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an Exhibit / an Aesthetic: The Independent Group and Postwar Exhibition Design

By Kevin Lotery


This dissertation tracks the exhibition design practices developed in and around the Independent Group (IG) from the late 1940s through the 1950s. A loose affiliation of artists, architects, and critics, the IG gathered at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in the early to mid-1950s to debate the aesthetic, socio-political, and techno-scientific forces of their present (key figures included Lawrence Alloway, Reyner Banham, Richard Hamilton, Nigel Henderson, Eduardo Paolozzi, Alison and Peter Smithson). Synthesizing science-fiction, Dada, theoretical biology, and cybernetics (among many other topics) within a single mode of research, IG members formulated a non-hierarchical model of the cultural “continuum” in discussions, presentations, and most importantly, collaborative exhibition designs. The dissertation contends that exhibition design provided the IG with a timely strategy for navigating the contradictory traditions of aesthetic and technical production that came together in Britain during postwar reconstruction, from interwar avant-gardes to emergent American technocracy. IG members realized that exhibition design was the one technique that could move fluidly between the phenomenological conditions of architecture and display and the technological networks of communication, image distribution, and scientific production structuring the “continuum.” The goal was to bring these circuits and spaces—gallery, factory, laboratory, office, home, cinema, television, street—to bear on bodily experience so they might first be lived, then studied and redesigned. Chapter 1 examines Hamilton’s Growth and Form (1951), arguing that the exhibition’s apparatuses for displaying images and models of organic processes materialized a looming shift in global power structures. Chapter 2 unpacks a “Brutalist” empiricism from Parallel of Life and Art (1953), a web of photographs of cultural and technical materials. Chapter 3 investigates Hamilton’s Man, Machine and Motion (1955), which was less exhibition armature than metallic machine of production. Chapter 4 considers IG participation in This is Tomorrow (1956), a collection of propositions for artistic integration. Here, the IG met spectators, not in the realm of bodily experience, but on the plane of fantasy. Chapter 5 examines Hamilton’s an Exhibit and Exhibit 2 (1957/59), proto-Conceptual projects testing whether forms of affect, play, and chance might be fabricated within production systems no longer requiring human operators.History of Art and Architectur

Topics: Art History, Design and Decorative Arts, History of Science
Publisher: 'Harvard University Botany Libraries'
Year: 2015
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