Wednesday 26 September 2012

Journal | Our Curatorial Darling

The Blackboard
The blackboard on 6 Sept

The blackboard in the Prep Room has finally been put to good use. Thin white spidery legs crawl out from the centre of "ART" to diverse points, outlining the many aspects of art and the art industry - curated in the most haphazard way, chalked down as these came up in discussion, and squeezed in wherever there was space.

So what were the themes and problematic areas that we came across? I’ll try here to further break them down and group them in categories, drawing some connections within each and across categories. These categories are of course not mutually exclusive, with some points capable of straddling two or more categories quite comfortably.

Art as commodity

Potentially addictive and divisive
Lucrative market
Potentially nostalgic
Globalisation – circulation through networks

Commodity here is meant to be more than just the circulation of art as goods in the capitalist market. It is meant also to highlight the consumption of art. With the exception of performance art (On second thought, maybe not – it is bounded by time.), art is often bounded, and it is this boundedness that makes it easy to consume, to form relationships between viewer and object for the majority of those who encounter it. This poses a few questions: What about a commodity that makes it easily consumable? What ignites our interest in it?

Art as commentary

Moral judgement
Connotative taboo – not socially acceptable
Potentially slippery
Heteronormativity – internalising the male gaze
Site of resistance – as a political space
Social activism
Cannot un-see
-> Hero and victim – symbolic violence
-> Can you be desensitised?
-> Challenge moral judgement (subversive)

Not all art is explicit on this. Nonetheless, it is hard, dare I say even impossible?, to create art with no narrative. Narratives can consist of anything, be that of an ideal state, a perceived reality or a social commentary. From our trip to Bandung, we have seen artists as activists. Then there are also artists who occupy that slippery state between the acceptable and unacceptable, as Nobuyoshi Araki does with his pornographic photographs. There are also artists who challenge categories and definitions, as Morimura Yasumasa does with ideas of gender. This appropriation artist, with his work Vemeer Study: Looking Back (Mirror), challenges the male gaze and heteronormativity found historically in European art. But there are issues that arise from this – the symbolic violence that art wrought on its subject by objectifying it. Just as it can make its subject the hero, it can also potentially make it the victim. As we look at Vemeer Study, Morimura’s painful reconstruction from a Japanese male to a Caucasian female is a heroic sacrifice to comment on heteronormativity, but a sacrifice nonetheless that reminds us of his veiled victimhood. And how about art that seeks to be subversive? Does it also desensitise?

Art as production

Meticulous sense of detail
Perverse in productive sense
Aesthetic conventions
-> What is the ideal?
-> Fabricated
-> So real it becomes fantasy? – hyperreal, transcendental
-> Schema theory
Technology of empire and nation – exoticism
Audience participation
Educational tool
Can we separate the person from the act?

Art is the result of the artist’s work, which does not need elaborating. But art is also the production of meaning on the part of the artist who created it, the curators who exhibit it, and the viewers who consume it. It is also part of the production of power, representation and boundaries, and the production of history and identity.

Having said that, let me here move on to the other half of the blackboard and introduce Poon Buck Seng – the artist, curator, conservator and activist we have chosen to exhibit in January. An archetypal figure, Poon is the ideal subject. But is he only really so from the result of engineering on the curator’s part? The qualities that we have selected and presented combine to make him a curatorial darling. He is transgressive, potentially aspiring, an eccentric, a provocateur, eloquent, works the bureaucracy, evades authorities, garners sympathy, dramatic, brazen and daring, meticulous, socially conscious of the contemporary, passionate, a persistent collector, occupies spaces in a temporal manner, itinerant, an urbanist, obsessive, sentimental, a taste-maker, selective, a pragmatist, an idealist, and insist on authorial recognition. He is as much a curatorial fiction as he is real, our discussion laying bare the hidden hand of the curator in making the artist.

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