Observations is the first of a series of exhibitions devoted to the various sections of the permanent collection at the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou. It features 15 artists from the New Media collection, with works from the early days of video, at the turn of the 1970s, through to contemporary experiments with digital imagery.
As an act of knowledge, observation has always been a mainspring driving the development of arts and sciences. In either domain, it consists in focussing the gaze to achieve an attentive perception of things in order to question not only the changes they undergo but also the development of the tools we study them with. "Machines of vision" such as telescopes, microscopes and cameras can influence our representations of the reality they open up to us and contribute to giving them their unique shape. As such, they contribute to cultures of observation.
The analogue camera lens provided our eyes with a sophisticated instrument to support human vision by concentrating our attention thanks to a constructed frame and perspective. With digital technology, the transformation of images into strings of coded data has shaken up the visual systems of representation, which have accompanied the constitution of a body of knowledge since the invention of photography in the early 19th century. Images no longer need an author or even a human viewpoint; they access reality via their own path and produce other forms of knowledge.
Employing a retrospective eye, this exhibition reveals how artists have approached and embraced these developments. Starting with early real-time images produced by television through to the debate on intimacy in public places brought about by increasing camera networks, from aesthetic contemplation where the sense of time seems to be suspended, to the transformation of real images by big data, the exhibited works playfully and poetically stretch and repurpose the media, exercising critical lucidity. They speak of our capacity to gaze, pay attention, and create new conditions for a visual experience, to write alternative accounts of the world.
Featuring a variety of works in a non-linear pathway that leaves room for visitors to take their own initiatives, this project has adopted an open approach, attentive to everybody's role in the shared experience of images.
Press release courtesy Centre Pompidou x West Bund Shanghai.