Tuesday 31 July 2012

Journal | 30th of July

By Shi Wen

In lecture today it became interesting to see the commonalities between the practice of anthropology and curating. Both seek to re-present. While curating creates 'art' objects, anthropology creates the 'other' -- both the art object and the other are to be observed and/or experienced. We spoke about the blurring of lines between the roles of curator and artist. Similarly in anthropology there seems to be a fading distinction between the anthropologist and subject -- the anthropologist is encouraged, with requisites such as being 'in the field', living with them and like them and the acquisition of the language spoken by the people studied etc. 

And...  I don’t mean to harp on this endlessly but about the Khmer Rouge photograph exhibition, I definitely think that the exhibition has its virtues, some of which we discussed in our session (such as being provocative enough to generate thought and discourse about the event). 

In tutorial I mentioned that my discomfort lay in MOMA’s decision to see these khmer rouge photographs as art. I think I failed to adequately explain myself, and should clarify here. I mentioned several things:
1.     intention -- of the photographer, whether it was intended as art or not.
2.    giving the photographs commercial value by cataloguing it
3.     the creation of art objects and seeing the photographs for aesthetic value

My issue with the placement of these photographs lies not in the recognition of them as art objects. I honestly am not so opinionated about that subject -- art as a category can be diffused and any object with an ascribed meaning can be construed as art, perhaps. I wouldn’t be upset if some MOMA curators decided to sit in a room with a list of collections of things and check them off one by one, deciding if they were “ART” or “NOT ART”. My issue with this whole thing is the statement the museum is making in exhibiting these photographs as art, and that I think the museum has a responsibility (any institution/person (?) that has access to the public has a responsibility) to be socially responsible, and to me, watering the photos down to aesthetic objects, removed from its context of horror, judged for its artistic qualities which are at best unintentional by-products of the act of documentation, especially in a socio-historical context when the memories of the khmer rouge may still be fresh and part of life history for a large community of people – is irresponsible.

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