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by Yael Eylat Van-Essen

Institutional Critique and the City Museum of Tel Aviv

The building itself was originally built in the 1920s as an apartment hotel which would not have provided exhibition spaces in the tradition of the white cube. A rectangular space, which was added to the building at a later stage, was therefore designated to function as the central space of the exhibition.


In the introduction to their book Museum Culture,1 Rogoff and Sherman claim that right through their history, museums were preoccupied with camouflaging the power systems thatmotivated their curatorial endeavors. The authors suggest to read these museal activities under the flare of allembracing Foucauldian discourse that refers to the power motivatedactions of cultural centers in relation to mechanisms of political control. The project I will be introducing in this paper aimed to make institutional critique a prominent factor in itsdesign. It was built on a curatorial model based on the assumption that the construction of a cultural institution should not only validate a critical ideological agenda, but shouldalso offer a systematic infrastructure which allows for a critical and reflective component in assessing the curatorial act taking place in its framework.2 This curatorial model wasdeveloped for the planning of the historical museum of the city of Tel-Aviv and was to be opened for its hundredth anniversary celebrations. The building chosen for the museum was in previous decades the residence of the city's municipality and was in the past a thriving centre of public gathering for diverse political and cultural activities.

The initial stages of the project were immediately challenged with fundamental questions of the legitimacy of any curatorial team, to accept the mission of designing a historical museum forthe city. Therefore, a decision was made to define the museum as an 'Urban Museum', in which history functions as an essential foundation for dealing with actual and future issues. The historical representation, according to this definition, stopped functioning as an aim in itself. Instead it evolved as a layer in a much wider multifaceted entity, which validates and deepens the inquiry into issues related tothe city as a developing ensemble with a past, a present and a future, with inhabitants who share common responsibility for its development. The aim was to build a museum that will enable a stimulating discourse concerning the complex political, social, physical and cultural issues that the city is facing, that originate from its history as well as from the institutional andpolitical systems which are responsible for their development. In order to achieve these goals, a decision was made to concentrate on four main curatorial principles:


a — Current and Past Administrations as part of the Museum Exhibition

This public museum is financed by the municipality of the city of Tel Aviv. As such its content and conceptions need to be approved by the relevant bodies of municipal institutions.The subordination of the curatorial team to the municipality is inevitable when considering curatorial decisions, and therefore it was decided to make such consideration prominent in themuseum design. Contrary to the traditional approach which is resolved on hiding the influence of the institution on curatorial decision, the choice was made to put it on exhibit. Thus, it wasdecided to maintain the historic room of the first mayor of the city as well as an active representative office of the current mayor as exhibition spaces. As a symbolic act and as a mechanism for public discourse in contemporary issues, a screen was located in the present mayor's office which would be updated constantly with the results of votes that museum visitors (physically and virtually) are invited to take part in, with the mayor himself as the official addressee. These votes refer to relevant urban issues on exhibit in various halls throughout the museum which provoke acritical approach in response to the diverse subjects presented.

Public museums incorporate an inevitable and invisible correlation between what they aspire to represent, to provide to the public, and political forces. By pointing at this correlation this museum accentuates the nature of the museum institution as both constitutive and representative, the degree of course dependent largely on the extent of political/institutional interference inthe design of the collective representational display.


b — Database as a Structural Element

Contemporary approaches to archives founded on the concept of the rhizome defined by Deleuze and Guattari,3 and based on non-hierarchical data architecture view archives as sites forpower relation renewal, as a source for release and change, and as a space offering alternatives to accepted cultural interpretation. In his article, "Database as a Symbolic Form,"new-media researcher Lev Manovich refers to the database as a new paradigmatic form. He claims that the database does not only function as a tool for cultural analyses, and suggests seeing it as symptomatic of the current cultural digital realm.4 Placing the database (which functions also as a museum archive) as an essential architectural element in the central exhibition hall counteracts the possibility of exhibiting any particular narrative as an exclusive one. The physical design of the space and the generic structure which the database's interface is based on, enables the introduction of ideological curatorial expression based on different cross-sections and connotations that can lead todiverse interpretations that could challenge the institutional narratives.

Therefore it was decided to construct a comprehensive digital database, containing historical documents, photos, video and film footage, interviews, etc., which would increase in contentand depth through the years and was intended to form the pivotal collection of the museum.

This database is designed to be the predominant structural and display element wrapping the inner shell of the central exhibition space. It is intended for the database to be distributed spatially utilizing a complex technological system and to simultaneously spread the data on the spatial and depth axis when activated by a generic system so as to present visually changing materials at any given moment creating the effect of being surrounded by a breathing archive. The purpose of making the database so central is not only the compilation of data, but also the ability to accumulate media and via contextual tagging and labelling of its components, to change the ways in which the data is organized and thereby influence the interpretive values derived from it.


c — Dynamic Space

The museum as it is being defined is supposed to fulfil reciprocal relations with its cultural, social, and political environment, and to serve as a tool for the inhabitants to define the city's identity and uniqueness. In order to conduct such a process, it was planned to create a structural infrastructure at all levels ofrepresentation, including physical and virtual, that would enable it to be constantly updated. This kind of structural concept derives from seeing the museum as a comprehensive system, with an ability to change in real time, based not only on the ambition to reflect the city's dynamism in the internal mechanism of the museum, but also to establish the museum as acentral intersection in the overall urban "being" of the city. In addition it was intended that the dynamism of the city should be realized through the physical presence of the visitors (by a network of sensors) and, according to their fields of interest (by analyzing visitor's navigating roots in the database) identify their affinities.

Thus correlations would be revealed, those connecting the visuality of the exhibition and the information architecture in the museum database, which was directly influenced by the curatorialdecisions as well as by the ways the visitors experienced their visit.


The shell surrounding the central exhibition hall is a constantly updated database providing the exhibition The visitors findthemselves at the meeting place where the physical and the virtual dimensions of the museum connect.


The virtual database is spread out physically upon the surface of the inner walls of the gallery, and functions as a kind of hidden archive thatreveals itself in relation to the location of the Seeing the exhibited materials is made possible due to the use of special tech- nologies that produce an illusion of depth; of three dimensionality of the surface. The inner layer presents selected material based on chosen curatorial themes.


The museum is designed and laid out as a dynamic and changing system/machine, both in relation to the visitor's presence, as well as in relation to itsability to update itself in real time and to present new


d — The Integration of Art Exhibition with Historical Exhibition Practices.

Via the critical space that art makes possible, in order to enable clear curatorial statements, it was decided to build a museum that combines art exhibition with historical exhibitionpractices, while examining urban and historical issues through new perspectives. The art exhibitions in the museum are planned to take place in a special exhibition space for temporaryexhibits designated for this purpose, as well as in the generic curatorial platforms set up through the mechanism of the exhibits in the museum's database, and that of the mayor'sworkplace. The blurring of borders between the common museal disciplines was intended to enable meta-discourse at the level of the conduits of museal representation that thismuseum uses. The art exhibits were designated to function as an overall mantle to the curatorial activity, in reference to the critical dimension created. The museal activity planned, wasbased not only on content issues but on a continual process of examining the internal and external mechanisms in which the curatorial activity in particular and the museal activities ingeneral are taking part. The museum as a space which integrates different exhibition and institutional practices, offers reflective curatorial procedures which derive from therepresentation conventions of each one of the curatorial disciplines defining it.


To conclude

Pierre Nora sees the collective memory as deliberate cultural phenomena that originated in manipulative acts of appropriating the past by the authorities, in order to maximize their present and future interests. He claims that society has lost its ability to "remember" the past spontaneously, and it is supported on what he calls "realms of memory" which are dictated from above.5 The 'realms of memory' make contact between time and physical objects (or virtual) located in space, in which museums play an important role. This proposal has introduced, is respect to Nora's position, a critical reflective system presenting the institutional activity. The conceptual construction of this museum is not based on thenegation of the authorative influence on the museum by trying to hold it back, but on the need to introduce critical systems by which a society can examine its cultural processes.


Yael Eylat Van-Essen is a researcher and a lecturer in Digi- tal Culture, Digital Art Theory, and Museology; Head of the Art and New-Media Department in Seminar Hakibbutzim College in TelAviv; Academic Director of the Curatorial Studies Program (CSP) in collaboration with theCenter for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv. She was a member of the curatorial team and a media curator for the Museum of the City of Tel-Aviv (2006-2008), editor of the first anthology published in Hebrew on Digital Culture, and has a Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University. Her thesis title was: the Museum as a Hybrid space — Between the Virtual and the real.



1 Irit Rogoff and Daniel Shermann. Museum Culture, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1994.

2 For various reasons this model which was developed by the team, including myself, nominated by the municipality, was not finally realized and an alternate, totally different, program was carried out. The model I am introducing here was developed by Uri Tzaig, myself, and Minz+Melamed (architects).

3 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, a thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1987.

4 Lev Manovich, "Database as a Symbolic Form," Convergence: the International Journal of research into new Media technologies, no. 2, vol. 5, 1999, pp. 80-99.

5 Pierre Nora, realms of Memory: rethinking the French Past, Columbia University Press, New York, 1996.

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Issue 13

Institution as medium. Curating as institutional critique? Part 2

The second part of the publication for the symposium, Institution as Medium. Curating as Institutional Critique?, organised by the Kunsthalle Fridericianum and the Zurich Postgraduate Programme in Curating (Institute for Cultural Studies, Department of Cultural Analysis, Zurich University of the Arts), deals with notion of art-mediation and addressing publics in the realm of institutional critique. The question remains: how can a practice that intends to radically show the conditionality of art, its financial entanglements, and its function as a means of distinction, be related to institutions and curators’ activities therein? Is this not a contradiction in terms? The aim of the symposium was to explore these contradictions, as well as the possibilities and limitations of critical curatorial practice.

Contributions by Giovanni Carmine, Maja Ciric, Neil Cummings, Helmut Draxler, Beryl Graham, Damian Jurt, Hassan Khan, Marysia Lewandowska, Isin Onol, Dorothee Richter and Yael Eylat Van-Essen. Edited by Dorothee Richter and Rein Wolfs.

by Dorothee Richter and Rein Wolfs


by Dorothee Richter

Some thoughts

by Giovanni Carmine and Hassan Khan

Possible Encounters

by Damian Jurt


by Marysia Lewandowska and Neil Cummings

Museum Futures: Live, Recorded, Distributed

by Maja Ciric and Isin Onol

Can Curating be Taught?