Alison Gibbons: Visitors' Perceptions of the Fictionality of Andi and Lance Olsen's 'There's No Place like Time' Exhibition"

Monday, November 11, 2019, 6:30pm

Alison Gibbons presenting Copyright: © Deborah de Muijnck

This is the third talk of the lecture series.

This talk will take place in lecture hall H09 in C.A.R.L. (Claßenstraße 11).

Presentation Abstract

“Why do you insist that Alana is not real?”: Visitors’ perceptions of the fictionality of Andi and Lance Olsen’s ‘there’s no place like time’ exhibition

Alison Gibbons

The American video artist Alana Olsen died in 2016. Her eclectic, experimental body of work has since been shown – in galleries across the United States and Europe – in iterations of an exhibition retrospective titled ‘there’s no place like time’. There is, however, no escaping one poignant yet problematic fact: Alana Olsen is not real. Rather, she is a fictional character, first imagined by Lance Olsen in his multimodal novel Theories of Forgetting (2014). The exhibition was subsequently created by Andi Olsen and Lance Olsen, accompanied by a catalogue (Olsen, 2016). The ‘Alana Olsen’ whose work is discussed in the catalogue and exhibited in real-world museums/galleries consequently has a precarious ontological status.

Exhibition retrospectives, like autobiographies, narrativise the trajectory of a life and in this sense rely, experientially in reception, upon what Paul John Eakin calls ‘an existential imperative’ (1992: 30, 52) – a ‘will to believe’ (30) in their referentiality. Furthermore, Eakin claims, ‘reference lies at the heart of this felt difference’ (1992: 29) between autobiography/non-fiction and fiction. This paper considers Eakin’s claim through a style-and-response analysis of Andi and Lance Olsen’s ‘there’s no place like time’ exhibition. Specifically, I: first, offer a cognitive stylistic analysis of the multimodal composition of ‘there’s no place like time’ in order to explicate signposts of fictionality within the exhibition and to track visitors’ potential attention to such signposts; and second, present the results of a qualitative questionnaire study completed by exhibition visitors. Ultimately, the paper relates these empirical insights to critical understanding of fictionality and the fiction/reality distinction.