[-empyre-] Welcome to empyre Week 4:Rethinking Curatorial Options: Globally

Christiane_Paul at whitney.org Christiane_Paul at whitney.org
Sat Apr 28 00:51:34 EST 2012

Hi Sarah,
thanks and congrats on Mirror Neurons! I think your comments regarding "different responsibilities to context" are making a really important point. An exhibition about 'responsiveness' at the National Glass Centre 'under the umbrella' of the AV Festival poses numerous challenges when it comes to 'translating' context. You have to establish contextual links that range from art history (new media and participatory art forms), to the tradition of arts and crafts (glass) and new media festivals. I would love to hear more about how the respective audiences perceive the exhibition. 

Given these particular challenges, I think it was very smart to make reception itself -- physical and mental responses -- a focal point of the exhibition. It seems to me that this shift in focus could help to make visitors more aware 1) of the role that their response plays in the reception of the artworks themselves; and 2) of the positioning of the works within a glass museum and festival on slowness. There is a meta-level of reflection (perception, glass, and mirrors) built into the show; at the same time you have to  be careful that this angle doesn't overpower the works themselves....

From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] on behalf of Sarah Cook [sarah.e.cook at sunderland.ac.uk]
Sent: Thursday, April 26, 2012 11:37 AM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Welcome to empyre Week 4:Rethinking Curatorial Options: Globally

Dear Empyre readers

Thank you for the invitation to participate in the discussion this month/week and apologies to come to it so late. It's been raining bucketloads over here in the UK (true to form for April), and we're all feeling a little under the weather.

Of the (albeit quite wide-ranging) questions raised by Renate and Tim so far, the first three are most relevant to my work as a curator who works in collaboration (or adjunct to) other institutions/organisations/museums/galleries from my base as a researcher within a university research unit. Some rambling thoughts thus follow....

On 24 Apr 2012, at 01:54, Renate Ferro wrote:

> "How do curatorial and social considerations impact the cultural,
> political, and theoretical reception of artistic practice?

We've seen in the last few weeks both here now and on the CRUMB list an ongoing discussion about 'new aesthetics' (and don't worry, this post isn't about that) so perhaps it bears saying out loud that online activities, such as tumblr-blogging, taken as a curatorial form of activity (curating in the sense that Saul Albert has claimed with the University of Openess, as making research social, or socialising one's research), therefore does impact on the theoretical reception of artistic practice. Curating is a way of bringing things to light, of exposing new ways of seeing the world, and to that end it doesn't much matter who does it or where it is done, or even what it is about, so long as debate follows from or with it. Christiane pointed this out in her original post about the spaces of curation, that the different kind of spaces in which the practice or outputs of the curatorial process takes place (coincident, aligned, or not) might determine the kind or nature of its rece

 ption (museum shows reviewed in the NYTimes, online commissions reviewed on blogs). So maybe it makes a certain sense that a photo blog about an observable aesthetic change is thus hotly discussed in other casual but social opinionated places such as comment threads? An interesting reference point here might be the show which Annet Dekker worked on at the (*sigh* then supported) NIMK in Amsterdam called 'Versions' (http://nimk.nl/eng//versions) -- commenting as a form of artistic practice itself - how do you curate that without commenting on it?

Renate's second question:
What role does positioning work within the sanctioned spaces of museums and galleries or the non-sanctioned public or personal spaces have on both
artistic and curatorial practice?

What Christiane rightly identified, that "the provision of context" is "an essential part of curating" is the trickier thing to describe or analyse, as for every kind of thing one might want to curate, there might be a different responsibility to the context that needs to be provided. And it is not always the default context of art history. (I'm not sure why I feel the need to write that, but there you go).
For instance (given the discussion in the last few posts about art and science), at the moment I am engaged with the exhibition Mirror Neurons which I have curated for the National Glass Centre here at the University of Sunderland. http://www.nationalglasscentre.com/whats-on/2012/03/01/mirror-neurons.html
The exhibition includes six projects by a range of artists, but all the works on view invite the viewer to slow down and recognise that something is happening, or figure something out (if you have time to kill or are especially curious you can watch an unscripted 20 minute video walkthrough of the show, with me talking about the works, thanks to the efforts of a journalism student: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYOCQJqsnwM&feature=youtu.be). I have hung this collection of works, so to speak, on the idea of the mirror neuron, a contestable concept in neuroscience that visual recognition and imitation of action plays a part in learning. With interactive, responsive or participatory art (as some of the works in the exhibition might be described) viewers often watch someone else participate and then imitate that behaviour (when it is their turn) consciously or not. Because the exhibition has a scientific idea in its title, and includes works which ask the viewer's participation,

  some of which the artists made in collaboration with scientists (such as Catherine Richard's work I was Scared to Death..., made with vacuum physicists at the National Research Council of Canada), there is a responsibility on my part to explain that context in the interpretation of the works. This is especially the case in the work of Simon Pope, which is an empty gallery, activated by the gallery visitor, following an instruction left in the title of the work, based on his collaboration with a psychologist researching memory. Phew!
Yet because the exhibition takes place in a Glass Centre and includes works made using scientific glassware, there is an assumption that visitors will be aware of that context of the work's production as well, even if glass is not the important thing about the idea of the work (it might be part of its medium and nothing more).
And then because the exhibition was curated to coincide with the AV Festival 2012, the theme of which was Slowness, and runs through this weekend's internationally recognised 'Slow Art Day', there is another context to put forward through my pairings of art works, about the perception of time, and personal constructions of time-based experiences (so the 2003, 15-minute, superimposed version of Michael Snow's film Wavelength - WVLNT - is playing in the gallery in the show, while for Slow Art Day, we're screening the original 1967 45-minute 16mm version).
That's a lot of different contexts to get across in a single group exhibition. Hopefully what Christiane again called a 'deep crosslinking of ideas', which means, as curator, I have to be able to talk about the exhibition and the works in it to a range of people (to the radio journalist who just phoned, for instance) in a wide variety of vocabularies. What Beryl commented on, in terms of 'constantly adjusting' - in her case the content of the MA Curating course to respond to different interests of the students - has always been true of the practice of curating contemporary art. As I learned quite early on, one has to read both Vanity Fair and The New Scientist to get through an average art world opening dinner party. Recognising your audience's interests and moving conversations from there back to the art work, and the implications or resonances of that art work for their understanding of the world, is one real challenge for curators.

So lastly, to Renate's third question:
How do global histories, customs, and politics inform this positioning?

I suspect I have no idea! It must surely be case-by-case, as you can not really separate an analysis of the practice of curating from the thing (object or not) you are curating. Each work will have its own context in terms of its history, custom, politics, etc. whether decided by its maker, or its medium, or its site, etc., and as a curator you might have to sift and decide which is the important one to highlight, to describe, to allow a way in to, and which can be put aside at this moment. Hence you have artists complaining that you didn't put their work into your show about X because their work is _all about_ X, when you'd looked at their work and thought it was much more about Y. We can only be responsible to our own bodies of knowledge, and be responsible for widening them whenever possible. While it might be unprofessional (unethical?) of me to misinform the public about what a mirror neuron is, I might be forgiven for doing so as I do not claim to be a neuroscientist, a

 nd this is an art exhibition not a scientific conference paper. But if I position myself as a curator, who has subjectively chosen a range of art works, and worked hard to present them to their best, because I think that together they add to a discussion you as a viewer might be interested in (perhaps how the act of visiting an exhibition can make us self-conscious or engender greater awareness of our role as 'receivers' of art), then at least I have been clear about my position without overly interfering in the art work and the artist's own intentions.

Apologies for the ramble, but I look forward to discussing any of these ideas about the what=where=when=how of curating with you all ... and yes, those equal signs are deliberate ;-)

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