Source:Autumn 2018 Issue 95

There are two articles which were most relevant to my current investigations:

Noémie Goudal “Soulèvements” and the exhibition review by Jesse Alexander.

Goudal’s interview is most relevant to me at the moment because it deals with how her latest exhibition has been curated. “Her new work is also the result of deliberate staging and continues her interest in landscape as an illusory concept, this time involving an installation of mirrors in the landscape that ‘brings real and theoretical geographies into coexistence’. Playing with this idea further Goudal installs the work in an elaborate ‘maze like’ wooden framework inspired by the skeletal structures underpinning fake manmade landscapes.”(1)

Not only has this opened up another curatorial exploration for me but it too had references to the work of Anna Boghiguian at the Arts Mundi 8 exhibition in Cardiff which I was to see subsequently.  In her work Boghiguian also uses mirrors and the ‘skeletal manmade landscapes’.  In both artists’ work, the experimental exhibition design is mesmerising and takes us into a totally new mindset of landscape photography installations.  This too was to be reprised at the Arts Mundi 8 exhibition.

What influenced Goudal’s curation was a visit to Donald Judd’s minimalist gallery in the desert in Texas where she found that ‘Your body calibrates to the landscape and to the travel of getting there, which in turn changes your perception of the artwork.”(Packer P. 35)  She states: “I’m still trying to put the body in the condition that make us question our movements.” (Idem)

This last statement is so relevant in the Anna Boghiguian installation at Artes Mundi 8 – could it be a zeitgeist at work here?  What appears to be important is the relationship not only of a body to a space but also the impression that the journey that that body has undertaken to get there influences how the work is perceived.

How to translate that into how I place the work in the next 2 exhibitions is my next concern: for the Bristol exhibition, people will have had to have gone through a busy city, have parking problems and time pressures.  Is the idea, therefore, that they need to see things cluttered because their minds will have been stimulated by many things, i.e. the reverse of having travelled through a desert to get to a minimalist gallery? If people have travelled through a desert, will they spend more time on a few objects or on many? Conversely, if they have had to navigate through traffic and narrow streets, will they want to be placed in a busy or a minimalist environment?

For the Plymouth exhibition, the gallery layout is completely different: the entrance leads to a narrow corridor so the exhibition layout possibilities are limited.  People will have had problems parking so going into a narrow corridor will present its pressure points too. Hmmm?

If I put myself into those different situations based on my past experiences, this is how I think I will react:

  1.  I went to see an exhibition of Richard Long’s work in a gallery in Berlin  which was out of the way & I had had to catch several means of transport to get there.  The streets had not been busy but I had not travelled through deserted spaces either.  The exhibition was on the ground floor of a house-type architecture and the pieces were Long’s rock / slate pieces on the floor, similar to his Arnolfini gallery installations in 2015.  In Berlin, I thought it had been a waste of time to go to all that trouble to see a stone floor.  When I went to the Arnolfini installation, I really enjoyed it.  I had not travelled very far and there was more to see there than there had been the case in Berlin.
  2. More recently, I attended the opening of the OCA Showcase exhibition in London in which my work was exhibited along with that of 30 other students.  I wrote about the space and how the work was accommodated.  Looking back at how I reacted to the space, I realise that the openness of the area allowed me to navigate the spaces very easily.  Some of the work was more visible and therefore more accessible because it was exhibited on narrow shelves along the wall; other work was exhibited horizontally in vitrines under glass and was not therefore as accessible.  The advantage of the latter was that the work was not damaged or lost as it was mostly loose sheets but it did mean that viewers could not engage with it as easily as they could with the other work.  From a curatorial point of view, a big drawback was that there was no knowing who the artists were unless they had their name on the front of the pieces – there was no signage, so viewers had to page through the  stapled information sheets.
  3. Also recently, I went to the Arts Mundi 8 exhibition in Cardiff where there were 5 exhibition spaces dedicated to the shortlisted artists.   I had walked through the city to get there and had had the time to orientate myself to the surroundings.  All 5 spaces were curated differently: the 2 film shows had 2 different physical arrangements of the rooms: one had 2 contiguous screens flat against the wall & benches parallel to them showing the same footage but not synchronised; the other had one screen diagonally across the corner of the room with cinema-type seats arranged in an arc also equidistant from the screen.  The double-screen arrangement carried the monochrome, dream-like , multi-art message using poetry, very limited colour palette and movement; while the second, tended towards the documentary style film and so the seating reflected a formal cinema setting.  The space which affected me and therefore how I responded to the work was the first space in which the sculptural painting work of Anna Boghiguian was curated.  I could hear sounds from other rooms and wondered what was going on there; I shall write at length about this later but I really felt engaged with this monumental work because I could relate it to other curated work, I could dance around it, interpret the shadows created by the lighting and feel part of it, I could see how work in the 2 very different rooms was tied together.

From these three examples, I can deduce that I can relate better to an exhibition in which:

  • there are several curatorial devices used;
  • several of my senses are stimulated;
  • I can relate parts of the curation to other exhibitions I have seen;
  • I can become involved physically.
  • I can ask questions of the work, how it relates to me and me to it; how it’s curated.
  • I am moved, informed, excited.

All this tells me that visiting an exhibition is a very personal thing influenced by many individual factors.

Juliet Bingham, Curator, Tate Modern

Ai Weiwei’s Unilever Series commission, Sunflower Seeds, is a beautiful, poignant and thought-provoking sculpture. The thinking behind the work lies in far more than just the idea of walking on it. The precious nature of the material, the effort of production and the narrative and personal content create a powerful commentary on the human condition. Sunflower Seeds is a vast sculpture that visitors can contemplate at close range on Level 1 or look upon from the Turbine Hall bridge above. Each piece is a part of the whole, a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses. The work continues to pose challenging questions: What does it mean to be an individual in today’s society? Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together? What do our increasing desires, materialism and number mean for society, the environment and the future?

https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/unilever-series/unilever-series-ai-weiwei-sunflower-seeds

The second article was Jesse Alexander’s review of “Women behind the lens” at Cardiff National Museum and, since I was there, I went to see it.

What struck me was the preponderance of work on show which had been donated by David Hurn and therefore belonging to the documentary genre.   In my opinion, this is a pity because there are so many women practitioners who do other genres.   It was good to see Helen Sear work which I recently saw in the Hestercombe House conference in early October, and the Christina de Middel’s Afronauts.  The most striking image which stood out from the rest was ‘Steel- Hot Strip Mill’ (1996) by Catherine Yass on a lightbox:

IMG_2920.JPG

The blurb next to the image reads:” Catherine Yass’s work questions the language and politics of photography. … by undoing traditional processes, such as shooting in the wrong material and overexposing film in order to challenge the limitations of the medium…The brightly coloured photographs combine positive and negative images.  they are presented in light boxes to reference an environment saturated by intense heat and light.’  Given Hurn’s preference of traditional black and white, mostly documentary photography, it was not surprising to see that this was not one that he had donated.

In my opinion, although this exhibition had some exceptional images, it lacked variety and curated in a very traditional way.

References

Packer, M.2018 ‘Soulèvements’ (pp 32 – 43) Source Autumn 2018 Issue 95.

(1) http://balticplus.uk/source-the-photographic-review-issue-95-autumn-2018-c32524/

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