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.]


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