Classical exhibition history emphasized order and stability. Nowadays,
what we are seeing is fluctuation and instability: the unpredictable.
In non-equilibrium physics, we find different notions of unstable systems
and the dynamics of unstable environments. Combining incertitude and
unpredictability with organization is an important issue here. In the
place of certitude, the exhibition expresses connective possibilities:
evolutional displays, exhibitions with an ongoing life, exhibitions
as dynamic learning systems with feedback loops, a concerted effort
to revoke the unclosed, paralyzing homogeneity of the exhibition master-plan,
and thus question the obsolete idea of the curator as the mastermind.
As the questioning process gets underway, the exhibition is only emerging.
Exhibitions under permanent construction, exhibitions within exhibitions.
The eschewal or questioning of a master-plan also means that organizing
an exhibition means inviting many various shows into the show, the effect
not unlike a Russian Matrushka doll. An exhibition can quite easily
conceal other exhibitions (temporary anonymous zones).
At a time when cooperation between museums and different exhibitions
is more and more economically-driven, with a flurry of traveling shows,
packed, shipped and available for rent, there has never been a more
pressing need to turn our attentions towards non-profit-making, art-oriented
hook-ups. As Indian economist Amaryta Sen points out, there is a need
for empirical connections linking freedoms of a different kind, a mutually
beneficial exchange to encourage connections linking different freedoms.
This also means that rather than furthering favoring bigger and bigger
museum conglomerates which inevitably become more and more homogenous,
there is a need for more collaboration between different models which
might cultivate a spirit of difference and allow disparate conditions
"to thrive both through protection and exposure" (Cedric Price).
The whole notion of an evolving display, an exhibition with an ongoing
life, is of utmost importance. This is the notion Hou Hanru and myself
have been trying to develop with "Cities on the Move", yet
the show is but a blueprint for a project that merits further development.
It is a complex idea and one which would necessitate more and more traveling
exhibitions that come with their own sets of demands in terms of logistics,
scale and budget. Traveling shows inevitably involve expenditure of
energy on the part of the artist, and getting the show to the second
or third venue is always a daunting task. How to go about making the
exhibition's third appearance exciting and keep it growing, all the
while resisting the fly in, fly out mentality? Rather than view the
exhibition as a product, it is important to consider it a process capable
of exploiting the full potential of the museum hosting it, as if the
museum were a laboratory or workshop.
Under these conditions, exhibitions would no longer be switched on and
off, in a spirit of tabula rasa, before the next hosted outing, but
would take on an almost life-like, organic valence, leaving seeds to
grow, sedimentation to accumulate.
Three years of ongoing dialogue lie behind "Cities on the Move".
Proceedings became ever more interesting. Artists started to collaborate
with other artists as the exhibition got underway. In some respects
it was a fast process. Elsewhere things were slow. Dialogues and collaborations
began to emerge as this show continued to undergo change following its
first outing in Vienna, in an empty courtyard designed by architect
Yung Ho Cheong. In London, Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren designed what
they called an accelerated Merzbau for the Hayward Gallery. In a bid
to be "economical with their imaginations", they recycled
the exhibition architecture of Zaha Hadid who had designed the previous
exhibition at the Hayward, "100 Years of Art and Fashion".
Koolhaas and Scheeren opted for a form of interior urbanism.
The show eventually turned into a process of sedimentation. After London,
"Cities on the Move" continued apace, and has never had a
fixed list of participating artists.
Basically, with this show, we were trying to trigger positive feedback
loops. It was set out as a learning system which would learn from every
city in which it touched down. The exhibition also took in Helsinki,
where it was designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who used paper
tubing in all its forms in an homage to Alvar Alto.
(Learning From The Sir John Soanes Museum)
"Time of marathon visit; time of interior complexity", as
Patricia Falguières says as she forges a link between the Sir
John Soanes Museum and the Merzbau: the time-scale of Schwitters' marathon
visits through the Merzbau, aimed less at objects than at events/intensities,
the exhibition as a process of sedimentation rather than as an envelope.
Uneven structural elements are involved, like the Piranesi's Carceri
staircases, mirrored into infinity, which open up non-linear, multi-directional
paths where viewers are expected, over and over again, to find their
These "Time Marathon" visits to the Merzbau lead us to think
in terms of time-based exhibitions. The time-based exhibition also includes
the amount of time a viewer spends in a museum. The presence of video
and film in exhibitions would account for this.
Many of the changes I have witnessed are related not only to space but
also to time. Toni Negri and Michale Hardt's Empire was one of the most
outstanding interpretations of globalization ever written. Their description
of multitude designates new spaces as its journeys establish new residencies.
Autonomous movement is what defines the proper place of a multitude.
Multitude fights the homogenization of globalization; actually it constructs
new temporalities, immanent processes of constitution.
Negri's emphasis on different temporalities brings me back to Cedric
Price. Price is a visionary English architect and town-planner who has
participated in "Cities on the Move" at various points in
its trajectory. To quote Price, "The first three dimensions are
height, width, length. Time is the fourth dimension of an exhibition.
In the Bangkok version of 'Cities on the Move', time was the key. The
entire nature of the outing - not in terms of the presentation of materials
but the consuming usage of ideas and images - existed in time. The very
reason for mounting this show was immediacy, an awareness of time that
is not necessarily that of London or Manhattan."
Cedric Price's Fun Palace project from 1961 consisted of a building
that was neither destined to last forever nor require renovation, but
would disappear after a 10-20-year life-span. The Fun Palace, which
Price developed following talks with Joan Littlewood, was to be a flexible
structure in a large shipyard which could be added to according to changes
in circumstance. The key idea here was that the building could undergo
alteration whilst occupied. According to Price, this loose social pattern
"would give the user freedom as to what to do next". The Fun
Palace was a responsive structure aimed at connecting disciplines and
different practitioners within changing parameters.
Price further developed these ideas with his vision for a 20th-Century
cultural center using uncertainty and conscious incompleteness to produce
a catalyst for invigorating change whilst always producing a "harvest
of the quiet eye".
Against The Amnesia Of The Exhibition's Laboratory Years
Observe the Bilbao effect and the whole focus on exterior spectacle.
Today, there is a relatively strong amnesia regarding the interior complexity
of experimental exhibitions such as those mounted by Bayer, Duchamp,
Gropius, Kiesler, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy, Lilly Reich and Mies van der
Rohe. In the words of Mary Anne Staniszewskis, who penned the excellent
book The Power of Display (MIT), which actually illustrates this incredible
amnesia using the example of the Museum of Modern Art in New York: "the
importance of exhibition design provides an approach to art history
that acknowledges the vitality, historicity and the time- and site-bound
character of all aspects of culture. During a recent interview I held
with him, Richard Hamilton pointed out: 'Most of the great exhibitions
since 1851 have produced display features of historic importance, a
manipulation of interior spaces that commands respect to this day'."
Time, Storage, Kraftwerk and Laboratory
(Alexander Dorner Revisited)
Alexander Dorner, who ran the Hanover Museum in the 1920s, defined the
museum as a kraftwerk. He invited artists such as El Lissitzky to realize
a contemporary, dynamic display of a museum on the move. In his writings,
Dorner emphasizes Überwindung der Kunst (Going beyond art), and
his intention to transform the neutral white cube in such a way that
it assume the valences of a more heterogeneous space. Dorner succeeded
in his pseudo-natural space back in the 19th century, an approach which
is still at large today. Dorner's legacy is at its strongest in the
fact that he anticipated very early on the urgency of issues such as
the museum in a permanent state of transformation within dynamic parameters:
-the museum as it oscillates between object and process: "The processual
idea has penetrated our system of certainties" (Dorner);
-the multi-identity museum;
-the museum on the move;
-the museum as a risk-taking pioneer; Act! Don't wait!;
-the museum as a setting for crossings of art and life;
-the museum as a laboratory;
-the museum based on a dynamic concept of art history: as John Dewey
wrote, it is through Dorner that we are "in the midst of a dynamic
center of profound transformations";
-the museum as a relative, not absolute, truth;
-the elastic museum - elastic in its displays, elastic as a building;
-bridges between artist, museum and other disciplines.
In Dorner's own words: "Only by looking at other fields of life
can we understand the forces which are effective in visual production
A moment of slowness and silence is a very important part of a museum
visit. At a time when noise and the fast lane have taken precedence
over the slow lane, it is important to consider ways in which to re-inject
slowness and silence into current museum conditions. Rem Koolhaas has
set out some possible ways in which noise and silence, speed and slowness
can coexist. Describing his recent museum projects, he points to "the
notion of creating a fast-track tourist route, a kind of short-cut aimed
at enabling the return of slowness or intensity. In the absence of a
two-speed system, the museum experience is accelerated for all comers.
We used to refer to the beautiful era of the MoMa, the Laboritorium
and, yes, it was a beautiful era, but I do not think you
can have a Laboratorium visited by two million people a year. And that
is why, with our libraries as well as our museums, what we are trying
to do is organize an almost urban noise soundtrack alongside experiences
that facilitate focus and slowness. As far as I am concerned, this is
the most exciting way of conceiving of today's incredible surrender
to frivolity and how it could also be compatible with a seduction of
focus and stillness. It is the issue of mass visit and the core experience
of stillness and being together with the work of art that is at stake".
(Rem Koolhaas, from an interview with the author).
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Hans Ulrich Obrist was born in May 1968 in Zürich, Switzerland.
He currently lives and works in Paris. Since 1993 he has run the programme
"Migrateurs" at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville
de Paris, and has been a curator for the Museum In Progress, Vienna.
He was the founder of the migratory Museum Robert Walser (1993) and
of the Nano Museum (1996). Since 1997, he is editor in chief of Point
d'Ironie, which is published by Agnes b. Since 1991 he has curated numerous
exhibitions including "The Kitchen Show" (St. Gallen, 1991),
"Christian Boltanski" in the Monastery Library St.Gallen (1991),
"Gerhard Richter", Nietzsche Haus, Sils Maria (1992), Hôtel
Carlton Palace (Paris, 1993), "The Broken Mirror" (with Kasper
Koenig, Vienna Festival, 1993), "Life/Live" (with Laurence
Bossé, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Centro
Belem, Lisbon, 1996), "Do it" (so far 30 versions since 1994,
American tour 1997-2001), "Cities on the Move" (with Hou Hanru,
Secession Vienna and CAPC Bordeaux, 1997, and Hayward Gallery, London;
Kiasma, Helsinki; Bangkok, 1999), "Le Jardin, La Ville, La Mémoire"
(with Laurence Bossé and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Villa Medici,
Rome, 1998-2000), "Laboratorium" (with Barbara Vandelinden,
Antwerp Open, 1999), "Sogni/Dreams" (with Francesco Bonami,
Fondazione Re-Rebaudengo, 1999). "Retrace your steps: Remember
tomorrow" (Sir John Soanes Museum, London 1999-2000), "Rumor
City" (Fri Art, Fribourg and "Mutations", Arc en Reve,
Obrist is also curator of "City Vision/Clip City" as part
of "Seoul Media City", South Korea, 2000, and also of "Mutations:
Evenement culturel sur la ville contemporaine" (co-curated with
Rem Koolhaas, Sanford Kwinter, Stefano Boeri), Arc en Reve, Bordeaux,
He has edited the writings of Gerhard Richter, Louise Bourgeois, Gilbert
and George, Maria Lassnig and Leon Golub.