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Clair Le Couteur

PhD Work

The Fictive Museum

At least since Duchamp's Boîte-en-valise (1935-68), artists have made works that claim – with greater or lesser irony – to be museums. Marcel Broodthaers, Ilya Kabakov, Jimmy Durham, Mark Dion and Michael Blum have explored this form, alongside less visible figures such as David Wilson and Peter Hill, and some who do not consider themselves artists, including curator E. J. Scott, and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk. Assembling things and texts within carefully authored contexts, these works fuse museum poetics with literature and conceptual art. Irreducible to fiction, fact, or combinations of the two, they operate as fictive museums. The concept of fictive art is adapted from the work of Antoinette LaFarge: an embodied cognitive domain in which questions of factuality are actively unsettled.

This project identifies a genre – the fictive museum – within contemporary art, appropriating it as a research method to address a question: what can fictive museum practices do? In the process, a new approach to the museum’s object-label form is developed, with relevance for wider debates concerning both the status of the arts in the museum, and the cultural position of museums more generally. The research generates an alternative method of navigating and displaying archives and collections, embodying a set of propositions and provocations to established museum poetics and to commonsensical thought

The project accessions themes and practices from a variety of modern and contemporary artists and thinkers, assembling them into a fictive museum that can be visited online, accompanied by a museum catalogue in the form of a PhD thesis. The thesis-catalogue comprises five essays, each of which focuses on a particular group of thinkers, fictive museum works, things and ideas. Together, these essays chart the development of a sculptural, diagrammatic fictive museum practice called associative archiving, which produces a body of work – including performances, illustrated publications, and large-scale parasitic installations and interventions in institutional contexts – assembled as a museum website.

Borrowed as a research practice, what can the fictive museum give rise to? Pursued as a coherent set of propositions, what begins to take shape? This research-in-practice proposes that fictive museums unsettle some established, habitual assumptions about the differences and relations between one thing and another. The project charts research practices that operate outside a true/false binary onto-epistemic framework, i.e. practices which move beyond ideas of uncertainty or unknowability to deny common-sense distinctions of fact and fiction entirely. This restructures concepts set in contradictory opposition: fact and fiction; research and creation; thinking and feeling; rationality and irrationality; subject and object; things and their labels. This research suggests that fictive museums can contribute to ongoing onto-epistemological discussions about object agency, New Materialism, and embodied cognition. Rather than advancing a relativist position, denying objectivity, this research joins thinkers such as Karen Barad and Manuel DeLanda in taking fictions and other conceptual structures seriously, as real interventions with unpredictable material agency.


  • PhD


    School of Arts & Humanities


    Sculpture, 2013–

  • Clair Le Couteur (*1982) is a non-binary trans researcher, artist and composer currently undertaking a practice-based PhD in sculpture – The Fictive Museum – at the Royal College of Art in London. Combining writing, making, and performance, Clair builds structures that reorientate fact and fiction, research and creation, and tradition and contemporaneity. Recent projects include: co-editing Why Would I Lie? (2015), a publication accompanying the inaugural RCA Research Biennial; 'Put You Through' (2015), a photo installation for Pride in London with the Switchboard charity archive; an essay on gender and species in selkie folktales for
    Gender Forum #55; 'Transportation Blues' (2016), a live-looped folk song cycle at the Horse Hospital gallery; 'Roots Between the Tides' (2016), a network of 188 images installed at Warrington Museum; and 'Reading Trans' (2017), a series of workshops for the Goldsmiths MA fine art course.