The following are a couple of reflections made on the Framework curatorial group I have been attending recently – Framework website
Maria Fusco : The Subjective Voice
Saturday 10 September at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh
Maria Fusco’s highly invigorating seminar and workshop was a personal challenge but on reflection has given my writing a new editorial rigor and awareness. I daren’t look back on my previous outputs given her fresh and feisty methodology. But the technique of a subjective narrative is a voice I recognise and have used for a few years in discussing art and culture. Crucially the message from Maria’s session is that the writer can/should adopt this subjective voice as a critical method and therefore as writers we have the mandate to discuss art things in this manner. What was also apparent is that the methods and stern focus on the detail and exactness of this voice gives this genre of art writing the gravitas to challenge and bypass the tyranny of art theory writing.
This particular writing voice has been evolving in art writing for a while. Influences on my own work are the catalogue for the seminal Jan Hoet curated exhibition Chambre d’Amis in Ghent (1986) which layers the publication with selected historical factual and fictional texts with documentation of the artworks; the Private View catalogue (1996) for the exhibition of contemporary artworks in the Bowes Museum, County Durham which has a great text by the curator Penelope Curtis which plays with the concept of the imaginary exhibition and the catalogue for artist Mike Nelson’s A Forgotten Kingdom (2001) which is designed like some pulp fiction novel dovetailing his own artwork with sections from choice fiction.
And, if I can mention some of my curated projects – The House in the Woods with Janice Galloway and The Blue Chamber with Duncan Mclean – employed the creative writer to give an interpretation to the exhibition either as a commissioned piece or republished text. But these texts have a purpose in this context. They give extended interpretation to a specific curated project.
Taking such writing out of this context is interesting but may as Maria pointed out in a recent Art Monthly critique can produce hostility and confusion of its intention and integrity. Maria’s own work can stand alone in its own publication as does Chris Kraus’s writing. But it can be an easy target as illustrated in Kraus’s recent book Where Art Belongs (2011), which is a collection of sectioned short stories narrating the ups and downs of the LA artworld, as the text on the short lived Tiny Creatures gallery reads like some sort of horrible trendy Brett Easton Ellis tribute act. Not so groovy.
Saturday 24 September at CCA, Glasgow
Reflections on the Framework participant’s show and tell presentations and Curating as Expanded practice discussion with Berlin based curator Ellen Blumenstein
It is always an interesting exercise to ask a group of people who appear to do the same practice what it is they are actually doing. Generally we all agree in our open discussions but to really open up, the person’s articulation, perceptions and ideas through this openness are out of the bag. This exists within any group of similar practitioners – artists, musicians etc. Our practice is a personal and self-developed thing but in this sharing, there is much self-questioning and perhaps doubt in what we are actually all doing. This is my own experience of this session. It is healthy to be challenged; this is the point of these sessions. Personally when I was challenged about my presented material and focus, whatever I thought was okay “as research” was not okay in ‘the actuality and present practice’. This created an interesting awkward moment when trying to explain research findings of issues and context, which were perceived to be focused on middle class male privileged curating ‘names’. But I did wake me up to the facts that I needed to address issues such as gender (even sexuality, nationality and age) as I sensed that these contentions did touch a nerve in the group. Therefore this opening up (expanding of perception) can cause slight turmoil but energises a deeper understanding of the real present-day issues of curatorial practice.
Ellen Blumenstein : Curating as an expanded practice
Sunday 25 September at Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow
The previous day’s sharing certainly bonded the group and there was a positive feeling in the room – more playful. Ellen put forward the concept of curating as an expanded practice, which is a good observation of curatorial practice – as it stretches out from the institution, extending its experience, blurring the boundaries. I am all for this form (attitude) of practice. But is this just an inevitable development that our boundaries become boring and predictable, so we start to challenge them as we have skills to change, make other things happen in other ways. Through experience of curating in whatever context, we start to use the effectiveness of the practice to become political, economic or spiritual perhaps – things that are more meaningful in life than status or power. Ellen discussed the relief of leaving the institution and surviving. Maybe we get burnt out from the relentless mill. So time out is good. But what tends to happen is that we begin to create our own ‘institutions’, and become constituted with a board of directors – over managed.
The closing exercise was a great bit of playful, hypothetical curating. We all had to spend just a short time determining a proposal for curating. This creative exercise of no restrictions and open possibilities produced a brilliant range of very dynamic and interesting possibilities. Particularly about how and where the curator existed in non-institutional contexts. These helpfully illustrated current curators ambitions of the practice to touch the everyday, be involved in local politics, develop mindful methods and creative experiences, place themselves in social services be the host and facilitator for example. We should do them all.