It is often a general size given, to use for all of these icons without measurements, it was subject to change but worked well as a general idea as most of these icons would be positioned in their own spaces and therefore the accuracy of the icon’s size was not as crucial as it was for framed works, paintings etc.

When new work is added to the loan of a lender, the additional page for the loan agreement is attached to an email and sent to the lender. The lender is then asked to print this off, complete and initial, and then return it to the assistant curator at Tate Liverpool. It is then the staff at Tate Liverpool’s job to print off and send a countersigned copy of the original loan agreement. Experiencing and dealing with loan correspondence and administration first hand on behalf of an institution is probably the best way to understand how it works; thoroughly proof reading through letters before sending them is vital as a single unclear sentence could put off or confuse a lender, particularly if it doesn’t make sense in relation to documents that may be attached to the letter. “Historically, the role of a curator was based on the dominant concerns of a collecting institution such as a museum. The curator functioned as a keeper, or a custodian, personally responsible for the acquisition, classification, and safeguarding of objects that formed the museum's collection.” (Bank, 2008) This is now an assignment for an entire exhibitions team, where a group of people are now responsible for what was once the sole role of a single individual. This sharing of role does not make the position any easier as with any group there will always be conflicting views when it comes to a subject as subjective as art.

One particular work of art featured in Glam seemed to be the subject of most discussion (with the exception of the ‘controversial’ Allen Jones works) was Marc Camille Chaimowicz: Celebration? Real Life. “Marc Chaimowicz made Celebration? Realife in 1972, staging it first in Birmingham and subsequently at Gallery House, London. For his first exhibition at the Cabinet Gallery, in the summer of 2000, Chaimowicz recreated the installation.” (Tate Website, 2000) Then again in 2013, Chaimowicz came to Tate Liverpool in order to recreate his installation, Chaimowicz makes reference to ‘trash culture’, a timeless quality in relation to what will forever be relevant objects or concepts pertaining to a time yet considered low-culture for the time itself. His use of obscure junk room style objects or bric-à-brac, glitter, post party style paraphernalia, candle wax and flowers give the audience a sense of what the seventies were to Chaimowicz but also how low-culture is inherent in contemporary society, described by some as ‘the after math of a party’ or a ‘teenager’s bedroom floor’. A 21st Century interpretation of what was, what is and what it might become. It was interesting that for this particular installation Chaimowicz purchased the objects in Liverpool, making the installation very much a part of the city it was displayed in. Although, the installation appeared quite uninhibited with objects strew all over the place, disco balls and music, every decision was carefully considered by both the exhibitions team and the artist. Days were spent considering the correct shade of silver, holding up samples against a white wall to see which would work best and comparing them to previous images of the installation. Unfortunately health and safety legislations made a lot of decisions tougher to deal with. A number of visitors were unsure as to whether or not they could enter the space but of course, followed those who took the first step. A path was created in order for the audience to at least try to walk through to the other artworks. A visitor assistant was on hand at all times to guide people through the space if required, to keep an eye on the open flames, the temperature and various other factors unbeknownst to the audience members walking through. The position of this particular piece received the more criticism yet it worked so well as the sound from this installation echoed through the space in such a way that it couldn’t be ignored, the sound of the glam era, something crucial to the understanding of the exhibition, in particular the ‘Glamscapes’. There was an abundance of objects, almost two hundred or so that were considered but not used and over three hundred were actually displayed. Most of these objects were ephemera, artefacts of the glam era, curated on walls known as ‘Glamscapes’. The interpretation for this work was provided in the form of a leaflet.

What are ‘Glamscapes’?

The ‘Glamscapes’ were walls that were used to exhibit the ephemera of the glam era, books, poster
s, vinyl, magazines, clothing, memorabilia etc. They were not an attempt to provoke nostalgia; they were not to be viewed as artefacts but as objects that aesthetically represented the glam era. The use of tacky or chintzy imagery, the bright and garish colours of glam juxtaposed with the subdued colours of the seventies, all things that echoed that particular period were visible in one way or another, the ‘Glamscapes’ mirrored a sort of escapism that one hoped to achieve through glam, an escapism that one was never before able to achieve. 

Ephemera, is usually described as something that has only existed to be enjoyed for a short period of time, something that is ordinarily printed, or written, in the form of collectible memorabilia. Many people often consider ephemera as artefact and in the case of the ‘Glamscapes’, some members of the public considered the ephemera, or art, as artefact and nothing more, therefore, in their opinion, it was not art and didn’t belong in an exhibition amongst works of art in the traditional sense, i.e. paintings, sculptures etc. but these objects, collectively as ‘Glamscapes’ did work as a whole, they could have easily been misinterpreted as a work of art and bearing that in mind could have been described as an installation, one which combined and displayed several ‘ready-mades’ from the glam era; thus raising the question of the curator as artist, creating an installation rather than simply displaying thoughts for their historical significance. “If the modern figure of the art critic has been well recognized since Diderot and Baudelaire, the curator’s true raison d’être remains largely undefined. No real methodology or clear legacy stands out in spite of today’s proliferation of courses in curatorial studies. The curator’s role, as shown in the following interviews, appears already built into pre-existing art professions …” (Cherix cited in Obrist, 2008, Preface) The ‘raison d'être’, or ‘reason for existence’ of a curator seems to be that of an individual who creates something out of the created, by organising and categorising existing objects.

“As a category, artefacts are normally distinguished from works of art both conceptually and as objects of museum display. The art/artefact distinction marks the divide between the disciplines of anthropology on the one hand and art history and criticism on the other.”

(Duncan, 1995)

Although one could argue that the seventies was not long enough ago for the ephemera to be considered artefact, it is possible for them to be collectively seen as art, by using the term ‘Glamscapes’ it is almost as though the curator has created a form of art not yet considered by the art world, installations, created specifically in relation to the glam era, which although they consist of various ephemera, do not exist to be represented as the displays of separate objects but rather as a connection between all objects on display. If we consider ‘The Physical Self’, an exhibition actualised by Peter Greenaway as a guest curator at the Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, in 1991, “Greenaway illustrated the human body in terms of a chronological progression … Greenaway was able to visualise the numerous elements in a coherent scheme.” (Putnam, 2009) I believe that Darren Pih, managed to curate ‘Glam!’ in a similar way, by illustrating the glam era, chronologically and geographically, creating a sort of timeless art historical landscape that manages to connect the early seventies to the early 21st Century in a way that is relatable, both aesthetically and politically. ‘Glamscapes’, like the above mentioned work of Greenaway seem to offer stills, similar to that of a film, sequentially isolated images of displayed objects that when looked at as a whole form an overall image, a displayed object in itself, one which is equally, if not more gratifying visually and conceptually than the individual works on display.

Spatial Awareness

The exhibition itself was displayed in a way that quite forcefully causes the audience to navigate the gallery space from beginning to end, as you walk in through the main door, with the Glamscapes as your first visual reference, such exposure to what could be considered to be memorabilia may lead an audience to interpret the works differently, how the artists were influenced by what the audience initially see, rather than the other way around. To begin from the artworks may have bettered the understanding of the artist’s interpretations of the glam era, for example, the audience views the work and then once confronted with the Glamscapes they can make their own assumptions as to how or why an artist chose to create what was created. An audience member will react relatively fast, on a subconsciously level when observing initial displays. What one sees as one enters the space and the ways in which this affects the audiences view of the rest of the exhibition must be taken into consideration and if one is to view something out of the ordinary, i.e. the ‘Glamscapes’, prior to the artworks it is something which could go either way. It may be possible that one might understand an exhibition better, or find it more interesting, to view it backwards, by this I mean, to go against the interpretation set out for the audience by the gallery. To view the works in such a way that was not intended, on the first visit. Then to compare this to viewing the works in the ‘correct’ or structured manner, a planned order set out for the audience. It isn’t just mapping the gallery space which proves tough as to how an audience may interpret it. If the colours of the walls, the sounds, the smells, if anything is slightly over looked, the exhibition may not live up to the art works on display within a space, for it seems to be the space that heavily influences the audiences view of the artworks. To move the majority of exhibited works into an alternative space would perhaps cause them to lose the very reason they’re viewed as artworks. If one was to view the same album covers, magazines and books featured in the ‘Glamscapes’ within a shopping environment, either online or on a high street you wouldn’t consider such a space to be a gallery or the objects to be art works. A major part of any exhibited work is the surroundings it is placed in; this adds to the context of the piece, without it, we would be experiencing art everywhere. It is the white cube space, which, even if the walls are pink, allows us to best consider such works. Any alternative spaces, for example, the walls of a university corridor cause works to be over looked as the purpose of the space was not intended for the viewing of art works, it was intended for passage, to get from A to B so to speak, the art works in such a space become decoration.

Choosing the paint for the walls and the wallpaper to be used in ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ was of considerable significance to the show. The original red and white printed pattern version the curators were considering appeared far too bright and expensive for the time, especially when used in such a way as it was to be intended. In order to create the feeling of a domestic setting, the wallpaper should look as though it was chosen for its reasonable value by the parents of a person with these kinds of Glam posters on their walls, it should feel like the early 1970’s, the atmosphere should scream of council house creams, greens and beiges, nicotine stained with a simplistic patterns. As this wallpaper was to be the backdrop for a room with fan pictures and band posters I felt it was even more relevant that the atmosphere was perfect. Although the space was much larger than say, the average bedroom on whose walls the posters would have originally hung, the wallpaper was able to draw the audience’s eyes in towards the posters, it wasn’t too boring, too busy or too distracting in any way. These posters were not expensive to buy in the seventies, some were even given away free with vinyl or music magazines, making them incredibly accessible. This allowed an older audience to relate much more so to the environment as it was highly likely they may have had the same posters up on their own walls. They may have looked at the photographs of the glam era fans and related what they saw to their own lives at the time, connecting in some way to a particular hair style, fashion sense or even a background object, for example they may have had the same bedding, alarm clock or radio. The ability to relate to at least some of the works in such an exhibition are a key part of the experience as this allows the audience to establish a relationship, to create a dialogue between the past and the present.


Was Glam! The Performance of Style really an art exhibition or simply an accumulation of objects despite the original intentions of the curator? Was the orientation of the entire show essentially thematic and therefore more closely related to a collection display in a museum rather than an art gallery? Was this temporary exhibition a commentary on the ever changing standards of the art exhibition, a rebellious attempt to blur the traditional boundaries between museum and art gallery? With a new exhibition being shown every three months or so at major galleries across the world, it is almost as though museums and galleries are attempting to remind people of their existence, as though the public may become bored with permanent collections and may crave something new, in an age where we’re constantly updating, changing, creating, recreating and searching both online and offline, the public sphere must offer us something we can’t get elsewhere, something that quenches our cultural thirst. A digital or virtual exhibition, whether permanent or temporary, is never the same as viewing a physical exhibition. It is akin to the corridor of art mentioned previously, although aesthetically pleasing, it is for some reason, not quite right as a location for viewing such work. Yet even so called permanent collections are really just temporary collections in terms of what is put on display, they may not change every three months as exhibitions containing loaned works do but they may change every three years which is still relatively temporary in comparison to older or specialist institutions with smaller collections.

“Exhibitions have become the medium through which most art becomes known. Not only have the number and range of exhibitions increased dramatically in recent years, but museums and art galleries such as Tate in London and the Whitney in New York now display their permanent collections as a series of temporary exhibitions. Exhibitions are the primary site of exchange in the political economy of art, where signification is constructed, maintained, and occasionally deconstructed. Part spectacle, part socio-historical event, part structuring device, exhibitions— especially exhibitions of contemporary art— establish and administer the cultural meanings of art.” 

(Greenberg R. et al. cited in Obrist H., 1996)

If one is to agree that exhibitions play such a part in our lives, then it is important to consider how an exhibition such as ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ may cause us to question our preconsidered opinions of certain objects as artworks and the spaces in which such artworks are displayed. The significance of displaying objects as artworks or even ready-mades (in the Duchampian sense of the word) when they could be considered as artefacts deconstructs the idea of curator as organiser and puts them in the position of artist, although throughout the twentieth century is seems that most curators were art professionals who went on to become gallery directors, they weren’t usually artists, nor were they considered as such. Has the cultural meaning of art changed in the twenty first century? It could be that by using the combination of ephemeral objects and contemporary artworks in ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’, a significant development has occurred, one that is both popular and unpopular as it moves away from the normality of the usual. It is a sign of things to come, as though this exhibition and its place in art history may have become part of a larger crossover between the traditional museum (of historical artefacts) and the twenty first century art gallery.

References and Bibliography

Anon. (2013) ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ Tate [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 20th June 2013)

Anon. (2000) ‘Marc Camille Chaimowicz’ Tate [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 20th June 2013)

Bank, D. (2008) ‘Curator’ Curators in Context [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 14th July 2013)

Clayton, E. (2013) ‘Recommendations’ Tiffany Horan [Online/LinkedIn Profile]. Available from: (Accessed: 20th June 2013)

Duncan, C. (1995) Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums (Re Visions: Critical Studies in the History & Theory of Art) UK: Routledge.

Greenberg R., Ferguson B. W., Nairne S. (1996) “Introduction,” Thinking about Exhibitions London and New York: Routledge. p. 2.

Obrist, H. U. (2008) A Brief History of Curating Switzerland: JRP Ringier.

Putnam, J. (2009) Art and Artefact: The Museum as Medium UK: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Tate et al., Pih, D. ed. (2013) Glam The Performance of Style UK: Tate Publishing.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

What is it?

This is an image, an enhanced photograph, a digital manipulation, a non-existent frame hung in a museum without walls. This is not a tangible work of art. This is a question.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Can the situationist theory of dérive allow us to better navigate and develop cultural institutions?

This essay focuses primarily on the ways in which key situationist texts such as The Theory of Dérive and The Society of The Spectacle by Guy Debord might allow us to better understand ways of navigating and developing cultural institutions. It is an experimental investigation, a starting point, providing more suggestion, interpretation and speculation than solution, attempting to make the main theoretical works of the situationists relevant within a twenty first century framework, with particular emphasis on galleries and museums.  ‘La dérive’ is French for ‘drift’ or ‘drifting’, and was described as being one of the situationists basic practises, “a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences.” (Debord, 1958 cited in Knabb, 2006) Situationism is the theory that behaviour is contingent upon surrounding circumstances or immediate situations as opposed to qualities of a personal nature. Debord and other Situationist International members considered the term ‘situationism’ as insignificant and avoided the use of it. “Situationists were philosophically opposed to all ideology, viewing them as repressive delusions, rendering the idea of "situationism" absurd.” (Vaneigem, 1967) The situationists were radical thinkers who attempted to change the world, aesthetically and politically. They were concerned with the devaluation of art, to devaluate it was also to devaluate cultural institutions, the architecture that housed the objects.

They sought out to make such institutions more accessible; they wanted to integrate art with daily life. Debord not only wrote about the theory of dérive but also the culture of spectacle in The Society of The Spectacle. “Only the real negation of culture can inherit culture’s meaning. Such negotiation can no longer remain cultural. It is what remains, in some manner, at the level of culture – but it has a quite different sense” (Debord, 1967) I feel as though the culture of spectacle can be applied to create more engaging spaces through the use of psychogeography, mapping the interior journeys we take within a space as though they were journeys mapped externally, the museum as a city. As a text it allows the reader to really question what it is stopping us from changing institutions which are perhaps not working as well as they should or even could be despite peoples best efforts. If you are to view cities as key sites of artistic display, thought, production and circulation, then so too must the galleries and museums within the city be viewed in the same way. In The Theory of Dérive, it is said that the audience are drawn by the attractions of the terrain, as well as the encounters they might discover there. The attractions of the terrain could be used to describe the architecture or the position of the displayed objects in situ, objects which once within the space, become part of the interior architecture. The encounters formed could relate to the stories that surrounded the work or specific interactive works, intended to produce immersive encounters.

“The lessons drawn from dérives enable us to draw up the first surveys of the psychogeographical articulations of a modern city. Beyond the discovery of unities of ambiance, of their main components and their spatial localization, one comes to perceive their principal axes of passage, their exits and their defences. One arrives at the central hypothesis of the existence of psychogeographical pivotal points. One measures the distances that actually separate two regions of a city, distances that may have little relation with the physical distance between them. With the aid of old maps, aerial photographs and experimental dérives, one can draw up hitherto lacking maps of influences, maps whose inevitable imprecision at this early stage is no worse than that of the first navigational charts. The only difference is that it is no longer a matter of precisely delineating stable continents, but of changing architecture and urbanism. Today the different unities of atmosphere and of dwellings are not precisely marked off, but are surrounded by more or less extended and indistinct bordering regions. The most general change that dérive experience leads to proposing is the constant diminution of these border regions, up to the point of their complete suppression. Within architecture itself, the taste for dériving tends to promote all sorts of new forms of labyrinths made possible by modern techniques of construction.”

(Debord, 1958)

The articulations of a modern city should be echoed throughout the museums that exist within such a city. There should be a possibility to find oneself dériving in and out of museums as though the city is in itself was a museum and the separate museums inside a city are in themselves various gallery spaces within the museum of a city. This allows for longer periods of time to be spent dériving and for more to be taken in, to be contemplated, a combination of both interior and exterior architectural decisions, displayed objects and the more likely potential of possible rendezvous or meetings. “In the “possible rendezvous,” … the element of exploration is minimal in comparison with that of behavioural disorientation.” (Debord, 1958) It would be interesting for galleries and museums to set up possible rendezvous where people are sent on specific dérives, to experience specific parts of the museum or elements of the gallery space but these people would not be able to distinguish each other or themselves from the general public, making them more aware of their surroundings. They might be constantly wondering if anyone else has been sent on the same specific dérive and would be unable to discover this without asking and therefore meeting, or creating a possible rendezvous. Encouraging dialogue with strangers is not something most people do, so by being aware of other possible rendezvous around you, you might be tempted to ask people about their interests in their surroundings. If you were taking part in such a rendezvous it would have to be made clear that there is a possibility you will not meet anyone or there is a possibility someone might approach you rather than the other way around. This freedom from “the bothersome obligations of the ordinary rendezvous” is removed since there is no one to wait for, which also means we are able to dérive either with or without interruption, depending on our own personal prerogative that day. 

A museum will often make available maps of the city as well as maps showing various displays within their individual interior spaces but there is always the possibility that one can create a map of one’s own, through experimental dérives, one could draw over the existing maps to pin point new routes or patterns within routes not previously mapped out. Combining maps and floor plans from varying museums and including the spaces in between to enhance the visual understanding of the city as museum would perhaps create better networks between museums; one could attach the dérives or journeys to the map with string or by drawing. Another way of doing this could be to use digital media, by creating and developing some kind of specific Global Positioning System app which automatically maps and documents the dérive of an individual or small group through the city, inside cultural institutions and beyond. If all museums were seen as individual but belonging to each other in their aims and objectives, there might be achievable equality amongst institutions rather than one museum taking precedence over another in the same city. The app could provide museums and cities with better ideas of how to advertise on the streets more often travelled by those dériving to get to other institutions, it could provide them with a better understanding of the current of the streets, the paths that drag people down them and those that people avoid. Perhaps the avoided areas or alleyways could be turned into gardens, creating new spaces out of old ones, useful spaces or even spaces for the use of display or site specific artworks. Neglected parts of the city turned into vibrant change encounters displaying unexpected artworks. This could even progress to dérives using Google street view, where one begins in an exterior space, enters and interior, moves out again into exterior and so on, taking in all which surrounds them, every shape, every form, every detail usually unnoticed, the subtleties of the city, dérives where you cross the boundaries of one city and enter another without breaking the dérive, connecting two cities as one museum, one landscape, one terrain, strengthening the connection between the museums of neighbouring cities. Chance is more of an inferior determinant in a dérive than one might initially think as “from a dérive point of view cities has psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes which strongly discourage entry or exit from certain zones.” (Debord, 1958) The museum contains its own routes, its own structured narratives. Concerning a lack of chance encounters, everything is predetermined with regards to the displays, there are certain walls within a space which will always accommodate specific works of art, such as large paintings as one cannot attempt to hang a large painting on a small wall without somehow changing the painting.
There will always be obstacles which prevent us from seeing works from certain angles. Both entry and exit points tend to remain the same, even when alternating exhibitions and collection changes in the same space. It is rare that we would be able to change entry and exit points without first altering the interior architecture of the space. Ways in which this changing of entrance and exit could be temporarily achieved using false walls to create additional rooms within a space. Although one is able to dérive alone, “several small groups of two or three people who have reached the same level of awareness” (Debord, 1958) is recommended. This awareness and equality amongst those choosing to dérive through the museum or gallery space is of the utmost importance in order for consistent discussions to be achieved in relation to what is being viewed. “It is impossible for there to be more than ten or twelve people without the dérive fragmenting into several simultaneous dérives.” (Debord, 1958) If we consider the impossibilities of large groups being unable to dérive as a whole, it could potentially enable us to better structure gallery tours. Smaller groups are more likely to gain more from the experience than a larger group. Simultaneous dérives are simply dérives which occur simultaneously, occurring at the same time as one another. Using a group of university students as an example, the entire group inevitably does not wander around the space collectively but instead spilt off into friendship or similar interest groups. Creating groups with similar levels of awareness based on the journey they take and what they experience through what they’ve seen. “Today, it is commonplace to regard museums as the most appropriate places in which to view and keep works of art. ... These commonplaces however, rest on relatively new ideas and practices. The European practice of placing objects in settings designed for contemplation emerged as part of a new and, historically speaking, relatively modern way of thinking.” (Duncan, 1995) Despite the fact that the majority of people would consider a museum to be the most congruous place to display objects, cities are full of displays, full of objects. For example we might experience looking into a shop window in the same way we experience peering into a collection of artefacts laid out in a vitrine. Both have been organised for the purpose of viewing. There is a pane of glass separating us from the objects in both instances. We are interested in what we see, not so much mesmerised but captivated, fascinated, we want to learn about it, we want to gain something from it. It is possible to window shop in a museum and it is also possible to view a shop as a museum, the point in which you stand in front of the tins may in a hundred years’ time be in a conventional museum, a curator of the future might even choose to display objects the way shop assistants did (and still do), stacked up, all together, with signs depicting their importance, the art supermarket museum of the future, objects for all tastes and pockets, the commodity as spectacle. Supermarkets may even develop into what we consider museum displays today, minimal, isolated products or objects standing as sculptures, on plinths which replace themselves when one has been removed? Labelled underneath in a manner we’re more accustomed to seeing in a gallery, or not labelled at all, available only to those who know what it is they want. How could one distinguish the expensive soup from the cheap version if there were no labels in the gallery supermarket? How could one distinguish the important painting from the lesser painting if there was too much choice in the supermarket museum, plagued by images? The experience of viewing something unusual in a usual situation or something ordinary in an extraordinary manner is one which during a dérive is sure to be inevitable. One cannot physically enter a vitrine full of displayed works but one is able to enter the shop, therefore as part of a dérive it is important that one does not get distracted and enter a space with another purpose, such as to purchase.

“The vitrine is the primary museum display device which, from the standpoint of artists, suggests a number of significant practical, formal and conceptual possibilities. The most remarkable feature of the vitrine is its ability to transport its carefully ordered and labelled contents beyond the triviality and ephemerality of the everyday. … The act of placing an object in a vitrine immediately focuses attention on it and suggests that it might also be both precious and vulnerable. The vitrine reinforces the notion of the unique, untouchable and unattainable. ”

(Putnam, 2009)

The vitrine possesses the power of seduction; the objects placed in it become part of the museum, giving them value. It causes us to question why these objects in particular are of such importance that they were placed inside it, how long they have been there and how long will they stay before they’re replace? Whilst taking part in a dérive it is possible to create a vitrine like space around yourself, a place in which you are vulnerable, exposed to all that exists on your path, your journey. By placing yourself on a dérive, you are immediately focussing all your attention on drifting and only drifting, reinforcing other people’s inability to distract or remove you from your dérive as you transport yourself beyond the triviality and ephemerality of the everyday, allowing the dérive to become part of your everyday, allowing art to become intertwined with daily life. The way a vitrine creates a physical distance between audience and object, so too does a dérive, it seems to allow the one taking part in the dérive to take the place of the object, more concerned with their situation than where they are being viewed from by an audience. When incorporating the theory of dérive within a museum, one must of course take into consideration the practicality of the initial location and the time limits of such an institution. Most galleries and museums are open to the public from ten until five or six in the evening with the exception of specific events such as private views and lectures. According to Debord (1958), “the average duration of a dérive is one day, considered as the time between two periods of sleep” or “within a deliberately limited period of a few hours”. This time period is considered to be a statistical one although within The Theory of the Dérive it is recommended not to attempt a dérive late at night or in the early hours of the morning, I feel this implies that standard museum hours work perfectly with the hours suggested by Debord. If one was to attempt to navigate a space after hours, in the dark, the inability to view the displays, the objects, the space, the interior surroundings would ultimately remove the entire purpose of a dérive. In keeping with Debord (1967) it is inevitable that the spectacle “should elevate the human sense of sight to the special place once occupied by trust” which I feel means that although one should not dérive in the dark, if one has no other choice, i.e. an individual with sight issues, then perhaps they can be guided by the idea of the spectacle. We are more sensitive to what we see when we are unable to relate what we see with something we have seen in the past. If one has never seen an object because of sight loss, it works in the same way as a person without sight is more sensitive to an object when they are unable to relate it to an object they’ve never heard about in the past. It stimulates our imagination and powers our curiosity; we begin to question, to consider the endless possibilities of the object. If the spectacle is said to be the opposite of dialogue then how are we to communicate or experience such an idea, without conversation, without sound. How could this idea be transferred to an interior space within an institution, does it already exist, without us implementing such a concept? When we intentionally visit a gallery or museum we have often chosen a deliberate amount of hours to spend wandering, or drifting through the space. Why would one choose to enter a museum? What purpose is there for drifting through such a space, contemplating and attempting to understand and interpret all that we see? Why are works of art brought together within a space for such encounters to take place? How does what we experience on our journey convince us to take more journeys, within other, similar spaces or museums?

If we think of the idea of a journey in relation to our movements within a cultural institution, it is a journey where knowledge is gained through visual stimulation. The way one gains knowledge of a city while site seeing, one gains knowledge of cultural institutions by frequently exposing oneself to cultural institutions, the more displayed objects we encounter on our journey, the more we learn about a museum or gallery. If the objects on display tend to appear as works of contemporary art, we are probably in a gallery, if the majority of objects on display seem to come from ancient civilisations, if they seem to be on display more for their historical or cultural interest rather than an aesthetic one, then we are probably inside a conventional museum. By conventional, I mean traditional, having emerged in the nineteenth century, a modernist museum; such museums are often laid out in accordance with or based on what is generally considered acceptable or the done way that has been deemed appropriate. When one enters such a museum, anywhere in the world, one knows what to expect, museums all over the world are traditionally similar, perhaps not in terms of exterior and interior architecture but in terms of a familiarity.

It is often said that museums are akin to cathedrals and that the experience of wandering through the space is ritualistic. “Museums are normally set apart from other structures by their monumental architecture and clearly defined precincts.” (Duncan, 1995) As too are religious buildings, with equally monumental architecture etc. and although I agree to some extent that museums are in many ways similar to religious sites and that perhaps some may consider the experience to be that of a spiritual journey, I feel such comparisons should be avoided and that ultimately a museum is and should remain a secular space. By removing any religious associations we are creating a welcoming space for people of all cultures. Religion divides communities and cultures, so if a museum comes across to the general public the way a religious building might, hierarchical and cold, then they are less likely to enter. The situationists wanted to art to be accessible to all but if an individual doesn’t feel accepted enough by the connotations given to the building housing the art, then they will not enter and art will not become part of their everyday life. The appreciation of our experiences within the space are better suited to that of a library than a religious space, a house of knowledge rather than a house of God, with no religious or spiritual connotations attached with exception of displayed objects which may adhere to such themes. The dérive cannot be achieved in a religious space, although holy relics and religious objects may be on display, one tends not to be able to go anywhere, one may drift in and drift out, drift in a circle, between the pews, the dominance of interior architecture a constant distraction. Although some may worship the objects on display in a religious space, one does not worship museum objects, even those which may have been worshiped at some point from another culture. We are there to learn, to experience, to discover, it is a completely selfish journey we take in order to be selfless if we at some point impart the knowledge we gain onto others, the audience or spectator acting as disciple or follower of the museum, spreading the word about art.

 “The only reason for bringing together works of art in a public place is that … they produce in us a kind of exalted happiness. For a moment there is a clearing in the jungle: we pass on refreshed, with our capacity for life increased and with some memory of the sky.”

(Clark, 1954)

Although a feeling of pure elation, of exalted happiness is not necessary when viewing works of art, any feeling that differs from or encourages us to leave our state of normality, the feeling of just being ‘alright’, is something hoped to achieve through viewing displayed objects during a dérive. In the above rather poetic quote by Clark we can establish the moment an object causes an encounter in our minds, this is the moment we acquire knowledge through an understanding of what we see, or experience and how that makes us feel. The use of the word jungle is interesting as it seems to imply a cluttered mind, a busy mind, filled with modern day issues, twenty first century problems. Yet art, or objects, are able to quieten this noise inside our heads, allowing us to drift into another world, a hyper reality, free from the spectacle but still very much a part of it, contradictory calmness of our inner selves. “So long as the realm of necessity remains a social dream, dreaming will remain a social necessity. The spectacle is the bad dream of modern society in chains, expressing nothing more than its wish for sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of that sleep.” (Debord, 1967) During a dérive we are awake but we drift through space as though we are asleep, drifting from consciousness into a sort of unconsciousness, with the moment in between acting as heightened awareness in your subconscious state, experiencing all that may have otherwise only occurred to us in dreams. Consider the moment before one falls asleep and ideas are formed, almost instantly, inspiring eureka moments that occur as you’re about to call it a night and if not written down they are often forgot but when this happens during the day, during a dérive it is an incredible moment. It means you have managed to allow your surroundings to give you the answers where you may have over looked them had you been rushing rather than dériving, running rather than drifting. What would we consider to be a necessity within a gallery setting, art, objects, labels, guides, visitor assistants? Is the spectacle a continuous social dream – a social necessity, kept or continuing to exist due to the spectacle? Is the spectacle the theory which prevents progression, as social speculation, as though to turn against the spectacle would be to turn against the normalities of society? There may even be specific objects or collections we have set out to encounter on our journey, our dérive; dérives of interiors, internally processed through a series of exterior movements. Sufficiently intense dérives may occur for several days and the goal may be to emotionally disorientate oneself, something I feel could be connected to the staff within a cultural institution who perhaps perform the same drift say after day, within the same space, past the same objects. The intentional, emotional disorientation caused by repeating or experiencing drifts for long periods of time over laps with the idea that another goal within a dérive is to simply study the terrain, which seems to mirror the job of a curator, to study the interior terrain of the space as though they were a geographer surveying a landscape.  Emotional disorientation is often the case with certain kinds of objects, For example, the scale and intensity of a Rothko might induce a sort of escapism, causing you to momentarily ‘lose yourself’ every time you drift past it and if this is done often say through a repetitive journey, one might be more easily affected by other objects, it may cause a heightened sensitivity. Often repetition in modern society is something that cannot be avoided, presented in the form of endless routines. This brings me to the degradation of human life and how modern society may have impacted on our cultural institutions in ways we would never have expected.

In The Society of the Spectacle Debord (1967) states “all that once was directly lived has become mere representation”. Representational art of the past shows what we in today’s society can produce with a photograph; it represents what was there, in the flesh, in ‘real life’, something directly lived. Perhaps this is something we take for granted, particularly in the digital age, museums are now trying to allow audiences to indirectly experience museums virtually but how successful is vicariously living out encounters through a screen when one is still able to visit the museum in real life, a museum which directly lives. Our reality is made up of an immense accumulation of spectacles, by this I am referring to all forms of mass media, the internet is made up of an abundance of spectacles which inevitably fuel our current reality and although human beings are able to cope without spectacles such as those found both online and offline, one would struggle to feel integrated in our society without them. The advancement of humanity, aided by the spectacle is fundamentally reliant on creative innovation, so too are museums, without creative innovation, there may not be any museums providing our over stimulated society with what is required. “So far from realising philosophy, the spectacle philosophises reality, and turns the material life of everyone into a universe of speculation”. (Debord, 1967) This uncertainty is often visible within a gallery or museum setting, when museums cannot agree on what it is they want to achieve, what they believe in and what the message they’re trying to send out is, the public are left feeling equally as uncertain. In a gallery, there will always be speculation as to whether or not an object is art. In a museum it may come down to whether or not an object is old enough to be an artefact, this is something that will never change unless a museum makes a point of encouraging such discussions, if a museum really lets the public know that there is no right or wrong answer, all art is subjective and most history surrounding artefacts is speculative unless met with specific provenance. The spectacle seems to prevent us from simply accepting our own personal philosophies. The extinction of museums is something we must prevent by coming up with advanced methods of moving on in ways relevant to the technological advances that exist in our world. However, it could be that such development is inevitable, due to the spectacle, if the spectacle is beyond our control. If the spectacle is not perceptible to the human eye, does this mean the spectacle or the idea of the spectacle is similar to that of the sublime in that it may exist as sensation, as an awareness one cannot describe? Is it part of reality that cannot be changed, or are we able to do something about it? Debord (1967) states that “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing” and refers to reality “solely as an object of contemplation”. Are museums reluctant to change due to this; are they simply keeping up appearances? Are we living in individual museums of life, with our own realities the objects of contemplation, to be contemplated by not only ourselves but those around us, our personal participants, drifting in and out of our lives as though we’re each involved in chance encounters, possible rendezvous? Could it be that life is simply a dérive and within in that we can chose separate journeys to dérive, sometimes including others, sometimes solo? Every human being an audience members, experiencing their journeys within the gallery space of life, entering with intention through our decisions, our choices, occasionally stopping to look at a displayed object, moving onto the next and continuing to do so until we eventually find the exit. Metaphors aside, the mass dissemination of images and the technology that allows this to happen, is something that has already begun to strengthen and develop cultural institutions, the audience for art is wider than it has ever been, the ability for something to ‘go viral’ really did not exist when the Situationist International began, the media of their day is no match to ours when compare it, we still have the old media, television, printed publications, radio etc. through the use of the internet and social media, we are so much closer to merging or amalgamating art and society in a way which we never could in the past.

Due to the mass dissemination of images, the world is a much more creative place than it has ever been before and although some images may be useless or inappropriate, we have a choice as to what it is we want to view and we can use that to our advantage. We form connections with people all over the world, from other cultures, other societies, all users connected as one culturally aware society through the use of the internet. The walls of prejudice are being removed with every generation becoming more accustomed to what is out there in the world. We are more accepting and this acceptance is something which has in some ways yet to enter our museum system, our displays, etc. It isn’t just about adding disabled ramps and putting up signs if art videos might be considered unsuitable for younger audiences, it is about much more than that. There should be more diversity amongst collections, museums are going to have to pay attention and try much harder to please the public as the years move on due to the speed in which technological changes are taking place. The digital dérive as we drift in and out of browser tabs, closing windows, opening windows, climbing over comments, under comments, reading, writing, mapping our experiences through saved histories. Unless a person is particularly interested in art, the digital dérive will not include art or creative investigation, which is perhaps something that may be addressed by galleries and museums, a sort of chance encounter whilst browsing, not popup windows but something more intricate, something tightly woven into the world wide web, an ability or option to convert every webpage into a creative or participatory task. Though unbeknownst to the users of social networking sites, they are exposed to a new kind of participatory work of art, where we are the artists, the facilitators and the audience. Take Twitter for example, we are only allowed one hundred and forty characters to update our status and there is nothing to say we have to update it at all, yet we do. We do it as it is a good way of expanding our knowledge to others. We are all attempting to impart some form of knowledge, be it about ourselves or something we’re interested in onto others when we take part in such activities online. Facebook is another example of a website that could be considered a work of art, as it is a website which holds some of the most detailed, personal self-portraits imaginable. I believe the situationists would agree that the twenty first century is on the right track by disseminating culture the way we do and although the internet is really still in its infancy, there is so much more that can be achieved, especially when it comes to museums.

The collaborative significance of dialogues between display and viewer and between viewer and art is noted by Debord (1967) as being a relationship between people, on a social level, a society mediated by images where the spectacle is “not a collection of images”. The opinions of Debord regarding the idea of the spectacle were developed in an extreme manner by the philosopher Jean Baudrillard, who said that in fact we are no longer in the society of the spectacle. “The ‘culture of spectacle’ is identified as a crucial issue by artists and critics concerned about the future of modern art on the grounds that, in turning art into merely another cultural commodity for leisure-time consumption, it necessarily compromises the potential for art as a form of critical practice. In the ‘spectacle’, the challenge of the avant-garde is restaged (so the argument runs) as a form of theatre, a case in point being the Turner Prize … which, with its short-list of rival artists, positively invites controversy.” (Baker, ed. 1999) The ‘culture of spectacle’ is often avoided by cultural institutions as the lack of consistency and or controversy amongst collection displays or exhibitions could be seen as an attempt to distract the viewer. Instead, most museums and galleries will choose to display objects in a harmonious manner, objects that usually relate to one another either historically, aesthetically or thematically. By jeopardising the critical analysis of the objects themselves, the culture of spectacle causes us to look past aesthetics and to question more than what we see. It causes us to question everything we think we know about art. The culture of spectacle exists to prevent art from becoming what Hegel referred to as the ‘end of art’, art that exists simply for the enjoyment or the entertainment of the audience. Idle entertainment is something commonly associated with the French word détournement used by situationists but for them it doesn’t quite translate correctly so instead it means to “deflection, diversion, rerouting, misuse, misappropriation, hijacking, or otherwise turning something aside from its normal course or purpose. It has sometimes been translated as “diversion.”” (Knabb, 2006) To divert or deflect is something one does automatically whilst participating in a dérive. Détournement should be encouraged within museums, to completely rethink what a museum is, by misusing or hijacking the conventional museum, we may save the future of museums, creating new spaces and experiences within those spaces.

Bibliography and References

Baker, E. (1999) Contemporary Cultures of Display UK: The Open University
Clark, K. (1954) ‘The Ideal Museum’ ArtNews January, Vol. 52, pp. 29.
Debord G. trans. Nicholson-Smith, D. (1967) The Society of the Spectacle New York: Zone Books.
Debord, G. trans. Knabb, K. (1958) ‘Internationale Situationniste #2’, Theory of the Dérive Paris. [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 20th May 2013)
Duncan, C. (1995) Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums (Re Visions: Critical Studies in the History & Theory of Art) UK: Routledge.
Knabb, K. (2006) Situationist International Anthology US: Bureau of Public Secrets.
Putnam, J. (2009) Art and Artefact: The Museum as Medium UK: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Vaneigem, R. (1967) Traité du savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeunes generations Paris: Gallimard.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Placing Audiences in relation to ‘The lunatics are on the loose... Fluxus European Festivals 1962-1977’

Figure 1: George Maciunas, Fluxus Manifesto, 1963.
There are two kinds of audience members, those with prior knowledge of the art world and those without. When referencing audience in this particular essay I am writing with regards to both, a combination of the two kinds of audience members together, forming one mixed audience. We often tend to experience an exhibition equally, when we enter the gallery, regardless of what day it is, regardless of whether or not it’s morning, afternoon, early evening, the works will remain the same, they don’t move around the space of their own accord, they are in the position deemed most appropriate throughout the exhibition. Despite a variety of educational backgrounds; we inhabit the space as others do, we follow the crowd, focusing on some works but not others, following the unseen directions set out for us by manipulative interpretation. Our paths mapped out for us through weeks of curatorial decision making and research. An exhibition team have the ability to turn a single work of art, a single concept or idea, into an entire gallery of works encompassing all aspects of said concept or idea. They provide the audience with a rewarding experience by communicating a work of art through all of the other works; thus strengthening the audiences’ understanding of the exhibition. By understanding the works as a whole, the audience begin to consider the works individually, connecting with the artist(s) through the works collectively and ultimately, through the work of the curator.

The exhibition I have chosen to use as a case study for this particular essay was shown at MOCAK Muzeum Sztuki Współczesnej w Krakowie (Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków) on the 19th of October 2012 until the 27th of January 2013. Entitled ‘The lunatics are on the loose... Fluxus European Festivals 1962-1977’, we as an audience are already able to presuppose the kind of works we may experience or encounter based on the title, the location and the time period. This exhibition was curated by Maria Anna Potocka and coordinated by Katarzyna Wąs. “While the artists who remain active still work today on furthering and forming Fluxus ideas and actions, an ever growing number of art historians/curators are researching and presenting the history of Fluxus in all its variety. Nevertheless, the knowledge on the European Fluxus festivals has still been rudimentary. Therefore, it was high time to bring together research results in an international project, make previously undiscovered material accessible and most of all, draw attention to the artists’ and eyewitnesses’ perspectives. The exhibition is meant as a first step towards processing the historic Fluxus events in Europe.” (Sterling, 2013) The works were displayed in honour of the international artist network Fluxus and took place on the 50th anniversary of its founding. The title ‘The lunatics are on the loose...’ comes from a note scrawled across an original poster advertising the 1962 festival Fluxus (Internationale Festspiele neuester Musik) which proved unsuccessful, with most audience members disapproving of the movement. Taken from a Latin word meaning, 'to flow', Fluxus often incorporates inter-disciplinary activities between genres within the arts. Fluxus was profoundly influenced by “musical form. Fluxus works were conceived as composed collages of actions.” (Anon, 2011) The Fluxus artistic philosophy (, 2013) can be expressed through four key points that define the majority of Fluxus work. Firstly, Fluxus was an attitude. It was not a movement or a style. Secondly, Fluxus was intermedia. Fluxus creators liked to see what would happen when different media crossed over. They used found and everyday objects, sounds, images, and texts to create new combinations of objects, sounds, images, and texts. Thirdly, Fluxus works were simple. The art was small, the texts were short, and the performances were brief and finally, Fluxus was fun as humour was always an important element in Fluxus.

During the 1960's similarities between mediums such as painting and poetry or drawing and theatre, would be described as intermedia, a term first used by artist Dick Higgins. These areas became new genres themselves through repeated experiences, occurrences and use such as performance art and visual poetry. Fluxus was a term not only used to describe artists but also composers, designers, writers, actors, poets and anyone noted for combining different aspects of artistic disciplines and media. The influence of Fluxus is still widely used within performance, digital and multi-media based artworks but Fluxus itself ended in 1978 with the death of artist and founding member George Maciunas, the author of the 1963 Fluxus Manifesto (see Figure 1).

Contemporary attempts to question the role of the museum in society, the role of the audience and the status of the objects began to create exciting dialogues between the cultural institutions and their audiences. Museums and galleries both tried and are still trying to come up with innovative ways of experiencing displayed objects, particularly through the use of new media. Artists are often handed the role of the curator by the gallery or museum in order to aid new ways of considering spaces, objects and exhibitions in general, this move is usually made on the presumption that an artist will be able to think outside the box, or more creatively. “Artists can offer fresh insights beyond academic interpretations and take initiatives with groupings and juxtapositions that no museum curator would be allowed to consider.” (Putnam, 2009) It’s an opportunistic experiment undertaken by a number of cultural institutions, by hiring an artistic individual, free from commitment and not bound by actions that would perhaps be restricted otherwise, the museum has no choice but to recognise its faults and rectify them.

“According to Sharon Macdonald the three main points of departure from the ‘old museology’ were: the comprehension of the meaning of museum objects as situated as contextual rather than inherent; the attention to commercialism and entertainment; and the consideration of the visitor as an active agent.”
(Macdonald, 2006)

The visitor as an active agent is of particular importance, for without the visitor, the museum or gallery is simply a storage space for objects of historical significance. The importance of interpretation, as an aid to the perceptions and affections of displayed objects, whether art or artefact is inconsequential, knowledge, if not already obtained through another source must be provided in order to enable and encourage what we see, whether this is through the labelling of works, text panels, information leaflets, trigger works or an alternative method. ‘The lunatics are on the loose... Fluxus European Festivals 1962-1977’ used large text panels, in both Polish and English to create a beneficial and informative experience for someone who perhaps doesn’t speak Polish but does speak English, there were also audio guides and braille available. The names of the cities where the festivals took place were transferred onto the gallery floor, in large, fluorescent pink, capitalised letters, to be walked over, though most chose not to, uncertain as to whether or not the floor texts were art works. This kind of confusion within a space challenges the audience as observer. “A well-defined observer extracts everything that it can, everything that can be extracted in the corresponding system. In short the role of a partial observer is to perceive and to experience, although these perceptions and affections are not those of a man, in the currently accepted sense, but belong to the things studied.” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994) By using this example describing inherent perceptions and affections of that being studied, Deleuze and Guattari are making a connection between the audience or observer and the object. They are acknowledging the ability to see things differently, the evolution of an audience. The art world creates well defined observers out of partial observers through extended exposure to interpretation methods, the more time you spend in a space, the more you learn about it, developing your knowledge of the works that inhabit the space improves your ability to understand why they are situated where they are. It allows you to make connections which were perhaps not initially obvious. The associations made and the viewer’s ability to find a connection or commonality amongst displayed works in particular sections or rooms creates a more interactive experience for the audience. ‘The lunatics are on the loose... Fluxus European Festivals 1962-1977’ was in itself more of an abbreviation than an exhibition, a compressed summary of the Fluxus activities during the 1960’s and 70’s at the European festivals (see Figure 2). Yet, despite this, the combination of documentation, DIY installation, projections, visualisations, interviews and photographs created the atmosphere one is more accustomed to in a conventional museum, rather than a gallery space, the presentation of these materials felt more like artefact than it did art. It is interesting how, although the 1960’s and 70’s were perhaps arguably not long enough ago for us to consider such objects as artefact, they are historical objects, relating to art. The definition of an artefact tends to be something produced by man, particularly an object of archaeological interest. Although one usually associates artefacts with the distant past, some archaeologists will argue that an object, usually a found object can be at least twenty five years old to qualify such a title as artefact.

“Watkins argues for curating as a type of artistic practice, with individual artworks being analogous to Marcel Duchamp’s readymades (everyday found objects taken as art), their display aided by the curator’s “manipulation of the environment, the lighting, the labels and the placement of other works of art.””
(O'Neill, 2012)

Figure 2: The lunatics are on the loose… Illustration Credit: Tiffany Horan, 2013.
In my opinion the works here are not so much tangible works of art but ephemera, collectible memorabilia which could be considered as artefact depending on the opinions of the audience. “According to Duchampian principles, the entirety of an exhibition could become art…” (Putnam, 2009) Collectively, one could consider every object as part of an installation, the exhibition as an installation amongst the collection works of the gallery, in that sense the objects could be considered art but separately they aren't anything more than artefact and any projected concept we give to such objects are of our own creation, they are ideas conceived in the minds of the audience, rather than something inherent in the objects themselves. The eye of the beholder belongs to the audience. Thinking of the exhibition as medium is not a new idea, as although one could argue that “most curators are not artists and an artist is not a curator … an artist with the ability to curate can be both” (Horan, 2013) there are those who believe in curating as an artistic practice, the curator as artist. When one is able to curate and not create, how can one possibly consider the curator as artist? For example, Jonathan Watkins wrote an essay called ‘The Critic as Artist’, where he “draws on Oscar Wilde’s idea that objects are transformed into art by the critic writing about them, in which it is the eye of the beholder that produces the work of art.” (O'Neill, 2012) Part of the exhibition included an Alison Knowles piece where members of the audience were able to take part in ‘Add Your Own Thing’, the instructions read as follows: ‘Place something from your own pocket to add to this exhibition. If you have nothing, write one word on a paper and add this.’ The wall contained a variety of objects, buttons, wrappers, ticket stubs, coins, labels, a hair bobble, tobacco, receipts, tissues, scribbled drawings, words and sentences. This is a piece that could change every time you viewed it depending on the level of audience participation. The objects added were not labelled with the owners name, they were donated to the artist’s work, the authorship is that of the artist and the work is that of a collective audience. There is still an uncertainty amongst audiences as to the authenticity of the work produced in this way and the definition of an artist when it comes to the value of such interactive or participatory works as the artist is creating an idea to be facilitated by an audience, rather than creating an object to be viewed by an audience.

Figure 3: The lunatics are on the loose… Illustration Credit: Tiffany Horan, 2013.
This calls into question how one labels such interactive artwork, if it requires labelling at all, surely one cannot list all the participants as artist due to interpretation such as labelling occurring early on in the organisation of an exhibition. “In a museum that did not label its paintings, how many of us would not feel uneasy lest we condemn one of the greats or praise an unknown?” (Lessing, 1965, p. 463)

The above quote by Lessing was written with regards to forgery within art. It relates well to Maciunas’ complicated influence on Fluxus where by the ownership of a number of works cannot be attributed to their rightful creators, some have been misattributed altogether and others are simply anonymous. He believed in selling multiples of works in abundance, Maciunas would often change the ideas of the original artists and begin production. Thus we as an audience are never sure of the authenticity of a great many Fluxus works. Lessing’s quote can also be used to illustrate how important it is for the audience to engage with interpretation methods to enhance their knowledge of art, in particular things such as the creative process are learnt through viewing objects made from certain materials, materials of which are usually listed as a method of interpretation, i.e. labels. I agree with Lessing that the uncertainty of the unknown artist is unsettling, especially for those with prior knowledge of the artworld. If the work of art is labelled incorrectly, or if we attribute it to the wrong artist, we as an audience are being provided with incorrect knowledge and are therefore unable to make correct or informed judgements. “Quiet control – mediated by trust – is what the art world is really about.” (Poe cited in Thornton, 2008, Introduction) This trust is what we expect when viewing works of art, or artefact within a cultural institution. The interpretation should be factual; it should guide and nourish the audience. Without it, we are creating false knowledge, manipulative interpretation which does nothing to enhance the viewing experience, if anything it distracts from it as without visible knowledge we begin to question the work, rather than look at it objectively.

Art should be viewed subjectively, allowing the internal assessment of works once we are in possession of the relevant information. Fluxus “had dismantled the definition of artwork.” (Anon, 2011) Manipulative Interpretation was evident whilst viewing ‘The lunatics are on the loose... Fluxus European Festivals 1962-1977’ due the forceful interactivity of the displayed objects, in order to see one thing, you must see beyond another. However, this worked well when we consider the ways in which “play initially emerged for many artists as an alternative for traditional forms of ‘serious culture’.” Viewing the work becomes an almost liberating endeavour; you become part of the work, part of a performance visible only to the other participants, the other audience members. Rather than bypassing the suspended documentation altogether, we find ourselves weaving in and out of laminated papers hung from the ceiling in an attempt to watch the projection behind them (see Figure 3). The dance of the audience, delicately choreographed by the curatorial team is almost in itself a participatory work of art, instructed without instructions. “The museum’s primary function is ideological.” (Duncan, C. & Wallach, A., 2004) Although the option is usually always available to take another route when viewing displayed objects, the audience tend to follow suit, they start from the beginning and make their way towards the end. This is not always the best choice, more often than not; it’s worth starting at the end and making your way towards the start of the exhibition, a curator will rarely leave the best until last. “Individual objects have shifting and ambiguous relationships to meaning. Being themselves mute, their significance is open to interpretation. … Objects are subject to multiple interpretations, some of which may be contradictory.” (Hooper-Greenhill, 2000) First impressions are as essential to displayed objects in a museum as they are to people. The objects you encounter on entering the space are there to entice you. If ‘The lunatics are on the loose... Fluxus European Festivals 1962-1977’ had not provided the audience with the ability to interact, it would have directly gone against the essential elements relating to Fluxus, the idea of free play with objects. Without free play or actions, movements or motions involving an object, the exhibition would have seemed static and irrelevant; the objects in Fluxus works were meaningless without actions.

The museum of today is a modernist museum, having emerged in the nineteenth century; a number of practices are outdated and unsuccessful when faced with placing a twenty first century audience. “Rapid social and technological changes combined with radical changes in attitudes to objects as sources of knowledge left the purpose and the character of museums unclear.” (Hooper-Greenhill, 2000) Due to the transformation of artistic practices, museums have to adapt, they need to create spaces and exhibitions relevant to the present, whilst displaying objects of the past in order to survive. In the same way that we rarely use a salon hang style in a contemporary gallery space (with the exception of Tate Liverpool’s 2013 Silvia Sleigh exhibition) and have adopted a minimalist approach to display, the museum needs to find new ways to create relevant and beneficial public spaces, socially and economically preserving culture the way a conservator preserves a watercolour on paper. The museum can easily become an artefact in itself, the museum trapped in a museum. The museum protected by the confines, protocol and red tape of the traditional museum.

Bibliography and References

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Anon, (2011) The Art Style UK: Parragon Book Service Ltd.               
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F.; trans. Tomlinson, H. & Burchill, G. (1994) What is Philosophy? UK: Verso.
Dezeuze, A ed. (2010) The ‘Do-It-Yourself’ Artwork: Participation from Fluxus to New Media Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Duncan, C. & Wallach, A. ‘The Universal Survey Museum’ in Carbonell, B. M. ed. (2004) Museum Studies: An Anthology of Contexts Oxford: Blackwell.
Hooper-Greenhill, E. ‘Culture and Meaning in the Museum’ in Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2000) Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture London: Routledge.
Horan, T. (2012) ‘Curatorial Studentship’ Tiffany Victoria Horan [Online/Blog]. Available from: (Accessed: 30th April 2013)
Lessing, A. ‘What is wrong with a forgery?’ The Journey of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 461-471.
O’Doherty, B. (1986) Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space University of California Press.
O’Neill, P. ‘The Curatorial Turn: From Practice to Discourse’ in Rugg, J. & Sedgwick, M. (2007) Issues in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance, Bristol: Intellect Books.
O'Neill, P. (2012) The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s) United States of America: MIT Press.
Putnam, J. (2009) Art and Artefact: The Museum as Medium UK: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Sterling, B. (2013) ‘Look out art world, Fluxus is here with the exploding lettuce’ Wired [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 30th April 2013)
Thornton, S. (2008) Seven Days in the Art World UK: Granta Books.