Expanding the Parameters of Curatorial Space

In preparation for the May 24 Research Lab A Sensorium of Cinematic Apparatuses, the students of the UvA MA seminar Curating the Moving Image reflect in their blog posts on a particular aspect of the themes in the required theoretical readings or on the development of the curated EYE on Art evening.

Curation Histories, Curation Philosophies
By Tulta Behm

I come from a background of making art and studying art theory, and so I find it difficult to consider curatorial practice as entirely distinct from the intellectual labour that artists often perform in staging their work. It is realised in both the context and the content of the works themselves. But film, whether projected or on a monitor, disappears from view when finished. Its visual impermanence is a challenge to my notions of curating which rest on the material object and its visibility within institutions or collections. But does film require a different conception of curatorial space – one which distinguishes between not only material artwork and moving images, but between the film, the space of exhibition, and the world around it?

Warhol_Empire_1964Andy Warhol, Empire (1964)

A film such as Andy Warhol’s eight-hour Empire is an extreme example of moving image art’s expanded, durational context. Shown in both cinemas and galleries, it nevertheless illustrates that the space of film is architectonic, extending into real time, borrowing its scale from the cityscape. Seeking a definition of the curatorial space of moving image works as opposed to art objects, I find an analogue in Gilles Deleuze’s distinction between landscapes and still life:

“A still life cannot be confused with a landscape. An empty space owes its importance above all to the absence of a possible content, whilst the still life is defined by the presence and composition of objects which are wrapped up in themselves or become their own container…” [Deleuze, 64]

In this model, the audience becomes a participant in the construction of possible content within an otherwise empty space – the temporal space of moving image exhibition. If the audience is necessary to complete the work, how is this participation actualised in curation, and can either artists or audiences reclaim the spaces of exhibiting moving image works? What is this curator’s role in this process? In seeking answers to these questions, I am interested in how artistic practice has expanded or transformed the space of moving image exhibition into spaces of production and domesticity, complicating the position of the curator.

KinomuseumKinomuseum: Towards An Artists’ Cinema 2008

In 2007, curator Ian White sought to define a new space for moving images, in the Kinomuseum presented at International Short Film Festival Oberhausen. White’s project “proposes a radical alignment between viewing and critical thinking. Kinomuseum imagines a new museum rising from the foundations of the cinema auditorium.” In realising White’s ideal, would it be necessary to raze the cinema first? And what is the new Kinomuseum’s shape and structural permanence? Curation is thus engaged in redefining both the moving image and its spatial parameters.

One of my favourite pieces of writing on the alignment of critical thinking with the lure of classical cinema spectatorship is Roland Barthes’ ‘Leaving the Movie Theatre’ (1986), where he revels in what exceeds the screen. In pursuit of new modes of engagement with moving images beyond the movie theatre, artist Solomon Nagler picks apart Barthes’ theatrical fascination to seek out cinema-less spaces for screening film in his 2015 Situated Cinema project, thereby following Barthes in “forg[ing] new relationships between the spectatorial body and the urban landscape.”

Similarly oriented towards situating art in the world, Laura Marks sees the role of the moving image art curator as the “catalyst of a dialectic,” “synthesizing meanings that emerge from the dialogue between the work and the world” [Marks, 40, 43]. Echoing this stance, Maria Lind places the function of curating “beyond art,” in “remaking the context of the presentation of art” [Lind, 11]. Increasingly, however, the historically distinct roles of artist and curator are merging, as Boris Groys has argued, whilst artist-curator Gavin Wade asserts that art’s function is to exhibit itself, denying the curator this dialogic function.

What, then, is the autonomy of curatorial practice? And can strategies for exhibiting moving images develop different solutions to Barthes’ exponential expansion of the movie theatre, or White’s destruction of it? If the role of the curator is caught in a dialectic between establishing and unravelling a space for exhibiting moving image art within and against its own parameters, artists have embraced this ambiguity, to show their films within their domestic and production spaces.

YvonneCarmichaelRetailAestheticsYvonne Carmichael Retail Aesthetics, 38b, September 2013

In November 2014, the ICA in London invited moving image artists who use their living space as exhibition venue to present their curatorial practice in a Friday Salon, rehabilitating within the gallery a strategy explicitly intended to “establish a system of art production on their own terms,” outside of the institution, “while becoming spaces for friendship, collaboration and participation.”

Resituating collaborative production squarely within the institution, artist Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir’s 2015 show Development, at Hafnarborg Museum, Iceland, took the form of a sculptural installation constructing a ‘mirrored’ black box and white cube, which together functioned as stage sets, film production space, darkroom, and cinema. The works screened were executed by invited participants within the constructed space of the installation itself, an interaction limited by the artist’s instructions, and negating any possibility of curatorial interpretation. What was exhibited over the course of the show’s run was the means by which artistic knowledge is constituted, within a given space and through adherence to the rules governing participation.

HeklaDoggJonsdottirHekla Dögg Jónsdóttir, Development: exhibition installation sketch

Jónsdóttir’s practice revolves around questions of artistic and curatorial labour, performance, site, apparatus, and institution. Her work transforms the space of the exhibition and exposes its parameters, but it does so within the architectural confines of both the museum and the cinema.

Spatially defined concepts of curatorial practice enable us to explore the moving image in relation to performance and participation, as a means to question the boundaries of the institution. Whilst the experience of an exhibition can be defined by the functions of artist, curator and audience, their roles are increasingly interchangeable. The permanent structure of the exhibition site remains, but its function is called into question, “a site divided between subversion and institution” – as Alain Badiou has said of perfomance art– “An important work displaces these frontiers but it cannot abolish them.”

Deleuze, Gilles (1985). “Beyond the Movement-Image.” In David Campany, ed., The Cinematic. London: Whitechapel, 2007. 64-65.
Lind, Maria (2012). “Performing the Curatorial: An Introduction.” In Maria Lind, ed., Performing the Curatorial: Within and Beyond Art. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012. 9-20.
Marks, Laura U. (2004). “The Ethical Presenter: Or How to Have Good Arguments over Dinner.” The Moving Image 4:1 (2004): 35–47.
Sperlinger, Mike and Ian White, eds. (2008). Kinomuseum: Towards An Artists’ Cinema. Köln: Walther König, 2008.

Image 1: Andy Warhol, Empire (1964) © 2016 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image: MoMA website.
Image 2: Kinomuseum: Towards An Artists’ Cinema 2008, English. Softcover, 176 pages, 143 x 212 mm. Published by Walther König / Köln. Image: T. Behm.
Image 3: Yvonne Carmichael Retail Aesthetics, 38b, September 2013 © 2013 the artist. Image: ICA website.
Image 4: Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir, Development: exhibition installation sketch © 2015 the artist. Image: Hafnarborg website.

Accessed 24 April 2016.


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