The Suspension of Disbelief

An exhibition by Ádám ALBERT, Krisztián KRISTÓF and Dominika TRAPP

Curators: Zsófia Frazon and András Wilhelm

Museum of Ethnography, Budapest

30 November 2023 – 28 April 2024

(art and ethnography)

A museum is just one possible means for collecting and displaying the world.  In modern museum history, the fields of ‘art’ and ‘ethnography’ have each tended to construct their own collections and develop their own ways of presenting the world to visitors.  Yet the ‘museum world’ and reality are never the same, even if institutions work tirelessly to conceal the differences between them and to create an illusion of reality.  It is this subtle tension that the magical objects, traps, and hidden stories of Suspension of Disbelief set out to explore in the works—and perspectives—of three different artists.

(suspension of disbelief)

Suspension of disbelief is a concept from the realm of theatre that refers to way an observer attempts to place doubt on hold for the sake of enjoyment or experience:  to accept the unrealistic and give credence to the improbable.  In literary texts, suspension of disbelief underpins the presentation as credible of things that are ‘supernatural’ or ‘fantastical,’ that seem real, but are actually fiction—imagined worlds.  The appearance of truth liberates the imagination, rendering null the limits of the medium:  like in a theatre, where the audience forgets that the spectacle is taking place in an artificially created world viewed through an open ‘fourth wall’; like in a doll house; like in the well-designed ‘sets’ of a museum exhibition space.  What goes on in such spaces is accepted as real for the sake of the experience.  As it should be.  Of course, this does not exclude the possibility of peeping behind the curtains.

(observational interplay)

Since its founding in 1872, the Museum of Ethnography has collected, archived, and safeguarded the cultural vestiges of communities in Hungary, Europe, and beyond.  In doing so, it has, over the past one hundred and fifty years, viewed the world through the countenances of innumerable private collectors, travellers, naturalists, and social scientists.  At the base of its collection are the everyday functions of objects, though since its inception, the influence of aesthetics has also been present:  objects and images are frequently ‘read’ as ‘beautiful’ or ‘artistic’ where their aesthetic qualities capture the attention of collectors, researchers, or other museums:  objects of the peasant world; the archaeological, orientalist, and aboriginal objects of extra-European cultures; folk and ‘tribal’ art seen through the eyes of collectors and scientists.  But how are these things viewed by artists who work with contemporary phenomena and thought?  What draws their attention?  What objects, phenomena, concepts, and genres excite them from their points of view?  On what does their gaze land?  What worlds might they build from what they see?

(the artist as observer)

For three years, at the museum’s invitation, artists Ádám Albert, Krisztián Kristóf, and Dominika Trapp worked with museum researchers within the framework of seminars, storeroom tours, retreats, and intensive discussions.  The result:  the joint development of museum themes, contemporary questions, collection pieces, and individual works of art:  first displayed as separate artistic installations, these have now been orchestrated into a single exhibition entitled Suspension of Disbelief:  the legibility and illegibility of magical objects and messages; traps and the signs left by entrapped animals; the stories of immortals hidden—and hiding—in time and space; the desire that the entirety of it become museum reality; the suspension of disbelief; and the impossibility of doing so.

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