Thursday 31 July 2014

journal | Curating as Violence, Exhibition as Trauma

by Raksha Mahtani

Curating Lab has been a long and luxurious dive into the depths of art producing and exhibition making. Throughout we have been asked to question the negotiable concepts of curating and curator, artist and object, meaning and knowledge construction. Yet there are some threads that have ripped into our lives and changed the way we look at objects forever. 

I am nagged by this constant reminder that the life of an object outlasts our persons, relationships, structures--that this obsession with debris and detritus, of documentation and proof, of intertext and reference point, is as it is so outmoded in consumerist society where material is expendable, replaceable. 

We are, as baby curators, constantly motivated to explain ourselves, our interests, our viewpoints. As curators, we are told, we must develop cohesive and directed tastes, just as the construction of 'self' in capitalism, to consistently textualise ourselves via reflection, tweet, status update, in order for us to be readable, understood, relatable. We stand up, introduce ourselves time and again, finding reiterations of the words and signifiers we used the last time. 

We learnt that to this constructed curator 'self', a notion of agency or independence is intrinsic. If we outsource ideology to the higher-ups, or delegate exhibition design to museum professionals, we lose so much of the curatorial, the space in which to negotiate both. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue--a mantra that we repeat--every thing is constantly in dialogue with one another, being read next to each other, building relationships via OKCupid with one another, and like synaesthetes, we cannot ignore and compartmentalise, or we lose vital pantones and landscapes with which meaning is made. 

However, since the first day of our immersion, I am still plagued by a strange feeling that I have been unable to pin down entirely. Something remains unsaid, some pressure resistant to language. Perhaps it is the discomfort with art being overly ‘moralistic’. Perhaps it is a vagueness and openness that I cannot reconcile with my own framework or understanding of violence, perhaps an unapologetic hedonism that I find so removed and detached from the real, or the simulation of the politics and material deprivation and suffering of people in our own country, let alone around the world. Perhaps this is a successful displacement of moral responsibility from the state to the concerned citizen—after all, why should I care about these things more than the beauty of an object, the transformative power of single stroke of paint, the haunting aural environ that replicates our deepest memories?

Moreover, how does trauma play into art—and how much do we acknowledge its existence within it and our readings of it? How can curating become violent in its ‘necessary’ treatment, contextualising, reading (singular or otherwise) of artwork? And to what extent can we curate ‘difficult knowledge’ as it is called, collective remembering through an exhibition, a way of wandering, a space to negotiate violence? In overtly prioritising certain types of exhibitions, in arguing that practice is independent of context, that it should not capitulate to topical or populist concerns, we may be deprioritising the effect of these concerns from within the vat in which our processes ferment.

I know the artist is not necessarily ascetic. The artwork need not be read only as pure practice, and a reading of political motivations does not negate the legitimacy of other readings. The death of the artist (รก la Barthes) reminds us that material and interpretation is always contested. I still mull over this, as I read further to sophisticate my thoughts. But I can hazard a guess at a few things we’ve learnt...
There are still some texts that are inaccessible.

Metamorphosis, Xu Bing, It Begins With Metamorphosis: Xu Bing, Asia Society, Hong Kong, 2014. 

Spring Workshop, Hong Kong, 2014.
Exhibition happens everywhere. We must be exhibitionists at heart.  

10 Million Rooms of Yearning, Para Site, Hong Kong, 2014.
We change our names to fit the fetish of every future lover; we perform all selves.

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