Contemporary art curating news and views from Michelle Kasprzak and team

Special Report: Fellowship at CCA Glasgow

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Monday, October 8. 2012 • Category: Musings Fellowship at CCA Glasgow
Fellow: Emma Brasó

5 months in Glasgow

A bouncy Stonehenge, a Ping-Pong tournament in the gallery space, an artist's party at a cricket club, The State pub, Glasgow School of Arts MFA Degree Show, another Glaswegian Turner Prize nomination, a few bacon rolls, some difficulties with the local accent, and a lot of rain.

These few highlights from my residency experience in Glasgow, as the first Fellow at CCA Glasgow, partially encapsulate what I could also describe as a fun and enriching experience. The city's dimension and solid artistic community make it an ideal place for this type of temporary placement, and CCA is a lively hub where apart from having a healthy vegan lunch (which I did on a good number of occasions), one can engage in conversations and activities about the future of the Gaelic language, ever-changing policies in arts funding, archives and contemporary art, or the obscure relation between the film Bagdad Café and Sarnath Banerjee's graphic novels.

As with any residence, it's up to oneself to make the most out of it. Frequent meetings with CCA's Director, Francis McKee, helped me to gradually understand the city's art stories, the myth of "The Glasgow Miracle", and the reality of an enclave that has the highest concentration of artists in the country after London. I also value very positively the degree of freedom given to me during these months. That type of time and space are extremely precious when you are trying to evolve as a thinker and curator.

The coincidence of the Glasgow International Festival with the beginning of the Fellowship was very beneficial as a starting milestone for the journey. Other great stages included taking part in a series of critical conversations with this year's graduating MFA students, performing as mentor for a group of young curators as part of the Somewhere_to initiative, and specially finding generous artists such as Jamie Fitzpatrick, Rachal Bradley, Alasdair Wallace, Scott Rogers, Christine Jones, Marilou Lemmens, Richard Ibghy or Henry Coombes who welcomed me into their studios. The finishing line is still ahead though, as my research during the fellowship will materialize in an exhibition at CCA in which I will try to contribute my ideas to the understanding of how art relates to a particular space and time.

Emma Brasó
October, 2012

1) Sacrilege, Jeremy Deller, Glasgow International. Photo by Michelle Kasprzak
2) Ping pong tournament at CCA Glasgow, photo by Emma Brasó
3) MFA Degree show, photo by Emma Brasó
4) MFA Degree show, photo by Emma Brasó

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Curating in a new media age

Posted by Katerina Gkoutziouli • Monday, January 2. 2012 • Category: Musings

Despite the fact that new media art might be still treated as a new and recent phenomenon of art practice, the story of new media can be traced back as early as the sixties. Artists such as John Cage, Allan Kaprow, Roy Ascott, E.A.T. have been preoccupied with themes including interaction, multimedia, electronics, kineticism, cybernetics and technology, and so have curators and theorists such as Marshall McLuhan, Jasia Reichardt, Lucy Lippard and Jack Burnham, among others. The context for artists, theorists and curators alike has been changing since that time, when this type of work formed a new territory for exploration in the arts. There was not only a change in creative language, but also a change in aesthetics and attitudes that would effect the ways we perceive artworks, exhibitions and cultural production in general.

One of the landmark exhibitions was €œLes Immateriaux€ curated by Jean-Francois Lyotard at the Centre Pompidou, Paris in 1985. Lyotard had already written his seminal book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979) in which he examined the changes in human condition effected by technological developments in communications, mass media and computer science. The exhibition sought to present the repercussions of such a restructure of society and culture and also to construct an emergent space filled with emergent concepts. Nathalie Heinich explains €œPaintings and sculptures were still present, of course, but became part of a much larger set of information made up of signs, words, sounds and technical artefacts€ in a labyrinth-like exhibition space. Additionally, the notion of “immateriality” was introduced at a point when computers and interfaces were not user-friendly, a fact that also highlighted the latent problematic aspects of technology in art making and curating.∗ Curating here may have functioned as a philosophical quest authored by Lyotard, which in spite of its drawbacks has opened the door to a new era of exhibition making.

Moving forward to the mid-nineties, we can see the next wave of artists and curators engaging with new media under a new set of conditions again. Since the term “new media” is a very loose one, I would like at this point to refer to Olia Lialina’s description of new media: “a field of study that has developed around cultural practices with the computer playing a central role as the medium for production, storage and distribution”. However, it still seems that new media art cannot be contextualized under a certain canon because of its hybrid forms, and there is still a need for new media art practitioners - be they artists, curators, theorists- to provide a contextual umbrella for new media practices to be discussed.

From a curatorial perspective, new media art has brought new challenges to contemporary curating with its immaterial nature, its interactive qualities, its computer-based character and its constant developments. Anyone working with or keeping track of the shifts in new media will have noticed that new media art can be “web-based projects, sound events, virtual reality installations, mobile cellular, or PDA projects, and practices- conceptual art practices, networked-based practices, software coding or sampling” as Sarah Cook has outlined.∗∗ It is hard to permit the flexible and dynamic character of new media art to fully articulate in an exhibition space since most new media artworks tend to defy physicality. The need for new curatorial expressions to embrace the concepts of new media is becoming more and more apparent in the variety of exhibition formats.

Curating in online contexts has been a prevalent mode for web-based art projects. A rewind through the recent history of new media art will remind us that the dawn of the World Wide Web proved beneficial to web artists not only because of the new possibilities of the medium, but also because it allowed a certain degree of autonomy from institutions and curators altogether. An early example of such an exhibition was the project Desktop Is (1997) initiated by artist Alexei Shulgin for which he gathered desktop screenshots from 67 artists and hosted them online for public viewing. The developments the World Wide Web brought about at that time were equally important for curators. The novel notion of distribution and communication meant that not only artworks could be distributed but also curatorial practice. The “instantaneity in contemporary culture” (Charlie Gere, 2008)∗∗∗ was and still is evident and emergent in many distributed artworks and exhibitions on the web. For example, the exhibition Beyond Interface (1998) curated by Steve Dietz at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. On the archival website of the exhibition, one can find Steve Dietz'€™s quote, which reads: “This online exhibition presents a simple proposition. There is art that is created to "be" on the Net. After that, it gets more complex very quickly. Beyond Interface explores some of the complicating issues but does not attempt a comprehensive investigation… the main goals of Beyond Interface are to present outstanding examples of net-based artistic activity, and to try and begin to better understand and appreciate this art and its context.” Steve Dietz is very conscious about his early venture by pointing out the uncertainties of curating web-specific exhibitions. Nevertheless, that is mostly the case when something new is coming out. By laying emphasis on the art and its context, Dietz attempts to highlight the dynamic of web-based artworks, being fluid and hybrid and also the Web as a space for art production, curating and cultural interaction. However, while distributed curatorial practice on the web might fulfill the democratic and decentralised expectations of its medium, it also could ensure the work is easily confined to a specialist audience online.

Curating new media art in “offline” contexts is another main method of presenting such work. From the eighties onwards, many different spaces and structures have flourished to support new media art activities. New media centres such as ZKM in Germany, The Banff Centre in Canada and FACT in England; festivals, like Ars Electronica and Transmediale; galleries such as the Furtherfield Gallery in London; and labs such as the V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media in the Netherlands, among others. Contemporary art museums have been quite wary of new media art, with some exceptions such as SFMOMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Baltic. Simply stated, the visibility of new media art exhibitions in museums is low compared to mainstream contemporary art shows. The exhibition Database Imaginary (The Banff Center, Alberta, Canada, 2004) curated by Sarah Cook, Steve Dietz and Anthony Kiendl included works from 1971 to 2004. The exhibition sought to explore the idea of the database as an evolving phenomenon in human culture, featuring works such as Hans Haacke’s “Visitors’ Profile” (1971), a questionnaire about contemporary events that was distributed to museum visitors to a group exhibition in Milwaukee and Graham/Mongrel’s “” (2004), a Perl software-code poem based on the 1792 poem London by William Blake. Database Imaginary attempts to establish connections between old and new art forms that share a common ground. Such exhibitions provide a space, firstly, to reflect on the continuum of ideas taking “shape” through a range of mediums and secondly, to discover the correlations that new media art shares with its precursors. The idea of creating narratives that are not fragmentary and follow the trail of art development also shows the dynamic of curatorial practice itself. If museums refrain from showing new media art by being skeptical about the qualities of such art in the course of art history, then exhibitions, such as Database Imaginary, provide for the art references that institutions may lack.

There is no doubt that there is not a singular practice or canon of curating new media art and that is primarily triggered by the hybridism of the art itself. Christiane Paul (2008) has argued that ‘Because new media art is more process-oriented than object-oriented, it is important to convey the underlying concept of this process to the audience’.∗∗∗∗ New media art curators need to be constantly resourceful in order to create evocative spaces and experiences. As new media art gradually enters the museum doors, curatorial strategies need not only communicate the art but also the fact that the exhibition itself is a process.

∗ See Nathalie Heinich (2009) “Les Immatériaux Revisited: Innovation in Innovations” and Sarah Cook (2008) “Immateriality and its discontents. An overview of main models and Issues for Curating New Media” in Christiane Paul (ed.), New Media in the White Cube and Beyond. Curatorial Models for Digital Art. University of California Press, pp 26 - 49

∗∗ Sarah Cook (2008), “Immateriality and Its Discontents. An Overview of Main Models and Issues for Curating New Media”, in Christiane Paul (ed.), New Media in the White Cube and Beyond. Curatorial Models for Digital Art. University of California Press, p. 27

∗∗∗ Charlie Gere (2008). “New media Art and the Gallery in the Digital Age” in Christiane Paul (ed.), New Media in the White Cube and Beyond. Curatorial Models for Digital Art. University of California Press, p. 23

∗∗∗∗ Christiane Paul (2008), “Challenges for a Ubiquitous Museum. From the White Cube to the Black Box and Beyond”, in Christiane Paul (ed.), New Media in the White Cube and Beyond. Curatorial Models for Digital Art. University of California Press, p. 65
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Objects In Mirror May Be Better Than They Appear: Framework - Scotland

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Friday, November 11. 2011 • Category: Musings

Special contribution by Amy Fung

I went to live and work in Scotland (a nation and not a country) for six months this past year on an arts writing and curating fellowship. The food was bad, the people solid, and the best art show I saw was German. The overall experience of being on a writing/curating fellowship sounds better than it actually was; and while I do not regret my time spent in the land of lochs and moors, I would have done somethings quite differently if I could do it all again.

Looking backwards and from across the pond, the bright shining light of Framework stands out as a beacon. Devised by Glasgow-based independent curator Kirsteen Macdonald the first five Framework events came as a response to the perceived lack of international resources and networks for Scotland-based curators. While both independent and emerging curators were encouraged to apply, the majority of participants consisted primarily of emerging curators who were looking more for a sounding board to vent their frustrations. I can only hypothesize that the more established curators refused to apply or excused themselves as too busy to participate, but as a platform for networking with international guests within the scope of your national peers, I walked away with a sense that those curators in more stable positions needed to feel they were not on the same level as everyone else, or that they were also not interested in engaging with these guests out of some sort of inferiority complex.

On the other hand, an easy critique can and should be made at the definition of "international" only demarcating UK and Berlin-based writers and curators like Jan Verwoert and Maria Fusco. But let's go back to the beginning of this text where I am giving a first impression of Scotland and consequently Scotland's art scene.

Coming from Canada, I was and remain blown away by the sheer scale difference of Scotland's wee geography. With only a 45 minute train journey between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and only a three hour train between the central belt and the North East town where I was based, geography does not play a convincing factor in the vastly different attitudes and the general lack of internal dialogue. The town of Huntly where I was working and living could have stood as a microcosm of Scotland as a whole: a wee picturesque place, embedded with traditions and class structures, tolerating and attempting to build a lively and surprising contemporary art scene – producing works that rarely anyone local actually pays attention to unless a ceilidh is on the bill. The common practice is to look south and out for success and inspiration, often bringing people in for their ideas -- but at the end of my six months, I do wonder if the people of Huntly, and by extension the people of Scotland, actually care that an ongoing privileging of foreign value perspectives and systems is being placed onto their sovereignty-seeking selves?

With a population of 5 million, there are actually four sizable art schools in Scotland, and a significant proportion of alumni from The Gordon Schools in Huntly go on to attend these national art schools. I attended (in some variation) all the graduate or undergraduate exhibitions for Glasgow School of Art, Edinburgh College of Art, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, and Gray's School of Art. Mentorship on the production side is visible and lineage is respected, but of the four schools, only one showed any depth in the relatively new field of curatorial studies and arts writing. This is a problem, especially if the solution has been importing in thought rather than focusing on the local production of critical thinking. This may be a watershed moment as now under Creative Scotland's new "talent" pool, artists of all disciplines will be geared to how they fare for international consumption. Like its fine drams and rich shortbreads, goods that few born and bred Scots actually show much interest in, Scottish artists may soon be on the same ship out.

This is not a problem unique to Scotland, but Framework has magnified a contentious issue that it believes (self-consciously so) to be its own. It's true that the void of support and understanding about curatorial work is staggering, especially by its practitioners. Most curators in the field either grab onto the title or are bestowed with it, but few actually fit the definition with confidence. During Framework's finale, in lamenting on her disparate curatorial roles for an upcoming exhibition in London, a curator was asked point-blank: "What do you think a curator actually does?" and her response was only a pause and a stutter.

For the record: curating as a practice for all extensive purposes of this text translates as researching, producing, and presenting a unified and ideally critical/social/philosophical context for a single work or group of works that questions or addresses a facet of history for present-day musing. Under this definition, most curatorial work today is in fact a straight forward commissioning gig, or fund-driven project management, which has confused the role of the curator as someone with power. Most emerging curators who attended Framework were not really curators, but hustlers trying to get ahead in this profession. This assumed curatorial power is directly associated with funds rather than knowledge or ability. This is when curators simply become "gate-keepers", but note even how one-sided this argument stands. The desire to get beyond the guarded threshold takes on celestial proportions of seeking permission and desiring acceptance, which unfortunately, reveals just how elusive and unrealistic the standards of success sit in this cultural profession that is skewered by an inflated art market and where the Hirsts and Obrists make up all of 1% of the art world.

Curators have always been specialists of specific strands of knowledge, but now, according to British Art Show curators Tom Morton and Lisa le Feuvre (who were also guest facilitators for Framework), everyone can be a specialist of the everyday! The sentiment is idealistic and so it is admirable, but the execution requires some logic and an infinite breadth of knowledge that reflects the multifaceted experience of our everyday. The historical definition of a curator has progressed, and rightly so, but the integrity of curating has yet to catch up. I am not arguing for a return or even a favouring of traditions, but I do strongly question the use of this language if the meaning has so drastically shifted. In Fusco's words, we should take the time and energy to "re-caress the art object" -- be it through words or actions.

Based on final presentations given by Framework participants, it became frighteningly clear the presupposed value of calling yourself a curator has been accumulating steadily for the last three decades, but in an economic reality, the precarious state of the curator is doubly duped as the false assumption of power is a reflection of needing to have an expanded practice: that one also needs to organize, administrate, market, and fundraise independent projects in order to be a legitimate arts professional. The hyphenated artist/curator/designer/administrator works in an "expanded practice," a term Macdonald came up with that nobody seemed to question. Working in an expanded practice also became the subject matter for the workshop by Ellen Blumenstein, which was rescheduled due to exhaustion and so became the finale of this first set of Framework events. The end revealed the beginning as an expanded practice revealed itself in an unfolding of collective illness and exhaustion. Soldiering on in a burnt out state of being appeared to be the bane and survival tactic of maintaining an independent practice, and it was a glimpse of a grim future I did not want for myself.

This shroud of taking on curatorial power in an art world where the market value holds all the cards could be seen as a positive turn towards creative and intellectual value. However, like the smoke and mirrors of an absorbing and twisting Nabokov narrative we may not realize we have been spun a yarn of self-convinced fables of social grandeur that in the light of day comes off as a perverse and slightly sad fantasy. There are independent curators like Macdonald and Blumenstein who are doing good work and who are also trying to lay the foundation that they themselves need to stand on, but the more weight you put onto these foundations the faster the whole lot sinks. As a series, Framework quenched the void by facilitating intimate and thought-provoking discussions with a mixture of established practitioners, but the main critique here is that a dialogue must go two ways. I question the small group of curatorial professionals who did not bother applying, and the peers and participants who never spoke -- two seemingly different groups who in their own ways still chose to stay isolated without realizing that this dialogue exists in flux, and in their control to change.

Mix in exhaustion due to perpetual precarity, survival by hyphenation, the rise of internship exploitation, and assuming power where ever and when ever one can get it, the conclusion I come to is that being an independent curator is a fantasy profession both sought after and grossly misunderstood, and that maybe just sounds better than it will ever be. Life goes on, and so must the work, and it is only my hope that round two of Framework this winter will continue this conversation.

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Where to From Here? The Professional Challenges of Emerging Curators

Posted by April Steele • Tuesday, October 4. 2011 • Category: Musings

The professional aspect of being a curator has been a popular discussion topic of late. As an emerging independent curator and a recent graduate myself, I find the discussion to be a crucial one, and the professional and developmental challenges faced by newcomers to the field are constant questions posed by myself and my peers. In discussion with my colleagues regarding the challenges faced by emerging curators, several themes appeared. At the forefront, unsurprisingly, were concerns regarding the lack of funding available. Meager funding and the limited budgets provided for exhibitions present challenges including the inability to access artists who can request higher artists’ fees; difficulties providing adequate fees for those artists willing to participate; and the problem of finding funding that doesn’t conflict with funding provided to artists. Often, the funding that is available is entirely out of reach for emerging curators at the beginning of their career. For example, the Canada Council for the Arts offers project grants and professional assistance to curators, though applicants must have already produced an independent body of work, have had at least three public presentations of work in a professional context over a three year period, have maintained an independent professional practice for at least three years, and have produced at least three exhibitions or publications. These stipulations are usually prohibitive and discouraging for curators fresh to the field without bankable experience – a situation emerging artists applying for grants will be familiar with.

Often working outside the framework and support of an institutional budget, emerging curators are faced with the difficulties of reconciling their curatorial direction with the realities imposed by insufficient funding. A lack of salaried work and over-dependence on project-by-project funding often forces emerging curators to take on ‘day jobs’, and the challenges of balancing a curatorial practice with other work are not inconsiderable. Of course, insufficient funding is not a problem faced only by curators (emerging or not) and obviously extends to the arts in general, which is a much larger issue that requires addressing.

Beyond funding, another problem is posed by the dearth of professional resources for young curators. Unfortunately, few resources exist for emerging curators, who are often caught in limbo between education and career, without institutional resources. Some excellent resources do exist: this site and IKT (though with IKT members must apply and have their applications supported by two existing members) are among the few highly accessible international resources for curators online. Another excellent resource is the Curatorial Toolkit for emerging curators assembled by Karen Love and 2010 Legacies Now in British Columbia, which provides an in-depth practical guide to curatorial practices, with topics including the role of the curator, researching a concept, securing a venue and funding, budgeting and fundraising, exhibition programming, media relations and audience development. Additionally, a number of publications in print address curatorial practice, though the majority focus on broader curatorial theory rather than specific, practical professional issues.

Despite these resources, gaps obviously exist in professional support available to emerging curators. In Canada, for example, the Canadian Artists Representation/le Front des Artistes Canadiens (CARFAC) provides legal assistance, health and safety advice and other professional development resources to professional artists, however an equivalent umbrella organization for curators still does not exist. Some advocacy and legal frameworks do exist: the LaSalle River Accord (1999-2000) and the Toronto Independent Curators Network Proposed Fee Schedule (1999) set recommended fee schedules for independent curators including writing fees. However, as Love notes, curatorial fees in Canada still amount to annual incomes that are well below the rates recommended by the Canadian Museums Association and salaries provided to curators by most institutions.

Of course, any discussion of the challenges faced by emerging curators must address the recent proliferation of curatorial programs at the university level. In an increasingly corporate world that prioritizes concrete skills and quantifiable qualifications, and where higher education supposedly provides some assurance of gainful employment, emerging curators are increasingly seeking validation through (often pricey) curatorial degrees. As a result, university programs in curatorial studies are flourishing internationally. A primary concern expressed by my peers is that university programs often do not offer the hands-on experience and direct involvement with artists that a self-directed curatorial education in the field may. While many students take it upon themselves to put forth their own projects and proposals outside of their curriculum, those who do not are often unprepared for the practical realities of a curatorial practice upon graduation. Many programs seem to be attempting to bridge this gap with mandatory internships and student placements in galleries or museums, however there are still the realities of proposing and mounting exhibitions on one’s own that must be learned. In the end the onus is on the student to fully participate in the curatorial field outside the classroom. Additionally, since university curatorial programs are relatively new and many established curators don’t necessarily have the same degrees, there sometimes exists a professional divide between the old guard and the new, and occasionally some doubt regarding the taught skills of new graduates (perhaps justifiably, given the aforementioned lack of practical experience in graduates). A new difficulty now perhaps lies in presenting a university degree from a curatorial program as an asset and not a liability.

Establishing oneself in any career certainly has its challenges, and as training programs blossom and numbers swell, curators, face some unique obstacles. However, the ways in which emerging curators are navigating these obstacles and presenting new alternatives is heartening. Hopefully, we will see a continued push for the development of new, accessible resources and a reassessment of the funding available for curators, to further the development of this profession and provide opportunities to present new and critical material. And hopefully, we will see a continuation of this discussion as new ideas are presented. We need better curatorial programs, more strategic funding opportunities earlier on in emerging curators’ careers, and more professional associations to guide us. Let’s work towards this together and make it a reality.

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IKT Congress Report 2011

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Sunday, July 10. 2011 • Category: Musings

IKT, the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art, held its annual congress in Luxembourg, Metz, and Dudelange from 28 April - 1 May 2011.

It was a special Congress, as it was Enrico Lunghi's final one as President of the IKT. Enrico is highly regarded, his managerial competence keeping IKT as an organisation on an even keel, and his personal warmth and generosity making each IKT member feel genuinely welcomed at each Congress. It therefore seemed fitting that Enrico hosted this Congress at home (he's current Director of Mudam, and former Director of Casino Luxembourg), where he was able to reveal the cultural gems of Luxembourg and region to us. The congress participants visited Mudam, Casino Luxembourg, Carré Rotondes, Fondation de l'Architecture et de l'Ingénierie, FRAC Lorraine, Faux Movement, Centre Pompidou Metz, Centre d’art Nei Liicht, and the Centre National de l'Audiovisuel.

The Congress kicked off in beautiful Luxembourg with the traditional introductions, or Members' Forum as it is officially known. These introductions are quite something: it takes up nearly the entire morning, but every attendee (about 150 curators or so) stands up and introduces themselves briefly to the room. It is a deceptively simple thing, but it really helps to cement the names and faces of your colleagues in your mind, as well as allowing people to quickly reveal a little something of their personality (even in just two minutes, there's time for jokes, name-dropping, charming references, etc). After this Members' Forum, the Congress launched right into exhibition tours for the afternoon in Luxembourg, before swiftly moving on to Metz for more exhibitions. A very full day culminated in a behind-the-scenes tour of Centre Pompidou Metz. The highlight was definitely taking the world's nicest and smoothest freight elevator up to the top floor where artist Daniel Buren was waiting for us. He kindly chatted with us about the exhibition he was installing for several minutes before we went to the Town Hall of Metz for a welcome from the Mayor and a buffet dinner. Here's a short clip about Buren's show (in French):

On Saturday we were in charming Dudelange. The discussion panel was entitled "What is the good of Mediation in contemporary art?" for this year, and was introduced by Maria Lind, featuring presentations from Jorge Munguia Matute, Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, and Sally Tallant. Their presentations absolutely raised the problems of mediation, though they proposed some solutions too: notably, Pérez-Barreiro's example of the deep integration of audience development and education into the Mercosul Biennale that he curated (read a great interview with him in this PDF here). Jorge Munguia Matute cited several inspirational examples of creating public dialogue, such as with the Pase Usted project in Mexico City, and Sally Tallant took us under the bonnet of the Centre for Possible Studies, part of Serpentine Gallery's engagement with the communities living around Edgware Road in London.

At FRAC Lorraine

The annual General Assembly also took place in Dudelange, and it was a little more exciting than usual, with plenty of discussion around the choice of venue for next year's Congress (Tel Aviv, Israel), new members being elected to the Board, and of course, the election of the new President: Friedemann Malsch, Director of the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein. The fact that the Presidency of IKT passed from one tiny country (Luxembourg) to an even tinier one (Liechtenstein) was pointed out by Enrico Lunghi, to laughter from the assembly. The evening's party at Casino Luxembourg was also wonderful and memorable, taking place in the cavernous, damp stone basement of the building and with enough delicious Crémant de Luxembourg to fuel us well into the evening.

A true highlight was the tour of private corporate collections that took place for those who decided to stay until Sunday. Enrico really worked some magic to get these collections open to us not only on a Sunday, but a Sunday on a holiday weekend! We toured the Deutsche Bank Luxembourg, Arendt & Medernach, and the European Investment Bank. It was a well-balanced combo: wealthy international bank, medium-sized legal business, and the largest multilateral lending institution in the world. At the European Investment Bank, it was interesting to hear of their plans to ship some of their collection to Greece for an exhibition. We were told they almost never send works out in this way, but that holding a small exhibition in Greece was a kind of expression of solidarity with Greeks in their difficult financial time.

At Deutsche Bank

As always, it was a great opportunity to meet and interact with curators from all over the world. I'm already looking forward to next year in Tel Aviv.

Photos by Elke Krasny

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BAM International Visitor's Programme Report

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Friday, April 15. 2011 • Category: Musings

BAM (Flemish Institute for visual, audiovisual, and media art) is an organisation based in Ghent that "provides information, and encourages development and networking" and "encourages collaboration and exchange between Flemish organisations and institutions abroad and tries to increase the interest in and knowledge of the Flemish art scene". Their International Visitor's Programme is a key component of their overall activities, with several invitations extended each year to foreign art professionals. I was fortunate enough to be invited and had a bespoke programme created for me that extended over four days and four cities in Flanders this February.

For the four days, Brussels was my base and I travelled throughout the region either by car with my gracious host, Nele Samyn from BAM, or I used the extensive Belgian train system. Nele was a great guide who designed a perfect programme for me, and answered all my general questions about the cultural situation in Flanders in between the scheduled meetings.

It's going to sound like a bit of a cop out, but there were so many things that I saw and people that I spoke with that making a big list of it would be a bit meaningless. So I'll just single out some highlights that are easy to summarise:

In terms of commiserating with colleagues, it was a great pleasure to meet Eva De Groote at Timelab, and see what's cooking there with their lab and their artist in residence programme. It was inspiring to visit Netwerk, a terrific and fairly large centre for contemporary art in the fairly small town of Aalst (home to fewer than 80,000 people). I greatly enjoyed dining with artist Frederik de Wilde, hearing all about his fascinating work (and getting some free Dutch lessons on the side). Going to Argos resulted in a lovely chat with Paul Willemsen, then spending a solid hour in their galleries being blown away by "Sea of Tranquillity", a piece by Hans Op de Beeck. I had a fabulous time at the Artefact festival in Leuven, especially the opening night and a group meal with several of the artists and festival curators. I had previously seen the work of Koen Vanmechelen in Den Haag, and I was very keen to meet him. Despite busy schedules all round we managed to meet for a great discussion over coffee in Leuven. BAM makes all your wishes come true!

I walked away from my brief visit to Flanders with a head full of artworks and a pocket full of business cards, but I also departed with a new conviction: that every country should have a programme such as this. This quick and intense introduction to the art scene in Flanders was invaluable to me as a curator. I saw dozens of artworks, attended a festival, viewed many individual shows, had studio visits with several artists, and met a number of fellow curators. It was a packed four days that I could never have organised on my own. I also now feel like I have a good grip on the aspects of the Flemish art scene that are relevant to me as a curator, something that can only be accomplished due to the bespoke nature of the programme. A generic version of this programme with a one-size-fits-all approach just wouldn't work as well. I hope that BAM continues this programme long into the future, and that other places adopt their exemplary model.

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Summer Seminars for Art Curators 2010 Report

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Sunday, September 12. 2010 • Category: Musings

Recently I attended the Summer Seminars for Art Curators, which is hosted annually by AICA-Armenia. We spent three days in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, and a further four days in Ijevan, in the north near the border with Azerbaijan and Georgia. The themes of the two seminar events were “Aesthetic Communities and Contextual Translation of Communal Art” and “The Communal Function of a Monument”.

Armenia is a fascinating country, but I will not go into too much in detail about it here. However, it must be said that the post-Soviet-ness of Yerevan is striking, and the beauty of the countryside is extraordinary. It was wonderful to get to see both Yerevan and Ijevan, and all the landscape and important points of interest in between.

Yerevan railway station

The first day of seminars was held in the "Bangladesh" neighbourhood of Yerevan. Kicking off the lecture programme was Dr. Margarita Tupitsyn discussing Russian Art as a Sisyphean Project, followed by Dr. Vardan Azatyan presenting Myths and Visions of Artistic Avant-gardes in Armenia. In the evening at The Club, Marlène Perronet and Elke Krasny presented, while Adnan Yıldız and Aykan Safoğlu were Skyped in. The following day, the keynote presentation was by Victor Tupitsyn, followed by evening presentations by myself, Joanna Warsza, and Ida Hirschenfelder. 

My presentation was entitled "The Transient and Mutable Monument", and argued for the development of a framework for producing "open source" monuments in public space. My thoughts were very much inspired by the work of Estonian artist Kristina Norman, and also referenced Antony Gormley’s recent work, One and Other on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. Both projects illustrated the importance of site for monuments more than the actual monument itself. Taken together, Norman and Gormley’s projects represent a uniquely contemporary re-thinking of the ways in which monuments can be viewed both as art objects and as modes of interaction for all.

Earlier that day we had an informal round table:


Over conversations at the top of the Cascades monument in Yerevan, or later on, at the local riverside bar in Ijevan, I discovered the issues confronting the artists in the Caucasus region were the same as everywhere else (of course), except that the silent presence of the monumental past (usually hulking there in the form of Soviet architecture) framed the present inexorably. It's fashionable to sneer about starchitects, but our built environment really does impact how we conceive of ourselves and how we work.

After these quick two days, which covered territory ranging from the contested nature of public space to contextualisation of art made in the Soviet era, we were then off to Ijevan, in the north.


It's hard to describe how interesting it is, and good it is, for any curator to escape the cushy embrace of whatever it is they are used to, and end up at a seminar where you are in a town of about twenty thousand souls, at an exhibition opening with pickles and salami sandwiches being served, followed by an open air concert where a local rock band is covering tunes by 90s era riot grrl rock outfit Babes in Toyland. Toto, we aren't in Amsterdam anymore.

Our ever-honest and vigilant Armenian friends told us that the Ijevan townspeople were puzzled by our presence, which underscored (for me, at least) the purpose of our seminars and gathering. While all of the scheduled talks were interesting in their own way, the best aspect of this or any seminar is the interaction with the other participants, in the tiny temporary community we create. So of course the townspeople of Ijevan wondered why we were there -- because at that point, we were already deep into the process of getting to know each other, and besides had little time outside our schedule to get to know the town. The town was an aspect of our experience, but not the central aspect, and so it made sense that the townspeople felt outside of it. Recognising this mild alienation also meshed perfectly with our ongoing discussion into contextual communities and visual art.

The participants were: Elke Krasny (Austria), Armenak Grigoryan (Armenia), Michelle Kasprzak (Netherlands), Karin Grigoryan (Armenia), Xenia Nikolskaya (Sweden/Egypt), Arevik Grigoryan (Armenia), Marlène Perronet (France), Harutyun Alpetyan (Armenia), Adnan Yildiz (Turkey), Carmen De Michele (Germany), Gor Engoyan (Armenia), Nvard Yerkanian (Armenia), Natuka Vatsadze (Georgia), Liana Khachatryan (Armenia), Viviana Checchia (Italy), Sona Melik-Karamyan (Armenia), Ida Hirsenfelder (Slovenia), Pau cata i Marles (Catalan/Spain), Taguhi Torosyan (Armenia). Volunteers and free participants included: Shoair Mavlian (UK/Australia), Özge Çelikaslan (Turkey), Emanuele Braga (Italy), Maddalena Fragnito (Italy), Narek Tovmasyan (Armenia).

Presentations given over the course of the seminars will soon be shared, and when I have permission to share those, I will, in a new post, with further information on the overall programme.

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IKT 2009 Congress Report

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Saturday, July 25. 2009 • Category: Musings

IKT, the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art, held its annual congress in Helsinki and Tallinn from 23-26 April 2009.

IKT members from all over the world congregated in Helsinki and Tallinn for four days of intense activity. The congress participants visited Kiasma, the Ateneum, EMMA, Helsinki City Art Museum, Forum Box, the Cable Factory, FRAME, KUMU, and many more venues that were part of an optional gallery crawl on the first evening. The initial period of the Congress was spent in the beautiful Finnish capital, and was punctuated by a conference on the subject of "belonging and un-belonging". The Congress also travelled to Tallinn, taking in the Ars Fennica Award exhibition at KUMU, enjoying a lunch and continuation of the conference with presentations and a screening of "Monolith" by Kristina Norman (who represented Estonia at the Venice Biennale this year). After wrapping up with the annual General Assembly back in Helsinki at Kiasma, optional post-Congress activities began, composed of studio tours themed around media art, photography, and painting.

The conference programme featured papers from T.J. Demos, Kati Kivinen, Solvita Krese, Suzana Milevska, and Kristina Norman. The theme of "belonging and un-belonging" took many twists and turns: political, aesthetic, comical, academic. Perhaps the strongest response was generated in reaction to Kristina Norman's video, "Monolith", which depicted the relocation, by the Estonian government, of the statue of the Bronze Soldier from a very central location in Tallinn to a military cemetery a few kilometers away (which IKT members visited during our time in Tallinn!). The statue, which is a political firebrand, and its relocation caused passionate reactions in both the Estonian community and the local Russian community. Norman's work portrayed the situation with some humour (one sequence depicted the statue hurtling through outer space) and with distance: both the Estonians and the Russians were portrayed "equally badly" (paraphrasing here) in the quasi-documentary. This tension over this statue and what it represents meshed well with Solvita Krese's discussion of public art and monuments, highlighting the power of symbols in the public realm and their placement. The question then, of these symbols and their placement, and the work of artists and curators to create and situate these symbols, creates more questions in one's mind than answers, but proved to be an excellent frame for discussions around a subject as expansive as "belonging and un-belonging".

Aside from seeing a lot of interesting artwork, taking part in debates, and meeting new colleagues, there were several special moments. A very interesting whistlestop tour through several artists' studios at the Cable Factory culminated in a lovely dinner, lots of prosecco, and performances. I love Helsinki as a city, and savoured many personal moments, such as picking up a pastry at the Hakaniemi Market, trying to follow along with Finnish karaoke taking place at a local bar, and enjoying a dish of vorschmack at Cella with new and old friends. Of course it wouldn't be a logistically challenging trip involving hundreds of people without a surreal moment or two when difficulties arise. For example, a bit of confusion as some members were attempting to purchase tickets for the ferry to Tallinn was devolving into complete chaos until IKT Board Member Maria Lind magically appeared, gently commandeered the situation, and whisked us off to an quieter ferry terminal where departing ferries were miraculously quicker and cheaper. We had some lemons, and Maria made us some lemonade!

At the General Assembly, the board presented the financial situation of the past year and some discussions were had around future Congress locations, as well as requirements for members and the evolution of the IKT website. The IKT archive project is still ongoing (notably, a PhD student who is doing her dissertation on the history of IKT has been able to assist in this effort) and the board will continue to develop the archive into a real resource for the members and other researchers.

All in all, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet and interact with curators from around the globe, and the IKT membership looks forward to Athens next year, and Luxembourg and Metz the following year.

You can view my photos from the Congress here.

I attended this Congress because of the generous assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts.

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Professionalism and Power

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Sunday, May 10. 2009 • Category: Musings

Freelance curators enjoy a degree of flexibility in their work, but are often also in precarious positions when working with large organisations. A clear example of the difficulties faced by curators working in a freelance capacity emerged last week when the Koffler Centre of the Arts in Toronto issued a statement saying they were "disassociating" from artist Reena Katz, that they had commissioned through curator Kim Simon.

According to the statement, the core of the issue for the Koffler Centre, which is an agency of the United Jewish Appeal Foundation of Greater Toronto, is that artist Reena Katz publicly supports activities which reject "... the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state and promotes historically inaccurate comparisons between contemporary Israel and apartheid South Africa, in order to delegitimize Israel." The artist and curator dispute this interpretation of Katz's views.

The project has been under development for over a year and its launch is imminent. As the statement from the curator and artist put it, "...twelve days before the scheduled opening of a project involving over seventy participants, we attended the meeting. We were shocked to learn that the Koffler would be dissociating itself from Katz and our project solely on the basis of her political affiliations they said they had discovered on the Internet." That the organisation would choose to 'disassociate' itself at the eleventh hour is already indicative of a lack of professionalism, and the situation becomes even more perplexing once it is further noted that it is Katz's publcly-stated views that are the issue here, not the content of the commissioned project, which in fact uses Jewish culture as its bedrock and inspiration. The fact that Katz's views were uncovered on the web adds a twist to the tale as well (though again this is disputed by the curator and artist, who contend that the Koffler was aware of Katz's political leanings all along). The fact is that with the advent of web 2.0 and push-button web authoring, any artist or curator can make their views known on anything at any time, offering an unprecedented window on the ongoing fluidity of thought and personal opinion. The fact that this is essentially about Katz's personal digital traces underlines how unfortunate this turn of events has been, wherein an art centre would consider anything other than the work its business. The work, in effect, has been delegitimised here, subjugated to an attempt to pin down whether or not this artist's thoughts permit her to be legitimised by an established institution.

What can a freelance curator do in such a situation? Simon has stated that she is "appalled and heartbroken", and rightfully so. Without co-operation, courage, and support from within the organisation that was to present this work, the curator who is external to this structure has few options. Simon is doing all that she can to ensure that the show goes on, but the sudden lack of support from a well-resourced and branded institution is without a doubt an unwelcome and unhelpful development, that also then becomes a public example which might further dissuade curators from working freelance with large institutions (Simon is working freelance in this case, and is also employed as a curator for Gallery TPW).

It appears that the offer to fund the project fully still stands, so that it can still go ahead, which shields the Koffler from accusations of outright censorship and also from possible litigation. This action distills the problem to the core power struggle that freelance curators and independent artists face, because it's rarely ever about the money. Funding can be obtained without the intervention of an outside institution. The Koffler took something away that is far more valuable, and that's their seal of approval. Unfortunately for them, 'disassociation' in this case denies the rights that artists have to their own views, stifles debate on the subject in the Jewish community, and separates itself from what will surely be a wonderful project that celebrates Jewish culture and heritage in a historical district of Toronto.


Official project website: Each hand as they are called

Toronto Star story: Kensington Market exhibit stirs controversy among Jews

Globe and Mail story: Centre 'disassociates' itself from artist

Update (May 15, 2009):
Reena Katz and Kim Simon have issued a statement indicating that the exhibition will not open as it was scheduled to, due to the loss of the support of one of the project partners, following Koffler's disassociation. Katz and Simon will continue to work toward opening the exhibition at a future point in time. The latest updates are always available on the project website.

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For What and For Whom?

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Saturday, October 4. 2008 • Category: Musings

Increasingly open ways of participating in the selection and display of content are blossoming. Harnessing the ubiquity of internet access, the Brooklyn Museum are able to produce Click!, a "crowd-curated" photography exhibition. Weblogs, like FFFFOUND!, allow invited internet users to select pictures worthy of scrutiny from the tonnage of imagery available on the web. Taking the semi-randomness of allowing web users to filter content as a model, the Kemper Museum in Kansas City recently permitted museum visitors to choose items from the collection to be displayed in an exhibition entitled "Putting the U in Curator".

In each of these situations, the word curating is used to describe actions taken by members of the public who would not normally self-define as curators. This situation is similar to the one described by Clay Shirky in his recent book, Here Comes Everybody, about the definition of a journalist: "So long as publishing was expensive, journalists were rare." (p. 71) So long as there were relatively few museums and galleries, art curators were rare. On the surface, it appears that this rarity is eroding, not because of an explosion in curatorial jobs and projects, but because there is an explosion in the way the term is being used. "Curating" is increasingly being used to describe an expanding body of activity in terms of new platforms and materials, but remains focused on the act of the curator as editor or selector. This movement towards the application of the term curator to bloggers choosing images for their blogs, and to museum visitors who are invited to move a painting from the vault to the gallery wall, and to the person who votes on images in a web browser, expands the notion of a curator at the same time that it contracts it.

There are two distinct types of activity happening in this expanded area of definition. One is a singular act of temporary deputisation as a curator. This type of singular activity fits with the example of the Kemper Museum show, where one random museum visitor was selected to choose one piece from the collection, and then this same activity was repeated with a different museum visitor, until the walls were full. The other type of activity is a crowd-generated model, wherein group choices are tallied and a final result evolves from popularity of particular items, as in the Brooklyn Museum example. Both of these cases highlight the selection and editing processes that are part of a curatorial role.

Language is living and the meaning of words and expressions evolve over time and with use. There is no doubt that there is value to opening up and demystifying the editing and selection processes most typically known to be domain of the art curator. If this strategy is properly applied, it is possible to encourage anyone who is interested to develop a deeper aesthetic sense, to feel more closely linked to culture and heritage institutions, and to develop stronger ideas of what culture means to them. But if this is how the common use of the word curator is evolving, what is lost?

To speak very broadly, when looking at any collection of items, one can ask: "For what and for whom?" Why select, edit, and group things together? Collections and curated exhibitions are about creating links, developing narratives, and composing responses to perennial questions and ideas. These collections and groupings are then presented in ways so that they will effectively reach audiences. Often erroneously perceived as the skulduggery of the marketer, it is the work of curators and all cultural workers to perform extensive research on who is or could be the audience for a particular exhibit or collection, and what would constitute an effective display for this audience. Just as a priest isn't simply someone who says Mass and a doctor isn't simply someone who taps your knee with a hammer, a curator isn't just someone who selects images. The larger role of the curator encompasses the creation of links to other creative dialogues, writing and contextualising work, developing the physical (or virtual) exhibition sequencing and flow, and perhaps most important of all, nurturing a relationship with the practitioners who make the work and understanding the narrative inherent in their career trajectory. (Or, in the case of those who work with historical collections, having a scholarly background on the movements/time periods/artists represented in these collections). What can and will be lost in the reduction of the term curator to mean one who clicks on a thumbs-up or thumbs-down icon is that sense of for what and for whom.

Is it possible to build a notion of for what and for whom into the singular model and the crowd model, and is that an appropriate aim? Or do these models serve the very specific purpose of magnifying the intricacies of these selection processes? I would argue that building larger cultural narratives, and developing clear intentions towards an audience are functions too important to ignore. Behind each of these very important additional tasks of the curator is an understanding of intentions and a burden of responsibility towards the public, artists, and colleagues.

Perhaps the intentions of those working with either old models or new are too divergent to reconcile. In interviews about the Brooklyn Museum crowd-curated exhibition Click! on, a photoblogger describes traditional modes of curating as about "judgment and exclusion" and that it allows "only a certain group of people to have their work seen", whilst a professional curator working in an institution characterises the crowd mode of curating as allowing people to act "less as curators and more as participants" and another curator described how the the exhibition might undermine the educational aspect of a museum's mandate.

In a very direct statement on the matter, blogger Jason Kottke says of his FFFFOUND! project: "I would argue that these sites showcase a new form of art curating. The pace is faster, you don't need a physical gallery or museum, and you don't need to worry about crossing arbitrary boundaries of style or media. Nor do you need to concern yourself with questions like "is this person an artist or an outsider artist?" If a particular piece is good or compelling or noteworthy, in it goes." Were these thoughts to be developed a little further, Kottke might have found that the terms "good", "compelling", and "noteworthy" are problematic, and the use of those terms in a cavalier way indicates a lack of consideration for who both the audience and the users are, or could be. In "Here Comes Everybody" Shirky also notes that: "As with the printing press, the loss of professional control will be bad for many of society's core institutions, but it's happening anyway. The comparison with the printing press doesn't suggest we are entering a bright new future - for a hundred years after it started, the printing press broke more things than it fixed, plunging Europe into a period of intellectual and political chaos that ended only in the 1600s." (p. 73). Will the notion of flexibility espoused by evangelists such as Kottke break more things than it fixes? It will certainly stretch, if not completely break, the definitions of noteworthy, good, and compelling, as well as curating.

In these open forums for participation, the very arbitrariness and randomness that is held up a virtue also ensures that there will never be a common vision or consensus on direction and intention. While this doesn't undermine the value of online or offline filtering by the public as an educational or research vehicle, it is erroneous to imagine it could take the place of a specialist waking up every day and asking "for what and for whom?" (before putting the "u" in curator). Rather than muddying our terms, the way forward is to identify and clarify what the purpose of singular or collaborative methods of filtering are, and refine how to make these methods more useful and meaningful to the participants.
Reference links:
(1) Brooklyn Museum, Click! (Further information:
(2) FFFFOUND! Commentary:
(3) Kemper exhibition, Putting the U in Curator:
(4) Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody:
This essay was included in the latest issue of Vague Terrain, guest edited by the fine folks at CONT3XT.NET.
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IKT 2008 Congress Report

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Sunday, August 3. 2008 • Category: Musings

IKT, the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art, held its annual congress in Montreal from 22-26 May 2008.

More than 130 members attended this year's IKT Congress, the first Congress ever to be held outside Europe. The days were very full, and included visits to major museums and galleries including the Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montreal (MACM), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Dazibao, Galerie UQAM, Oboro, Vox, Galerie Clark, Fonderie Darling, and the Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery. In each case, the director and/or curator of the institution was present to give us a personal introduction and tour. The mix of institutions provided a great overview of both the diversity of provision for artists and of the available exhibition spaces for curators in Montreal: artist-run centres, museums, studios, commercial galleries, university-affiliated galleries. The Congress also travelled to Quebec City, taking in the Manif d'Art, Musée National des Beaux-arts du Québec, and production centres housed at Méduse. Optional post-Congress activities included short visits to Ottawa and Toronto.

The event was hosted by Parachute, and Chantal Pontbriand and her team ensured that every detail of the visit was perfectly planned. Coaches were arranged to transport the delegates from place to place (which ensured we kept to our packed schedule), refreshments were delicious and abundant, and questions or requests were handled expertly. The hosts thoughtfully included a customized coach tour of the city that covered significant sites in Montreal such as the Expo '67 ruins on Ile Sainte-Hélène, the Habitat buildings, Mont-Royal, and more. When the tour stopped briefly near the summit of Mont-Royal, several curators took the opportunity to get an ice cream and enjoy the view, which was one of many lovely moments.

The timing of our visit was excellent, as it coincided with the inaugural Quebec Trienniale at the Musée d'Art Contemporain (which was a key feature on the schedule), and curators who could find a scant few minutes spare in the action-packed itinerary could also zip up to the Mile-End for the Ateliers Portes Ouvertes (APO) event. Timing was also perfect to sample some of the fruits of the labours of IKT candidates and members. The Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery was hosting Vincent Bonin's exhibition about artists as cultural workers entitled Documentary Protocols II, and also Conceptual Filiations, curated by Michèle Thériault. Louise Déry curated Phenomena at Galerie UQAM, and Marc Lanctôt was part of the team behind the Quebec Triennale at MACM. It was enormously satisfying to see and support the hard work of one's colleagues during the Congress.

Interaction between local artists and the visiting curators was incorporated as an integral part of the Congress. A magnificent evening meal at the Fonderie Darling evolved into a lovely party, and also provided ample opportunity for the IKT members and guests to visit the artists who work at the Fonderie in their studios. As well, curators were able to request meetings with local artists, which were arranged by the Parachute team. These intimate meetings, which consisted of a handful of curators and the artist, were a terrific way for the Congress attendees to delve a little deeper and learn more about specific artists that piqued their interest.

A conference on art and economy was led by Mirjam Westen and included contributions from Jo-Anne Kane, Nina Montmann and Louise Neri. This short conference addressed some of the salient issues involved in the intersection of the fine art world and commercial concerns. A heated question and answer period followed, and the presentations sparked conversations throughout the rest of the Congress.

At the General Assembly, the board presented the financial situation of the past year and decisions were made regarding future Congress locations. It was decided that Congress will be hosted in 2010 by Athens, and in 2011 by Luxembourg and Metz. At last year's Congress, it decided that the 2009 Congress will be held in Helsinki and Tallinn. The board also issued a general request to assist in gathering documentation and information about the early years of the IKT association with a view to creating an IKT archive. The board intends to develop the archive into a significant resource and research tool, documenting nearly forty years of history.

The hospitality and collegiality on offer at the 2008 IKT Congress was truly exemplar, and everyone very much looks forward to Helsinki and Tallinn in 2009. If you have materials to contribute to the IKT archive, particularly of the early years of the association, please get in touch with IKT through the "contact" page on their website.

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Censorship & Dismissal

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Saturday, January 5. 2008 • Category: Musings

Astria Suparak, a US-based curator, noted in a recent public letter that her role as a "citizen and as a curator is to enrich the communities in which I live and work, through engaging, exciting, and relevant creative work." I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly, and I'd also add that taking these actions involves an intimate knowledge of the context that one occupies and a willingness to take calculated risks. It should also be further noted that very often, curators do not work independently, and therefore institutions that employ curators are bound to support these creative risks if they truly desire to engage in a dynamic discourse around contemporary art.

Suparak was the Director of the Warehouse Gallery at Syracuse University, until she was dismissed from her post on September 30, 2007. Her supervisor, Jeffrey Hoone, Executive Director of the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers (CMAC), said the reason for her dismissal was that the gallery was being "restructured".

According to the New York Times:
Carole Brzozowski, the dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University, said the content of gallery shows organized by Ms. Suparak had nothing to do with her dismissal. But people in the arts at Syracuse, including university art teachers, asserted that the ouster was related to risk-taking or innovative exhibitions she organized since becoming the director last year.

Ms. Suparak said of Mr. Hoone: "My aesthetic is very different from his. I'm interested in street art, riot grrl and D.I.Y. aesthetics." A sign at the entrance to the gallery's current show, "Come On: Desire Under the Female Gaze," reads, "This exhibition contains work generally intended for mature audiences." Ms. Suparak said it was posted at Mr. Hoone's behest.

The case of Ms. Suparak's dismissal posits very serious questions vis à vis some basic aspirations and assumptions about creative curatorial practice. As an example, in a recent interview with curator Sarah Cook, the interviewer asks (and I'm paraphrasing quite a bit) about what conditions would be considered nurturing for a curator. (The interviewer, Régine Debatty, asks specifically: "What are the conditions required to achieve "upstart media bliss"?") Ms. Cook responds: "Challenging the system - be it the art system, the museum, or the format of the exhibition - and not being afraid to take a risk (generally being an upstart). At the same time, remembering to take care of the artist and the work, take care of other people and your ethics. Creating situations for contemplation and reflection (bliss doesn't have to be monumental, it might only last a minute, but a minute worth remembering)."

I think that this quotation from Ms. Cook says it best - what better way to achieve bliss than to challenge the system, take risks, and yet simultaneously remain steadfast to your standards. In an institution where the curator has to answer to management, it is imperative that management support the sort of calculated, intelligent risks a professional curator would make. If Ms. Suparak's case is as it seems based on the available evidence, it appears that there was a failure in this relationship - this commitment to producing catalytic moments and entry points for dialogue in contemporary art, by making moves that are not always "safe". These failures are worrying, as they don't bode well for the continued enrichment of cultural experience - which means everyone, not just the curators involved, loses out.
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Open Source Curating

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Saturday, October 20. 2007 • Category: Musings

I've noted of late that the term "open source" gets bandied about quite a bit, not just in technology-related industries, but also increasingly in the art world. To be sure, some systems in the art world, including curatorial processes, are very open and transparent. Is it stretching it a bit, however, to relate this transparency and receptivity in the art world to the "open source" movement, a crusade mostly associated with software that you can download for free and possibly manipulate before sharing your evolution of the product with others?

Open source (appropriately, as defined by Wikipedia) " a set of principles and practices that promote access to the design and production of goods and knowledge. The term is most commonly applied to the source code of software that is available to the general public with relaxed or non-existent intellectual property restrictions. This allows users to create software content through incremental individual effort or through collaboration."

OK, so that's our basic definition. The Wikipedia article goes on to state: "The open source model of operation can be extended to open source culture in decision making, which allows concurrent input of different agendas, approaches and priorities, in contrast with more centralized models of development [...] ." If we agree with this, that does seem to answer our question about the use of the term - it can be applied as a model to nearly anything. What, then, have been the interesting examples of late that cause me to go trawling on Wikipedia for definitions of open source? Let's look at them one by one:

Continue reading "Open Source Curating"

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Report on the curatorial panel at DEAF

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Monday, May 7. 2007 • Category: Musings

Recently I was the invited respondent to GLOBAL BENDING: Opening Creative Space - Rooting Curatorial Media Practice in China panel at the Dutch Electronic Art Festival. This panel was expansive in scope and ambitiously attempted to cover many topics.

After a brief introduction from moderator Li Zhenhua, we heard from Zhang Ga, proposing that a top-down strategy is a sensible one to utilise in the current climate in China. Zhang Ga noticed that many Chinese educational institutions were employing outmoded notions of what was "new media" or "digital", relying on digital photography and video to carry their programmes. He stressed the importance of professionalisation, and setting up a high-level discourse in the field to advance practice. He noted that China lacks a culture of "tinkerers" - practitioners hacking in their garages. With this in mind, and also acknowledging that government initiatives are focusing on digital applications in entertainment rather than art, the role of higher education becomes incredibly important.

Next, Yao Bin described the DIY process by which the community built an art space, using simple materials. He rhymed off a very impressive list of embassies and consulates that he had worked with to present work in the space. He also spoke about a sound art exchange project that he did with Taiwanese artists, something that might be seen as a bit of a political hot potato.

Ellen Pau spoke next, mostly referring to art as cultural practices, not as processes that necessarily result in objects. She described several projects that took place outside the white cube, including the "Community Museum Project", which allowed indigenous creativity to flourish. She also noted the planned transformation of West Kowloon in Hong Kong into a new "cultural quarter".

Wei Zhang from Vitamin Creative Space spoke about several projects, though the one that intrigued me the most was "China Tracy", a project by Cao Fei that involved use of a Second Life avatar for art purposes.

Davide Quadrio, Director of Biz Art in Shanghai, then spoke very critically about the challenges facing curators in China. He indicated that there was a lack of a truly critical approach, and also that there was a lack of sustainable development for significant projects. He stated that the problem of economical and cultural independence was still one to be solved.

I began my response by structuring it into a few phases: "Approaches and Strategies", "Policies and Politics", and "Curatorial Concerns". Beginning with approaches and strategies, I noted that a top-down versus botton-up approach will help you to meet in the middle, and that the middle space is one that curators often occupy, as negotiators between artists and institutions. Zhang Ga's work setting a foundation in terms of higher education seems very critical to future success, bringing things up to date through institutions in a top-down way that is innovative and essential. I wondered if it might be innovative in an economic sense as well, since positioning art practice as research in an academic context might be one way to fundraise for the arts.

Approaching culture from the angle of urban culture is something that came up in several presentations - Ellen Pau telling the audience about the street as museum, Zhang Ga speaking of the difficulties with public art, and Yao Bin describing the symposium of urban culture that he set up in his space. I noted that whilst having complete autonomy to install public art at will is unlikely anywhere, digital artists and curators are especially well-positioned to create a "virtual layer" of information over the city. Also the talk of new cultural quarters was interesting - West Kowloon and other places - since surely there are funds to be tapped there, and perhaps curators can take their place at the negotiation table when these arrangements are being made. Not forgetting, of course, that a whole other sort of "public space" that desperately needs a "cultural quarter" is opening up - Second Life - so curatorial interest in it, and projects like "China Tracy" are very welcome additions to this developing scene.

In "Policy and Politics", I mused on whether the "creative industry" policy being pushed by the government couldn't also be utilised by curators. There is no public funding for art in China (though other governments seem willing to step in, as Yao Bin's long list of participating embassies proved), but getting art "sneaked in" the back door under the category of research and development, product testing, et cetera, might be a way of manipulating this strategy. Yao Bin's work with Taiwanese artists highlighted the other, perhaps polar opposite of art-as-research tendency, that of art as an active instrument for creating political goodwill.

It's a delicate dance with government policies, not just in China but worldwide, though some announcements in China keep people on their toes - such as the revelation from Ellen that the public broadcaster in Hong Kong might be destroyed and re-created. These rumours, proposals, and inevitably, final decisions, end up affecting artists and curators either directly or indirectly by creating a sense of uncertainty that Davide Quadrio summed up nicely as "unsustainable sustainable".

In terms of curatorial concerns, I observed that curators in China are genuinely caught in the middle, negotiating between artist, institution, sponsors, and government. In addition, there is the pressure of making a big impression - Ellen Pau spoke of audiences and supporters both wanting "fireworks", meaning, something that is spectacular and that lives in the moment, freeing cultural actors from bearing the burden of future maintenance, but also crippling sustained dialogue. In the absence of funding and in the era of the "unsustainable sustainable", what options remain? Can curators gain influence and a foothold into funding sources through an academic or political context, or is that too great a compromise? What can be done to induce a tinkering culture, a culture which could become essential to feeding the Chinese media arts scene? Can the rise of the "creative industries" and "cultural quarters" be exploited to insert a curatorial agenda? One thing that I was certain of, walking away from this panel, was that the people on it were leading in decoding the answers to these difficult questions.
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What Do Curators Want?

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Saturday, April 21. 2007 • Category: Musings

"What Do Curators Want?" was the name of an event held recently at Side Street Projects (an art centre in Pasadena, California, USA) featuring Caryn Coleman, editor of and owner of sixspace.

The promotional blurb stated:
If you go about this the wrong way, you can kill your career before it even happens. So, how do you approach curators without shooting yourself in the foot? Caryn Coleman, owner of sixspace and editor of, will give you some practical advice in this free, public presentation...

They have also put Caryn's notes online, which are available in PDF format.

I was drawn to read about this event for several reasons, not the least of which was wondering how an expansive question such as "What do curators want?" would be answered. Caryn's excellent tips for artists will be very useful to those who are pursuing a relationship with a commercial gallery. It's good to see that the question was focused to cater to the needs of the local audience and the expertise of the speaker.

It did cause me to wonder what the PDF tip sheets would look like for curators with other concerns. What are the relevant parameters between artists and curators when in contexts such as the museum, the non-profit gallery, or festivals?
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