The unplace project aims to discuss the notion of "intangible museography" in the field of contemporary art exhibitions which are specifically produced for virtual and networked contexts.
Over the last two decades, museums have become increasingly influential agents in a mediatised and globalised world, strongly impacting fields as different as tourism, culture or city planning. At the same time, a large number of internet-based projects involving virtual museums and exhibitions has also been growing. As an invaluable communication tool, the Internet shapes, nowadays, a challenging new territory for museums, providing new possibilities for curatorship, architecture and exhibition design projects. Concurrently, its effects on art practices can also be decisively assessed by recent movements like Digital Art or Internet Art.
While these virtual projects seem to fruitfully embrace immateriality as an operative and creative notion, many of them further configure a paradoxical movement. In fact, and surprisingly enough, most cases fail to propose utterly innovative works or environments, as they simply tend to reproduce prevailing models from the material world: digitising existing collections and duplicating, online, real exhibition spaces.
On the one hand, referential museological institutions worldwide are using digital resources as preferential tools of self-representation. Although museums occasionally promote web-specific projects, they have mostly been interested in expanding and presenting, digitally, their own collections and the activities that take place within their buildings. Key international collaborative ventures, such as the popular Google Art Project, constitute important joint efforts which highlight the geographical diversity of the world shared heritage while they remain, nevertheless, closely linked to the simulation of pre-existing realities. On the other hand, it can also be verified that even museums which were originally conceived to operate only in cyberspace often replicate architectural models already designed or built in different historical or geographical contexts. Although many scholars have theoretically proposed new conceptual frameworks to deal with the emergence of virtual museographies, concrete examples of digital museums are often not as ground-breaking as expected, and demonstrate, in fact, how strongly traditional stereotypes of museum architecture and design are still dominant in virtual environments.
The investigation of new immaterial paradigms for exhibition architectures and displays seems, then, to be all the more crucial at a time when intangible cultural heritage is increasingly valued and art practices based on digital processes are unprecedentedly present in contemporary culture. Within this context, this research project chiefly aims: (1) to understand the reasons underlying the persistence of actual material references in current projects on virtual museums/exhibitions; (2) to analyse remarkable case studies which effectively succeed to overcome the conventional and tangible references in the field of digital exhibitions. Particular attention will be paid to projects committed to explore participative reception and collaborative platforms for contemporary art.
Finally, this work also proposes (3) to outline alternative guidelines for future developments in the domains of museum architecture and virtual exhibitions. By doing so, we will examine and characterise this specific kind of museography which – despite, and because, of its physical intangibility – can certainly be more accessible than any other form of exhibition. With the involvement of the Next Future Program (Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation), it will be possible to build a network for sharing and discussing innovative concepts and practices, including contributions of artists, curators, designers, architects who will converge virtually, despite their different geographical locations. Furthermore, this platform will be oriented to a wider audience and will configure the basis for a future exhibition of contemporary art, entirely web-specific. Assuming the complex and contradictory intention of both conserving and promoting immaterial heritage as a distinctive feature of contemporary culture, this project expects to (re)formulate the concept of ‘intangible museography’. To this end, the study will focus on the significantly revealing field, at the same time real and virtual, which lies at the technological crossroads of architecture, contemporary art and new media.