Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The 1st Kerala Biennale

As part of the activities for Day 2 of the Curatorial-Intensive, participants were instructed to select an Asian city for the staging of a new Biennale. 10 cities were shortlisted and the city of Trivandrum in the Indian state of Kerala was selected by a majority vote. Participants have to come up with a curatorial concept and a list of artists and artworks.

Participants will be posting their concepts in the comments below.

Journal I "sudden vicinity of things" - some thoughts on [Photographs from S21: 1975-79] at MoMA (1997)

By Riya de los Reyes


vicinity of

Re:  Afterthoughts on the tutorial about the 1997 MoMA exhibit on photographs of those killed under the Khmer Rouge (Photographs from S-21: 1975-79)

  • Background to the Exhibition (May 15-early Fall 1997):

Political Tensions in Cambodia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_clashes_in_Cambodia

This happened in July 1997, but there was already a threat of potential violence as “long before July 1997, Hun Sen had tried but failed to convince his party to authorize military action against FUNCINPEC.” (http://www.hrw.org/ja/news/2007/07/27/cambodia-july-1997-shock-and-aftermath).

The photographic exhibit began in May 1997. Read the MoMA exhibit’s Press Release here: http://www.moma.org/docs/press_archives/7527/releases/MOMA_1997_0040_32.pdf?2010

  • The exhibit is an example of the relationship between cultural policy and international political affairs, as well as cultural policy and negotiating historical/artistic canon

In my opinion, it was a demonstration of MoMA taking a ‘soft interventionist’ approach (i.e., influenced by Cambodian politics at that time, yet also making the decision to take a political stance about it by invoking the memory of the Khmer Rouge and the crimes of humanity under that regime – thereby, effectively moralizing both events). The fact that MoMA could take a political stance and have the exhibit to substantiate that stance is a veritable show of power. Also, isn’t that akin to the usual way that the United States employ its interventionist approach to other countries?

The exhibit could also be interpreted as a way to democratize the “trope of historical trauma”, a way to “dilute the canon” by diverting away from seeing the Holocaust as the “universal trope” of genocide and historical trauma (read Andreas Huyssen). Although the exhibit could be viewed as a potential attempt to ‘democratize’ the narrative of historical trauma, the fact that MoMA does the diluting of the canon and decides how democratization will be done is in itself - again - already a display of its power. It appears that only MoMA could and has the authority and means (e.g. acquiring the photographs) to ‘re-work’ the historical/artistic canon.

  • The photographs as a ‘mirror’ reflecting the ‘sudden vicinity of things’ and the question of ‘authorship’

The question of authorship could be resolved if the photographs put on exhibit are viewed as a ‘mirror’ reflecting the parallel between the photographer and the visitor to the museum.

The curator talked about “transferring the burden(guilt)” to the viewer. As such, the curator acts as an ‘authority’ on the viewer by imposing that burden of having acquired, catalogued and subsequently exhibiting them for the viewer. This could be viewed as analogous to the role of Pol Pot as the “author” of the monstrosity that was the Khmer Rogue genocide, and the photographer (Khen Eim?) was given the burden of “shooting” those people, metaphorically already killing them before they were killed for real.

Viewed in this way, I feel that the exhibition of the photographs could potentially give agency to those who were killed...if, depending on the context and time period within which they are situated, the photographs could evince awareness of authorial and spectatorial roles. Those photographed become, at once, both timeless (captured and crystallized by a camera before death) and temporal (being allowed to speak again in a different time and space to the visitor of the museum). I think that's better than silencing them, and never allowing them to 'speak' to the contemporary viewer.

It is also worth noting that MoMA (est. 1929) and modern art and modernity were a reaction to the rapid industrialisation towards the late 1800s and then the Great War (WWI). Modern art and modernity were themselves borne out of historical trauma and questions of morality vis-a-vis commercialisation/industrialisation/imperialism, which makes it somehow apt to have the exhibit there -- that exhibiting the photographs as artwork at MoMA was just as valid as exhibiting them in a history museum as an artifact. The striking effect of the exhibit would be how the visitor as an individual can retroactively/retrospectively be provoked to make judgment of ‘modernity’ and to question the path that humanity had taken to experience that ‘modernity’ - was it towards progress or regression, for instance?

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.

Monday, 30 July 2012

6 Modules

Through multiple one-to-one conversations, students are tasked to explain selected curatorial propositions, and simultaneously shape and reshape their positioning and perspectives. Facilitated by Heman Chong, the format takes after experiential performances devised for students most recently being Advanced Studies... (Ten Lessons for Life) in 2012, complicating the dynamics of orating and listening, teaching and learning. Textual fragments containing curatorial propositions and their references will be assigned to each participant at the beginning of the workshop to aid preparations.

Each participant is expected to carry their textual fragments with them through the duration of Curating Lab 2012 and continuously reflect and respond to these fragments by way of blogging online and discussion.


 It is common practice that artists collaborate with other artists to create ideas and art works. Increasingly, such approaches are deployed between artists and curators. The exhibition produced out of such contexts can sometimes be regarded as art works. It is not uncommon for artists to be curators, and curators to be artists. Explore the notions of a 'curatorial community'.

Information, as a body of knowledges and ideas, is synonymous to the 'internet' landscape. Its volume and accessibility provides a readymade resource for curators to mine. Appropriating sets of knowledge as a basis for exhibitions is commonplace, often adopted as a predefined strategy. The internet and its 'raw materials', in its organization and contents, can also be readily assimilated into an exhibition.

More often than not, ambiguity - as seen in images, objects, or situations - prompt a certain lack. We tend to disregard its utility. Perhaps another way of thinking about the ambiguous are the potentials it may accommodate; to regard ambiguity not simply as something opposed to clarity, but to consider its indistinct form(s) as ways to locate a set of meanings within the work or exhibition. Explore the usefulness of ambiguity.

Books, e-books, websites, artists books - a collection of images and text spread over linear and non-linear pages are valid curatorial forms. They also play on the differences (and similarities) between document(ation) and material(ization). Compare this to the exhibitionary.

Think of the word 'Concept'. Refer to the word 'Conceptual'. Think of the word 'Performance'. Refer to the word 'Performativity'. We live in a reality that requires certain definitions in order for us to identify with things on a symbolic level. However, such definitions have this effect of closing up situations in which we can think about things. Identify the problems involving language and exhibitions.

We are witness to a number of exhibitions and art works that involve commentary or reactions to socio-political issues. Art as activism has always been a highly contested arena, with many varied perspectives on the multiple issues involved. Think about an area in which art and politics had often come into contact, and state the various positions and reasonings for such positions.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

common programme: Curatorial Roundtable 01

Date: 1 Aug 2012
Time: 7-9pm
Venue: Meeting Room 2, Block B, Goodman Arts Centre

To RSVP: Please email museum@nus.edu.sg or call 6516 8817 / 8428
Limited to only 40 seats.


Presented in conjunction with Curating Lab 2012, the Curatorial Roundtable series is a public talk series that gathers together curatorial and industry pratitioners across different spectrums, to discuss their latest exhibitions and projects. Although presented primarily for the participants of Curating Lab 2012, this series is an opportunity to bridge the gap between the curator and the audience, providing opportunities for interaction and stimulating discussions on curatorial practices and process.


Heman Chong is an artist, curator and writer. His art practice involves an investigation into the philosophies, reasons and methods of individuals and communities imagining the future. Charged with a conceptual drive, this research is then adapted into objects, images, installations, situations or texts. He participated in the 2nd Singapore Biennale (2008), Busan Biennale (2004) and represented Singapore at the 50th Venice Biennale (2003). He previously co-facilitated Curating Lab 2009 and co-curated the accompanying Curating Lab: 100 Objects (Remixed) exhibition

Pauline J. Yao is an independent curator and scholar based in Beijing and Hong Kong. Previously, Yao co-founded the Arrow Factory in Beijing, and was a co-curator of the Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism in 2009

Cosmin Costinas is the Executive Director of Para/Site Art Space (Hong Kong) and its first Outset Curator of Contemporary Art. He was formerly a Curator at BAK, basis voor actuele kunst (Utrecht) and an advisory board member of Patterns/Erste Foundation (Vienna). He co-curated the 1st Ural Industrial Biennial and was the editor of documenta 12 Magazines from 2005-2007. He has taught and lectured at various universities and art academies in Europe and China.