Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham B3 3

Review by Diana Damian

‘Symphony of a Missing Room’ is an allegory for the 21st-century museum experience. An immersive, self-referential and reflective piece that exists both as artwork and performance, keen to subvert and challenge the mediated sensibilities of the contemporary audience in its most historical landscape - the museum.

Commissioned for Stockholm’s Nationalmuseum in 2010 by Weld, travelling across Europe and currently making its UK debut at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as part of Fierce Festival, ‘Symphony…’ is a guided tour for six audience members at a time. Visitors are led by a voice via wireless headphones, immersed in a virtual world of tunnels, forests, enormous galleries and narrow staircases. A cascade of multisensory choreographed movements and soundscapes allow the visitor to exist across space and time, as if imagined by the museum. A non-linear landscape of emotions, images and sensations unfolds, with you as its author. The self becomes a moulding image, shaped by a voice, disembodied and returned to a collective landscape.

This requiem for the museum’s appropriated art histories and morphing mythologies is a complex web of experiences that removes taught rules of interaction. The piece involves you in a constant dialogue between the real and the virtual, proposing a new way of viewing that is not based on autonomous routes dictated by architectures, curatorial approaches or even labels. Instead, the interaction with an artwork takes place through a dance amongst in-between spaces. ‘Symphony…’ proposes a freedom to regard textures, atmospheres, temperatures and environments as equivalent to the voyeuristic gaze.

The piece capitalises on the museum as a mediated experience, where each visitor leaves a mark as real as the fictions represented in its objects. In the piece, you’re gazing at the white mist of a forest, a man lying down on the ground; you can feel the breeze as your feet still touch the polished wooden floors of the gallery; you can see past the bale blue walls that frame a painting into a disjointed version of its narrative. Lundahl & Seitl have beautifully choreographed a situation where knowledge is communicated differently, free of culturally appropriated constraints.

Anchored in Thomas Metzinger’s proposition that the self exists as a cognitive construction, ‘Symphony…’ repositions you in both the real and the virtual by removing the boundaries between the two. The experience employs techniques such as rhythm, timbre and texture and applies them to an environment in order to build new models of perception. You are invited to look at the back of your neck, watch yourself exist in the randomised movements of the museum crowds, and peer through the back of your eyelids. You become the guiding voice then feel it touch your hand. Deprived of visual orientation, you’re shaping the architecture of your own memory of the museum whilst being part of someone else’s. This constant fluidity between time and space becomes an infinite mirror across the architecture of the museum to a living archive of pasts and futures.

‘Symphony…’ is lyrical and nostalgic, contemporary and historical, mapping a collective memory whose power of communication is supermodern. It manages to make the intangible real, disregarding dichotomies in favour of hybrids.

In a cultural landscape paved with incomplete immersions, ‘Symphony of a Missing Room’ is an unforgettable experience that invites a different look at the fabric of our cultural perception.

Collaborators: Julie Bower, Lisette Drangert, Marie-Gabrielle Rotie, Laura Hemming-Lowe, Catherine Hoffmann, Colin Mclean. Assistant Artist: Genevieve Maxwell

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