Monday, August 22, 2011

Assignments in Curating

Note: The post below was an article I submitted in 2010 to the blog, before its author had to abandon it for other projects. Since it never saw the light of day, or more accurately, the backlight of a computer screen, I've decided to upload it here, with a few slight revisions. 

A repetitive theme in exhibitions is something I have started to refer to as “assignments,” typically, a curator comes up with a very specific duty to be completed by artists as the basis for an exhibition. Assignments generally focus on a specific material, such as aprons, or actions  in which artists are assigned the task of making work around this concept for an exhibition.  Artists tend to respond in one of two manners – those eager to build their resumes, return to their studios to complete the project, others saunter home, to forget about their homework until the last minute, upon which they throw together something disappointing.

There is something enjoyable and stimulating about occasional participation in such an exhibition. As an artist, I’ve even participating in some (see above image).  Given the right circumstances, there can be benefits to the artist. I have found the occasional assignment can provide a challenge that encourages experimentation or open up a new direction in my work. Interesting discussions may ensue when different artists confront the same project. 

I was recently (in 2011) met the coordinator of an upcoming juried show that explored the idea of women looking at men, who encouraged me to enter. (I should note here, as someone who has organized exhibitions, there is often a fear that there will be lack of submissions, or a lack of good submissions, and so I understand where she was coming from). I replied that I felt that I could not, as the central concept didn't fit into my body of work. She gushed, "Oh, but this is an opportunity to make something new!" and went on to describe the project she was planning to enter, which sounded great. And I concede her point, but I find myself thinking, don't I have that opportunity every day I go into the studio? 

From a curator’s point of view, I can also see the appeal:  upon successful completion, a curator has a cohesive exhibition.  For some artist-curators, such as Little Berlin’s Offerings it can be a fun experiment and easily promoted to the press. However, I believe this concept has been largely critically unexamined. 

In traditional art school, professors require students to learn specific techniques (ie. plaster casting) through projects, for the purpose of building knowledge for later use in their emerging visual voice. Past art school, what is implied when curators feel they can give artists homework?

Often these exhibitions are a means of fundraising, though I cannot comment on their success rate. However I must wonder if it is beneficial for both collectors and artists to have artwork purchased that may be outside of the artist’s oeuvre? When boiled down, I believe the real question is, will artwork created for such a project stand on its own, outside of the assignment-exhibition?  

As an artist, I want to make focused bodies of work. Personally, I only have so much time to do so, as everything takes longer than I ever think it will. When I was a younger artist, I was more willing and eager to take part in such assignments, but now I feel that for me, they are distractions from making the real work. If such an assignment fits into my overall focus, which means that I am working with a thoughtful curator, it is worth it. It also suggests to me that the final exhibition will be a considered set of ideas, rather than a hodge-podge of miscellany. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Why I Make Paper

INTERBEING - by Thich Nhat Hanh
 in his book, “Peace is Every Step”

    “If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-“ with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be.

    If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. Without sunshine, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. The logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

    Looking even more deeply, we can see ourselves in this sheet of paper too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, it is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. We cannot point out one thing that is not here – time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

    Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up lonely of “non-paper” elements. And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without non-paper elements, like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.”