Views on contemporary art curating

Pick 'N Mix - July 2008

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Thursday, July 3. 2008 • Category: Pick 'N Mix
Welcome to the July edition of Pick 'N Mix, my monthly annotated list of things that caught my eye over the course of the previous month. Check it out:

- A new Conversations e-book has been released! Download it now.

This edition of Conversations is with Karen Gaskill, the Director and Curator of Interval, and a Researcher at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) in Liverpool. She is also currently completing her practice-based PhD in Digital Media and Social Practice at the Digital Research Unit, The University of Huddersfield. The interview with Karen covered topics ranging from getting outside of the white cube to the expanding role of the audience.

- I recently discovered a blog called "Sideshows", written by Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy. Recently Ms Chong Cuy has been publishing some really interesting interviews with young curators in China and Hong Kong. Recent examples include an interview with Kate Fowle, International Curator at the Ullens Centre in Beijing, wherein the notion of what "international" practice is today is discussed, and the second interview in the series is with Zoe Butt, Director of International Programs at Long March Project in Beijing, China. Well worth a read!

- Ms Chong Cuy, author of Sideshows, asked Kate Fowle to elaborate a bit more on the meaning of her title of "International Curator". Similarly, in this article we find founding film curator of University of California San Diego's ArtPower!, Rebecca Webb, discussing the difficulty of a title like "Film Curator". "A lot of people – when I'm here, anyway – say, 'Oh, do you work in a library or something?'" Ms Webb says. As curators, we all know titles have power and meaning, and this is usually why it is important professionally to seek appropriate credit for the work you have done. These specialist titles that were created for Ms Fowle and Ms Webb are meant to indicate an area of expertise, however, it is clear that it remains confusing for some people (sometimes because they don't understand what curators do in the first place, other times because the notion behind the specialism is so new?). Nomenclature is no small thing. I'll simply wonder aloud here: what can be done to indicate specialisation without inducing confusion?

- CultureGrrl (among other outlets) reported on the "leave" taken by Curator and Deputy Director David Franklin of the National Galleries of Canada. For me, this news story raised several ethical questions. Among all of the very obvious questions around the obligations of the gallery to its employees and to its public, the next issue that arose for me was of Mr Franklin's privacy. Curator at the National Galleries of Canada is a prominent position, to be sure, but did Mr Franklin ever imagine that his decision to take extended leave (or to effectively leave his post) would be fodder for the national and international press? I'm not sure that he did. Whatever his reasons, he isn't appealing to the press to make a case against his employer -- yet -- so perhaps he should be left alone, and we should presume his colleagues are capable of continuing his work, until we hear a statement from Mr Franklin himself. Or do any readers here think otherwise?
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Pick 'N Mix - December 2007

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Saturday, December 1. 2007
It's the first of the month, which means it's time again for Pick 'N Mix, my monthly annotated list of interesting tidbits that have captured my attention recently - this month, it seems to be interviews, interviews, interviews!
  • The Uncuratorial Curator is a recent interview on with Massimiliano Gioni, Director of Special Exhibitions at the New Museum in New York. In the interview, Gioni discusses the unique possibilities at the New Museum, his friendship with controversial Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, and much more. Speaking about future plans for his work at the New Museum, Gioni says: "...the museum itself is designed to become a place where the memory and the presence of the street is kept and preserved. [...] We want to do shows that are immersive. You come to an exhibition and the whole exhibition is an experience. It feels a little like being in the head of an artist."

  • David Garcia recently posted an interview with Chinese artist Lin Yilin and some commentary to the nettime mailing list. The post and the responses it generated are excellent and well worth a read. Early on in his post, Garcia notes the role of the Western curator in the Chinese art boom:
    Most of this kind of support for Chinese experimental art seems to come from the western curators. In part this is because a significant number of Chinese artists have chosen to speak our 'language', by which I mean they have adopted the lexicon of western contemporary art practice and used it to explore and to navigate their own experiences of rapid modernisation. The benefits of this kind of political 'economy' flows in both directions; the language of contemporary art practice seems fit for the purpose of navigating the extreme volatility of current Chinese experience and our tired cultural vocabularies are enlivened and transformed by their collision with a new context.

  • And last but not least, a good interview with Ex-Whitney curator Larry Rinder. Speaking about this new role as a college dean, Rinder says: "As a curator, you're generally dealing with things that are already made -- artifacts, works of art -- and trying to puzzle through what they mean and how to illuminate them through writing and juxtaposition. It's a reflective practice. Whereas working in an art school is a more productive activity -- catalyzing information and giving artists the tools and the provocations they need to move forward."

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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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Curating panel at DEAF 07

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Tuesday, April 10. 2007 • Category: Announcements
The eighth Dutch Electronic Art Festival (DEAF) opens today in Rotterdam. One of the most important international art and technology festivals, DEAF is organized every two years by V2_, Institute for the Unstable Media. This is a special year, as V2_ is also celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary during DEAF07 with a night of music and performances at Staal in Rotterdam on Saturday, April 14. The theme this year is Interact or Die!

Of special interest to curators is the GLOBAL BENDING: Opening Creative Space - Rooting Curatorial Media Practice in China panel discussion that will take place on Friday, 13 April, from 14.00 - 16.30. I am an invited respondent to this panel and look forward to engaging with the panelists. If you are unable to make it to Rotterdam, you can watch live streams for many of the events, including this panel on curating.

Download the full DEAF 07 programme (PDF file) here, read more about how to tune into the live streams here, and follow along on the DEAF 07 blog here.
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