Curating Art after New Media – Professional Development Course
23-29 February 2020, Central London This intensive week-long course is aimed at curators, exhibition organisers, educators and others working with art now. It critically examines how curating can best match contemporary art practices. Further details contact email@example.com.
What a whirlwind week it has been. Much to think about, and as I while away my time at Heathrow ahead of my flight back to the States, I thought I would take this time to dig a bit into a reflection on the week and its highlights (for me), which will affect my curatorial practice in the short + long-term at the Binghamton University Art Museum.
We began the week with some quick presentations on our work as it relates to the course, and while my own curatorial work has not touched on new media (and beyond) too much, I have worked in areas adjacent. You can see the highlights here (hopefully it will load better than it did at Ping Pong!) Ahead of these presentations, I appreciated the reading selections Beryl gave us. For a new media+ neophyte, it was helpful to get my sea legs about definitions and frameworks: new media is about process rather than object, using verbs of behavior instead of nouns of media. New media is “art that is made using electronic media technology and that displays any or all three of the behaviors of interactivity, connectivity, computability in any combination.” (Beryl Graham + Sarah Cook’s definition in Rethinking Curating, building off the work of Steve Dietz) I also appreciated the framing device of Graham + Cook’s chapter on “Participative Systems,” reminding the curator that they are not placing an object, but “providing a platform for participation according to an artist’s blueprint,” and that curators “need to understand how platforms work,” “trust the artist and audience,” and “gain critical vocabulary.” I took these reminders to heart as I dug into the week ahead.
Our conversations with Sarah Cook about her work on the Somerset House’s exhibition 24/7 easily stands out as one of the highlights of the week. The exhibition was standout, but what made it even more memorable was Cook’s reflections on the process of curating, discussing her deliberate foregrounding of the five zones of the exhibition in the first gallery (giving the viewer an overview as they dig into detail through the rest of the exhibition); working with a theater lighting designer to create thematic difference and visitor experience through light: sunset, surveillance, sunrise, etc.; and the use of intentional spaces of respite along the way.
Another standout was the arebyte Gallery, who focuses their exhibition programming on digital and new media technology. Our conversations in the wrap-up helped me frame why they were such an interesting organization: the fluidity embedded into their organization, as well as the ways that their mission and funding model are built into their exhibition space. Working with developers, the organization provides about 100 studios for artists, scattered around London. There is uncertainty built into the model, as studios are only available for the time between purchase and development, but the model provides space for artists at subsidized rates ahead of development, and the organization utilizes the incoming (subsidized) rents to ensure an exhibition cycle of about 7 per year (along with other collaborative funding). It is a way for artists to find ways to work in the neoliberal age. The current work on view, Helen Knowles’ Trickle Down, a New Vertical Sovereignty (2019) is a whip-smart examination of the current finance system and wealth disparity through (not about) block chain. The installation is sharp, thinking deeply about how to engage with screen-based works that don’t treat them like an analog two-dimensional work.
I deeply appreciated our visit to the Wellcome Collection. Both James and Danny were thoughtful and honest about their evolving thinking on the collection and the digital interventions around it. James, for example, engaged in a dialogue with the group about the permanent collection display of Medicine Man, and the Victorian, colonialist, and greedy impetus behind the collecting practices of Henry Wellcome. He spoke about the ways that the Collection is revising the display, not through the eyes of Henry Wellcome, but instead tethering their curatorial practice to new research in partnerships outside of the building, and to personal connection to the materials. The project has an intentional 5-year lead-in, and in the interim the gallery the gallery will function as a flexible space for intervention. This tether to the personal was also relevant in the recent projects lead by Danny as part of the digital strategy for the Collection, especially through its Stories project, a visually-led zine (in digital and now analog form) that brings in personal works that spin off/are adjacent to the collection.
An unexpected benefit of the project was the ways that the visits helped shape my evolving thinking on the ways that we work continue to make inroads in creating a shared authority at BUAM, specifically through the projects led by Tate Britain and the Science Gallery. A subgroup of the Tate Collective, a large group of young folks between the ages of 15-25, the Tate Britain Lates Research Group programs the Lates program, a gathering space for experimentation and idea collaboration built on a festival model. The Research Group functions as a means by which to guide the young folks through institutional processes and curatorial practices. There are many young folks involved in the program which provides opportunity for scaffolded autonomy and for folks to wander in and out (and back-in again) of the program as their interest and personal needs dictate. They function not as consultants, instead there is an intentional, active engagement through a practitioner-research model. The Science Gallery at Kings College London’s Young Leaders Program is also interesting in its structure. They only have a small number of members of the 18-month mentorship program. The members begin in an advisory position, where the Gallery is looking for their gut response to works already in process (they run projects in parallel stages of development, and members of the YLP see and participate in projects at various stages), they then move into an advocacy capacity, finishing their time in an ambassadorial role for the gallery.
Some loose ends: The importance of building distributed networks in this work, especially around knowledge/skills/resources/equipment. The function of ‘Lates’ as a mode of bringing in works in progress to the museum through more of a festival framework, which allows additional modes of practice into museum spaces. New media as a means by which to make systems visible (and perhaps subvert them along the way). The need to build time and support for this work within our institutions.
Next up: dig into this stack of books that was waiting for me on my return home.
I wrap up the week still feeling like a neophyte in the arena of curating new media+, but a neophyte with frameworks from which to build. Where all this will lead at Binghamton still remains to be seen, but keep an eye on BUAM to see.
Big thanks to: Beryl Graham + Ben Evans James for facilitating the course. The amazing network of colleagues I got to know over the course of the week. The folks who shared with us their time, knowledge, and experience.
–Claire L. Kovacs, curator of collections + exhibitions, Binghamton University Art Museum website twitter
FurtherfieldMarc Garrett, on DIWO, NODE.London festival, and assemblage as a method (assemble what you need to make it happen). The post-digital in everyday situations, not the post-internet in fine art venues.
V&A Douglas Dodds, Melanie Lenz, on Vera Molnar’s ‘machine imaginaire’, algorists, and the grudging acceptance of computer art into collections as ‘perhaps a characteristic aberration’. Natalie Kane on collecting apps as design, and Anatomy of an AI (2018) by Kate Crawford and and Vladan Joler. Marc Barto, on refreshing teaching resources, and Filthy Lucre.
Wellcome Collection: James Peto, and Danny Birchall candidly discussing ‘all those politics’, and the fantastic art of Erika Scourti’s Empathy Deck, Jordan Baseman’s prescient Radio Influenza and the lovely considered Reading Room as a space of unexpected conversation.
And whilst in a library state of mind, fantastic to see Iniva‘s new library/and exhibition space to discuss with Simina Neagu, the nature of ‘research-led art’.
What an inspiring start!
At Somerset House: Stella Sideli on how working with production and exhibition is “a lot more than” the tradition gallery curator role. How can art be about change, an be in a static vitrine? Sarah Cook on the major 24/7 exhibition, and the excellent point that if press reviewers can get a good handle on a big show in the first 6 works, combining historical and contemporary works in various media, then the problem of informed criticism including new media art, can be helped.
At Arebyte GalleryClaudel Goy, and Rebecca Edwards, on production studios both both artists and designers in an expensive city, and how to avoid treating screens like paintings on the wall. The immaculately researched, collectively workshopped, and gorgeously installed exhibition Trickle Down: A New Vertical Sovereignty by Helen Knowles was very inspiring.