Conceptual Appropriateness

‘Conceptual appropriateness’ is a personal judgement that takes a leaf out of the book of conceptual art.

The conceptual artist seeks the best vehicle for the idea or concept at hand. Likewise, progressive research communication seeks the best vehicle for the research at hand based on its aims and objectives. On both counts there is a clear refusal to default to traditional methods of production, a desire to find a shoe that fits.

Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection (2012) by Krzysztof Wodiczko dealt in the legacies of an unheard group of people by delving into the consequences of war by interviewing veterans regarding their personal experiences. The interviews were made into a projection which appeared to animate the Abraham Lincoln statue in Union Square Park in New York (a site well- known for protests in support of social justice).

The participants appeared to speak through Lincoln, making their experiences known to those in the park. An educational programme was also developed for 7th and 8th grade students in Manhattan, which fed into existing modules covering American history.

The National September 11 Memorial (Local Projects, 2014) navigated tragic events in the design process by making an algorithm that arranged the 3,000 names of those lost by ‘meaningful adjacency’. The relationships between people on the memorial dictated where they were placed, as opposed to something generic like alphabetical order.

The targeted intervention at the Miss Peru Beauty Pageant (Al Jazeera, 2017) is a good example of conceptual appropriateness playing out in a non-art, non-academic setting. The contestants subverted tradition by delivering statistics on violence against women at the moment they would normally announce their body measurements.

What seemed like a simple modification of proceedings targeted a very specific audience (the watchers of beauty pageants) in a very direct way. In addition, the framing and documentation of events meant it was pre-packaged in a media friendly way and could be seen and shared far and wide with minimal effort.

If we plot this against the potential viewership of an exhibition on the same topic inside an institution we start to see different curatorial questions unfold. What is to say the same curator could not be behind both the intervention and the exhibition? Would the news coverage become a video installation?

Everyone could (or should) have something to say about how much they consider something to be conceptually appropriate. Even two different curators could have wildly differing opinions. This is one reason why the selection of outputs is a collaboration, a conversation between experts in research and experts in communication.