In 1985, the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard together with the design theorist Thierry Chaput, curated the exhibition Les Immatériaux at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. He had accepted an invitation by the Minister for Culture and the Center for Industrial Creation (CCI). Six years after Lyotard’s report on The Postmodern Condition (1979), the exhibition demonstrated the hypothesis which he had described in the report. The objects and artworks shown expressed his observations of what was happening in domains such as art, science and philosophy, under the new condition of communication technologies. Lyotard’s report is considered to be a response to another report by Simon Nora and Alain Minc, in the 1970s, which proposed the “computerisation of society”. Nora and Minc’s project lead to the development of the French Minitel system. According to Lyotard, the new “postmodern” condition demanded a new sensibility, as he stated in the principle propositionfor the exhibition: ”The insecurity, the loss of identity, the crisis is not expressed only in economy and the social, but also in the domains of the sensibility, of the knowledge and the power of man (futility, life, death), the modes of life (in relation to work, to habits, to food, … etc.).” A constant return to the postmodern condition became a general method of Lyotard’s philosophical thinking to go beyond the modern imagination, and guided the construction of the exhibition which was, in his own words, a ”manifestation”, a “non-exhibition”.
The title of the exhibition Les Immatériaux demonstrates a form of resistance against the modern conception of materiality. The original title for the project that the CCI had initiated already in 1981, before Lyotard got involved in 1983, was Création et matériaux nouveaux. This title was changed several times: Matériau et création, Matériaux nouveaux et création, La Matière dans tous ses états, before it wasfinally announced to the public as Les Immatériaux. The etymological root mât refers to making by hand, to measure, to construct. The moderns since Descartes conceive a dualism and hence an opposition between the res cogitans and the res extensa; the thinking mind becomes the foundation of knowledge and also the judge ofwhat is real. As Lyotard wrote: “In the tradition of modernity, the relation of the human with materials is fixed by the Cartesian programme: to become master and possessor of nature. A free will imposes its ends to the given sense data to divert them away from their natural sense. It will determine their end with the help of language which allows it to articulate whatis possible (a project) and to impose it upon what is real (matter).”
Yuk, Hui, and Andreas Broeckmann. 30 Years after Les Immatériaux: Art, Science, and Theory. Mesonpress: Lüneburg, 2015.