The app ‘Symphony of a Missing Room’ attempts to frame the museum as a site of collective imagination, a palimpsest that stores the voices of its visitors past and present. Based on a guided tour artists Lundahl & Seitl have been staging in galleries for the past 10 years, it allows you to participate in an immersive artwork at home with a friend.
The app is available for free from the App Store or Google Play and involves following a series of movement-based instructions with your partner, who will also need the app on their phone. Alternating between following and guiding roles, you are given the option to be either user A, the leader, or user B, the follower (I chose user B). You begin by facing a window, eyes closed. Whispered voices describe a disused gallery 30 years in the future—empty of art and partially overrun by nature. They prompt you to take turns guiding each other around your house (i.e. the museum), ultimately leading to a garden with “silhouettes of fallen pillars…broken sculptures and…paintings floating in water.” One of the voices murmurs, “When does an artwork cease to exist?”
With headphones on, the soundscape is fairly immersive. You can almost believe you’re in a derelict gallery, with wet concrete walls and water trickling from the roof. At points the app calls on you to shine the video playing on your phone at your partner’s closed eyes, mimicking the dappled light between trees or the end of an imaginary tunnel. In a darkened room this is really effective—it’s amazing how bright the video’s light is when you’ve had your eyes closed for a period of time. Unfortunately, however, the app’s functionality is problematic. Once you’ve started, you don’t have the ability to play, stop, pause or fast-forward, and some basic information is missing like duration.
‘Symphony…’ pictures a “missing room” in a museum as the “potential [site] of reciprocity between two people”—though why this site has to be devoid of art and 30 years in the future is a mystery. At one point a group of children chant “no more reality,” perhaps hinting at the oncoming dissolution of the physical museum, though there’s little else in the narrative to reinforce this notion. There’s an enjoyable synergy between the idea of the abandoned museum and the wider project’s transformation from guided tour to digital app. The shift illustrates how the potential of digital technologies and the effects of social distancing may revolutionise galleries, leaving them empty.
We often think of digital devices as distracting people from real life, so it’s interesting here to see smart phones used to connect people in situ. The app falls short though by providing limited agency beyond choosing the route you’ll take around your house. Rather than being asked to find a way to share mental states with your partner, or imagine collectively—thus adding your voices to the wider project—you experience a reality the artists’ have created for you. On the whole, this a pleasant activity for two, but not because of the whispered voices in the video—more the enjoyment of doing it together.