On, after, by the Guaíba

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Back in early September, during the installation period of the 9a Bienal do Mercosul | Porto Alegre in Brazil, several of us working on the project occasionally took a break and met at the terrace of the cultural center Usina do Gasometro to experience the sunset. Up until that point, a period of cold, rainy days had overextended its stay, but Southern winds had taken mercy on us for a little over a week, blowing away clouds far into the Atlantic and leaving bare the skies over Porto Alegre’s river, lake, or estuary whatever called Guaíba. Whenever weather permitted, during the following nine weeks of the exhibition period we continued frequenting that terrace to observe the sun apparently sink into the Guaíba, and with that, to welcome the depths of a day arise with the dimmer light that’s night. That landscape. How much time it occupied my mind; the minds of others, too.

Once a month, from May to November, we had taken a boat that docked at the Usina and navigated into the Guaíba for a voyage of about 12 kilometers—coincidently, a similar distance between troposphere and atmosphere, and also the extent of thread used in Jason Dodge’s textile sculptures included in the exhibition—until reaching a little rocky island locally known as Ilha do Presídio. Our vessel did not exactly have the engine of a speedboat, so it took us over an hour to get to the island, another or more to get back. We had time, though, and good company. With a geological history dating back millions of years, this now-abandoned, former prison-island for political detainees was one of the venues of the Bienal, whilst not as host to the exhibition. That minute remain of continental split was the conceptual anchor and physical site of Island Sessions, a discussion and publication initiative of the Bienal that directly involved more than one hundred participants.

I’ve made a video to introduce you to the Ilha do Presídio and to Island Sessions. Clearly, the video is homemade, like this blog, so don’t expect being blown away by it, although the Ilha could and would have done so to some of us who visited. It’s just a brief video-clip to show you the place, to tell of the initiative. Its soundtrack includes an instrumental piece and a song created by Mario Garcia Torres for the Bienal. Most importantly: here you can see impressions, as well as read inflections, perceptions and reflections—essays, short stories, anecdotes—authored by participants of Island Sessions. (On the left column, click on a date/session, which is a chapter of sorts, each with individual contributors.) For a geological and cultural history of the island, refer to the essay by Eduardo Bueno; for a conceptual approach to the island, read instead a piece by Sarah Demeuse; for writings in prison or imprisonment and writing, consult an image/text work by Angie Keefer; for either a recipe or a timeline on censorship, go to the contributions by Luiza Proença; and so on.

Anyhow, it was good to be there: chilling on the Usina’s terrace at sundown; navigating the Guaíba; visiting its Ilha; spending time in Porto Alegre; being involved in the project. Indeed, the Bienal has now closed. After that fact, and, eventually, after a voyage in the high seas of the Pacific visiting remote islands and experiencing sunsets from places afar, this time around witnessing sunrises, too, I am finally back home contemplating other scenarios. Now, here, more so than memories of the Bienal, there are a number of questions that keep emerging. Among these, a nagging one: What is will? More amply: How does such a thing, a palpable sensibility of sorts, a force from a wholly unbeknownst source, shape language in the visual arts, create conditions for its expression?

On Hypnotic Shows and Paper Exhibitions

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

A while back, I wrote here about Raimundas Malašauskas mesmerizing Hypnotic Show—an exhibition that an audience experiences while hypnotized. It’s one of those curatorial projects that I wish had occurred to me… but it would have been impossible, my mind works differently, even while in trance. The latest iteration of Hypnotic Show took place in Turin, Italy last November within the framework of the art fair Artissima. On that occasion, the show had a slightly different format (for a description, please read the earlier post linked above). For that new iteration, Raimundas invited me and three other peers—Angie Keefer, John Menick and Robert Snowden—to write scripts about historic exhibitions.

We wrote scripts for about thirty or so other exhibitions, which were used as instruction pieces generating the phenomenological experience of the hypnotized audiences. Once in a state of trance, audiences could time-travel and experience exhibitions like the first Documenta (1955) curated by Arnold Bode in Kassel, Germany; witness the Charioteer of Delphi (474 BC) at the Delphi Archaeological Museum in Greece; visit Information (1970) curated by Kynaston McShine at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; and, walk around the city of Ghent and visit private homes to see the various projects of Chambres d’amis (1986), a multi-sited exhibition curated by Jan Hoet for the Museum Van Hedendaagse Kunst in Antwerp.

Artissima published a small book with the scripts for this latest iteration of the Hypnotic Show, and you can download it here for your perusal—to read or use for getting hypnotized at your own risk.

Image: Tomorrow evening, at McNally Jackson Books in New York, Raimundas Malašauskas launches his book of collected texts, Paper Exhibition. Some Ten Years of Writing, published by Sandberg Institute, Kunstverein Publishing, Sternberg Press and The Baltic Notebooks by Anthony Blunt.

Some pieces here and there

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

The intensity and pace of my travels since the start of the year have produced many impressions, but have left me with little to no time to turn those into entries for Sideshows. I shared however some thoughts in Art in America’s Roving Eye column during the month of January, contributing three pieces on what I was looking and thinking about at the time: the first text, Fuel for Design, is about the Cooper Hewitt’s Design with the Other 90%, an inspiring exhibition at the United Nations; another one, Tropical Realism, are impressions from a trip to the Dominican Republic; and the third, The Language of Resistance, reports on a lecture by the art historian Tom McDonough at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Additionally, some weeks ago, the artist and writer Georgia Kosteros interviewed me for Art21’s web-column Inside the Artist’s Studio, where we exchange thoughts on curatorial field research. It’s nicely illustrated.

Image: Elevator of my Casa Particular in La Habana, where I did research in February.

In Black and White

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Marta Traba in Black and White – the third publication from Murmur, released today – is a translation from the Spanish to the English of selected passages from an essay by Nicolás Gómez Echeverri. His text examines the 1950s-era Colombian television programs produced by the influential South American art critic and historian Marta Traba. The selected and translated passages are depictions of the encounters with the images that inspired Gómez Echeverri’s investigation into Marta Traba, reorganized and interspersed here with factual research he collected on her television programs. The essay’s accompanying illustrations, one pictured above, are by Gómez Echeverri himself. You may download at no cost a PDF of Marta Traba in Black and White: www.murmur-print.org.

I first came across Gómez Echeverri’s research project on Traba at the exhibition 41 Salón Nacional de Artistas in Colombia, where it was presented as an art installation. The edition of that national, biennial-like exhibition had taken place in 2008–2009 in the city of Cali. Curated by Victoria Noorthoorn and a team of local artists – Wilson Díaz, Jose Horacio Martínez, Oscar Muñoz and Bernando Ortíz – the exhibition introduced me not only to Gómez Echeverri, but to a number of artists, artworks and curatorial issues that I still think about today. Not surprisingly, the exhibition had a huge impact in the local art scene in general, raising controversy about the exclusiveness of a curatorial voice, and provincial anxieties by the international participation in a traditionally regional exhibition. Such tensions are not particular to one single art scene, but to every cultural context in the face of globalization.

Murmur is an independent curatorial initiative that I am developing intuitively and quite apart from my institutional work.

Some Independents

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

There are a number of independent curators whom I have had a sustained dialogue with in the last decade or so. How and when we met is unclear; how we have maintained a dialogue is easier to say: the decade’s digital penpal frenzy has kept us together. But the pressing — albeit unvoiced — question of our epistolary exchanges is if we will continue relying on brief descriptions and low-res pics to share our curatorial projects. Implicit in this question is an interest in cultural developments happening beyond one’s local scene, and of the increasingly expanding global community bound by intellectual affinities. In addition, traveling to see every exhibition is impossible, and relying on published reviews in trade magazines and newspapers is an unsatisfactory convention. So, it’s a delight to know that independent curators who have documented their projects are sharing the materials online. Here are three cases:

Raimundas Malasauskas, a Lithuanian curator who now lives most of his time in Paris and whom I’ve collaborated with on several occasions, has posted online material relating to many of his unconventional and innovative exhibitions (leaving out most of the ones he realized at CAC in Vilnius, where he worked as curator during the 1990s, for that institutional website). Regine Basha, based in New York City, has recently launched her exhibition portfolio, also including a section of her published writing and links to her web-based projects including Tuningbaghdad.net. Pablo Leon de la Barra, originally from Mexico City but based in London for some time now, has a blog where he posts images of art he sees during his travels, as well as entries on his projects. (He founded the blog in 2000, but it’s significantly active since 2007.) Their sites tell of interesting projects taking place anywhere from a museum gallery to a white cube constructed in a far-off desert in Texas, from a basement at the Pompidou in Paris to a jungle in Colombia, even an exhibition inside a living brain.

Image: Rene Gabri for Ultimiere (2005) in www.rye.tw.

For Curatorial Junkies

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Let me say it upfront: I consider myself a curatorial junkie. Since the mid-1990s, I began consuming what became a sudden surge of conferences and publications on exhibition history that addressed the ways in which art interpretation owes much to its forms of display. Position papers and essays presented in those platforms also argued that innovative contemporary curatorial practices have shaped new exhibition formats, and that some of these have even impacted the way art institutions redefine their cultural tasks.

Many more of the thesis presented therein attempt to define what a curator is. On this subject alone, descriptions abound. Depending on their background and vision, their motivation and projects, their degree of openness or hermeticism, their context or audiences, a curator may be: a historical researcher; an arts producer; a cultural broker; a political activist; a philosopher, theorist or translator; an events organizer; some kind of social worker; and just about any combination of these except a taste-maker alone.

Not that the most common kind of curator has disappeared –that whose specialty most often lies in an art genre, artist or artistic movement of a given time period, geography or nationality, and whose role is generally to authenticate, select and care for its corresponding oeuvre. It’s just that the field has significantly changed. And it’s just that longstanding institutional spaces are not the only sites of encounter with art. An increasing number of temporary and independent projects have emerged in the last decades, all requiring artistic directions and engaging curators. To name a few, consider site-specific exhibitions, public art festivals, biennales and other event-based forums, even publication-based projects.

Again, most of these developments in curatorial practice have been written about and theorized in conferences and books, which tend to be anthologies gathering a combination of historic and commissioned texts. It is seldom through articles published in art magazines and essays in scholarly journals. This is why the recent launch of The Exhibitionist is so promising. Edited by Jens Hoffmann, this journal is devoted to exhibition making. It is openly made by curators, and for curators. With an intention to be published twice a year, the journal promises continuity, that is, to raise questions, share processes, and address issues pertaining to curatorial practice consistently. For this last reason alone, I am already a fan.

In the editorial for The Exhibitionist inaugural issue, released in January 2010, Hoffmann points as its primary inspiration the French journal Cahiers du cinéma (f. 1951). The editor, a long-time independent curator and most recently institutionally affiliated—Hoffmann is the director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco—intends to position the work of the contemporary curator along the lines of what Francois Truffaut called the auteur filmmaker in 1950s. Certainly, Hoffmann is not thinking any curator’s work could be that of an auteur. He believes, however, that the act of exhibition making, a critical and creative endeavor, does develop and puts out there a language of its own.

The Exhibitionist commissions personal essays about influential exhibitions to curators in the field; scholarly approaches to historic exhibitions; various assessments on a current major exhibition; a section called Typologies examines a specific exhibition format (the first issue focuses on solo shows); another tackles with exhibition making; one more features curators writing one of their own recent projects; and lastly, a brief text addresses contemporary curatorial practice—along the lines of the auteur figure that the journal editorial board intends to articulate. The first issue of the journal is great, and much expected is the next.

This was originally published in the magazine Celeste (Mexico, summer 2010).


Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Murmur’s second publication is the Spanish version of Dispersion, an essay by New York-based visual artist Seth Price. The essay was originally written in English and published in 2002 by the artist. Like Murmur’s Conceptualism and Economy, this publication is available here as a downloadable-PDF at no cost.

Murmur is an independent curatorial initiative that I am developing intuitively and quite apart from my institutional work.

Visual Arts Facsimile

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

In 1973, the Museo de Arte Moderno (MAM) in Mexico City launched the magazine Artes Visuales. The magazine was one of the museum projects of the ever-dynamic Fernando Gamboa, MAM’s director from 1972 to 1981. During his lifetime, and through and beyond his work at MAM, Gamboa became a leading exhibition designer and organizer, museums director, arts promoter, as well as prominent figure in all matters relating to cultural politics in this country. His work is recognized for its attempts to present a “modern” Mexico to the world.

This year, MAM published an anthology of Artes Visuales compiling selected pages in facsimile of each of its issues, and including a forward by Josefa Ortega and an essay by Carla Stellweg, collaborator of Gamboa and co-founder end editor of the magazine. The book is released in conjunction to MAM’s current exhibition Fernando Gamboa: La utopía moderna. Curated by Ana Elena Mallet, the exhibition explores Gamboa’s work as exhibition maker, cultural politician and arts institution builder at large.

In the book’s Documenting the Undocumented, Carla Stellweg narrates the story of Artes Visuales. I take particular interest in her text, for beyond being a personal essay that describes the inspirations and history of the magazine, it takes the writing style of storytelling to anecdotally account a particular arts scene in Mexico during the 1960s and 1970s, and a little written-about, even seldom discussed, cultural institutional history of the time. Stellweg cites influential projects to the making and emergence of Artes Visuales, including The Counter Biennial (1971), a book of Museo de Independencia Cultural Latinoamericana, known as the project MICLA; the New York’s Museum of Modern Art exhibition and catalog Information (1970); and Mexico’s Taller de la Grafica Popular (founded 1937).

Stellweg openly states in her essay how Artes Visuales was tied to a political ideology beyond (and, perhaps, also through) the curatorial program of the state-run and publicly funded MAM. It was discursively part of larger cultural project of Mexico’s 1970-1976 President, Luis Echeverria, which she describes as being rooted in “a return to the democratic ideals of basic human rights and freedom of expression…” and a call to “intellectuals who had left Mexico in 1968 to return and be part of a reconstruction process.” Echeverria was recently prosecuted for the Tlatelolclo massacre of 1968, and other similar events and insurrections that led to killings while he served in the cabinet of the presidency before him and during his own. Notwithstanding, Stellweg acknowledges this, and that relating Artes Visuales with his governance is a tricky subject to address, yet, I should add, necessary for mapping public projects and their structures.

The image above is part of Vicente Rojo’s contribution for issue six of Artes Visuales (June 1975), guest-edited by Salvador Elizondo, and reprinted as facsimile in the new anthology of the same title published in 2010 by Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City. This issue was project-based, and approached the use of image, text and typeface in concrete poetry and contemporary art of that time. The visual artist Vicente Rojo collaborated as graphic designer of Artes Visuales.


Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

The first publication of Murmur is a brief but incisive anthology titled Conceptualism and Economy. The publication gathers text-based works by visual artists: a performance script by Mario Garcia Torres in collaboration with writer Aaron Schuster; a project proposal by Lee Lozano; an essay by Seth Price; and a manifesto-like speech by Joe Scanlan.

More than the market strategies of conceptualism or financial aspects of art, the texts included raise questions about the economy of means. With original texts in English and translations to the Spanish, this inaugural publication of Murmur is shy of 30 pages and available here as a downloadable-PDF at no cost. A small edition of a printed version is out, too.

Murmur is an independent curatorial initiative, which I’ll be developing intuitively and quite apart from my institutional work.

Out this summer

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

These days, with much moving to and from cities, I’ve had little to no time at my desk. Thankfully, I devoted much of the spring to writing and editing, and some of that is being published this summer. This makes me feel a bit less anxious. The current issue of Afterall has an essay of mine about a social art project by artist Michael Rakowitz. After reflecting upon his artistic practice, I developed an argument on the necessity of storytelling in his work, and the importance of anecdote in contemporary art.

Personal experience as an objective approach was also somewhat of a motivation for working on “The Aesthetics and Politics of Intimacy,” the inaugural issue of the online journal Where We Are Now. I worked on launching this journal and co-edited its first issue with artist Marisa Jahn. This is an excerpt from the issue’s editorial statement:

Intimacy is often thought of in terms of a feeling of rawness, confluence, and proximity. The space of intimacy often feels atemporal, privileging the safety of disclosure and heightened physiological, sexual, or affective response. But how does a geopolitical and micropolitical understanding of the conditions that frame intimacy questions notion of the body and self? The contributors examine these questions from the perspectives of art, architecture, film, and law.

The Aesthetics and Politics of Intimacy” includes contributions by an interesting group of people: Claire Barliant, Svetlana Boym, Rene Gabri, Andrea Geyer, Joseph Grima, Jill Magid, Dave Rankin & Marisa Jahn, and Mary Anne Staniszewski. The online journal Where We Are Now is programmed as a blog, and your comments to the articles on this issue are welcomed. The website also has a listings feature, and you can freely post event-listings of interesting programs and happenings.

Where We Are Now was launched at the Vera List Center at the New School in New York City on June 25th, and it included brief presentations by contributors to “The Aesthetics and Politics of Intimacy,” as well as a performance by Jill Magid and Eddie Vas. Images of the event are on Flickr.