In our first class Installation class session, we were asked to create an installation using the available materials sitting around in the graduate studios area on the fourth floor of MassArt’s Tower building. We could go outside to collect material for our installations, but we could not purchase supplies. We were challenged to conceptualize, gather materials, and create a site specific installation within approximately two hours.

While thinking quickly(!) about what I might create, I recalled an experience I had many years ago when I lived in Holyoke, Massachusetts. I used to regularly walk a sidewalk path alongside a hip-height rock wall. One day I noticed a small box tucked inside one of the concrete spaces where there had once been a large rock.  The box was folded Origami style out of lined notebook paper. I passed by that box day after day for over a week.  It remained undisturbed. Perhaps no one else had noticed it. I wondered if it was a secret message to a particular passerby. Was there something written on the lines folded inside?  Should I leave it alone out of respect to a private message meant for someone I did not know or should I give in to my compulsion to remove it from its nook, unfold it and see what was inside? These questions came to mind each day I walked by.  Finally, curiosity took over the best of reasons to leave it alone. I removed it from its space and carefully unfolded the crisp edges.  Inside, well, there was nothing except pale blue lines on paper and the rough-torn edge from where the sheet had been ripped from a spiral notebook. I was just as delighted to discover no words scrawled inside as I had been at the beginning of my discovery.  Running my fingers along the torn edge, I imagined the potentiality of the box’s meaning.

With this experience in mind, I created a sculptural sketch that was incorporated into a hole and the seam of the wall. My materials were mud made out of water and soil from Evans Way Park, wig hair, and three small green-leafed plants that had been trying to grow at the edge of the road.  After sharing with my fellow students my experience of discovering the un-discovered folded paper box, I asked them the  following questions: Which direction will your intrigue take you?  Will you leave it to see what happens over time or will you feel compelled remove the drying mud to discover what lies beneath the surface?

One student (Monica Mitchell) poked away small pieces of the mud.  No one else wanted to disturb it.  It was mutually agreed upon to leave the installation in place to see what might occur over  time.

Installation__Summer In-Residence 2013

Spontaneity and Site

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“I provide a context for the work that’s shown, through thematic structures, through formal structures, etc.”

__ Paul Couillard, Artist and Curator

      After reading many interviews with curators describing how they approach producing an exhibition and hearing one curator speak about the act of curating, I began to question how much of the curator’s own voice is reflected in an exhibition especially in the context of displaying the works of multiple artists. Aside from institutional mandates and the artists being consulted about context (perhaps), it seems that a curator has a considerable amount of control concerning the overall point of view in which artworks are displayed. As we all know context is vital when more than one part is brought together in the creation of a whole, not to mention the content of each piece in an exhibition. In curatorial practice context and content are important considerations throughout every step of generating an art exhibition. Practice and discipline come into play in order for a curator to withhold his or her personal voice or to add it as another, oftentimes unknown to the public, element of an exhibition. But are they always successful?

“Define your own identity. Don’t confuse your desire to be on everybody’s mind with the desire of what moves you deep down.”

__Jean-Christophe Ammann, Author, Art Historian, and Curator, “Some Suggestions for Beginning Curators”, Words of Wisdom: A Vade Mecum on Contemporary Art.

Graduate Seminar 1__Summer In-Residence 2013

Curating

          Admittedly, I am a skeptic who operates under the self-assigned guise of the hopeful who sometimes gets the reward. To some this statement might be construed as a negative, when in reality it holds so much promise.  I’ll get to that soon

In my quest to discover something new and exciting about curating, I visited web page after web page after web page. My Google search engine steamed with searches like, “democracy and curation”, ‘biennial culture and curator”, “curatorial politics”, “institutional curation”, “independent curatorial practices”, “contemporary curating”, “cooperative curating”, “online curation”, “sheer curation”, “digital data object curation”, “channelisation”, “responsibility and curation”, “curating pleasure”, “curating memory”,  “curating about forgetting”, to name some of them in all of their divertive glory. I came away from these types of intense searches for understanding feeling, at once, satisfied to be immersed inside a new and distinct language and stunned at how deep the subject actually is. As an aside, but no less important, I was constantly reminded just as I am about the immensity of art in the world, how it is that we could possibly explore every single angle of any subject in a lifetime. But this kind of thinking is nothing new. Right?

What was new to me is that there is an entire culture out there that is curating. Curators take themselves very, very seriously. They buy into the hyper-academic like a good acquisition, the narrowed perspective that cannot be denounced from any culture—even a progressive one, and a commonly shared language that relies upon language itself. I discovered numerous discussions about the word “curate” as a verb as an indicator of an enlightened shift from thinking about a curator’s function as custodians of objects to professional producers of meaning.[1]

Professional curators believe in their modes of practice as can be attested to on one of many websites devoted to curatorial thought and practice like Curators in Context, which is a Canadian based organization that posts videos and transcriptions of talks given by participants.[2] The talks have intriguing titles such as, ‘The Generative Curatorial Gesture”, “Performing the Curator: Staging Unstable Relations”, and “Self-Triangulation: Public Positions Guided by Personal Dialectics”. There was even one talk titled, “Untitled” and another called, “Curators are So Over”.  Being a closet wordsmith of phrases the titles got me jazzed and sucked me into the chasm of tangent Internet experience for a few more hours.  The talks were just as interesting and exploratory, albeit a somewhat dry video watching experience.

As with any active culture, personalities are made apparent not only through professional practice, but also through writing as we discovered between Robert Storr’s essay and the excerpt from Words of Wisdom: A Curator’s Vade Mecum on Contemporary Art. While he knows his stuff, to me, Storr tends to come across as a rules lawyer. Amman’s ‘book of hours’ style was easily attainable to the point of being affirmational. Ever the doubting-Thomas, I had to remind myself that it takes a long time to get to simple as a favorite undergraduate professor had once said to me. It takes a lifetime of practice to be so concise and a life dedicated to learning curation to want to understand what lies in-between the lines of those lessons. And too, being a person who is most charged by the rebels, I immediately found kinship in Rirkrit Tiravanija’s dedication to his art/curatorial practice. Never ceasing. Always looking forward. Re-visiting ideas under the auspices of chances at equality and reverence for all that art can be in a global sense.  To find more information about the troubling aspects of the article was a tall order in my web browsing experiences. Nothing of substance was discovered leaving me hopeful that more information will come out in the years to come.  Conversely to that hope, I continued feeling a deep frustration that the world we live in is an uncomfortably entangled political place.

I can imagine that by now, those of you who are reading this musing might be wondering about the reward I mentioned exactly 633 words ago.  Well, it is the discovery of two things in a matter of a 24-hour cycle: an essay written by a Canadian artist/curator, Philip Monk and an uncannily positive critique with Gerry Bergstein. In my quest to rail through the density of memory and affect theory in an effort to narrow my focus, one, I “get” Monk’s essay about curating.  The title itself speaks to a certain state of being that I can relate to, “A Way of Curating, or, New Paths to Curating—Though for Me Alone—But Who Knows Who Leads and Who Follows—and to What End—Except That the Who or What Leading and Following in the End Will Be This Writing”.[3] Of course at this point in the juncture laughing is a great idea. I did. Two, regarding Gerry Bergstein, he is the third person who has ‘read’ my work for what it is and was unabashed in his responses to it. For that I remain grateful and suddenly know, at least for the next few days until it changes, that an iron rod and the Earth are useful supports. He fueled my thinking and without realizing it gave me a dare. Eureka!


[1] Bank, Darryl. (2008) “Curate”. Curators in Context: Art Curators Talk About Curating. http://curatorsincontext.wikispaces.com/Curate. 15 July 2013.

[2] Curators in Context: Art Curators Talk About Curating. http://curatorsincontext.ca/en/. 15 July 2013.

[3] Monk, Philip. (2005) A Way of Curating, or, New Paths to Curating—Though for Me Alone—But Who Knows Who Leads and Who Follows—and to What End—Except That the Who or What Leading and Following in the End Will Be This Writing”. Curators in Context: Art Curators Talk About Curating. http://curatorsincontext.ca/transcripts/monk_banff.pdf. 16 July 2013.

Readings About Curating:

  • Ammann, Jean-Christophe.  “Some Suggestions for Beginning Curators”, Words of Wisdom: A Curator’s Vade Mecum on Contemporary Art. New York: Independent Curators International, 2001. Print.
  • Thea, Carolee. “Rirkrit Tiravanija: Interview 2007.  On Curating: Interviews with Ten International Curators. New York, NY: D.A.P./Distributed Art, 2009. Print.
  • Storr, Robert. “Show and Tell”.  Ed. Paula Marincola. What Makes a Great Exhibition? Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, Philadelphia Center for Arts and Heritage, 2006. Print.
 
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