Nicolas Bourriaud


« Brainsforest », 2004 © Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger

Inscribing their actions in a civilization of generalized mobility, several contemporary artists have made time and space the primary media of their creative modus operandi. The journeys and expeditions they imagine question as much the cultural as scientific dimension of this kind of enterprise. Nicolas Bourriaud unfolds his concept of “journey-forms” so as to better understand these exploratory approaches of the territory at the crossroads of personal experience and collective projection.

Nicolas Bourriaud is an art historian, art critic, theorist and exhibition curator. Since 2016, he is the director of the future Montpellier Contemporain (MoCo).

The civilization of mobility calls for new forms of representation: journey-forms that combine both time and space. Things are no longer represented but incorporated in their timelines and their geographical aspects.



Journey-form and expedition

The two-dimensional form-journey has the features of a geographic map: it produces space by transposing information onto a surface.

We know that time is akin to a succession, and that space presents itself, on the contrary, as simultaneity. Yet we live in times where nothing disappears anymore, where human productions accumulate and self-archive. Time then becomes the new space: it can be roamed just like a territory.

Artistic explorations

Between the end of March to early May of 1998, Rirkrit Tiravanija, a contemporary artist of Thai origin, set out on a journey through the United States, from Los Angeles to Philadelphia via the Grand Canyon, Arkansas, and Missouri. He traveled with five of his students—Jiew, Jeaw, Jieb, Sri, and Moo—aboard a RV that was designed as a true “cultural laboratory.” An artistic journey across “the most powerful [country] in the world” and its rich variety of cultural and natural sites, this trip proved to be a true exploration of the relationships and exchanges between East and West as well as of the contradictions of a country that is both fascinating and repelling.An archive can be viewed on:→

"Untitled", Travel Photographs, 1998 © Rirkrit Tiravanja

Melik Ohanian’s work implies “the experience of exploration, more than the image of the exploration,” he explains. Island of an Island (1998-2001) perfectly expresses the way adventure is brought into play. The multi-stage installation operates in the manner of a cognitive opera, and kicks off with the account of the formation in 1963 of the island of Surtsey off the coast of Iceland following a volcanic eruption. Based on this geophysical event, Melik Ohanian constructs a unitary form that connects levels of speech and heterogeneous realities.

"Welcome to Hanksville", 2003 © Melik Ohanian

In the space of Island of an Island coexists a film that is projected on three different screens, showing aerial views of the volcanic island; on the ground, nine hundred light bulbs sketch out a plant that can be found on the island and whose image drawn in red dots is reflected in five convex mirrors that hang from the ceiling. At the entrance of the room, a curtain of books that are suspended by wires are made available to the visitor; the Island of an Island Handbook compiles extracts of scientific studies and facsimiles of the Icelandic press at the time of the 1963 eruption. History is desynchronized: press clippings are displayed alongside the scientific analysis of a nascent, and literally prehistoric, universe. Ohanian continued investigating desert areas with Welcome to Hanksville (2003) and Coming Soon (2001), works in which the world shows itself as a vast film set, an archipelago of terrae incognitae within which art can develop scenarios (that become forms) and the protocols of knowledge.

 Article published in Stream 01 in 2008.