Artist, scholar, organizer, and professor, Gregory Sholette embodies multiple ways that artists can interrogate history, politics, and public discourse. Through his initial work with the group REPOhistory (1989-2000) (as in, “repossessing history”), he, along with other art groups and individuals of the 80s and early 90s, effectively drew attention to the artist as a social and political actor. Sholette’s collaborations with REPOhistory also presented art works as vehicles for addressing submerged socio-political histories, such as in the group’s Lower Manhattan Sign Project (1992-1993), in which they posted signs around Manhattan offering information about “the unknown or forgotten history of Manhattan below Chambers Street.” Sholette has also been an active participant in PAD/D (Political Art Documentation and Distribution [1980-1986]), an organization devoted to the publication and distribution of documents regarding the intersection of aesthetic politics and activism. Most recently Sholette has founded an archive for futures that “never happened” (The Imaginary Archive, 2010-present), and has been involved with The Institute for Wishful Thinking, an organization that attempts to harness the “untapped” potential of artists by soliciting proposals for projects which might effect governmental and social change.
Despite Sholette’s robust participation with other artists and activists and his tendency to only exhibit his own work in group shows, the works and projects he has produced independently of collaboration feedback vitally into a more collective practice (something he discusses at length below and in a previous “Inside the Artist’s Studio” feature). Meeting Sholette in person, I was struck by his interest in subjects ranging from the popular to the occult and counter-cultural. Sholette’s range of interests are brought to a focus in the book Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture, in which he considers artworks that have fallen through the cracks of official art-historical discourse. Such works offer sites of (potential) resistance and autonomy inasmuch as they are not perceived as “art” proper and so remain liminal to the expropriative tendencies of cultural capital. Works by the “outside” artist, the craft artist, the hobbyist, the amateur, and the self-critical “drop-out” appear throughout Sholette’s book, offering examples, if not models, of what art can do guided by different values and habits.
After the work of the film-essayist Chris Marker or the literary theorist Walter Benjamin (two professed heroes of the artist), Sholette turns his attention to the abandoned and unattended, cultural products so prosaic that they would seem neither worthy of our critical attention, nor our powers of reappropriation. The stuff ripe for re-use in Sholette’s work one would hardly call “redemptive,” and yet something is redeemed through the artist’s taking them up—a potential to make legible things just below the attention, what becomes “dark matter” because the culture at large just doesn’t know where to put it. Through the use of action figures in particular, a preferred format of hobbyists, he addresses problems ranging from post-Fordist labor practices (i am NOT my office, 2002-2004) to representations of Italian Fascism (Deconstructing Mussolini, 2007) and the exploitation of child workers (Little Workers Collectibles).
Sholette’s dirty messianic approach also comes across in his appropriation of dioramas, window and museum displays, and souvenirs. Playing upon our familiarity with these 19th century formats, Sholette moves fluidly between sentimentality and criticality, ironic abandon and the recognition that, as Walter Benjamin famously wrote (and Sholette quotes through a particular work of his citing the relationship between John D. Rockefeller’s founding of the New York MoMA and management of his public image after a mining disaster): “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” Moving within the flicker of “civilization” and “barbarism,” Sholette tells history slant, through the eyes of the losers, the unrecognized (and unrecognizeable), citing the places where anomalies and antagonisms crucial to history’s retelling “flash-up.”
Images from popular culture abound in Sanford Biggers’s work, and particularly from hip-hop, East Asian Buddhism, and the Antebellum and Afro-Futurist African-American. Two images that have become particularly emblematic for me among his works are the post-Pop Art-ish, cherry red lips of his signage-sculpture, Cheshire, in reference to the grinning cat made famous by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It is also the Buddhist Mandala, the patterns of which cover the floor-tiling of the artist’s Mandala of the B-Bodhisattva II, upon which break-dancers pop, lock, and spin invoking the cosmic intuitions of the hip-hop dance form.
The images are telling of Biggers’s dual commitments. On the one hand, to a world of appearances, of masks that represent cultural and personal survival, the need to change one’s appearance in order to persist. If you recall, the Cheshire cat lost his body becoming only his grin in order to avoid decapitation by the Queens of Hearts in Carroll’s tale. On the other, there is an aspect of all of Biggers’s work that reaches towards the vertical, divine, and cosmic through the quotidian and culturally synthetic. A pair of nunchucks, one of the martial arts weapon revered by hip-hop and soul music in the 70s, is encased within a glass display (Nunchucks). In the installation, The Afronomical Ways, one enters a room with a mirrored floor. Upon the ceiling is a DayGlo Zodiac chart in which the signs of the Zodiac have been replaced by men and women making love in a variety of positions—a different position for each sign. In another piece, Hip Hop Ni Sasagu (In Fond Memory of Hip-Hop), Biggers has melted down hip-hop ‘bling’ (jewelry) into a set of bells that will eventually be played by an ensemble in Japan at a Zen Temple. Whereas one associates hip-hop jewelry with a very American form of materialism, one typified in many rap songs, melting them into bells transmutes them into forms both ephemeral and eternal, transitory yet specific. While, as Biggers notes in an interview, the bells will probably long outlast him, their tones linger and mix in the air only for a moment, struck among other bells—both ancient and newly cast—in the improvisatory performance of Hip Hop Ni Sasagu.
Biggers makes me think again and again of the culturally hybrid and plastic. While I don’t think his relationship to Buddhism/East Asian forms is at all insincere or put on, it also seems to me that almost anything could find a place in his inclusive cosmology—a cosmology that becomes commonplace in its ability to translate and transform disparate, if not at times antagonistic, cultural materials. The plastic qualities of Biggers’s work also reach backwards into time, exploring the future as a condition of the past, and vice versa. Some of this exploration involves an investigation of museum archives and curatorial regimes, such as in Nunchucks, but also in various works such as Olmec Afropick where Biggers has placed a wooden hair-pick depicting a clenched fist raised in the air, the image of Black Power, next to a sculpture of African origin depicting a similarly clenched and raised fist. In another work, Janus, one sees encased the head of Vanilla Ice opposite MC Hammer, repurposed from rap action figures of the two. Within the museum it is as though mythological time compresses and blends, conflating chronologies and heterogeneous cultural durations. Resemblances are struck, but they also clash and ricochet. As Biggers discusses below, works like his Jocko, which references the ubiquitous jockey lantern of many an American lawn, send one back to original cultural referents, referents that may have meant something radically different in their original contexts than they do today. So with time certain mytho-historical images crystallize, while others split apart, fragment, and obscure, following their divergent arrows of time.
While Carlos Motta’s work exists through a number of different media, I think of it primarily as putting forth a series of socially and politically committed archives. These archives are focused through a series of different questions related to Latin American geopolitics and queer cultural politics. In one such archival work, a video/performance project called Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice (2010), Motta restages speeches calling for peace delivered by six Colombian left-leaning presidential candidates that were assassinated during critical moments in the nation’s history. By employing actors to perform the speeches in public places during Colombia’s 2010 presidential campaign, the work solicits response from passersby, many of whom are unaware of the speeches’ import, or when and by whom the speeches were first given. Like Mark Tribe, Sharon Hayes, and a number of other younger contemporary artists, Motta employs the reenactment of political speeches as a way of both engaging a viewer in dialogue about political histories and allowing submerged historical narratives to live again through the bodies of actors situated within sites of public discourse and exchange.
As in many of Motta’s works, Six Acts constructs a kind of archive, an archive of what has gone unnoticed and that is at risk of being forgotten by a culture’s memory of itself. One can witness a similar archival tendency in all the works of Democracy Cycle, of which Six Acts is just one part. In The Immigrant Files: Democracy Is Not Dead; It Just Smells Funny (2009), the artist collects interviews with Latin American immigrants/exiles to Sweden. Through the series of interviews, one becomes able to see the contradictions and antagonisms within Sweden’s idealized democratic system. Similarly, by collecting over four hundred video interviews with pedestrians on the streets of twelve Latin American cities in The Good Life (2005-2008), Motta provides his viewer with a variegated composite of how Latin Americans view the US’s role in Latin American geopolitics throughout the past century. While many citizens are enraged by what they perceive as a gross injustice committed against that region by the US, others are ambivalent, if not seemingly ignorant, of the US’s actions. In his most recent project, We Who Feel Differently, the artist and multiple collaborators explore a variety of problems surrounding contemporary queer and LGBT activist communities in the US and abroad. Conducting video interviews and collating and commissioning articles for a journal, We Who Feel Differently offers an extensive web archive on issues regarding sexual and gender politics and histories.
Another project by Motta that attempts to intervene through the construction of archives as well as through the distribution and collation of information is the artist’s SOA Cycle (2005). Whereas the Democracy Cycle offers numerous perspectives on democracy within and without Latin America, SOA Cycle focuses specifically on the repercussions of US intervention in Latin America via the School of the Americas, a US government sponsored educational institution for training foreign military officials and personnel. Notorious for its role in training the leaders of death squads and military coups that terrorized Latin America throughout the 70s and 80s, School of the Americas changed its name to Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in the early 2000s, yet its involvement in contemporary Latin American politics remains active and unchallenged. Through his project, which involves video, printed matter, sound installation, and photography, Motta disseminates vital information about the US’s troubling role in Latin American geopolitics.
As Motta’s photographs and installations of political graffiti from Latin America show [Ideological Graffiti (2005-2011) and Graffiti Cuts (2010)], it is often through fleeting cultural matter such as graffiti that one may bear witness to larger cultural sentiments and underlying popular dissent. In his installation Graffiti Cuts, Motta monumentalizes these sentiments by carving them into a backlit metal surface. Similarly, by contrasting photographs of physically present buildings with photographs of their absence, a project like Leningrad Trilogy (2006) bears witness to the threat of disappearance and the inevitability of cultural change. I am interested in these two projects, as they seem to extend Motta’s work as an artist-archivist invested in the liminal registers of social reality and political antagonism.
I encountered the art group Not An Alternative for the first time about a month ago in Corona, Queens, where Tania Bruguera (featured last month in 5 Questions) had assembled a panel on “useful art.” What immediately impressed me was the group’s ability to articulate its ongoing project, which aims both to create new spaces for cultural production and to question the ways that various participatory structures (social media, election processes, relational aesthetics) exclude certain subjects and amplify social and economic inequalities by means of participation.
Through their highly engaged work, work that functions somewhere between political activism, social service, and institutional critique, Not An Alternative confront the limits of what political theorist Jodi Dean has called, after a variety of critical theoretical debates, “communicative capitalism.” In a time of communicative capitalism, our political and social participation is increasingly exploited by the use of new media. Not An Alternative foregrounds this fact, presenting ways of navigating a relatively new digital landscape in which values once cherished by the militant left and avant-garde alike–participation, reflexivity, interactivity–have become corporate watchwords for how neoliberalism manages consent in a networked age.
Networked for some, but obviously not for all. Not An Alternative’s work is also crucial in the ways that it foregrounds exclusion, offering ways to visualize the limits of participation in a society in which obviously one’s ability to participate is largely determined by social and economic privilege. As Not An Alternative said during their presentation in Corona, referring to their collaboration with a homeless advocacy group in the Bronx (discussed below), they recognize the important of “desubjectifying” themselves, where to draw attention to their efforts may work against the causes of the community groups with whom they choose to work.
Tania Bruguera’s long and various career as an artist starts with a series of works made after, but mainly through, the Cuban-born artist Ana Mendieta. I say “through,” because in Bruguera’s eleven year-long project devoted to Mendieta’s work, Tribute to Ana Mendieta, she does not just pay tribute to Mendieta, but channels the artist during a time before art historical appreciation of the Cuban-American artist’s work had taken shape in the United States —and before the popularization of re-enactment as a tool used to archive performance. In this series of performance and site-specific sculptural works, Bruguera undertakes reenactments of Mendieta’s performances in order to resurrect them for a Cuban audience. She also presents Mendieta as a kind of double (or alter ego), inasmuch as through her work, Bruguera seeks to situate Mendieta in a cultural context from which both artists emigrated, but only within which Bruguera was brought up.
Bruguera’s most recent work, an institution which intends to foreground the situations of immigrants in New York City and worldwide, called Immigration Movement International, extends the artist’s preoccupation with the situation of immigrant, emigrant, homeless, and other displaced people. As in her previous work after Mendieta, the new piece tracks a movement across cultural contexts, locations, and institutional sites in an attempt to make relationships between these places more visible, better understood (especially for those who could most benefit from understanding these relationships—those who are themselves displaced).
Immigration Movement International also extends two practices that Bruguera has pursued for the past nine years: Arte de Conducta (Behavior Art) and Arte Útil (Useful Art). Through the creation of Behavior Art works—works the artist relates through the performances of early Dada and Soviet Constructivists, as well as the 80s generation of artists in Cuba—Bruguera wishes to not only perform certain power relationships for her audience/viewer, but also to place him or her in a situation by which one may participate in the immanent expression of certain power dynamics as they unfold within institutions.
For an example of Bruguera’s Behavior Art works, you may watch a video online filmed at the Tate Modern in London of the artist’s Tatlin’s Whisper #5. Here, Bruguera employed mounted policemen to patrol the gallery, where they demonstrate various techniques of crowd control. Visible in the expressions of the audience is annoyance, if not also some anxiety. Many do not seem to know they are participating in an artwork; the revelation only comes afterwards, or in the process of their participation. Their behavior thus enacts how (state) power operates spatially to coerce groups and multitudes. As Bruguera tells scholar and curator RoseLee Goldberg in an interview from 2005, “I want to work with reality. Not the representation of reality. I don’t want my work to represent something. I want people not to look at it but to be in it, sometimes even without knowing it is art.” Distinguishing between “performance” and “gesture,” Bruguera relates the significance of her Behavior Art works through their ability to create actions within a set of power relationships, rather than through the representations of those relationships.
* This interview has been translated and co-edited by Brian Whitener.
I first heard about Colectivo Situaciones about a year ago, when I received a publication in the mail titled Genocide in the Neighborhood, edited by the scholar and poet Brian Whitener and translated by Whitener, Daniel Borzutsky, and Fernando Fuentes . This book, published by Chain Links and available through Small Press Distribution in Oakland, focuses on three organizations that emerged during the mid-90s and early 2000s in Argentina: Colectivo Situaciones, HIJOS [Children for Identity and Justice against Forgetting and Silence], and Mesa de Escrache. Though a series of conversation and interview transcriptions as well as collaboratively written documents, Genocide in the Neighborhood tells a story of how these groups came to work with various neighborhood communities throughout Argentina in the interest of bringing the crimes of both the Argentine dictatorship (1973-1983) and subsequent governments that granted immunity to many who had committed crimes against humanity during this period to light. As the children of the “disappeared,” those who were executed for their political sympathies during the dictatorship, Colectivo Situaciones and their colleagues have sought a kind of justice through a social practice that emerges through their efforts: the escrache. As Whitener writes extensively of the escrache, a ritual performance situated within specific communities that attempts to exact alternative forms of justice in the interest of community building and healing:
Like all truly innovative practices, what the escrache is is rather difficult to define; it’s something between a march, an action or happening, and a public shaming. The escraches are a transformation of traditional forms of protest and were developed as a means to address two problems. The first was the problem of “impunity” [the granting of legal immunity to criminals of the dictatorship]; the second was the loss or suppression of historical memory that this legal reality created.
The escrache, then, as a practice looks like this: HIJOS selects someone who, during the dictatorship was responsible for or complicit with the torture and murder of people, to be escrached. When they first started, HIJOS targeted high-ranking members of the dictatorship, who primarily lived in the center of Buenos Aires. Later, a decision was made to escrache lower ranking members in part to begin to work in other parts of the city, but also to demonstrate that members of the dictatorship were living as if nothing had happened. Once a genocidist is decided upon, a date for the escrache is fixed and members of HIJOS and other related organizations spend months working in the neighborhood where this person lives. They work with neighborhood organizations and go door-to-door to discuss with individual residents and families what that person did and the need for denouncing it. They also discuss the theory and practice of the escraches. Next come months of flyering in order to invite and secure participation of the residents of the neighborhood in the march, which is part of the culminating action of the escrache. The march leads the neighbors to the criminal’s home, where there are theater performances and a symbolic ‘painting’ of the house. This ‘painting’ usually involves throwing paint ‘bombs’ or balloons at the building in order to mark it as the genocidist’s place of residence. The idea is to once again transform the space of the neighborhood, to make visible that genocidists still walk free.
As Whitener goes on to say in his introduction to Genocide in the Neighborhood, the organization of such public and communally immanent rituals, while it takes on aspects of the “happening” or “situation,” is in the service of exploring inter-actions and relations within specific communities that may help to transform those communities positively, towards productive expressions of political and juridical power. Where the state judiciary has failed the people of Argentina (much as our own public officials now fail us in the US), Colectivo Situaciones and their affiliates seek forms of justice and politics that are not a priori but rather are conceived through a rigorous and extensive social process. The result is a practice of “social protagonism” and the construction of “plane[s] of social transversality,” a space in which individuals and groups can explore forms of subjectivity and potentiality autonomous to the seeking of state power. In the wake of Colectivo Situaciones, one can start to imagine how art and performance can serve politics through commitments to the local, particular, and relational — which is to say, through a commitment to working with the people whom their art would be for, whom it would serve.
For the past couple years, I have been teaching Bay Area-based artist Amy Balkin’s work within a curriculum about environmental art and “land expropriation.” I teach her work besides Karl Marx’s twenty-seventh chapter of Capital vol. 1, regarding “Expropriation of the Agricultural Population from the land” in 14th- throughout 19th-century Europe. I also teach her work alongside Robert Smithson’s writings on the planning and maintenance of Central Park in New York City, and Agnes Denes’s writings about her Wheatfield (1982) and Tree Mountain (1992-1996) remediation projects. These art writings/projects form obvious parallels with Balkin’s work, which has to do with land use, the creation of public space, as well as the legal, economic, political, and social problematic of positing a “global commons”—an international, public space that would be the property of all and none simultaneously. Which is to say, would be shared in common.
The speculative aspects of Balkin’s work are redolent both with science fiction narratives and historical utopias from a variety of different periods and cultural locations. The Paris Commune comes to mind, but so does Afro-Futurism, or the work of Samuel Delaney. The purpose of the speculative, as Balkin discusses below, is to project a reality that may become true if it is ardently worked towards. As such, what Balkin calls “counter-speculative spaces” model relationships and phenomena that one would want to have had. That, in other words, might create conditions of possibility whereby “global commons” might actually be able to exist in some way, shape, and form. Future conditional tenses abound in Balkin’s very future-directed projects, whereby the future enfolds multiple presents and vice versa.
While artists and thinkers have attempted to think through utopias alternative social, economic, and political realities for a long time, there are very few precedents that I can see for Balkin’s work in art history, a work which the poet and critical theorist Rob Halpern recognizes as one which takes as its “material” the law. What does it mean for the law to become a legal material?
I first encountered Rigo 23’s work this past summer staying with friends in San Francisco’s Mission, where Rigo 23 partially got his start as an artist through his engagement with the 90s “Mission School.” Before I left town, my friends gave me the artist’s box-set of zines, which he had made in 2007 with the activist and scholar Erick Lyle for an exhibit of his large-scale charcoal drawings at The Luggage Store, Backtracking 199485.
Reading the box-set, which consists of eight discrete staple-bound zines and one staple-bound booklet with essays by Rigo 23 and Lyle, I felt an immediate kinship. This was partly because the collaborators were taking up the zine, a format that I had grown-up with and which felt familiar to me. But they were also using the zine in a way that I think it most wants to be used; as a high impact format for critique, communication, and documentary/historiography.
What was unique about Backtracking was that it was not conveying something that needed to be said immediately and circulated among a particular community that would get the message, as zines typically do. But, rather, the zine was being used as much as twenty-three years after the fact to show how events had been represented by participants and popular news sources.
The events dealt with through the booklets in the box-set form a natural unity, as they foreground changes in the civic terrain around the Bay Area from 1985 until 1994. The first of these events is the ARC/AIDS Vigil at UN plaza, one of the first effective demonstrations of and for people with AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses in the United States, which lasted for over a decade.
Other events include: the Columbus Day demonstrations of 1992 led by Native American activists; the chronicling of peace activist Brian Willson’s career from the time of his service in Vietnam to a protest against the Concord Naval Weapons Station in 1987 that would claim his legs and fracture his skull; the murder of Black Panther leader Huey Newton; the beating of United Farm Workers leader Dolores Huerta by SFPD; the persecution of the organization Food Not Bombs by SFPD; the emergence of Critical Mass; the Gulf War protests of 1991, which shut down the Bay Bridge twice; and the car bombing of Earth First activist Judi Bari, where the Oakland police immediately arrested the victims as the prime suspects of the crime.
Recognizing the richness of this zine project—the intensity with which it unearthed social histories that risk being lost and the way it looks backwards with an eye to future possibilities for social action—made me want to be in touch with Rigo 23 and learn more about his work. Searching for him online doesn’t yield all that much, though there is some wonderful documentation of his 2007 show at The Luggage Store, and documentation of the hyper-literal (and counter-digital) billboard-sized murals that he made in the mid-nineties, which depict “one way” signs with words like “one tree” and “birds” on them (the “tree” sign points to a tree; the “birds” sign points to the sky).
I am a bit late coming to the curatorial work of Nato Thompson, which first became recognizable to me at this past October’s second annual Creative Time Summit, a gathering devoted to “revolutions in public practice.” During the proceedings (which I write about here for Art21), Thompson was consistently whip-smart in his responses both to the participants and the audience. If ever things started to derail or simply drag, Thompson was on it, cutting through any pretenses or posturing which might cloud one’s sense that a truly dynamic and important public conversation about art’s place in public discourse was enfolding before them.
Thompson’s intelligence as a curator and his commitments to revolutions in public practice (if not revolution in general) is apparent immediately in the artists, curators, and culture workers whom he has invited to participate in the summits. They include some of the most significant individuals and groups currently working for social change and justice in (and through) the visual arts. That Creative Time has opted to archive the entire proceedings of the one and two days summits on its website is a gesture of dialogue and openness very much in keeping with the spirit of the annual gathering.
Another project that, I only realized retrospectively, was curated by Thompson is Paul Chan’s Waiting for Godot in New Orleans. It was supported economically, collaboratively, and morally by Creative Time. Of the “Shadow Fund” that grew from Chan’s and Creative Time’s work in New Orleans—a nest egg that might continue to support the needs of the African-American working-class community inhabiting New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward, where one of the two performances of Waiting for Godot took place (the other was staged in the predominately white middle-class neighborhood of Gentilly, also in New Orleans)—Thompson writes:
After nearly twenty meetings, the three of us [Paul Chan, Thompson, and Creative Time Director, Anne Pasternak] were exhausted and excited: our minds reverberated from the many heart-breaking stories we had heard. Paul was evidently concerned about the gravity of what he wanted to accomplish. “We have to leave something,” he said. Out of this sense that a rise in media visibility would not be enough, he concocted the idea of the Shadow Fund. We would raise money for local groups that would put much-needed materials into their hands. If Common Ground needed sheet rock, for example, the Shadow Fund would supply it. If an educational effort needed textbooks, the Shadow Fund would supply them. We would attempt to match the production budget, dollar for dollar. Anne agreed this was a moral imperative. “In order to do this project right,” Paul said, “we need to do the dime and spend the time.”
–from Waiting for Godot in New Orleans: A Field Guide, edited by Paul Chan
This past month, Thompson was generous enough to meet with me to discuss his curatorial practice, as well as a wide-range of other subjects. Talking with Thompson, something that struck me (which is also evident in his responses to my questions below), is his thoughtfulness in thinking about the place of the curator in relation to social practice and cultural production. He will address this intersection in two forthcoming books, specifically with regard to political struggles post-Karl Rove & co. I hope you will check out these books when they come out, which will no doubt offer much to a discourse about the place of art within our current economic and political climates.
1. What is the history of your curation practice and how is it reflected by your current work with Creative Time?
I have two prominent influences in the ways that I organize exhibitions and think through projects. The first comes out of my time living in Berkeley, California, where I worked with numerous anarcho-left artists, activists, and malcontents. The activist organizing at the time of the early ’90s was producing a language around neoliberal capitalism and that type of analysis (and means-ends effectiveness) certainly inspires much of the way I think today.
For six years, Carin Kuoni has been director of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School in New York City. I wanted to pose my five questions to Kuoni because I see her as someone truly in the middle of a discourse about how art may affect the public sphere as that discourse continues to take shape and evolve.
The Vera List Center (VLC) has consistently presented programs that have brought culture workers together across disciplines to discuss a broad range of topics and problems related to cultural politics and aesthetics. Two of the events that I have attended at the VLC, which I found overwhelmingly thoughtful and compelling, were a conversation in the Fall of 2009 between Galit Eilat, a curator for the Center for Digital Arts in Holon, Israel; Chen Tamir, director of the Queens-based Flux Factory; and Reem Fadda, a Palestinian art historian currently employed by the Guggenheim. During this event, Eilat and co-presenters discussed the Center for Digital Art’s project for a Mobile Archive, a traveling archive of DVDs showcasing work by artists in the Middle-East intended to travel across cultural, national, and symbolic boundaries. The event made me think in crucial ways about how archives may intervene in the Middle-Eastern conflict, and how art may play a role in promoting cultural understanding and dialogue faced with impasse.
More recently this fall, I was able to attend the launch of Lin + Lam’s online archive project, Change Encounters, which offers interviews with workers from a broad range of disciplines speculating on social transformation, and which is part of VLC’s current program focus on Speculating on Change. During this particular presentation, Lin + Lam, who developed this project during their 2009-2010 Vera List Center fellowship, presented materials from the archive and read their playful musings about “chance” and “coincidence.” I also heard talks from a philosophy professor who researches affect, a writer who had published a book about the history of the Ouija board, and a person who had worked for a psychic hotline.
Something unique about the VLC – and Kuoni’s approach as a curator (as you will see below) – is the extent to which she has thought through the ramifications of her programming and the VLC’s relationship both within the larger institution of The New School as well as the institutions and communities with which it has worked. I particularly admire that the VLC’s events tend to relate and build upon one another and reflect a curatorial ethos. I also admire very much the evolution of the VLC from strictly organizing programs and events towards more recently producing curricular documents (textbooks, anthologies) and creating a fellowship program intended to bring scholars, teachers, and artists to the university to participate in programs and curriculum.
For universities, institutions, and groups wishing to explore models for programming and curriculum, they would be well advised to pay close attention to Kuoni’s past and ongoing work at the VLC.
5 Questions with Carin Kuoni
1. What’s the history of your involvement with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics?
A disparate collection of stops along a curatorial pathway shaped by seemingly incongruous experiences: early on, for instance, the encounter with one of Jenny Holzer’s Truisms, carved into an Alpine rock at an altitude of 10,000 feet – powerful in absolute solitude. Group Material’s Project on Democracy at the old Dia Art Foundation space in SoHo, just as the art world was returning to the area from the gentrified LES. The Living Museum at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, at the time one of the largest psychiatric facilities in the country and a town unto itself with an entire abandoned building (and lots of patients) committed to art through the initiative of Polish artist Bolek Greczynski. There was Fashion Moda. And Tim Rollins & K.O.S. And Seven Thousand Oaks by Joseph Beuys.