Wednesday 15 August 2012

Journal I Internship @ SAM

Our first internship session was mainly a conversation about the workings of SAM and the issues public institutions face in negotiating the various pressures from other government bodies. It was certainly an insightful dialogue on the role and responsibilities public museums have to both its audience and the ethos of contemporary art. One memorable takeaway for me was that curators of such institutions will have to be flexible in navigating through the various channels and parties that exert some form of power over the institution, but always remain firm in their personal and professional principles- "the core". Some food for thought!

Some thoughts about the readings given:

In a nutshell, Patrick Flores's article attempts to characterise and situate curation in Southeast Asia, while Robert Storr's piece focuses on instructing the curator of art on the dos and don'ts of exhibition making.

One illuminating point brought out by Flores is that the curator of today has to be firmly plugged into the contemporary. Now this begs the question, what is the contemporary? It is something which I find some difficulty in defining perhaps because its parameters are constantly changing, its meaning and interpretation constantly in flux. Flores describes the contemporary system as being created as it is practiced:
...the state of contemporary art is rather fluid, and given the uneven and asymmetrical modes by which modernity had taken root in these art worlds, certain practices and roles are practically makeshift, improvised and run on idiosyncratic rationality; the rules in the field are rather pliant, continuously modified by the practice of curators whose very practice creates a system, which had not existed before their sorties into this arena.
I think this brings some insight to the curator's position in the cultural sphere. We've discussed about the power the curator has in validating art through selecting and articulating. As a result, museums, alternative spaces and independent galleries etc create an ecosystem that generates and regenerates the art world as we see it, and is therefore part of the production of contemporary culture. It reveals to me, then, that the curator doesn't only need to be plugged into the contemporary, but s/he is at the forefront of creating aesthetic standards through interrogating conditions of the contemporary man:
Curation as an inventive mediation that produces exhibitions, events, careers, and values and the curator as an agent who actively selects and represents these within the social world of art becomes a compass that guides us as we navigate the vast realms of what is only vaguely invoked as the contemporary.
In other words, I think one can say that the curator creates the contemporary while being part of it. As a conduit of culture, the curator identifies and presents social notions, and also creates recombinant ways of seeing art and the world.

For Storr, he sharply states that the curator/exhibitioner is not an artist, but is a mediator, an advisor, a channel and a translator of ideas all at once. He strongly stresses the responsibility and obligation the curator has to the artist, the institution and the public. I think Storr refers to the curator largely as the middleman who is required to ensure that exhibitions do what they should with everyone's needs being met.

I think Storr's point that "the most important contract of all exists between the exhibition-maker and the public" is rather important, especially when it involves public institutions. It reminds me of what Flores said in his lecture that the curator is also very much a "patient" to his/her audience, and that the art and the intentions behind its presentation loses value if not rightly communicated. While there is necessity to ensure that shows remain open-ended, the curator ought to bear in mind how it will be received. As put by Storr: is plain both as a practical matter and as a matter of principle that the ultimate decisions are made by the viewer. The job of the exhibition-maker is to do all that can be done so that those decisions will be well informed, rooted in perception and, in a positive sense, inconclusive.
The curator thus has to be sensitive to the tensions that underlie the meaning of their shows, making sure that the audiences remain enthralled and also have the space to conceive their own responses. I believe that is where the challenge for the curator lies.


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