The way that helps curators to keep dialoguing with artists during the process
Feb. 20, 2014
Today by chance of making a proposal for Pioneer Works, I had the following reflection on the redefinition of the role, the position and the responsibilities of curators in process based art projects:
“There is no way for curators to follow step by step such a long and complex process. Here, we loose our position in traditional art world, a single person dominant power that we used to possess doesn’t function anymore. In such a process, artists and their collaborators take over the pro-active attitude, skip deliberately curators in the showcase of their works, become the absolute authors and owners of exhibitions.
How to keep the dialogue going between curators and artists? What is the best way for curators to communicate with artists, which allows them to save the minimum of their ‘power’ being contributor of the projects? And in the end, what can curators really contribute in such process based projects? In a different way to put it: is there a new model for them to curate the process based projects?”
Before trying to find the answers to the above-mentioned questions, I need to note down the strategy that I am currently applying on Curating Process to maintain my normal communication with the participating artists. The strategy consists of a package of programs that I developed and keep using repetitively. It seems to me working just fine until now.
Regular studio visits, recorded conversations, follow up with emails and phone calls
The studio visit should be the most conventional also the most time consuming part in the entire program. The advantage in return: it provides the curators rich information from the artist and works in an extremely efficient way.
Among the five artists in collaboration, Chico MacMurtrie is the first also the most frequently visited. During two weeks, I returned at least five times to his studio the Robotic Church, also to the Pioneer Works where he exhibited Crysalis and other large scale installations, with or without other friends or professionals’ company. I recorded every meaningful conversation between me and Luise, his wife also the project manager of his studio, made a pdf containing my curatorial ideas and a big part of drawings that Luise showed me in his studio and from his computer. I kept (I still do) in touch with Luise with phone calls and emails, keep her posted every single move I made in my research and seek for partners. We adjust with each other through our conversations on the ideas that suit our common goals, trying to always keep the best strategy for the presentation of our project.
“Our” project instead of “my” project, this is actually what I felt from every artist I am collaborating with in my own process as a curator. And this is exactly what I was expecting from the artists: anticipation, contribution, and sharing. In the words of Steven Sacks the owner of bitforms gallery in New York: we are “collaborators” of our artists, but not their “boss”. I will come back to Steve and his gallery with another topic later in this article.
Every artist has his/her preferable way to communicate with curators. Among the artists in Curating Process, Ursula Endlicher is the most productive phone dialoguer. She loves to communicate with live voice, which is rare in our time when everybody gets used to mobile texts and emails. After two times studio visits, Ursula and I started calling each other once a week for the project updates. Besides our reports on each other’s work as artist and curator, we also exchange our ideas on the institutions, galleries, and alternative spaces, help each other to understand their policies, in order to find our common direction for the next move.
Phone communication also works well with Stephanie Rothenberg who, for the most of time, stays in Buffalo. Our communications are sometime based on mobile, sometimes through Skype. We’ve set up once a three persons Skype conference with Ursula to discuss my proposal for Smack Mellon Foundation, where I planned a duo show for them. Our phone conversations usually are preceded or followed by email communications, in which we develop our ideas in detail.
My communication with LoVid should be the most intense, impact and stressful among all. This may be due to the strong personalities of the artists. In the case of LoVid, the two in the couple “unfortunately” both have strong characters. My first studio visit was done with Tali, who received me in a noisy cafe next to her show at Smack Mellon. We talked about my curatorial concept and how I wanted to set up the show; she showed me on my laptop her several websites so I could choose the work that fit my project. On the meanwhile, she had to keep an eye on her nanny and her youngest kid who were constantly running around, making noise to distract her from our conversation. I had to therefore put a lot of energy to keep her focus on me and my project, and the one and a half hour communication between us seemed to me super productive due to the extremely distractive environment. We truly had a lot done in that cafe.
The second studio visit was still with Tali but at a much quieter place, her home. Like the first time, we went to the subject without any detour. Within one and a half hour we finished our analysis on curatorial strategy, works to exhibit, and the potential venues to promote my project. She followed up with numerous emails once I finished the visit, with the contacts of all eventual institutions and organisations in partnership. I never encountered any other artist as generous as Tali, always ready to contribute with full energy, intelligence and high efficiency. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, she has some special skills to conduct both her projects and her curators, but only for good.
Comparing to the above-mentioned four artists, John F.Simon is the less communicated one in Curating Process. In a very honest way to say: I never felt the need to keep communicating with John as much as the others. Our key conversation happened a couple of months ago, during the lunch of LISA conference. During a half hour, I briefly explained my intention of organising Curating Process to John who was sitting next to me. All what he did was listening, and showing his interest to the project. By that time, I was a total stranger to him, and I had neither detailed plan nor artists in my project.
John’s Divination Drawings is extremely powerful and straightforward. The work doesn’t require huge effort to understand, but remains curators’ strong interest with the way it’s been made. It’s almost impossible for curators to find an appropriate and meaningful way to interpret these drawings, as the process is based on such a long, pertinent and intense meditation practice that no curatorial model can faithfully materialise the process. Curators can brainstorm thousand themes to re-interpret these works, but the artist’s years practice is beyond the capacity of representation of any exhibition. Facing the entire body of these drawings is similar to assisting a ritual ceremony. How can you curate a ritual ceremony? In this sense, John’s work is the simplest to understand, but the most difficult to curate. And the artist doesn’t need to spend any time nor energy to make curators to seize the key point. This might be the reason that I never felt the need to have a deep communication with John. All has been told on my first sight on his drawings.
Artists’ book and writings
I keep tracking the record of my own curatorial process by setting up an Artists’ book, and writing down regularly the new happenings on the project. The Artists’ book helps me to remember how wide my seeking for partner is going; the writing contains all little or big evolutions in the project, especially those events, incidents, experiences, fragments relating to my research on curatorial methodology. At the same time my artists go through their process of creating, I’m also making my path as a collaborator of their projects. Here I’d like to return to bitforms gallery and its owner, Steven Sacks, with the topic of the role of gallerists in media artists’ world.
My first conversation with Steven Sacks happened at the end of 2013, in my first visit to his office on the top of his gallery space in Chelsea. Today when I re-listened to the recorded conversation, I realised that our first communication was quite intriguing, and successful, in the way that the ideas, concepts, core value that we shared in the conversation were literally the same. The key word – “collaborator” – didn’t come out from this conversation, but from one of the panel discussions that he assisted at a previous edition of Art Basel that I found online. It seems humble for a gallerist to position himself as the collaborator of the artists he’s producing and managing, although we all know that this is the truth. In relation to the project I’m setting up today, “collaborator” appears to me a good position as well.
Yes, we collaborate with artists, in the similar way they collaborate with technologists and scientists. In our time, it’s about sharing, and collaborating, in no matter what field we are practicing our activities. Working as a curator, the best way to keep dialoguing with artists is no more about trying to manage them, but to be their partner. This is also the way for curators and artists to truly understand each other, which is the foundation for all successful projects.