May 23, 2013

Perverse Curating: Tentative idea for an exhibition as thought experiment.


Perverse Curating is a tentative idea for a group show that would attempt to use the juxtoposition of conflicting works of art in a ‘perverse’ manner, both: 1) as a critique of what often feels (to me) like a generalized, much too ‘well-behaved’, curatorial position; and 2) as a way of seeing how far one might push this mischievous, ethically dubious, possibility for exhibition making.

Many (or most?) group exhibitions attempt to place works in space in such a way that they aesthetically and thematically complement one another, forming an experience for the viewer that supports (or, in a best case scenario, endlessly complicates) some larger curatorial position or thesis. With Perverse Curating I would like to attempt the opposite, as if all the works within the exhibition were are war with one another, fighting for their various approaches and positions, taking turns undermining each other, in never-ending conflict. If I were to do this without the complicity and permission of the artists, such a project would merely be questionable. It is the full co-operation of each artist involved that will make this undertaking ‘perverse’, as they agree to present their own works in ways that subjugate, compromise and undermine them, doing the same to the works of their fellow participants.

At this time, I have no particular artists or works in mind. We might think of Perverse Curating as a thought experiment that, eventually, I would like to turn into a exhibition. What would it mean to juxtapose works of art in a way that feels perverse? How could I do so in a manner that brings into question some of the unquestioned paradigms of conventional exhibition-making?

I am partly thinking of one of Chantal Mouffe’s best-known terms: agonism, ‘a political theory that emphasizes the potentially positive aspects of certain (but not all) forms of political conflict.’ While, according to Mouffe, agonism is a necessary part of any democratic process, within an artistic exhibition it might be useful to put the works into some sort of more extreme form of inter-thematic conflict. (The word I am using for this more extreme form is ‘perverse.’) As well, because a work of art always has many meanings, I would be interested to see if there were ways of creating conflicts that took place simultaneously on varying levels of visual sensation and content.

I have never curated an exhibition. And though I have done many projects in a visual art context, strictly speaking I am not exactly a visual artist. (Though that seems to be the direction my work is slowly heading in.) Much of my artistic history takes places in performance and literature. Therefore, for me, this project would also be in the tradition of works which bring something unusual to a given context simply because they were generated by someone slightly outside of the reigning paradigms, who does things differently partly to shake things up and partly out of a conscious naivité, because he or she doesn’t completely know how things are usually done. For example, I have always been fascinated by figures like Rem Koolhaus (who began his career as a screenwriter) or Robert Wilson (who began as a visual artist.)

There are many curatorial projects today created by artists, and Perverse Curating could certainly be seen in this light. However, my hope is that it could also be something else. A kind of workshop for everyone involved to question how their works are frequently exhibited. As a provocation for opening up other artistic and exhibition possibilities. This will require considerable collaboration and participation from everyone involved, which means each of the artists will have to be carefully chosen. I have no idea where or when an exhibition like Perverse Curating might take place.

[You can find other approaches to Perverse Curating here, here and here.]


May 20, 2013

Four Sentences


Someone becomes an artist because at some point in their life someone, implicitly or explicitly, gave them permission to make art.

We need an accurate analysis of the situation to proceed, but the road to an accurate analysis leads only to further debate.

After your presentation, during the questions, at the end of each question, simply admit that you don’t know.

When you’re born it’s real, when you die it’s real, everything else is a mix of reality and conventions.


May 14, 2013

Past, Present, Future, Etc. / Excerpt #3


So much of my life, like so many artists in the early 21st century, circles around projects. When asked what I’m working on, invariably I’m always working on something I am only able to refer to as a ‘project.’ I have always known one of the things I like about projects is that they end. If you are in a band, and you don’t want to be in the band anymore, the band has to break up, but a project simply runs its course. A project is agreeing to work on a certain set of questions for a certain period of time. I have often wondered if a project is the opposite of activism. With activism you need to keep fighting forever, since injustice is never solved, it must be fought against endlessly. A project ends, while activism must keep going. Of course, each project is followed by another project, the next one. In this sense a project is mainly a way of compartmentalizing time. (Perhaps compartmentalizing it in a way that changes it from political or historical time, into a more apolitical, ahistorical time.) A project will usually take a couple of months, a longer project might take a few years, but activism is measured in generations. For activism to truly shift society, each generation needs to pick up the struggle and then keep pushing. This is clearly impossible without some larger, active sense of cultural memory.

I wish I were a better activist. I’m too defeatist. Whatever I undertake, I always have the overwhelming feeling it will fail. The one exception to this defeatism is art. In art, paradoxically, I can often trick myself into thinking that failure is a kind of success. A ‘perfect’ work of art feels dead and sterile to me. Also works that strive towards perfection. For me, in art, it is only failure, imperfection, vulnerability that opens things up, makes them human, leaves room for the viewer or reader to enter the machine. I try to remind myself that activism too is about failure, is always incomplete. Sometimes I wonder if the only problem is that I like art, at times it still gives me energy, but I’m not particularly sure if I like the world. So much activism has a better world as its goal, so if you don’t like the world activism might reflect this desire to see it fundamentally change. What else do you have to believe, before you can believe that something is worth saving?

But perhaps I have an overly romantic idea of what activism is and means. In interviews, the artist Paul Chan often states that he tries to keep his art practice and his activism separate. The main reason he gives is that he wants his art to remain complex, controversial, full of ambiguity; and for activism to succeed you need to simplify the goal, so that everyone can agree, or at least agree enough to more fully work together, push towards the same objective in unison. The ambiguity of art rejects easy consensus, divides viewers, undermines clear solidarity. (Though solidarity is rarely simple or clear.) Activism requires the largest possible coalition to succeed, while art needs only one sufficiently passionate viewer.

Yet what I like best about art is how communities form around artists, or works of art, they believe in. How you meet someone who loves the same book as you, and already you have so much to talk about.

So many of my ideas about activism come from a single book I read maybe fifteen years ago. (I am ordering it from the internet right now, to take another look, see if my memory is in any way correct.) The book was Soul of a Citizen by Paul Loeb, and what I remember most about it is the quote: ‘If everyone in your coalition agrees about everything, than you your coalition is too small.’ In this sense, Paul Chan is wrong when he suggests we need to simplify the goal beyond recognition. Or is it only that the more people you have on your team, the harder it will be to reach consensus about anything, simplified or otherwise.

Then there are questions of strategy. Questions of strategy must be the moment where consensus most frequently, most easily, breaks down. I promise that I’m not going to spent the next ten years writing about the fact that I plan to spend ten years working on this book, but it occurs to me now that ‘ten years’ is also a kind of strategy, a strategy to break down my defenses, to wear myself down so I suddenly, eventually, find myself writing things I would never otherwise write; like how in a documentary, if you film all the time, the subjects eventually forget they are being filmed, start to behave more naturally in front of the cameras. I read my own books and think: I put so much of myself into them, but there is also so much I leave out. (Yet maybe they are more ‘me’ because of what I leave out.) But this ten year strategy will not suffice, I need more strategies, so many more strategies, if the reader is to survive.

[Previous excepts: #-1, #0, #2.]


Jacob Wren Long Bio


Jacob Wren makes collaborative performances, exhibitions and literature.

His books include: Unrehearsed Beauty (1998), Families Are Formed Through Copulation (2007), Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed (2010), Polyamorous Love Song (2014), Rich and Poor (2016) and Authenticity is a Feeling (2018). 

Polyamorous Love Song was a finalist for the 2013 Fence Modern Prize in Prose and one of The Globe and Mail’s 100 best books of 2014. Rich and Poor was a finalist for the Quebec Writers’ Federation Paragraphe Huge MacLennan Prize for Fiction and one of The Globe and Mail’s 100 best books of 2016. His books have been translated into French (by both Le Quartanier and Éditions Triptyque) and Norwegian.

His performances, made collaboratively with other artists, engage with the struggle and paradox of ‘being oneself’ in a performance situation, with what it means to stand in front of an audience and speak honestly about the things one finds important, at the same time never afraid to show how vulnerable and nervous one might naturally feel in such a situation.

Many of these performances are made as the co-artistic director of Montreal-based interdisciplinary group PME-ART, with whom he has helped create: En français comme en anglais, it's easy to criticize (1998), Unrehearsed Beauty/Le Génie des autres (2002), La famille se crée en copulant (2005), the HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY series including: 1: The Title Is Constantly Changing (2008), 3: Individualism Was A Mistake (2008), 2: Gradually This Overview (2010) and 5: The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information (2011), Every Song I’ve Ever Written (2013), Adventures can be found anywhere, même dans la mélancolie (2014), A User's Guide to Authenticity Is a Feeling (2018), the online conference Vulnerable Paradoxes (2020) and the related free PDF publication In response to Vulnerable Paradoxes (2021). PME-ART was nominated for the 27th Conseil des arts de Montréal Grand Prix in the category of New Artistic Practices.

International collaborations include: a stage adaptation of the 1954 Wolfgang Koeppen novel Der Tod in Rom (Sophiensaele, Berlin, 2007), An Anthology of Optimism (co-created with Pieter De Buysser / Campo, Ghent, 2008), Big Brother Where Art Thou? (a project entirely on Facebook co-created with Lene Berg / OFFTA / PME-ART, 2011) and No Double Life For The Wicked (co-created with Tori Kudo / The Museum of Art, Kochi, Japan, 2012).

He has also collaborated with Nadia Ross and her company STO Union. Together they co-wrote and co-directed Recent Experiences (2000) and Revolutions in Therapy (2004).

Some of these projects have been reinvented by other artists. For example: En français comme en anglais, it's easy to criticize was reinvented by the National Theatre School to celebrate their 50th anniversary, co-directed by Chris Abraham and Christian Lapointe. Recent Experiences was reinvented by Amir Reza Koohestani / Mehr Theatre Group in a production that toured extensively. And La famille se crée en copulant was reinvented by La Periscope in a production directed by Frédéric Dubois.

Jacob created the exercise Relay-Interview, has led workshops in Montréal, Stockholm, Annaghmakerrig, Ghent, Cologne, Toronto, Zürich and Chicoutimi, and has had residencies in Hamburg, Viborg, Brussels, Lisbon, Kochi, Calgary, Portland, Cologne, Chicoutimi and Santarcangelo.

In a visual art context he has co-created works such as Five Important Books (co-created with Shannon Cochrane - Dare Dare/Mercer Union/Kyber, 2002), Hospitality 2: Gradually This Overview (PME-ART/Articule, 2010), Music And Theatre Must Learn To Disassociate (co-created with Adam Kinner as part of the group exhibition Stage Set Stage at SBC Gallery, Montréal, 2014) and Adventures can be found anywhere, même dans la mélancolie (PME-ART/Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, 2014), works that focus on how to use the gallery space in an unconventional, always performative, manner. He also had a text piece entitled If the absurdity within which we currently live results in our full or partial extinction does that make it less or more absurd? in the group show Véritables préludes flasques (pour un chien) at Maison Populaire (Montreuil, 2014.) 

Recent musical projects include Enters (with Alexei Perry Cox and Radwan Ghazi Moumneh) and The Air Contains Honey (with Adam Kinner and many, many others.)

He has performed in Aberystwyth, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Austin, Belfast, Bergen, Berlin, Birmingham, Bonn, Bordeaux, Boston, Brighton, Brussels, Calgary, Cardiff, Chicoutimi, Cognac, Copenhagen, Créteil, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Eindhoven, Frankfurt, Fribourg, Geneva, Ghent, Glasgow, Groningen, The Hague, Halifax, Hamburg, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Kingston, Kortrijk, Krakow, Linz, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Maastricht, Madrid, Malmö, Manchester, Mannheim, Marseille, Maubeuge, Melbourne, Montréal, Munich, Münster, New York, Nottingham, Oslo, Ottawa, Paris, Peterborough, Polverigi, Prague, Québec City, Rakvere, Regina, Reykjavík, Riga, Rotterdam, Rouen, Saint-Jean Port-Joli, Salamanca, Salzburg, Stavanger, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Tallinn, Taipei, Tielt, Toronto, Tokyo, Trondheim, Vancouver, Vienna, Vilnius, Yokohama, Zagreb and Zurich.

His internet presence is often defined by a fondness for quotations.

Jacob Wren Links


May 13, 2013

Email from Kathrin Tiedemann


I found these two sentences in Ricardo Piglia's "Short Forms" in a chapter with the title "Borges' Last Story" about how reading is the art to construct a personal memory from experiences and memories that are not yours. Scenes from books you read will be recalled as private memories. That way life and literature become something inseparable, an unforgettable experience that will be remembered like a melody. - I love this thought so much. It reminded me of how much I have always been a reader and that if I don't read enough I feel cut off from my memory.

If reading is the art to construct a personal memory I wonder how in comparison "watching a performance" could be defined?


May 12, 2013

Tilda Swinton Quote


Loneliness is the deal. Loneliness is the last great taboo. If we don’t accept loneliness, then capitalism wins hands down. Because capitalism is all about trying to convince people that you can distract yourself, that you can make it better. And it ain’t true.

- Tilda Swinton (from this interview in The Guardian.)


May 8, 2013

Past, Present, Future, Etc. / Excerpt #2


Each of my previous books took me approximately four years to write, but I didn’t decide beforehand they would take four years. I started at the beginning and wrote until they were done. In retrospect, the fact that each took about the same length of time seems to have led me to the conclusion that it takes me four years to write a book. Yet this length of time is so arbitrary, rapidly becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I put my mind to it I could most likely complete a book in a year (I have always written quickly), but I have already decided it takes four so, unconsciously, I stretch it out. What if I were to stretch it out even more?

It is this question of ‘deciding beforehand’ that pushes my mind into so many flavors of chaos. Pop psychology would nail me with fear of commitment. I am at the beginning, full of uncertainty: is writing this book for ten years even a good idea? will it lead toward breakthrough or mediocrity? will I stick with it? am I only over-indulging my most self-indulgent writerly traits? What does it mean to decide beforehand, what exactly am I deciding?

I believe, for most of the history of literature, a writer had every reason to believe it was possible that people would continue to read their books long after they were dead. Today you would be somewhat delusional to assume this with any confidence. It of course may happen, just as anything might happen, but it’s a bit of a long shot. There are so many writers, so many books, so little built to last. We live in a time when the future itself is a long shot, when human extinction, due to environmental collapse, feels like one of many very real dystopic possibilities. There is little well-reasoned confidence that the future will be better than the present, much evidence it will be worse. Of course, the world will still be here in ten years, but these ten years might also be an analogy for 50, 100, 300, 500 years into the future. What would it mean to write a book that you wanted people to read in 300 years? (I suspect it would be only a hairs-breadth away from writing a book you wanted people to read right now.) Today, a feeling of complicit ‘no future’ increases at a steady clip, yet perhaps this opens the possibility for something else. What comes after the future?

It is arguable whether or not it is possible to disentangle the idea of progress from the realities of industrial capitalism. Progress is the idea that things will continue to grow, to improve, etc. As has often been mentioned, we cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. If we remove the idea of progress from our thinking, how does the future change? In some sense it almost disappears. There is no question that everything repeats, in cycles, over years and over centuries, and yet the idea of progress implicitly averts its gaze from this fact. When something repeats, it is never exactly the same: there is an element of how it was before and an element of difference. Progress focuses on the difference, tradition encourages the similarity. But I find myself imagining something else, more like alchemy, that mixes past and future as if turning lead into gold. It is not my plan to spend ten years writing down my random thoughts, keeping my fingers crossed they might be at least slightly profound. It is my plan, at some point over the next ten years, to start making stuff up, elements of fiction, stories that didn’t happen and didn’t happen to me. I still don’t know why this might be necessary. Is fiction only an insecurity around fact? Or around thought?