Imaginary Property, a research project of the Design department at Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, aspires to explore new potentials for design practices and image production across various registers. The project is set up as a realm of experimentation; it is a laboratory where emerging concepts and terminologies are set to a series of tests. What challenges emerge from the paradoxes that research into ‘imaginary property’ has given rise to? How could these potentially generate new rules of production, bearing in mind that property relations are constantly exchanging meanings? Against this background: do we have to rethink and re-evaluate the notion of ‘design’ as such?

The research project Imaginary Property consists of three parts that are inextricably linked up with each other and are to be addressed simultaneously rather than consecutively.

The first part is analytical in nature and traces the primarily non-juridical impact as well as the practical implications of the concept of ‘imaginary property’ through various disciplines such as philosophy, psychoanalysis, economics, cybernetics, architecture, new media and design theory. The analytical part will start off with a symposium (on 6 June) that shows the scope of the project and its impact on contemporary design practices. The symposium will bring about an interview and lecture series in which guest speakers partake.

The second part consists of a series of evaluations and examinations of experimental design, ‘counter-design’ or ‘re-design’ projects. Specific proposals for new models of ownership based on open-source and free circulation of networked images will be developed and realized. Supposing that images are the products of struggles for imagination, this part examines in a practical way how social relationships are configured, designed and performed in connection with the images that are supposed to be owned, used and displayed as one’s property.

Imaginary Property deals with the imagination and the redrawing of social relationships with people who could also use and enjoy images, modify or alter images, play images or play with images. Is it possible, practically and conceptually, to (reverse) engineer ‘imaginary property’? How to show highly valuable images and visualize processes in a way that anticipates and allows for modulations, modifications and unpredictable proliferation? Can a museum redesign a show and make it or even parts of its collection freely accessible through the digital public domain? Is it possible for a political campaign to go fully ‘open source’? How can such a public release be realized and what would it actually look like?

Thirdly, the results of the analytical part and the examinations will be documented more or less in real-time and made accessible on a multimedia website. The idea is further to make a publication in print as well as a collaborative, networked video project.

Since autumn 2008 four researchers have been selected who are going to tackle fundamental issues and query conventions of disciplines such as film, multimedia, web design, networking and architecture. These researchers are currently working on their individual research projects as well as joint projects in collaboration with Extracity, Antwerp, and Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven.