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[- Critical Curating
By StellaRollig, Section guest host history
Posted on Sun Oct 19th, 2003 at 01:51:03 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
Hosting Curating Degree Zero Archive right now at O.K Center for Contemporary Art in Linz, I found myself reflecting on the term "Critical Curating". It is used by Dorothee Richter and Barnaby Drabble, the organizers of CDZA, to describe the focus of their project.
Striving for a "critical" practice, I believe in Walter Benjamin's sentence that the question is not how you relate to the conditions ("Produktionsverhaeltnisse") but how you act within them. [...]

[editor's note, by Aileen] For an introduction to Stella's topic of critical curating, read about the project Curating Degree Zero Archive. Curating Degree Zero Archive is a touring exhibition, archive and web resource exploring the field of critical curating:


[ --------------------------------------------- ]

Is it sufficient then to curate projects with political content? To exhibit artists` work addressing subjects such as gender equality, economic injustice, manipulative power systems - to name only a few examples-?
Or do we rather have to disturb the frame of representation, and if so, which of its paradigms exactly?
Is it necessary to set changes in the artist-curator-relationship and its familiar modes of cooperation? To challenge the institution?
I once formulated a set of questions to keep in mind when developing a project:
Will it create a change, and if only a tiny one, will it be sustainable? Will it question the position of the institution, or will it affirm it? Will it challenge the audience's notion of art? Can it add another idea to what I, the curator, and the audience always thought that art and also life should be about? -
What a list of questions... Too theoretical, too abstract? Would you rather want to talk about specific experiences which could help us frame "Critical Curating"?

[ --------------------------------------------- ]

Critical Curating | 12 comments
[new] forms of critique (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#12)
by StellaRollig on Fri Oct 24th, 2003 at 03:53:28 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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Although there is reasonable suspicion against curated institutional critique, it seems that everybody who has commented so far is concerned with testing or transgressing the borders of the institutionalised/institutionalising system in one or the other way.
I guess organising a performance by subRosa at a "US southern-midwest small university gallery" (as Ryan characterises the place) was not an all easy task while the directors of the Frieze Art Fair have obviously welcomed Pawel Althamer's intervention (to get into the fair without paying) - while at the same time making sure that security would prohibit any serious attempt to do so.
The point I wanna make connects to Paulas comment about critical art practice and critical curating operating on the same terrain, often with similar interests as well as concepts and means.
I would not want to juxtapose art practice and curatorial practice in a way insinuating that artists can be truely critical while curators are more likely to be corrupted by the context they work in. (Some of the most interesting projects blurr the distinctions between artistic and curatorial work anyway.) You can either challenge a consensus, a status quo, or just produce a hollow gesture.
To find out criteria for myself, I have learned enormously from other cultural producers. And that's what I like so much about the Curating Degree Zero Archive: that it provides all these projects to study. (I may say this, because, Trebor - thank you for your support, but it is Dorothee's and Barnaby's project and not mine. I am only the hosting curator at O.K Center). A network oriented towards pragmatic problem solving would be also great, but this would work better on a communication platform like this one than in the exhibition/archive format that Dorothee and Barnaby have adopted.

[new] Critical Currating (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#9)
by TreborScholz on Thu Oct 23rd, 2003 at 05:52:43 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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Dear Stella, Geert, Ryan,

I strongly support Stella's important CuratingDegreeZeroArchive project! Such framing and re-insertion of critical curatorial practices into public awareness is - at least in an US American context- very rare and should be highly valued. I wish there would be many more such initiatives and we should celebrate them!

With regard to institutional critique I wonder about the debatable dynamic that is created when an artist or curator is invited to put on an cathartic situation in an institution, which pays the creative agent to fulfill this role, edify the institution that can then go on as before. The mid-90s gave us many examples of this phenomena.

It is amazing that Stella and her collaborators, pulled this archive project together- a question I'd have may be more concerned with the loss of context for the individual projects in the specific project. Stella writes: "gender equality, economic injustice, manipulative power systems - to name only a few examples" are addressed in the many curatorial projects archived here. How could the topics presented not get lost in this database-type interface?

A project with gender under the magnifying glass that took place in Geneva or Vienna a few years ago can be inspirational to many who have curatorial intent but it looses its effectiveness with regard to the concrete situations originally at stake in this documentation context. How could the sociopolitical context to which these initiatives reacted or grew out of be re-vitalized?
How can the website of CuratingDegreeZeroArchive really become an even more powerful resource beyond the links to projects.

How amazing would it be hear interviews with all these facilitators of events and programs with critical intent. It's not fair to ask that of Stella and her collaborators but I'd love to see something like that--

What did the facilitators learn from their organizational experience? How did they manage to go beyond token event in a privileged (maybe educational) setting? What were the results? How did they get funding for their programs or exhibitions? How can I contact them to collaborate with them on a new project aiming at setting up constellations of productive discontent? What were the conceptual means they used to address specific political situations?

_/ _/ _/

[new] Critical Curating (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#3)
by StellaRollig on Mon Oct 20th, 2003 at 09:14:25 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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I assume that Geert and I have different things in mind when we speak of an institution. I certainly have no romantic ideas of freelance work. Do you think that I am totally naive? :)
Actually, I work with institutions all the time, though not being affiliated with one on a stable economic basis.
Setting up your own institution is fine. But what does that mean in practical terms?
I am referring to art spaces which work on a certain scale, and are given money and therefore visibility, influence, the power of representation by state or local governments, foundations, or private corporations.
When a curator or cultural producer works within this kind of framework, it may happen that s/he is welcome to present a work with (seemingly) critical content. But as Dorothee has remarked very rightly this frame often neutralizes the content. That's why I think the frame, according to Dorothee the space, has to be tackled.


[new] critical curating (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#2)
by Anonymous Stranger on Mon Oct 20th, 2003 at 03:37:46 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME

Dear Geert, dear all,
I understand institution in two senses, not only as a specific institution, but also as the system, that institutionalizes, a operating system. Visual arts are,as pop, close to protest and at the same time the symbolic value of the arts can be transformed into cash - this is also worth mentioning. I agree with you, Geert, that the role of curators are in the meantime very often close to the role of an artist, they are hired for specific projects, they have to produce significance and so on, as free lancer they may have not too many rights in respect of the direction an institution takes on a long run. But back to the question, how is the content related to the form, the display of an exhibition. --- Regarding concepts like the trauma or the constitution of the subject by a series of lacks it may be concluded,that a disturbance in the field of vision is related to the insecure position of the subject, and therefore anti- autonomous. So my conclusion is, that a disturbance of an exhibition display is connected with a critical attitude and the traditional exhibition format functions as a pacifier, in a way. This may be said about the documenta 11, where the art objects are placed in a very distincitve, (blow-up)- autonomous presentation and also many of the documentary video material transported well known subtexts about the viewer and the observed etc. More later, Dorothee

[new] position of the institution (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#1)
by GeertLovink on Mon Oct 20th, 2003 at 04:53:58 AM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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Thanks, Stella.

One remark stroke me. "Will it question the position of the institution, or will it affirm it?"

But what if you run an institution yourself or want to start one? What makes it so progressive to question the position of institutions? Why is it so fashionable to be suspious of institutions? For me this indirectly implies that the freewheeling freelance artist or curator is somehow superior. That's false romanticism. The reality is that most people work within institutions and that outsiders (like me and perhaps you) have very little to say. OK. We got the freedom but who cares? More and more people are forced into an empoverished 'freelance' existence. That's what I find suspicious. And what I also see happening is that it is becoming very easy to ignore criticism from outside. The immaterial contract workers may be sovereign, but has very little say, with little or no resources at hand.

There is a perfectly legitimate wish of so many roaming networkers who are fed up with their electronic solitude to start their own (alternative) institution. I don't see why that should be questioned.

Instead I would argue for a mass institutionalization of scattered networks and lonesome existences. Stop hiding in the virtual. Your institutional criticism may be justified and morally PC but it sounds strategically weak to me. What it does, perhaps not intentially, is scare people of boldly taking over existing institutions or starting their own, out of the fear that they may exclude people and perhaps even have 'power' one day.

Critical Curating | 12 comments

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