We are glad to present a series of interviews by Laura Devereux for the publication Conceive Construct Consume, developing approaches to curatorial practices from the Autumn Residency 2011
In collaboration: The Benefits of an Artist/Curator Relationship
by Laura Devereux
As an aspiring curator, I am intrigued by the relationship between artists and curators in 2011. How can this relationship benefit the artist? What does an artist require from a curator? How can a curator help present an artist’s work in the best possible light?
I have interviewed artists and curators to ask their perspectives on the subject. All the curators interviewed were asked the same question: As a curator, what are your greatest contributions when creating an exhibition for the work of an individual artist? All the artists interviewed were asked two questions: Do you believe there is a benefit in working with a curator? How is this relationship beneficial to you? The following are their responses, which have naturally formed conversations, even though I posed the questions to each artist and curator individually.
➜ Elena Veljanovska, Curator, Macedonia
My contribution is setting a framework, reworking the structure of the exhibition, maybe giving suggestion about it’s final format of display and general communication of the work with the audience. Content wise, I am always giving the leadto the artist, but of course there are different kind of collaborations. If it is a more collaborative situation, and I have a greater insight or interest into it I am giving suggestions for the content as well, and it is up to the artist whether she/he will accept it or not. Writing of a text is something I see as important, since this is the way that the curator mediates the content with the audience. Of course, it is not necessarily important that the same curator writes the text, but in my case I tend to do it, since this is how I can put the works, their meaning and the reason why I am making this exhibition in a wider context.
➜ Hendrik Paul, Photographer, USA
My answer would be an instant yes, however with that quick yes comes along a calculated response. The curator I would work with would have to work with my vision (I know this is not always possible, but I am responding with an “ideal situation”). We would have to have a clear vision of what we want to present. I would not want to work with someone who does not have a clear understanding of my images or someone who does not believe/like what I photograph. Sure, our visions will not completely gel, and that is healthy and will likely add beneficial viewpoints. What I am against is a forced collaboration between an artist and a gallery or museum curator. Do not get me wrong, I see and know that these pairings happen all the time, but if I as the artist have a choice, it would be to work with a curator that supports and believes in my work. For me the benefit of working with a curator would be the help it would provide me with selecting images for the specific project, an additional pair of eyes. In the past I have overlooked some of my now “better images“ only to have them “discovered” by professors (equivalent of a curator). Simply put, a curator would help me sort through my images and help me with the organisation of my project.
➜ Song-Ming Ang, Artist, Germany/Singapore
Yes, definitely. A good curator who is involved with my creative process can inspire me with ideas, and provide useful, alternative opinions to my own perspectives. A good curator can help enhance the materialisation or presentation of my work, and tease out meaningful aspects that may be hidden. More importantly, a good curator can instill confidence, encourage risk-taking, and offer advice that contributes to my artistic and personal development.
➜ Pilar Cruz, Curator, Spain
I like and try to work directly and closely with the artist when I’m making the project, if the work of the artist is an already made piece, my contribution is to give some points of view and interpretations about that work, and if possible how this work fits in the rest of his/her production. I try to give interpretations and an approach comparing their work with pieces made by other artists, so perhaps the biggest contribution consists in the relationship that their works create with each other and how the meaning and interpretation of the works can change or be enriched when reading under the concept of an exhibition or when reading after/before other artist’s works.
➜ François Martig, Sound & Video Installation Artist, Film and
Photography, France I have had some different experiences with curators during the past few years, as good as bad. The two last were great because the curator’s choices gave my work an interesting relation (not necessarily esthetic proximity) with the other artist’s artwork; the dialogue between the artworks and not in a big museum with a lot of stuff. The curator doesn’t transform the artist’s work, it’s more to create a common dialogue more than the sense of each art pieces.
➜ Juan Canela, Curator, Spain
My work as a curator is focused in propitiating critical thinking, either through concept or formalization. My aim is to question established ideas or concepts, suggesting or provoking moments of reflection not only for artists but also for the public. I’m always trying to move forward to places of amazement or to be amazed. One of my main goals is to investigate the relationship between different agents involved in an artistic project: curator, artist, designer… even researchers from other disciplines: historians, psychologists, philosophers… That is why I like your question. In that sense, I’m always interested in breaking boundaries between different profiles and also to overstep borders, contaminating each other. I look to work with artists in order to re-think their practice, trying to transform their usual “making” or common places by proposing certain exercises which produce this “estrangement” as a way of avoiding redundancy. When I think of the process of working with an artist for a solo show, the most important issue is to work really closely with him. Thinking together as a way of develop ing the project from the concept to final feedback of results. In the end, it’s about building a complicit space in which the artist can crystallize a work process that enables critical thinking of other’s and oneself, in order to contribute with different perspectives.
➜ Daniel Palacios, Multimedia Installation Artist, Spain
Something I don’t accept is the character of artist-curator (or curator-artist), at least when you are curating an exhibition and also showing your work in it, I think they are two different professions and the border must be clear. My approach is, if I don’t have the skill or don’t have the time to do something, I’m going to hire somebody to make it, but if I find somebody that is working actually in the same subject and that work is very related with that portion of mine where I need extra hands, then of course I’m going to ask for a collaboration and include him/her in the project which is more interesting for both and the project; but it’s different this way to cross points of views to create a work, than to curate an exhibition. (…) A curator should have the same kind of interests, obsessions and passion for learning about the world that an artist has, they just simply don’t produce, don’t collect, they generate events where they combine work from different people that mix and share a point of view all together about a concept, the curator’s concept.
➜ Wyatt Niehaus, Curator & Visual Artist, USA
I think the most important aspect of this, for me, is to act as a bridge between the artist and the audience. By this I mean adding appropriate context to the work, and representing it in a way that illuminates the piece as best I can (or the opposite of that, if that is the goal!). Context and background can be a principle concern in showing a solo artist – because where in a group show, the other artists exhibited are partly adding the context for you, a solo artist does not have that safety net. It is important for the curator to act as a kind of liaison.
➜ Mark Soo, Multimedia Installation Artist, Canada
Absolutely, and it often depends on the nature of the working relationship. But rather than building the relationship around ideas of “benefits” and values, I think a more descriptive notion for me would be that a curator is a participant in the artistic process. Nonetheless, a curator to me occupies and participates in many roles. And this depends largely in what capacity and what context you are both engaged in. It’s difficult to pinpoint, but I think among the myriad ways a curator participates is in the conception of exhibitions; helping to facilitate an artists vision; helping to give an artistic, cultural, and historical context to the work and ideas; collaborating in envisioning new possibilities for the work; guiding readings of the work; creating new relationships between other works and ideas; promoting the work; mediating between audience, institution/gallery, and artist; finding new ways to imagine what the work can be; and so on… It really depends, because everyone has different intentions, methodologies, and backgrounds. Working with a curator in the context of the Venice Biennial is going to be very different than working with a curator who is fulfilling an acquisitions mandate for X National Gallery, which is going to be very different than working with a curator programming a festival of outdoor performance art.
➜ Lauren Reid, Curator, Australia
As a curator I think that the greatest contribution that I can provide to an individual artist is a specific context for which to view the artist’s work and to form a dialogue around the artist’s practice and particular pieces. Curating a considered exhibition of work can create a framework or platform to develop and draw out threads of thoughts that exist within an artist’s practice. This in turn, creates the opportunity for the artist’s work to connect with different audiences in potentially new and layered ways.
➜ Cortright Devereux, Painter, USA
My opinion is that curators know perhaps more than artists do, the current happenings of the world and the arts so they have a greater understanding of the context in which art takes place. I think a curator is a bridge between an artist or a piece of art and a greater number of people in the community at large. So, a curator can be a useful tool for ‘packaging’ art for public use.
Every Wednesday we will present an article from our past or current residents. To start with the series, we chose an essay from Dunja Rmandic, written for the publication of the exhibition ‘Letters from the Field’ shown in Berlin in August 2012. The article adresses questions about identity and memory in the city of Berlin.
Should We Let Go?
by Dunja Rmandic
“This can’t be the Potsdamer Platz” – Homer, the old poet, Wings of Desire
And so here we are, in Berlin. As many say, in a city where the twentieth century happened; the good, the evil, the progressive and the ugly. Rather than having a classic beauty that defines most European cities, Berlin stands as a collage of aesthetics, a collage of histories, and overlapping landscapes, all omnipresent at once and all simultaneously canceling each other out. Here history is everywhere and it is nowhere.
What is it that keeps us holding onto ideas, objects, moments, and the past, giving us a sense that this is what constitutes our identity? What if we never held on to those in the first place? We naturally navigate through history, as well as spaces, with the help of symbols. But Berlin seems to have embraced a type of amnesia that defies historical fetishes in a way that denies a one-dimensional experience of the city and refuses to prioritize one history over another. It leaves us in a state of limbo, in the in-between where everything is possible and nothing is special. There is no nostalgia, there is no homecoming. Even the remnants of the Wall – the most recent and remembered history for most of us – seem abstract. I watched the wall come down live on TV, and the emotional experience of it has profoundly shaped my attitude to politics, suffering, and symbols, yet being here, living ‘in the East’ and close to the wall, I am left empty. Do we really move on from history so fast? Outside looking in, Berlin has its Kirchners, Dietrichs, Langs, its Brechts, Benjamins, its Bauhaus, Plancks, and Einsteins, its Reichstag, the Jewish Museum, and the Wall. Once in the city, all of those symbols collectively dissipate, and what is left, what is felt, is a potential to have – or to be – all of those again. The city has learnt from its destructive history that anything that is created is soon destroyed; we are here to create, live, love, forget, be and do – we come, we go, but there is no central axis here anymore and this is how it remains invulnerable. Welcome to the matrix that is Berlin.
What do we retain in the form of a city and as a nation, and what do we retain as our individual history? On the one hand history teaches us but on the other its effects can be stifling. Stine Marie Jacobsen’s practice takes us straight to the core of the relationship between memory, violence, and history, on both the individual and the broader social level. Working with theories of memory and contemporary psychology through performance, her focus becomes material, dialogical, and most importantly, ethical, and she keeps us holding our breath for how her pieces will resolve. Contemporary Germany seems to be a perfect context in which to scrutinize these questions, and Berlin as a perfect platform to experiment within.
How do we construct history and how do we construct memory? Megan Cotts’ archival research into honeycomb paper – those fun shapes that fascinated us as children – patented by her family and then subsequently revoked by the National Socialists in the 1930s, has gone beyond a recovery of history. Through reenacting the physical process of making these endless patterns, playing with the scale, and shifting the emphasis from the original, mass-produced combs to handmade interpretations of shapes, Cotts discreetly questions legacies, authority, and memory while simultaneously constructing her own. Yet despite this questioning, her impetus and our collective unrelenting attachment to material objects remains in question.
But what if we rejected every ounce of what constitutes an identity, every structure that contains it, every value that informs it, every symbol that defines it? How can we construct an identity without history?
An identity devoid of history can only exist after the apocalypse. Rebecca Smith’s childhood was defined by the visions of biblical apocalypse and devoted preparation for its immanent arrival. Exorcising those narratives from her personal life, she has formalized them as nostalgic symbols in her series Beast (2010). While removing herself from that formal lifestyle, she has not discredited the impulse behind those tendencies that seek to immortalize the present, wishing the ‘now’ to be the climax of humanity. Perhaps a desire to rid humanity of history altogether is a more acceptable contribution of doomsday cults, and one that art is well placed to engage with.
Of the myriad of images of Berlin, one that makes sense to me the most is that of it as a pre-historic swamp. Serendipitously, the Immortal Neobiocosmonaut, the hero in Ylva Westerlund’s comic book-inspired manifesto, comes out of a swamp and presents us with an image and experience of a utopia. Only when he dematerialized could he know of it and only when he rematerialized could he communicate the possibilities he saw for our future. But in order to attain this future, we need to change our relationship with language: “impossible” says his opponent; “not at all” says he, “…you just switch the ‘possible’ for ‘mortal’… .”
Reminiscing about knowing Berlin when it was a swamp, Damiel and Cassiel – our guardian angels in Wings of Desire – also reminisce about learning language from humans. We exist through language, we move through language, we own through language and we create through language. While standing in the middle of the field, as in her Untitled (monochrome) (2010), Sharon Houkema isolates us in language and forces us to feel it instead of relying on knowing it. She wishes that, as we taught it to the angels, maybe we can un-teach it to ourselves and try to experience form outside of language; try to experience art – and ourselves – anew.
So here we are, still in Berlin, where the vulnerable has been replaced by the immortal; where art critic Karl Scheffler’s remark in 1910 that this “is a city condemned always to become and never to be” is as true in 2012 as it was when it was first written.1 In another century the same statement might still resonate, and in another century we just may manage to experience ourselves anew.
1 Karl Scheffler, Berlin: Ein Stadtschicksal (Berlin: Fate of a City), 1910.
The Psychology of Rumor by Gordon W. Allport, page 56: “In general, people skeletonize their memories rather than elaborate them.” Two of the shapes are from a memory test in the book. One of them I drew from memory during our conversation.
Stine Marie Jacobsen
I am standing in the middle of a vast landscape. I tell you I am “in the middle”, to give you an idea, a picture in your mind. But the truth is, I have no idea, if where I’m standing, is the middle. There is nothing for my eyes to hold onto, nothing to determine position, nothing to determine scale. I am surrounded by endless white, not black: white. White as far as I can see, an unhindered, unbroken white.
Sharon Houkema, Untitled (Monochrome), 2010, printed paper
Check Letters from the Field online publication
As part of Node Center’s residency program, we produce a printed publication based on the researches of the residents curators.
Today we made the first little step, which was getting to know the interests of each one of us to find common topics. Thanks to the blackboard and post-it technology, we grouped common themes of interest and we are a step further to realize the publication!