Philippe Bettinelli is a curator working in the New Media Department of the National Museum of Modern Art at Centre Pompidou in Paris. Currently, he is part of the Beyond Matter project in which he working together with colleagues on the revival of the iconic show, Les Immatériaux, originally staged at Centre Pompidou in 1985. He has previously been in charge of Public Art in the French National Center for Visual Arts (Centre national des arts plastiques – CNAP), and curator in charge of Visual Arts, 1960-1990, in the same collection. Notable works by Yona Friedman, Niki de Saint Phalle and Mona Hatoum feature in CNAP´s collections. Aside from new media and public art related issues, his research focuses on the crisis of landscape in modern and contemporary art, which was the subject of a three-years teaching cycle he gave with Baptiste Brun in École du Louvre. He has also been a member of the drafting committee of the journal Histoire de l’art, and is currently in the drafting committee of Perspective. Bettinelli studied Cultural Law at Université Paris Sud and History of Art at the École du Louvre before completing his studies in conversation at the Institut national du patrimoine (2014-2015).
The digital documentation of Les Immatériaux and the elusiveness of past exhibitions
The exhibition Les Immatériaux, which opened at Centre Pompidou in 1985, challenged the museum experience in many ways. Curated by Jean-François Lyotard and Thierry Chaput, it explored the transformations agitating the postmodern world through five key notions, all coming from the same etymologic root: matière (matter), matériau (support), maternité (maternity), matériel (hardware), and matrice (matrix). Following the spirit of multidisciplinarity which drove the creation of Centre Pompidou, it brought together works from the field of visual arts, new media and architecture, but also scientific items and a vast variety of displays, ranging from dioramas to interactive installations. From a museographic point of view, it stands as a groundbreaking experience, relying on the use of sound—with audio recordings displayed on headsets, triggered by infrared as the visitor moved through the space—and on a labyrinthic scenography, based not on classical exhibition panels but on hanged metal meshes, which tended to provide a feeling of weightlessness and transparency. Although Les Immatériaux is remembered as an iconic exhibition, its visual documentation is far from complete and the very nature of its experience challenges the idea of a virtual reconstruction. How can digital tools help us to grasp its history? If this exhibition can’t be fully reconstructed in a photorealistic manner—provided it were relevant to its topic—to which extend can digital tools help new audiences understand its experience? Through a presentation of the exhibition and a review of the methodological questions raised by the research linked to its digital documentation, this talk will review the quest of trying to summon the ghost of an exhibition.