Gallery Experience : Viewers, Screens and the Space In-Between in Contemporary Installation Art

Abstract: This dissertation explores gallery experience as an embodied and site-specific occurrence. Using an interdisciplinary approach that bridges art historical research with film theoretical perspectives, it offers contextualized, in-depth analyses of a limited number of contemporary installation works exhibited in Scandinavia during 2014–2016. Focusing on how these case studies complicate the relationship between viewers and screens, the thesis examines how they actualize the notion of an in-between, both thematically and with regard to the specificities of the exhibition context. Drawing on film phenomenology on the one hand and art historical studies of relational art practices on the other, this study stakes out new paths for understanding embodied spectatorship in the social space of the gallery.Chapter one is concerned with how spatial arrangements structure the viewing experience and discusses the transitory nature of the gallery in relation to the five-channel film installation Intercourses (Jesper Just, Bonniers Konsthall, 2015). Reexamining the concept of relational aesthetics, it proposes that the gallery experience engenders provisional viewing collectives that are characterized by a sense of embodied displacement. This chapter also focuses on the viewer’s place vis-à-vis highly aestheticized images of war in the six-channel film installation The Enclave (Richard Mosse, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015), examining the blurring of boundaries between aesthetics and ethics at the site of projection.Chapter two explores archival art practices, focusing on institutional framing and how the gallery comes to function as a site for shared memory work. Discussing the two hybrid exhibitions Unfolding (Akram Zaatari, Moderna Museet, 2015) and Geography of Time (Fiona Tan, Museet for samtidskunst, 2015-2016), it considers the excavation of cultural memory and the formation of idiosyncratic image collections as a form of alternative historiography that is made possible by the animation of the archival document within the walls of the gallery.Chapter three deals more explicitly with participatory aspects through close analysis of a selection of works by installation artist Olafur Eliasson (Riverbed, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2014 and Reality Machines, Moderna Museet, 2015-2016). It also considers the commercialized art sphere and the blockbuster exhibition in relation to the traditional function of the gallery or museum as a site for contemplation and demonstrates how Eliasson’s installations renegotiate the borders between the two.Chapter four considers the afterlife of installation through various documentation practices. Drawing on debates about the preservation of live art and the possible restructuring of aura brought on by these processes, it examines how the gallery experience is remembered and modified as a mediated event, as institutional memory, in alternative versions or in the form of embodied memory.The thesis concludes by reiterating how the case studies pose challenges to predominant models of aesthetic experience and require a double focus where thematic analysis and contextual considerations of the gallery as an institutional and social space form an undeniable whole. Arguing for the insights of a site-specific approach, the dissertation conceptualizes the gallery experience as a shared event where images, sculptural elements and viewer interaction come together to form new modes of embodied spectatorship.