In Conversation… An interview with the Curatorial Advisors prompted by the Graduate Curatorial Fellows (GCF)
May 5 - 10, 2020 Prompt 1: In relation to the process of working with GCFs: • What were your goals as a Curatorial Advisor to the fellows, or what do you hope the graduate fellows take away from this experience into their professional careers? • Were there any general thoughts or feelings you derived from the studio visits that gave you surprising insight into the potential future of art-making, for instance, popular use of materials, digital formats? • The curatorial model used to organize SAIC’s MFA Show is the only of its kind in the country. What has it meant to participate in this show? While serving as advisors, what have you learned from this experience?
Daniel Tucker: From the start of our working relationship, my goal in engaging the GCFs was three
fold: to engage them around their interests and backgrounds, to model and share certain tactics and approaches within a curatorial process, and to be their advocate and liaison when needed. Ultimately they were on the ground at the school working hard with the Exhibitions staff and meeting with MFA artists much more frequently than I was around. So they were really driving the process within the framework that had been developed over the years at Sullivan Galleries. We met pretty frequently in the fall, but it was really our studio visits that allowed us to spend the most amount of time together.
Caitlin Mattia: This is a fear I heard echoed by artists - that it would, by nature, end up feeling like an art fair. I do believe that it encourages relationship-building and a certain type of generosity, or at the very least, an academic openness. I found that I felt pushed to understand the relationships between differents artists and works even better simply because I wanted to ensure that it really was a conversation, a constellation, a whole organism as opposed to pods, and that was the clearest way I saw. Accountability is a good word for this, and I saw it in my fellow GCFs and in the artists. It was a constant exercise in trust, communication, and accountability, only possible thanks to this specific model, and I feel you, the GCAs, carried a lot of weight in allowing us to develop that trust between artists and curators early.
In that process the GCF students also had many insights into the MFA works and the conversations were dynamic and moved between broad research interests, formal concerns, and a lot about installation issues. The range of work was incredible, which is really one of the qualities of the graduate programs at SAIC—that there is such formal diversity. We talked to many artists about their desires in terms of how people move through the space and around the artworks, the choreography of both bodies and also intentionally designing encounters with artworks. Beyond that I tried to do some modeling of certain kinds of engagement with MFA students if they were being overly vague, overly specific or if they just seemed like they were frustrated or cynical about how the exhibition would be useful/interesting for them. We did some debriefing for them to understand how that resonated, and I was happy to hear that they all noticed how those mood/conversation shifts were facilitated. This felt important because so much of the interactions in these spaces are rather vulnerable and can be kind of tricky. We talked some about how this might be different in an exhibition where the curator commissions something, versus one where someone invites someone to show existing work, or when the curator might be more on the line to ensure quality and might have to cut or disinvite participants or to work with them to improve unresolved ideas. But MFA exhibits are very particular, in that everyone moving through the experience is ensured participation and that can make it have more of a “showcase” quality akin to an art fair. This can really alter the role of the curator, but I think that the elaborate series of steps that the GCF program allows for does increase the accountability for everyone involved to have to continuously articulate themselves and their vision. For me as an educator that works with graduate students at Moore College of Art & Design, this dance of being supportive while also anticipating potential issues is a big part of the work. In my faculty role I’m not ever considered the exhibition curator despite teaching many curatorial courses, and so this role had a slightly different quality.
Elizabeth Reed: As a GCF in Daniel’s curatorial group, one of the most intriguing and valuable outcomes that I derived from our studio visits came out of a meeting with one artist who shared this sort of concern regarding the fit of their work, or their artistic practice in the MFA Show at large, and not only observing how Daniel navigated this moment, but also how it influenced the progression of the artist’s project thereafter. Simply providing insight to his own experiences working with social practice artists, which aligned with this MFA artist’s work, evidently inspired a new perspective for the artist and eventually totally transformed the way they intended to present their project in the physical show. Among the learning outcomes from this, for me, was the importance of developing the practice as a curator to constantly engage with networks of thought, practice, materiality, etc. in the world of art and cultural production at large, whether as a resource for insight to share with other artists or to inspire myself to consider new modes of thinking in my own work.
Krina Mehta: The role that GCFs played definitely dictated “accountability.” With this program we became the mediators between artists and the exhibition department. It was interesting to make sure that artists are comfortable enough with us about their project and requirement of space. Also keeping in mind that we communicate individual cases to the department to find the suitable space for the artists.
Robyn Farrell: My participation as Curatorial Advisor in SAIC’s MFA Show held special meaning as a Anagha Prasan: It was important to recognize that artists might be at different stages of their process and might need support in a variety of ways. Therefore, being adaptive to the situation and giving each other the space to gather and process information became necessary. It was also essential that we kept our feedback/critique constructive to the artist’s practice. As professionals who have conducted numerous studio visits in the past, I believe GCA guidance in this aspect was instrumental for our progress. Krina Mehta: That was genuinely a great experience under your guidance, as to how to lead a conversation with an artist you meet for the first time and give them a chance to talk more about their work and build up a relationship of listening rather than critiquing.
former alum of the Advanced Curatorial Program program (2012). The model of this program is unique, but provides an incredible chance to work in a real-world setting. I saw my role as an opportunity to share critical tools in exhibition making and to serve as a sounding board and support to the MFA artists and Graduate Curatorial Fellows. Engaging in generative dialogues that address conceptual and logistical considerations were my primary objectives as an advisor. These strategies, informed by an artist-centric approach to curating, aided our studio visits in January and conversations throughout the year. I saw these visits as key moments to give the GCFs and MFA artists a voice. I remember the incredible guidance Tumelo Mosaka provided me and my team in 2012: survey the room, ask about what you see (and don’t see), prompt questions but allow time and space for conversation, be critical but also polite. I did my best to lead these conversations while encouraging the GCFs to actively participate. I hope the fellows on my team felt empowered by this approach. I learned a lot from the GCFs and artists during our visits. I’m not sure why I was surprised, but the swell of technology and flexible nature of media dominated a majority of the artists’ interests. This was vastly different than my experience eight years ago, but with it also provided exciting new ways to think about an artist and audience’s experience at an MFA exhibition.
Jamillah James: SAIC’s GCFs have a unique opportunity to learn valuable curatorial methodologies
Anagha Prasan: There was also something in the function of roles in this process that helped destabilize the power hierarchy between the artists and GCFs. In this collaborative effort to develop a show, I believe everyone learned the value of each other’s roles. Essentially, there wouldn’t have been a show if there weren’t any artists. Similarly, there wouldn’t have been a fair and cohesive way to showcase work if there weren’t any curators to facilitate conversations across disciplines and between artworks. This program established a unique framework for collaborative practice in curatorial work. Nicolay Duque-Robayo: When I described to some people the amount of work that we were putting into the show sometimes I would hear back a reply along the lines of “why don’t they just assigned a space to the artists and just have them work with that? (Closer akin to the BFA Show).” As we were working further and further into the floor plan we all just realized that the question wasn’t so much that of space but of harmony. Sullivan galleries are not clean slates/white cubes where all space was fair. Some space just had an aura to itself, and some other spaces literally had temperaments of their own. That’s I think where our curatorial framework comes in: not so much a concept that drives the collective set of works, but a harmony and flow.
with a built-in group of artist peers, which is rare, outside of formal curatorial studies programs which often do not often allow for a direct interface between MFA studio candidates and students on the curatorial/critical studies/art history track. The experience with the GCFs encouraged a deep, extended dialogue and relationship with the MFA artists, which is the foundation of making any exhibition. Given the current situation, they also learned in practice the important skill of managing expectations, troubleshooting, listening, and providing support to artists through complex terrain, which are all abilities that are central to a working curator’s arsenal. In terms of my primary role, I prioritized providing real-world advice for navigating the various concerns that the MFA artists brought up, logistical considerations, and encouraging holistic thinking about the exhibition, what each artist offered, and tips from experience on what to think about when organizing a complex group exhibition. It was important for me to take a back seat and let the GCFs run the show during our studio visits, but I would interject with questions or guiding prompts as necessary to help reveal important points worth considering or to peel back more information from the artists that would help shape the GCFs planning and deep thinking about the work. It can be really intimidating to enter into an artist’s studio (and for an artist to have a curator in the studio), and conducting studio visits is largely intuitive and in the service of building collaboration and dialogue. So also taking a bit of air out of the situation when possible was an important part of my interactions with the GCFs and MFA artists, so that constructive dialogues could evolve during our limited time. I greatly appreciated the thoughtfulness and care my GCF cohort took during visits and in coordination with the MFA artists; and their willingness to listen and adapt while juggling 40 different personalities, needs, and types of work. Further, both the GCFs and artists were invested in thinking about the experience of the work in a global context, not privileging the curator’s or artist’s perspective, but centering the audience and engaging sometimes challenging politics or interests, which was refreshing to see. It was a pleasure getting to accompany the GCFs on the visits, to hear their thoughts and perspectives, and to see the range of work and conceptual concerns from the graduating class. My hope is that the fun of running around from one studio, one building, or one part of campus to the next in the service of looking and learning will continue to be a part of their work as they continue their work as curators.
Caitlin Mattia: I think there is an art to allowing conceptual threads to define logistical conversations and concerns and appreciated seeing that in person with you. Considering the balance between allowing space for the artist, and for others in the room, to share, and directing or focusing a conversation with the right questions and insights is so important. Prompting and leaving room. I personally learned a lot from studio visits with you.
Nicolay Duque-Robayo: This is so interesting to me! In line with Daniel’s comment on the formal diversity of the show, the selection process was something that I think allowed for “micro-narratives” to be created within teams. While at least our team never set a specific curatorial agenda as we approached the draft, I still feel that we took some interest of one another and gravitated towards a specific set of artists. This became clearer once we presented the entirety of the MFA cohort to the group. I don’t know if it was just me but from my perception it seemed that Team Farrell had this interest in technology and media; Team James were interested in these narratives and potentialities of the object to perform, and Team Tucker (my team) were intrigued by the potential of material and site to present ideas.
Graham Robert Feyl: I find this a central component that all of these responses have been pointing to. I saw this whole process as one of collaboration: a collaboration between the GCF and the curatorial advisor, a collaboration between the GCF and the artist, a collaboration between the artist and the advisor; and then an amalgamation of all three parties. It was a process that, although largely a moment of teaching, was a way for various individuals to build off of the other. I feel that all individuals involved came to the process ready to tackle whatever the MFA show would be, and ready to grow as the show developed.
May 7, 2020 Prompt 2: Despite the fact that the current moment regarding COVID-19, and the vast implications it has had in all sectors of life has seemingly been discussed incessantly over the past months, we feel that the impact the interruption has had on the MFA Show’s physical format is imperative to acknowledge. We are interested in talking about, or hearing your responses to, what you see as the stakes present in this shift to the online format for the show and the school specifically, also considering the broader or largerscale impacts, both short-term and long-term. For instance, many of us have felt the pull to reconsider aspects of our own personal thesis topics or projects as we close our semester at SAIC in the midst of stayat-home orders. We have also found it incredibly interesting to see how various cultural organizations and institutions are publicly reacting to it as well. We’ve generated these questions as guides, but we invite you to respond to this prompt in any way you feel compelled to. • What do you see as potential beneficial outcomes from this shift to an online format, for the school, the participating artists, and the now global audience? • What does curating digitally or online mean to you? • What benefits or challenges do you see, qualms or excitement you might have for it?
Daniel Tucker: The move online was, of course, mandated by law and is undoubtedly the appropriate
and necessary response for the safety of artists, visitors, faculty, staff and the complex division of labor it takes to run a school and exhibitions program, but it was, of course, a disappointment to everyone working towards this exhibition. So now there is an opportunity to consider what this can be and what it cannot be, and the Exhibitions staff and GCFs have really spearheaded that. The good news is that this is happening concurrently with all of the other AICAD (Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design) schools, along with other university-based MFA programs nationally and internationally. So there is a kind of collective experience and experiment going on, and we are not alone in thinking through this and trying it out.
Elizabeth Reed: I’m glad Daniel brings up this question of websites and their effectiveness or best modes of use, and in particular, his consideration of social media and websites being archival or documentation tools. Approaching this series of writings— the larger project that this interview is a part of—us GCFs also considered the benefit of generating a written archive of our experiences throughout this process as a contribution to the online format. I see this contribution as a traditional, albeit effective way in documenting our current voice, but I also find it inspiring to think about all the alternative possibilities in archiving or documenting our curatorial role in the MFA Show that we could have continued brainstorming, had we not been faced with timelines and other limitations of resources. I find this practice of questioning existing virtual outlets as a valuable tactic moving forward from this moment and as a starting point from which to consider new means for virtual curating or presentation.
But more generally, the question around online curatorial practice raises some exciting questions. What is challenging for me is that I don’t enjoy looking at websites, and so it is hard to be excited to focus on them. I’ve always treated websites and even social media as being more of an archiving and documentation tool. When I teach online outside of a pandemic situation, my goal is always to create online classes that get you off of your computer. As I contemplate a number of my upcoming projects being canceled and postponed, I’m considering similar questions. Keeping in mind physical distancing and the fact that it is truly unsafe to convene, especially for older folks or people with existing health or immunity-suppressing conditions, how does an online exhibit get you off the internet? When I last worked with SAIC on a project, it was the 2014 book Immersive Life Practices. In the introductory essay I used the following 2011 quote from Bifo Berardi and Geert Lovink: “We have lost the pleasure of being together. Thirty years of precariousness and competition have destroyed social solidarity. Media virtualization has destroyed empathy among bodies, the pleasure of touching each other, and the pleasure of living in urban spaces. We have lost the pleasure of love, because too much time is devoted to work and virtual exchange.”1 1
Berardi, Franco “Bifo” and Lovink, Geert “A call to the Army of Love and to the Army of Software” (October 2011) http://www.revolutionbythebook.akpress.org/on-occupy-franco-bifo-berardi-and-geert-lovink/ (Accessed 7/1/13)
Caitlin Mattia: Interesting that this physical distancing is strengthening other networks, and that there is somehow increased connectivity and community through communication and problemsolving. Wondering how communication channels are shifting in this regard and if we can expect MFA programs to lean into each other and converse a bit beyond viewing each other as experiments (not meant to sound callous). Also important to note, as you said, “what it can be and what it cannot be” -- have to come to terms with the loss of a thing but also be prepared and energized for the opportunity left in its absence.
Reading this today feels painful, not because it describes the present but because it describes the recent past. We’ve been heading in this direction for some time and now cultural producers who survive this pandemic will need to consider in the short term what kind of art experiences we want to facilitate that can safely allow for people to move offline. And in the long-term, the stakes are even greater because they have to do with shaping what kind of relationships we want to have to each other. The good news is that art will always be there.
Jamillah James: The unexpected nature of the pandemic and the domino effect on artists at different
career stages, institutions (schools and museums), and the commercial sector (galleries, advisories) has revealed the real instability of the field as a whole, and has caused some serious introspection about the systems that comprise and govern the “art world.” I think the impact of COVID will be long term, not just structurally but in how publics interact with art and institutions going forward.
Anagha Prasan: A part of the MFA Thesis Exhibition generally includes a live-action/activation event that takes place during the opening of the show (sometimes continuing periodically throughout the run of the show as well). These activations depend on audience interactions (both passive and active) to be successful. With this transition to online formats of exhibiting, live activation seems to be one of the most challenging aspects to wrap around. Personally, I don’t see the merits of substituting an in-person experience with an online representation for works that thrive on audience give-and-take. However, with new and creative technology, audience engagement might in fact be easier to attain than I initially thought.
The MFA thesis show is a graduate artist’s introduction to the world outside of school, and an important benchmark for those who participate in the graduate art school system to working professionally as an artist. The format of the MFA thesis show is closely watched by gallerists, institutional curators, and critics; with the pandemic, and the shift to an online format, it definitely broadens the visibility of this particular MFA show, which is a good thing. No one is traveling right now, but people are spending a lot of time online. Art fairs are now also operating online (it was supposed to be the Frieze Art Fair this weekend in New York, but now everyone has pivoted to viewing rooms and a Sketchup-like version of the fair tents), so it only makes sense that this type of exhibition should also make that transition. There are arguments, of course, about how art is received online versus in person (as an institutional curator, I have a lot of feelings about this). We know some work may be better represented than others online, but images are only one way of interacting with a work; the voice of the artist framing the work for an audience is also essential, as well as other didactic material. I think there is a lot of potential for the online format to provide the necessary platform for the thesis show participants and provide more visibility in the long run than the physically realized exhibition, which is subject to location, a finite length, and accessibility concerns. Flexibility and navigating contingencies is a critical part of working as an artist, and sometimes conditions dictate having to adapt. None of us anticipated that we would be here, but we have an opportunity to reach a larger, more diverse audience with this new format. As for online curating: in my work, I’m not necessarily conceiving of how an exhibition of objects is represented online or in its documentation (performance is another story). The online exhibition format has become more popular and present in recent years. I work at an institution that uses 360/VR technology to document our exhibitions. As our current exhibitions remain closed to the public, this VR capture has provided visitors in Los Angeles (and importantly, elsewhere) to enjoy our shows that may not ordinarily. This is a huge benefit; too often, artists and curators are not invested in the viewer, which is a problem. Now we’re all confronted with thinking more about the audience and “producing content” to remain “active” and visible because physical space and objects aren’t within our reach at the moment. Exhibitions have always been “content,” and the audience/public is an essential aspect of the life of an exhibition and the life of artworks. The idea of making exhibitions and producing art in these new conditions where people may not be able to experience the work in person at all, and instead just virtually, may be difficult to adjust to—but what are we doing if we aren’t learning, adjusting, adapting, growing, and looking for new ways to expand the reach of artists and institutions? Our situation provides an opportunity to think more about how artwork is deployed in the public sphere and different ways of presentation and engagement, which is critical and important.
Nicolay Duque-Robayo: This is something that I been thinking about since all these events started to get cancelled and institutions started to close. Will we see a shift towards more and more online/ non-material practices even as we are able to return to art spaces? I can see this as an interesting pivot both out of caution with publics, but embracing these technologies and practices that artists are developing now? I just had a (online) studio visit with an artist who has primarily worked with sculpture and it seems that COVID has made him shift his entire practice towards film and new media. On the other hand, will we see a return towards greater materiality? Personally, these two months have reminded me of my love for the art object and I can’t wait to see “art” in person once again. I know I am creating a false dichotomy here. But as someone who is sitting pretty far into one of these spectrums, I can’t help but to think that our engagement with the art object and its production is going to be changed in a way that we haven’t experienced before.
Robyn Farrell: COVID-19 prompted a monumental pause on the world as we know it. We were
all forced to stop and recalibrate. The art world is only one of many industries to drastically change over night, complicating the way in which art is shown and made. The shift to online formats presents opportunities and challenges in the presentation and circulation of creative production. The novel virus has created a proliferation of images, videos, and programs online. At stake is artist intent, accessibility, and reformulating a community (virtually). We find ourselves experiencing—or for some—reexperiencing—the promise of art’s mass reach via broadcast in the 20th century. The capabilities of disseminating art online is vastly different than with radio or television but the simple concept remains the same. The history and circulation of images by technical means is at the center of my art historical research and informs the way I approach curating in institutions and online. As the only American art historian focused on the activities of filmmaker Gerry Schum and his production of one of the first experiments of producing artwork for and shared by television—Fernsehgalerie Gerry Schum (1969-1971)—I’m keenly aware of the stakes of virtual viewings and “post-and-share” activities in this moment in time. Curating for the digital realm provides a more direct engagement between artist and viewer. This means changing the scope of the role of the curator. In an online environment, the importance falls to creating frames and experiences for that engagement to occur in a meaningful way. It’s about creating a context that plays out in real time. Albeit difficult and disappointing, one positive outcome of the MFA Show’s pivot online is the generative kind of creativity that comes with planning and seeing art for the screen. GCFs have the opportunity to program and publish their process and voice on a platform designed for perpetuity, while MFA artists are able to share their work beyond the Sullivan Galleries. This experience that deflated so many will inevitably form a new future of work and curatorial considerations for the class of 2020. They will enter a world that is both disseminated but ripe for change. A world where gatekeepers and barriers are removed and producers of culture can interface freely and directly with their audiences. Indeed, this presents some difficulties but very exciting possibilities. This will obviously require artists and curators, institutions and galleries, to adapt, but ultimately this is the core strength of creative practices, and I am inspired at the opportunities these challenges present.
Graham Robert Feyl: Taking parts of what Jamillah and Daniel said, this points to a shift in how curating is not just reliant on the physical space. What I mean by that is, although going to an actual gallery space and seeing the curation at play there is still very valuable and probably will still be an essential way to experience art works, there is something to be said about the shift online as a means of accessibility. More people can have a means to attend exhibitions, in real time or after, because more thought is being put into what it means to go online. Viewers are not just being thought of as attending physically, but the virtual aspect is becoming part of it.
May 10, 2020 Prompt 3: Having reflected on the stakes and state of the moment in relation to the MFA Show, we’re interested in learning more about how you see it relating to your own curatorial practice, or curatorial practice-at-large, that is beyond your own work. Recognizing that some of your above responses have touched on this already, we are wondering if you could elaborate on the following thoughts: • How has this moment altered the stakes for the future of exhibitions, curation, and artmaking? • Have you felt this moment alter your perspective of your professional curatorial practice, if at all? • What do you anticipate as lasting impacts on the art world, practice/process of exhibiting art, or other aspects of art and the curatorial profession?
Jamillah James: I don’t think the stakes of curatorial practice have shifted all that much. My job as a
curator is essentially the same as it was before COVID, though with many more complications. It is hard to envision exhibition making at a time when so much uncertainty weighs on us. The rescheduling or cancellation of exhibitions is happening throughout the industry, because museums can’t necessarily adapt their programming to function without a fixed sense of time. Unlike the commercial sector, museums work at a slower pace and meeting the horizon of an exhibition opening is a slow process. Curating exhibitions takes an inordinate amount of time planning, and right now, time and schedules are fluid and contingent on something much larger than the arts. I think the motivations for why curators pursue certain artists or lines of inquiry may stay consistent (personal interests, taste, etc.), though with any cataclysmic global event, artists, curators, and writers may feel an urgency to be responsive to the moment. We saw this happen with the 2016 election, people across the field questioning the use value of a highly specific skill set or the efficacy of making exhibitions or art if it’s not discussing what is happening at that very moment. Again, we’re faced with the question of “what is the point of what we are doing, of art at this moment?” Discussions around federal support/bailouts of museums and cultural institutions (like the Kennedy Center, for instance) were met with derision by certain groups, because, they think, art is non-essential and “real people” do not work as artists or at museums. We all know that this couldn’t be further from the truth and that art and creative practices across the board ARE essential and our work IS important. As students are graduating into this uncertain landscape, I know this notion may weigh heavy on their minds, as they enter into the field in deeply troubled times. But as with anything worth doing, it’s a long game, and we have to stick with it; the bigger picture is that art impacts people’s lives and makes a difference. I think we will all have to stay committed to what it is that we feel most comfortable doing and not radically pivot the substance of our work to respond to this particular time, which I hope will be behind us in the not so distant future. I think the primary thing that will change as a result of this shared experience is perhaps more of us embracing a slower, thoughtful pace, for looking, for working, and moving around in the world. The job market for curators and opportunities for artists may contract and become even more competitive, but this will also encourage people to be creative and explore new models of production and gain visibility and support. Lastly, I think there will be serious (and woefully long overdue) conversations across the field about collective stability, diversifying sources of income through sales and fundraising, and labor and livelihood protections for artists and those working within institutions so that what we build can last.
Anagha Prasan: Relevance - this has recently been weighing on my mind, as an artist, an educator, and an aspiring curator. How much should relevance to our current context shape my hybrid practice? I have always been an advocate for having a curatorial and education practice that is responsive to present-day circumstances because this is what I expect to see as a visitor at museums. However, my artistic identity lies far from this framework. In an attempt to find a balance between these identities, I question if I should be considering the events occurring today as a moment in time, responding only when I find it necessary, and moving forward with work that truly interests me.
Daniel Tucker: Looking forward, something that is on my mind is the theme and the form of “event
production” and its prevalence in contemporary art curating. As someone who works as a freelance curator, I have an itinerant practice. Recently, that has meant pivoting a project of sites-specific “historic mural activations” through the city of Philadelphia for a curatorial residency I’ve had with Mural Arts Philadelphia for the last year and a half. While these activations have had to be rethought in some ways that are still in progress, one of the points that strikes me more generally is that curatorial practice has been melded more thoroughly with public engagement. In some cases, there has been a move to have forms mimic that of the public event. This moment highlights a real vulnerability of a substantial sub-category of art and, by extension, curatorial practice that needs to be considered with contingency plans beyond rain-dates. And as a form that shapes the way artists and art presenting organizations work, I think that this moment is an opportunity to think about what constitutes an event. Can we move beyond gathering people together in a venue or a street and using the metrics of quantity of attendees to assess impact? Can the form itself be reclaimed from the pressures to scale up the event production and have events do something different or experiment with them? We’ve seen events be moved online. But now we have to see, can an event be quiet, dispersed, multi-modal? Finally, I would ask, does the theme of events take on a new meaning in relation to the life-altering event of a global pandemic? For practices so bound-up with event production, how we respond to external events can be defining. As Jamillah James reasonably points out above, there can be a temptation to make work that is literally engaged with the subject matter of the pandemic. For some that might feel necessary, and for others it might be the time to dig into other commitments. It seems that there are also opportunities to consider this pandemic in indirect ways. I recall the book Mars Was Made of Yarn which documented various authors’ responses to the devastating March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant leaks that toiled Japan 2. Some of the most effective works in the compilation consider aspects of daily life, what could be called minor events, that either persist or are altered as a result of what happened in Fukushima and Sendai. I anticipate that this pandemic will bring about a greater appreciation for both artwork that are critical, research-based works to help directly analyze the present crisis, as well as those that can slow time and attention, and shift focus to minor and quiet events. How presenting institutions and funders respond is one consideration, as there could be more urgent matters to contend with. But framing the role of these different aesthetic strategies in artmaking will be important in defining future directions in artistic and curatorial practice.
Robyn Farrell: The global health crisis has affected every aspect of the cultural sector and will no doubt
influence art— and exhibition-making—in the years to come as regular modes of research, transportation, presentation, and reception of art have been tremendously compromised. Questions arise from our immediate moment: How can an art museum or gallery exist in virtual space? In what ways can we, as civic institutions, serve the public with varying levels of access? How can we faithfully present an artist’s work online? And about the near future: How can institutions responsibly and safely re-open? Are we prepared for physical distancing guidelines? Do we need to re-design the layout of an exhibition?
Luke, Elmer and David Karashima, eds. Mars Was Made of Yarn: Reflections on the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown (Vintage, 2012)
Anagha Prasan: If we take this moment in time as a punctuation that has shifted how we conduct ourselves in society, it becomes imperative to consider how institutions re-open and how hardwired practices are unlearned. There might have to be substantial shifts in museum professions to accommodate social distancing - ranging from audience engagement and tours to exhibition design and layout (as mentioned here). Visualizing an entirely digital museum experience is both challenging and exciting to me. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to being back in front of my favorite artworks inperson.
Some of these topics are always under consideration—audience, access, online content—but recontextualized and reprioritized for our current lives under shelter-in-place, while others are singular to our contemporary crisis and soon-to-be precariously reopened landscape. Artists and curators will no doubt reflect and comment on what we are experiencing—from home and for some, from hospitals—in artworks and exhibitions in the years to come. In the short term, this means our community has had to shift from IRL to URL experiences, simulating and stimulating an innumerable amount of viewers beyond the confines of the white cube. As a curator at a public institution and civic leader in the community, I have had to shift my own approach to the administration and creative production, simultaneously rerouting plans for delayed and cancelled projects while producing new content for an online audience. With that said, my curatorial responsibilities and interests are more or less the same, but come with a new host of challenges. Thinking through each entrance to every gallery, the flow of traffic, and capacity for each viewing space in the museum are ever present in my mind and in dialogue with colleagues. How to engage our members and supporters—from home—is of particular importance. Indeed these are vastly different topics that command attention, but practical and logistical considerations are complicated more by the closure and safety guidelines than conceptual strategies or curatorial ideas. As I stated in Prompt 2, the shift to online formats presents opportunities and challenges in the presentation and circulation of creative production. The novel virus has created a proliferation of images, videos, and programs online. At stake is artist intent, accessibility, and reformulating a community that hinges upon an uncertain future. It is clear that creative production, content, and programming will look different in the post-COVID-19 art world. Museums, galleries, art fairs, festivals, etc. will operate on smaller scales and with timed ticketing, while performances and lectures might remain online for some time. Slowed schedules and a slightly lower carbon footprint may result, but many institutions and jobs may not survive the next 12 months. Indeed the impact will be widespread, but let’s hope clarity arises from this crisis. Perhaps our global future will prompt a reprioritization of values and renewed commitment to equity and accessibility across all cultural sectors.