Seems I was not alone in this thinking and I was joined by a mighty [insert collective noun for a group of artists here] of artists at least 15 or more, who all had the same good idea to attend the workshop, ‘Creative Endeavours –a curatorial guide for artists in Somerset’ at SAW’s base of operations the Town Hall in Langport, yeah!
“In our contemporary art world, the term ‘curation or curating’ means the specific knowledge and expertise that a curator brings to contextualizing an exhibition and to presenting art works in a specific location and context. It is a commonly used term in contemporary art exhibitions and projects, and historically it has represented the curator in the context of museums, but in its current meaning represents the contextualization of exhibitions. The curatorial role is still in evolution, and is becoming more defined through active critique and review.”
Site Specific work –
“There is a long history of artists creating work in unconventional spaces. Often the artist is inspired by a location and takes this into account while planning and creating the artwork. Many curators develop specific knowledge and experience working in this particular setting. They will have a good practical knowledge in presenting work in temporary spaces and are often involved in the liaison with nonart partners, identifying a suitable site with artists and assessing the access and safety issues. This is essential for a curator to have such practical knowledge otherwise ideas from artists will not be fully realized. Some of the practical work may be carried out by a supporting role, such as project manager or technician.
lluminos are lighting designer andfilm/installation artist brothers Rob and Matt Vale. Using website, archive, projection and endurance, for Maximum Exposure Illuminos created a unique video projection event along the Taunton Stop Line. Built during World War II, the Taunton Stop Line consists of hundreds of ‘pill boxes’ – military bunkers designed to stop a potential German advance from the west. Over the course of ten nights each pillbox was be illuminated and projected upon in turn, using imagery and iconography from the structures original usage. Stopping at ten sites each evening, by the end of the ten days one hundred structures from the Stop Line were brought into the light."
|Taunton Stop Line as part of 'Maximum Exposure'|
“The Artist/curator is very common and often a pragmatic approach based on financial and practical reasons. An artist who curates their work can be found among artist run spaces/initiatives where artists wish to engage their ideas to wider audiences through organising an exhibition, event or other activities. This approach is common in Somerset and the majority of exhibitions and projects seen in Somerset Art Weeks are initiated and organised by the artists. There may not be a particular role of artist curator, but the two roles are fulfilled by the same person; their curatorial concern evolving from the perspective of the artist themselves. However, the intention of such a cross over role should be further examined, including its intention and motivation, including how this role effectively presents work in an open and stimulating environment for a wide range of audiences. The role of curator is not purely one of just being a facilitator, but being responsible for the thematic and presentation aspects of the show, and by setting a clear brief and defining how artist and curator interaction can be beneficial.”
In example the Tithe Barn at Cotley Nr Chard which sees an Art Weeks exhibition every year put together with a group of artists who either respond to the space and context or have thematically been grouped together. It seems quite difficult to find an example that is just, ‘an artist led’ approach as there seems to be a lot of crossover in all of them. I can remember hearing some fierce debates from artists as to what makes a piece of work ‘site specific’ or an ‘installation’ on depending on how specific they choose to be. If you analyse it too much it can get very tricky. My own thoughts on this are not to be too pedantic about labelling as the work should speak for itself anyway.
|Natalie Parsley at the Tithe Barn, Cotley, 'Context' Somerset Art Weeks 2010|
“This is one of many approaches and it often starts from a particular concern from the curator who selects artists whose work will address or explore the theme further. It has advantages in terms of providing audiences with a clear outline of the work and it is suitable for creating a group exhibition. A curator offers a strategy in addressing the theme through a diverse range of work, as well as considering how to balance the different works. Therefore, the curator undertakes a selection process and this often includes dialogue with the selected artists to ensure works not only illustrate the concept devised by the curator but also present the unique artistic concerns of each of the artists involved. The interaction between artists and curator is key to creating a meaningful show for the audiences.”
In looking back at local exhibitions I’d seen, ‘Sheds’ came to mind as being an example of thematic curatorial practice. Featuring work from the BHAAM artists and exhibited in Art Weeks 2011 the show was a collection of work around the theme of sheds. BHAAM Artists had responded to the theme, each in their own unique way making work specifically for the exhibition. It was one of my personal favourites from that Art Weeks 2011.
|Tim Martin, 'Westward Hoe' as part of 'Sheds' BHAAM, Somerset Art Weeks 2011.|
“Often curators operate within an established venue that has specific organisational aims and policies attached to it. Exhibitions are part of a wider programme of work delivered by the organisation. Curators may play a role delivering objectives set by others which may have specific audiences and groups connected to the venue. Curators involved in some of the visual arts venues in the South West such as Arnolfini, Plymouth Arts Centre, and Spacex are responsible for developing a programme of exhibitions that align with their organisations’ core aims. There is a certain amount of freedom for a curator to develop their own expertise but sometimes it can also be restricted by the physical space offered by the venue. However, many public art galleries now will carry out their work in off site locations, some integrated to their main artistic programme and many are focusing on engaging with particular communities and groups.”
It would be almost too easy to give a Brewhouse exhibition example here, so I won’t (the guidebook gives, ‘Cultivate 2’ as its example) and instead will throw a bit of a wild card into the mix. Musgrove Park Hospital had a project, titled ‘Cabinet of Wonders’ which they curated with SAW for, I think, a year and is my example of venue based curating. It is more of a wild card because of the context of it being a hospital gallery and not necessarily a public gallery that is just a gallery. Which make it a particularly interesting and unusual place to exhibit in that also poses new opportunities and potential challenges. During the ‘Cabinet of Wonders’ artists were invited to display works in two glass cabinets showcasing a selection of works including ceramics, jewelry, sculptures and mixed-media work.
|Natalie Parsley -Work exhibited as part of Musgrove Park Hospital's 'Cabinet of Wonders' 2011/12|
Overall it was a useful experience and a good opportunity to meet new people. The guide goes into a lot of the content highlighted here in more depth and presents the case that curation can open up new themes/ideas in making artwork, create links to other artists, contexts and opportunities and provide feedback and critical guidance. The relationship between curator and artist is a lot more blurred than perhaps it once was, but this too seems like a step forward and has led to more ambitious projects that have further reach in terms of their audiences and impact than before. The relationship might not always be a smooth one at times, but as artists having a greater awareness of the curatorial process can certainly help make issues of negotiation and diplomacy easier. Now we’re all fuelled with this knowledge and information the opportunity and affects will hopefully take shape in what awaits us for Art Weeks 2013.