[-empyre-] "Death of the Curator"

Naeem Mohaiemen naeem.mohaiemen at gmail.com
Thu Apr 12 05:42:01 EST 2012

Dear Johannes
Thanks for the questions. I'll quickly share some thoughts and maybe we can
into this more later as well.

The photo for the show cover was by Israel Rosas. He is a photographer for
the Mexican newsaper and this was from an action at Chiapas. When I asked
him if we could use it for the show, I remember he was quite astounded ("in
a museum, why?"). The show actually had two news photographers: Israel and
Chalirat from Thailand (we showed her photos from the thai military
crackdown). There were of course others who had systematically made a
transition away from news photography to work shown in galleries– in
particular Gilless Peress (we showed Telex Iran, and later I did a short
video that was a homage to Peress).

The photo is also on the book cover.


The final selection was a hybrid between people who were not usually shown
in museums/galleries, in particular Kevin Carter (we installed a song about
his death), Usman Haque, The Critical Voice and more museum regulars. I
think this created a strange imbalance as many of my activist friends that
things were being defanged by being placed in a museum (especially a
resource-wealthy one like Palazzo Papesse). But at the same time, we wanted
to force a conversation about the permanent war state we were getting
locked into.

Below is a paragraph from the curatorial essay I wrote for the show, "These
guys are artists and who gives a shit", which went into some of the
anxieties (some of it reads a bit naive now, as we have progressed far on
these debates since 2006):

I feel the cramp of anxiety. Will all these well-sculpted words have an
impact outside this room? Somehow I'm missing the codec to transmit all
this theoretical, creative energy into real world action. I've been scolded
for seeking use-value in art, but I can't restrain this tourette-like
impulse. Back in Dhaka, friends are organizing rallies to protest the war.
But they are worried because the main organizers are Islamist groups. I
send them the announcement for Dictionary and get a withering response by
e-mail "Sitting in a room discussing war, while the Middle East burns
down–– a luxury indulgence." I try to muster up an appropriate response as
to why representation, aesthetics, theory, all of this still matters, even
in this moment. I believe in everything I say, but today I feel small
comfort, because the external geopolitical context seems so extraordinary
and extreme. In an attempt to band-aid the situation and, yes, insert
"direct action" into the Munich event, I talk to the organizers. Could we
issue a statement from the artists calling for an immediate cease-fire?
More importantly, there is a peace rally in downtown Munich, perhaps we can
take a break and join it. People like the idea in principle, although the
logistics are challenging. Eyal Weizman is particularly enthusiastic. But
in the end it fizzles out. Before too long, the weekend is over, everyone
is bolting towards the airport–– no rally, no statement. I feel deflated,
even though the weekend went as promised. But, is that all there is?

And this...

First of course there is the problem of politics simply as a faddish layer
or category, Just as ethnicity can be a lucrative categorization, so can a
sheen of politics–– especially if it is the unthreatening, Prada-clad, faux
Marxism variety. Can we think of another icon that has been so completely
stripped of revolutionary or historical potential as Alberto Korda's
photograph[xix], a point only (inadvertently) underscored by Victoria &
Albert Musuem's exhaustive documentation of the hundred faces of Guevara.
Similarly, when I look at Marianne Boesky gallery's invite for a show by
Donald Moffett, I see a faux sticker with the word "IMPEACH." Later I
realize it's not faux at all, in one hidden corner is a "Peel Here" tab.
But will the show's visitors leave the gallery and start guerilla
stickering all over town? When memorialized graffiti bombing and packaged
bohemia is the bleeding edge of gallery-based "subversive" art, it is a
struggle to overcome the commercial instrumentalization of genuine
political positions. If political art becomes uber-trendy, the first victim
is politics. Bemoaning the deafening silence of the artworld during the
most recent Lebanon war, Emily Jacir wrote in her blog: " I am sure there
will be conferences organized, teach-ins and always the "hero" filmmaker
who will risk life to make a documentary, the readings, the art exhibits,
and the art world will eat the Lebanese artists like pieces of chocolate."

Full essay is here:

more soon,

On Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 11:13 AM, Johannes Birringer <
Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk> wrote:
> dear all
> thanks for the provocative readings and viewings provided over the past
> (I am listening to Brad Troemel's "Art after Social Media"), Aram, thx
for the many links.
> Also am trying to catch up reading the text ["Las Grietas"] you linked us
to , Pedro,  thx!
> and I wanted to ask Naeem to talk about the photograph chosen in the
front of his essay on "At the co-ed dance" -- i attach it for those who
have not read it....
> Naeem Mohaiemen schreibt:
> I have attached here the PDF of an essay I had written about
> artists-as-curators. It was published in the now defunct ART LIES
> journal in their "Death of the Curator" issue in 2009 and then
> reprinted in TAKE ON ART in India in 2011.
> Some of this now feels quite dated, but hopefully some of it can still
> be relevant to our discussion.
> I enjoyed reading this piece a lot,  and was sorry to learn "Artlies" is
not alive anymore, I remember writing for it when it got started
> in Houston some years ago in the 90s, an independent organ of criticism
run by a collective (of writers and artists, no curators allowed though) if
I remember correctly,
> laid out and pasted together on John Bryant's computer in the attic.
> Brian's long post and critical reflection on decision-making processes
(underlying curating?) and organizing under "the governmentality of
neoliberalism" was most insightful, I felt, and deserves much more
> discussion, if we were to look at the compromises (and roles as
"accomplices") Ana pointed to, especially under the conditions of the
market described by Brian,  and I wonder, if I could ask Aram this
question, whether the conditions are the same or somewhat different - for
social networks, online galleries, YouTube, etc and temporary "speedshows"
?  very And if they are unchanged, and particularly timely for the
digital/networked platforms, then how can distributed curating become like
a tactical media?  very fast and very ephemeral before co-opted, to be
re-hyped (it started at the beforementioned documenta X, with the splendid
installation of "The Hybrid Workspace  temporary media lab" , for 100 days,
 -- so one might think the museum had already co-opted you before you even
had started)....?
> Naeem's implicit self-questioning is something can surely be addressed,
from the many experiences people on this list have,
> -- when you say "I started to wonder if artist-as-curator was always a
healthy construct"  (not really),  I assumed you meant the inevitable
> complications that might arise when artist-run galleries or shows remain
"hermetic"  (inviting friends and themselves) or self-serving
> before they, possibly, create interesting cracks in the mirror that make
the very messiness and spontaneity you describe interesting to be coopted
> by museum and academic institutions or larger public venues like
Kunsthallen etc. I wonder whether some progressive municipalities were run
like that
> or imagined themselves like that (Amsterdam?). The idea (harking back to
last month's debate) of the cit as curator interests me a lot, with some of
the implications of "caring" , "curing" and "being curious" that
> have been raised here.
> Were it not for the photograph, Naeem, that keeps haunting us.
> And what is the role of private capital?  Can it, in some cases, provide
a certain "autonomy" allowing the forging of exhibitions that could
> not happen in public institutions or museums governed by boards of
directors/collectors and friends?  In Houston, for example, the Station
Museum (run
> by James Harithas) has kept putting on what one might call political
exhibitions which no one else would touch or dream of doing, and it must
> take a certain financial independence to be able to sustain that.
> Lastly, I wish we'd not leave the first week entries, for example the
questions raised by , and returned to, Jennifer and Jim about mass
> of urban festivals or spectacles un-scrutinized.  There was so much
claimed for "artists produc[ing] large-scale performances and interventions
that engage, critique and reconceptualize the urban context"
> which we have not questioned at all here, for example in connection to
tourism industry and civic/city policy or economic interests participating
in urban spectacles and fostering
> the illusions of art concerts/rock concerts being a 'counter-movement"
and leaving audiences to have or influence choices of/for (collective)
> is there such a thing as "collectice curating", and what would it be?
> In the town where I was born, the local merchants and businesswomen and
men  (Mittelstandsbetriebe) put on a show every year, for the masses to
> They also get the streets blocked off, for sure.
> respectfully
> Johannes Birringer
> dap-lab
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre



skype: naeembangali
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