Setting an exhibition space within the reading room of the Westminster Art Reference Library was delicate. It must not disturb the daily activities of the library but still make enough of an impact, as well as provide excellent conditions for the viewing of the videos. The tactic I opted for was to encourage a one-on-one experience between the viewers and videos, and so by providing an intimate space where visitors can sit down and relax while looking at the videos. I also had to promote the art works exhibited in the space, I had to show their importance and make them noticed. The legends offered the perfect support to mark this importance. I hung them on the walls as if they were works art, though they stood behind the television screens so that they were not the primary focal point. Without imposing, they would signal to visitors that the videos were not randomly selected, but artefacts worth careful attention.
The second decision I had to make was how to group the videos. The case of the Microsoft video was simple – it was on a separate dvd, so it had to be on a separate screen. The “Discovery of Magnetic North” video was the longer and most immersive one, so I decided to play it alone on the only projector. I separated the rest of the videos into three groups:
- Three utopian visions by corporations
- Two artistic reactions to today’s progress along with a an original vision of the future. The two artistic reactions and the futuristic video were all colourful and entertaining.
- Three artistic views of the past
Associating the videos this way generated a sort of dialogue between the videos sequenced on each monitor, and also between videos played at the same time on different screens not far from each other. Though the corporation videos were grouped on one side of the room, they were not isolated but well linked with other videos: ‘Some things won’t change’ and images of ‘Discovery of Magnetic North”, for example.
What to tell the visitor? Should I present him with my analysis of the videos or with descriptions from the artists? How much should he be free to make up his own interpretation of the videos and how much guidance does he need?
For this exhibition, I decided to only display a short introduction to its theme, and to let the artists introduce their videos themselves on short legends. The full description of the exhibition and its theme is on the internet for the visitors who want to know more.
The fact that the exhibition is called ‘Dreams of Progress’ already impacts the visitors’ perception of the art works. Some of the artists did not have this theme in mind when they made their video, so, I wanted to compensate this by showing legends from the artists themselves. That way, visitors could understand the approach of the artists and have their own judgement on the connections between the videos and the theme of Progress.
I also reduced the introduction of the exhibition to an open, relatively short text in order to provide enough freedom for the public to make their own conclusions. This came at a cost – some visitors did not see the connections that I thought were important between the videos. Giving the visitors a full description would have been, in a sense, more egalitarian, as everyone would have learned the same thing.
One interesting interrogation that emerged when writing the introduction of this exhibition was how to position the videos compared to literary works like Utopia by Thomas More or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I could have inscribed the videos in a history of thoughts on Utopia, but I was determined to put the videos on centre stage rather than references.