[-empyre-] Curatorial Studies

pedro pedruski at gmail.com
Thu Apr 5 19:38:53 EST 2012

"I'd say it's very urgent to maintain, or perhaps create anew, some
spaces where different kinds of judgment and critique are possible.

The best thing I've learned from art is how to keep it wild, how not
to be governed like that. What if we took care of that possibility?

Yes, this for me is  a fundamental role for the curator. Some who
takes care to create spaces in which emergence can be possible, safe
space for the wild against prudence and the aggressiveness of
conservative fear. it is thus that the original can appear, the
medicine that is needed, innovation.

In the institutional sense I think of this activity as opening and
maintaining cracks in an essentially hostile structure, cracks where
creation can really take place. THese open and close. Nothing is
permanent. Its a huge, exhausting and detailed work to keep those
cracks open.

Link to a text in spanish - about the opposition between authority and
art and the cracks :



On Thu, Apr 5, 2012 at 6:19 AM, Brian Holmes
<bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com> wrote:
> Thanks for both of your contributions, Jim and Jennifer.
> It seems to me that the question of whether curating should become a
> discipline is an important one to ask. However, just asking it has turned
> this into a very long post, so please everyone, don't bother reading it if
> you are in a hurry, and feel very free to move on to something else!
> I am at work these days on a difficult project, which is about the influence
> of the neoliberal economy over what I'm calling "the institution of
> contemporary art." This term is meant to englobe all those facets of the
> expanded art world that has grown up around the breakthrough practices of
> the Sixties (essentially, pop, minimalism, conceptual art and performance,
> but you can extend that list if you like). It seems to me that a fully
> articulated institutional network for this kind of art only emerges from the
> late Seventies and early Eighties onward, when the first generations to
> study under the pop-minimal-conceptual-performance artists emerge into a
> world of proliferating museums, publications, biennials and ever-rising
> market prices for strictly contemporary art.
> My questions: What have been the effects of this "institution of
> contemporary art" on those of us who, in many different ways depending on
> each one's experience, actually became who we are through our contact with
> it? And what are we becoming today, as the directive power of the auction
> houses and the super-rich grows dramatically?
> To bring these questions to a higher degree of intensity I felt drawn, for
> reasons that at first I did not fully understand, to a question once asked
> by Michel Foucault: "At what price can subjects speak the truth about
> themselves?"
> This, for Foucault, was the very question of how we are governed in the
> Western societies. In his view this question of the truth mediates between
> two more or less opposing poles. On the one hand there are the techniques of
> the self, which are essentially the practices of self-creation. Here the
> Greek word techne can be understood as very close to what we now call art.
> So you can think of these as arts of the self, or arts of existence. At the
> other, opposing pole are techniques of power, which are used to coerce
> others into doing the will of the powerful. So there are also arts of power,
> arts of domination. It is when we have established these two opposing poles,
> the techniques of power and the techniques of the self, that things get
> really interesting.
> Between these two is the process whereby we accept to be governed: our
> "governmentality." When and why do we accept to be governed? When we
> recognize, accept, take up and even perfect certain truths about ourselves.
> Typically this is done through the disciplines of the social sciences, which
> entail taking ourselves as objects which can be explored, tested, quantified
> and finally made into the predicates of universal truths. Governmentality,
> the acceptance of a certain form of government, happens when we willfully
> apply a certain kind of truth to our objectified selves. Here you could
> situate, I think, the notion of a discipline, not in the sense that Foucault
> developed in his famous book Discipline and Punish, but in a subtler sense
> that racognizes the autonomy of each person and the ways in which that
> autonomy is integrated to and even embraces a norm, a system.
> Governmentality is soft power, self-discipline, coercion in which you
> participate.
> For Foucault there was a crucial relation between governmentality and the
> social sciences. There are, to be sure, many forms of social science, and
> they change over time, obeying different paradigms. But no one will be
> shocked anymore if I say that the leading paradigm of the social sciences,
> over the last thirty years during which the institution of contemporary art
> has taken form, is neoliberal economics. Indeed, Foucault's course at the
> Sorbonne in 1978-79, one of his most brillliant works, is called "The Birth
> of Biopolitics," and it is a history of neoliberalism. I found very
> interesting a remark he made in this course, and to which he did not return
> at any later time. This is the remark that for the liberal thinkers, and
> ever more powerfully in the neoliberal societies, the market is taken as the
> ultimate function of veridiction, or truth-saying. This function of
> veridiction replaces any other jurisdiction or statement of judgment. It is
> the market, through its price mechanism, that speaks the truth about
> everything in a neoliberal society: what it is, what it is good for, how it
> should be produced, to whom it should be attributed, and so on. That can all
> be deduced from the price. This veridiction of the market governs all social
> development, including that of the sciences but also of the arts, as we can
> see around us every day. And it does all this governing according to the
> principles of competition and endless accumulation, giving rise to terrible
> concentrations of power. The worst thing is that people believe in it, they
> make it exist by believing in it, they proclaim the necessary truth of the
> market every day, and they apply it to themselves. It is the truth of our
> time.
> Alas, the above is very important to those of us who have become and are
> still becoming who we are through our relation to the institution of
> contemporary art. Because that institution of art has taken shape from the
> Eighties to now: precisely under the governmentality of neoliberalism.
> Now, I'm sorry this is a bit long, but at this point I started to ask myself
> if Foucault's question, At what price can subjects speak the truth about
> themselves?, could really be applied to the institution of contemporary art
> in all its social complexity. As a first point in favor of the idea that
> maybe it could be so applied, it seemed to me that insofar as artists create
> artefacts and representations, they do somehow objectify themselves. Not
> always as individuals of course, because more and more, there is a kind of
> collective expression and elaboration going on in art; but in any case,
> there is an object, whatever's left when the artists aren't there: those
> works, those traces, etc. So we have objects, self-objectifications, about
> which the truth could be spoken.
> Next there is also a lot of talk and discussion and writing about art.
> Curators do it and I do it myself from time to time: when it is written it
> is called criticism. Criticism has an interesting status. It can go in quite
> different directions. On the one hand, criticism can try to state the truth
> of a work. Think of structuralist criticism, Marxist criticism,
> phenomenological criticism, sometimes even psychoanalytic criticism: they
> all try to say the truth about the work, which they usually also conceive as
> a truth about the self or about society. But then on the other hand, in what
> I think is a much more interesting way, criticism can simply assert that
> this or that art (this or that technique of the self) is a good one, it is
> *worth trying*, as it were. As if to say, along those lines we might live
> better. Maybe I'll try it, I'll use my perception in that way, my
> imagination in that way, my gesturality in that way. I'll take up the
> suggestion of the artist. Maybe we can try an experiment together?
> Foucault himself would obviously have much preferred the second form of
> criticism, the one that leads to shared experience. Indeed, the late
> Foucault, the author of the Uses of Pleasure, might have very much enjoyed
> what in art education is called the "crit", the spontaneous, collective,
> oral critique of someone's art, which I think is something remarkable when
> it is done well, because it really presupposes no authority or truth at all,
> but rather opens of a field of possibilities between people, where any
> expression or statement is completely provisional, completely dependent on
> and open to the response, and can be reversed by the next one who speaks or
> even makes a gesture. In a critique you do have power relations, of course,
> you have an exercise of wills, but in the best of cases these power
> relations are reversible, which for Foucault was the essence of an ethical
> relation. In my view, that's what's great about art: it opens up a space for
> this thoroughly provisional kind of ethical relation. One can also work this
> way through written criticism, one can also do it through curation. One can
> use it not to impose authority but to open up a field of possibility, and
> it's really one of the things that makes life worth living. I would want to
> foster and develop those kinds of relations.
> Obviously, you've already grasped that Foucault would not have been happy at
> all with the idea of making anything to do with art into a discipline.
> Indeed, the very word curation, the idea of a cure, he wouldn't have liked
> that at all, it leads to that ultimately monstrous thing he called the "care
> of the self," a kind of obsession, a sort of spiritual policing, no no no,
> bad idea. Of course, a full-fledged discipline would be even worse, the
> curator would then become like a doctor, maybe even a psychiatrist and in
> any case, a warden, and you would head toward the situation that Robert
> Smithson described in his great text on "Cultural Confinement," which
> obviously is not super-flattering toward "the curatorial." So this is maybe
> something to avoid, and even a simple word like discipline is something you
> might think twice about before using lightly.
> That said, what we see happening today in the institution of contemporary
> art is arguably worse: pure veridiction by the market, whether it is at the
> auction block, or in the box office, or at the gala dinner for the
> collectors and donors, or in the minds of students evaluating whether their
> career as an artist will allow them to pay those mega-loans that art
> students increasingly acquire, to the point where the price of "speaking the
> truth about yourself" gets all too literal, a heavy price to pay.
> Gentrification, another heavy price to pay for art. The appropriation of art
> by management, by interaction design, by advertising, arrrggghhh, such heavy
> prices to pay. This kind of unilateral domination of art by the market makes
> the former disciplines seem charming, complex, subtle, you can even get
> nostalgic for them... In my view there has to be another way of speaking
> about art than the market's veridiction, lest it all devolve into that
> activity that the sociologist Olav Velthuis calls "talking prices." I'd say
> it's very urgent to maintain, or perhaps create anew, some spaces where
> different kinds of judgment and critique are possible.
> The best thing I've learned from art is how to keep it wild, how not to be
> governed like that. What if we took care of that possibility?
> So in the proposal for curatorial studies, my input would be to foreground
> the ethical dimension of critique, the ideal of reversible relations of
> power, the value of the arts of existence, and to conceive the
> technical/administrative aspects of the curatorial studies as subtle and
> necessary weapons in the struggle to keep those spaces open -- and indeed,
> to extend those spaces of expression and critique into the multiple domains
> of social life where we are currently allowing ourselves to governed far too
> much, and in such abysmal ways.
> From this angle I would be really curious about the kinds of things that can
> happen in a financial district. Rendering the power relations of finance
> reversible, or even risible - now that seems to me like a real challenge!
> all the best, Brian
> On 04/04/2012 05:05 PM, Jim Drobnick wrote:
>> Hi Folks,
>> Perhaps another thread concerning our curatorial practice would be more
>> conducive to a dialogue. We have just launched a peer-reviewed
>> publication called the Journal of Curatorial Studies that seeks to be a
>> forum for critical discussions on curating, exhibitions and display
>> culture. The first issue is free to download at
>> http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals/view-Journal,id=205/
>> Our editorial points out the journal’s general mandate, below, and there
>> are several questions listed in the middle paragraph. We might also
>> discuss the status of this emerging area of study called curatorial
>> studies. Does it constitute a discipline? If not, should it aim to
>> become one? What would be the advantages and disadvantages? And if it is
>> a discipline, what should its parameters be?
>> We look forward to hearing your comments.
>> Jim and Jennifer
>> __________________
>> Journal of Curatorial Studies, 1.1, 2012
>> Editorial
>> Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher, Editors
>> Curating, as a field of study, often falls between the cracks of
>> disciplinary boundaries. Until recently, it has been left to curators
>> themselves to theorize upon their practice and the function of
>> exhibitions. The Journal of Curatorial Studies builds upon the
>> pioneering contributions of curators to encourage in-depth
>> investigations from an array of disciplines. Through the examination of
>> current and historical exhibitions, display venues in the art world and
>> elsewhere, and the work of individual curators, the journal inquires
>> into what constitutes “the curatorial.”
>> While curating as a practice of arranging objects remains important, in
>> the current context exhibitions involve more complex and unorthodox
>> conjunctions of rhetoric and methodology. Cultural analysis,
>> collaborative processes, institutional critique, performative
>> interventions, networked interactivity – these are some of the
>> strategies that are now regularly employed. This journal will explore
>> these and other issues, such as: How has the identity and authority of
>> the curator shifted in a decentralized artworld? How do exhibitions
>> emphasizing experience and interactivity function as forms of research
>> and knowledge? Beyond the so-called gatekeeping function, what are the
>> new ideological conditions that drive the activity of curating? What
>> connections exist between displays of visual art and those found in
>> culture at large? To this end, the journal will feature thematic and
>> open issues, theoretical explorations, contemporary and historical case
>> studies, interviews with curators, artists and theorists, and reviews of
>> exhibitions, conferences and books.
>> The Journal of Curatorial Studies invites texts from a broad range of
>> perspectives on curating and exhibitions. It intends to serve the
>> international community of curators, academics whose research engages
>> questions of the curatorial, whether stemming from the art world or
>> other domains of contemporary culture, as well as the growing number of
>> curatorial schools and graduate programs. We welcome a readership that
>> encompasses a range of standpoints – scholars in art, art history,
>> visual culture, museology and material culture studies, along with
>> curators, artists, art critics and cultural theorists.
>> _______________________________________________
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