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Retro-Projection

Sometimes the best ideas rise from limited budgets and major constraints, as was the case with Retro-projection, an exhibition created specifically for the event “Nuit de Musées” which took place in Lausanne on September 24.



Recently, at the Institute of Digital Humanities, we discussed the work of Aby Warburg and his Mnemosyne Atlas. Warburg applied classification as a way to study images and create knowledge, and he did so by arranging photographs in separated panels. Each panel was a class in which he used a flat surface to play with images. Through the practice of spatial disposition he analyzed images in a completely new way. This method is still renowned for its innovation, and it was recently recovered for an exhibition. At the Le Fresnoy Studio national des arts contemporains Alain Fleischer and Georges Didi-Huberman organized an exhibition inspired by Warburg’s work, titled Mnemosyne 42, which honoured a specific plate composed in a vertiginous arrangement created in 1929. Almost one century ago Warburg invented a new form of production of knowledge, and Fleischer and Didi-Huberman were inspired by Warburg’s invention to create a new type of exhibition through an installation of projectors. Indeed, images were projected on the ground and on the walls, using a unique and giant Warburg’s composition, to focus on a particular place. No specific limitations apply to this technique, especially because projecting is a ductile solution and, for this reason, the curators were free to creating a complete composition.

Inspired by that exhibition, and by an interest in the materialization of images, we thought of a different way to arrange images in space. We created an illumination system that was able to host an A0 poster, which is one of the cheapest supports used in the scientific field. Lamps created in collaboration with Bilumen – a major lighting company based in Milan – are composed with a frame borne by a triangular support that contains a led light directed toward the back of the poster. As a result, the poster, taut on that frame and slightly inclined, is softly illuminated from behind and thus perfect for dark settings.

In collaboration with the Cultural and Art Affairs and the Archizoom of EPFL, we created a temporary exhibition in the Forum of the Rolex Learning Center, the campus representative building conceived by SANAA architect studio. The idea was to illustrate the four years of DHLAB history by having 150 images retro-illuminated, arranged as a garden in the 800 square meters of the Forum’s stage. Set using a site-specific plan, the public was invited to access the Forum from the top, which provided them with a stunning view of the entire extent of the exhibition and, at the same time, allowed them to be able to comprehend the general placement and configuration of the images. Then, the public was able to walk down the gently sloping walkway offered by the building and enter the installation of lamps. All of the lamps were arranged in two concentric circles, the exterior dedicated to the Venice Time Machine project, and the interior portraying the rest of the projects of the DHLAB. People could walk through images either looking at them as a form of self-description without any labels, or encountering members of the laboratory who were there specifically to tell stories about the projects displayed in the installation. In a certain way, the installation of DHLAB projects resembled to the garden of Greek philosophers where each area corresponded to a specific topic to be discussed, offering a topographical map between knowledge and physical space.

Curators: Dario Rodighiero and Isabella di Lenardo
Co-curators: the DHLAB laboratory and its director Frédéric Kaplan
Cultural and Artistic Affairs of EPFL: Béatrix Boillat, Vincent Jaccaud, Vincent Guy Kappeler, Virginie Martin Nunez, Véronique Mauron Layaz
Lightning support: the Bilumen staff with a special thank to Simone Mariotto and Ettore Diego Simonetto

References: Didi-Huberman, Georges. 2013. “Mnemosyne 42.” Manifesta Journal, no. 16: 98–103.
Mangani, Giorgio. Cartografia Morale: Geografia, Persuasione, Identità. Saggi 11. Modena: Franco Cosimo Panini, 2006.
Warburg, Aby. 2012. “Mnemosyne Atlas on line.” Engramma. http://www.engramma.it/eOS2/atlante/.