Bezoek Schloss Ringenberg

To curate, or
not to curate
That is the question

Gastatelier Leo XIII meets Schloss Ringenberg
November 3rd, 2016

To present a rainforest inside a white cube is impossible. A rainforest is the radical other of a white cube: the opposite of culture, the opposite of an exhibit, the contrary of scale, the opposite of legibility, the opposite of ideology, order without subject matter - or rather, without any subject matter other than life itself. [1]

In March 2015 Maaike Lauwaert published a research report about small art initiatives. [2] A lot of these organisations are not very well known. Yet the importance of such a heterogeneous group of initiatives is of estimable value to the art field as a whole. Nearly everyone involved in these initiatives is an artist and considers it to be part of their practice. Their approach to the realisation of their artwork is equal to the way they run their initiative: through the same attitude and method. These ‘artist run spaces’ abstract themselves from the foremost powerful institutions, as galleries and museums. Instead, they are close to the reality of the artist participating in the program and their vitality is indispensable to change and innovation: they provide room for experiment, which is crucial to the development of young and established artists.

Although these places are responsible for a significant part in the development of new exhibition concepts and models, they prefer not to be referred to as ‘curators’. [3] In fact, there’s a fundamental difference between the artist method and the curatorial method. A curator’s approach to art mainly comes from a theoretical point of view. The selection of artists, artworks and cohesion within the exhibition or program is inclined to be based on the context of the work, rather than the work in itself. The artist perceives the work more closely, through visual perception and existential understanding.

So what type of engagement are we after?

A curator is in the position of authority, yet their job isn’t to explicate art. To create further propositions for it, they have to accumulate new knowledge. One approach in doing so is through the method of drifting: assimilating unexpected situations, objects, subjects and environment, by experience and conversation. When working with an artist, instead of perceiving their work and materials first, the strategy is to get into the artist’s head and take notice of their practice: what is their research about, what are they processing? Through the process of dialogue perception and understanding evolve and are again questioned: articulation is important, but there should be a place for disarticulation that resists art as information. The curator’s part in the conversation is to un-map information. It is a polyphony that attempts to creatively confound itself - like the rainforest - to defy containment.

Art makes the familiar strange, inverting and working against habits. It keeps questions in circulation and represents power by visualising the unseen. It’s important to put oneself in different situations, to literally look at issues from a different position. And so, there is a performative way of perceiving art: people moving around objects and subjects through spaces. The grammar of an installation forces the body into particular habits and gestures. The job of a curator is to choreograph movement and incubate the right conditions for this to happen. This way, an exhibition should induce a mini-crisis in every spectator. It is a ‘constellation’ of special and material events that connect the present to the past. Every time a visitor comes back to the exhibition space, there must be a different proposition, a different way of moving through the same space. It is through the process of framing and re-reading that ideas come to light and new objects start sticking to our metaphorical Velcro. [4]

The question of how to work or how to behave is one that lies at the root of all of our decisions. To rehearse a common truism: it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it - it’s not just what the artists or curators do, but how they behave when they do it. Beyond the different styles, techniques, or themes that characterise their work, are the different codes of conduct that guide the way they act or behave. The same could be said of museums or art institutions: running alongside the question of what they are showing, is the question of how they are behaving. [5]

Notes

1 Raphael Montañez Ortiz, quoted by Chus Martinez, The Octopus in Love, e-flux Journal #55, May 2014
2 Maaike Lauwaert, Onderzoek naar kleine kunstinitiatieven, March 2015
3 Martijn Lucas Smit, manifestatie [Ki], May 2013 
4 George Vasey, Dilettantes Smothered in Velcro (Notes on Curatorial Drift), Relief Journal 2: Drift, December 2014
5 Anthony Huberman, Take Care, 2011