Thursday, April 28, 2011

Curating People: Lisa Wymore

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium “Curating People” on April 28 and 29, 2011. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Lisa Wymore, Assistant Professor of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies at UC Berkeley and Co-Director of Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts.
Confessions of an experimental artist who has also become an academic and a dance/performance educator and mentor
Like many who are part of this symposium, I wear multiple hats in one day. I am both an administrator of a dance program within a university and an artist who manages, runs, and creates for my own dance company. My choice to make artistic work within an academic institution has provided me with distinct types of support and opportunity. I can make work with students and improve upon my own artistic process.  I can educate about dance and deepen my understanding of dance practice and pedagogy. I can study performance/dance theory and remain a practice-based, sensate, and process-oriented artist who is inspired by critical inquiry. I can have a research practice involving the creation of an inter-media laband make dances that are informed by this research practice and the access I have to a lab on a regular basis. It is a complicated paradigm that I have created, but one that is endlessly stimulating, demanding, and ultimately rewarding.
 In reading the blog postings I felt connected to many of the comments, but one comment by Susan Miller really stood out: “Production is always a collaborative process.” This is an important statement on many levels. Behind the artist, or with the artist, are many collaborators who are often not recognized as such. The nature of these collaborations influences how the work is made, supported, and ultimately received. My academic work includes improving collaborative/production-based processes so that new models for making artistic work (not always in the theater and not always made in the “traditional” theater-based mode) are witnessed and experienced by students, and one can hope, carried into the “real” world. Personally, I carry what I have learned from my academic art making practice into my non-academic art making practice. Often the two worlds are mutually supportive and sometimes they are not. This vacillating and interconnected place where my multiple practices interact, collide, mingle, fuse, etc. is where I am interested in investigating and knowing more about.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Curating People: Erin Boberg Doughton

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium “Curating People” on April 28 and 29, 2011. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Erin Boberg Doughton, Performing Arts Program Director at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA).
I came to PICA through a performance background in theatre, dance and music. Starting on the ground floor of a new organization I was part of a small team working with artists in both visual art and performance. With each project I learned a new set of skills, generally related to connecting artists with the human and/or physical resources they needed to make their work happen, teaming them with designers, technicians and thinkers in our community as well as spaces, materials, and tools. As PICA does not maintain a permanent theatre or gallery, we are fairly flexible with labels and structure. As my role at PICA has changed over the past 15 years I have worked with a series of Artistic Directors and have been sometimes more and sometimes less involved with the curatorial work of researching and inviting artists and putting their work in context with each other and for a public. Curating in that sense is a small fraction of what I do. I spend most of my time on project management, coordinating or producing, although I hesitate to use any of those words as they sound so commercial. The word “presenting” falls short to me because it feels focused on the moment that the curtain opens and the work is revealed – voila! Although I have been the person standing in front of that curtain many times, I feel more at home behind it. I think about the Latin root of curate “to care” as a deep part of what I do and in that case (when I am really living up to my own ideals in my job), it feels right. I feel what I contribute is in service not only to each individual artist but to moving our cultural history forward in small increments that will add up to something meaningful over time. Although I have no formal training as an administrator or curator, (which is typical among my colleagues in the performance field) I have access to a great network of artists, peers and mentors that could be defined as a “learning community.” I spend more time talking with artists and colleagues both formally and informally than writing or cataloging. Critical writing and documentation are areas I would like to expand for myself, for my organization and for the performance field in general. I think the current definitions of presenter/curator/performance/visual, as fluid as they are, don’t really do justice to the complexity of our field and I am interested in helping to find the right language to describe what we do for ourselves and for the public. Like my colleague Kristan I am not so interested in the “vs.” or valuing one over the other, but in defining what each of us do well so that we have the largest possible set of skills and resources available to serve artists as their forms and needs change.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Curating People: Kristan Kennedy

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium “Curating People” on April 28 and 29, 2011. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Kristan Kennedy, Visual Arts Curator at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.
Confessions of an Artist/Artist-Curator/Curator of Artists
I do not come to this symposium with a pedigree.  Somehow through hard work and the investigation of ideas, I have gotten to where I am today.  I am an artist who also calls herself a curator. I sit within an institution working on behalf of artists. I also attempt to teach, to write, to arrange objects and humans  -  in rooms and in theaters and in storefronts and on the street. In my role at PICA I have often said yes. I have rarely had to say no. This feels like a privilege. I want to pass that along to the artists I work with. I want them to feel free to make what they want how they want where they want.
I often have difficult conversations with the community of artists and others that surround me about art and money, and art and meaning, and art and value, and art and community. I use words like “hybrid” and “discursive” and “dialogue” and “ practice” and “ intention”. I often talk about “de-historization” the “current moment” and “ collapsing forms”. I love to put the word “post” in front of everything. I like to think we are post- everything. Sometimes those words sounds right, and sometimes it sounds like the shifty language of the art world and therefore, flawed and contradictory and awful. The not so secret, secret is we are all still looking for the words to describe the now.
Part of the now is the debate over presenting vs. curating, object vs. action, performance vs. performing, plastic vs. live, social practice vs. studio practice. For the most part I like to take the vs. out of the conversation all-together. However, institutional mandates, missions, funding, venue and ego often make that impossible. And as open as I would like to pretend to be, I like sides.
Since this is about confession… I confess that I do not have any of it figured out. I also confess that I hope I never do, and that I always have the luxury of trying to.
I will conclude with this example of me fighting against myself. In an email to my colleagues on the upcoming panel, I said the following…It is also a confession of sorts.
“I do not know the thinking behind the Symposium name “Curating People”. I always imagined it to be a play on words- to get at- the difference between curating people (performances made by people) and curating objects. This brings up similar issues that David Henry talks about so eloquently in his statement. In my world of Visual Art “presenting” there is often a disconnect between the art and the human who made it, especially if we are talking about collecting institutions. Often the human is an afterthought. However, in my life at PICA, regardless of form, we are curating people… not objects. Even the artists who are presenting sculpture with no crossover into other forms no “LIVE” element are still in the room. They are a part of the equation for me, always. 
I too am not sure about the title of the panel “When Presenters Become Curators, When  Curators Become Presenters” mostly because the word “presenter” seems so corporate  and removed from the work we do, although I hear it all the time and know it does not always have those connotations, it still makes me bristle. It is the same reaction I have to putting an “s” after Art - Arts. It is the same way I feel about the distinction between performance art and performing art(s). From my experience it is more the structure and rigidity of the organization and the perceived systems of support.(Collectors vs. Ticket Buying audience. Gallery vs. Theater. ) and of course the curatorial ego that prevent hybrid works from truly succeeding. (well then there is my previous statement, that just because something takes place in the venue of one or another form does not make it hybrid, or as well all know, “good” - this brings up questions of aesthetics and relevance- and craft- virtuosity…) At the same time the obsession with talking about all of the genres collapsing (which may be true in part) does not leave room for things to remain autonomous and connected to a unique history all of it’s own.
I know that was a discursive ramble. I am hoping that it will start to be clear in the moment. The best panel conversations are ones that are allowed to follow their most exciting course, perhaps that is why we should think of a super vague title- then whatever we wind up blabbing about will fit the container.”

The end.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Curating People: Michele Rabkin

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium “Curating People” on April 28 and 29, 2011. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Michele Rabkin, Associate Director of the Arts Research Center.
Why I want to be in on this conversation…I am excited to be involved in organizing the “Curating People” symposium because it allows me to re-visit issues that I explored when I was a practicing artist—or to be more accurate, a student artist. 
I first encountered the siren song of performance art in the mid-1980s at San Francisco State, and more specifically at its Center for Experimental and Interdisciplinary Art, where Ellen Zweig, Christine Tamblyn, and Lynn Hershman were teaching.  CEIA was not specifically a performance art program—it was essentially a “misfits” program, home to students whose interests did not fit neatly into the other, more established departments at that time (I myself was a refugee from a “professional theater training program” back East).  CEIA students made video art installations, did persona projects, performed in the back of pick-up trucks.  One of my own projects was a video-enhanced gallery installation I occupied for hours at a time, performing in silent slow-motion.  “Curating People” and its focus on live performers in art galleries awakens memories of my  undergraduate days.
Both at SF State and later in Chicago, I also created works for ensembles of performers (and video screens) that were presented under the rubric of dance. I was inspired by the Judson Dance Theater’s work with pedestrian movement, and by artists who blended dance and spoken word, like Joe Goode. When I decided to go to graduate school, it was unclear to me where I fit in. I looked at programs in dance, in theater, in performance studies—and  ended up pursuing a MFA in Visual Arts at UC San Diego (I seem to recall my application essay focused on the idea of an inter-artistic “pidgin” language). The faculty included Allan Kaprow, Eleanor Antin, and David Antin—genre-defying figures I had studied and been inspired by as an undergraduate. Once again, one of my projects involved occupying a gallery—this time interacting directly with visitors one at a time, rather than performing silently. I also continued to make more theatrical, text- and movement-based works for myself and others to perform (much to the dismay of Professor Kaprow, may he rest in peace).
I long ago traded in my “aspiring artist” hat for that of an arts administrator. My meandering studies in the arts (theater, dance, performance, film, a little art history) turned out to be good preparation for working in an interdisciplinary arts organization. Whether organizing an artist’s residency, a symposium, or a graduate fellowship program, I draw on my past experiences to understand how I can best support the artists and arts scholars with whom I’m working.
During the “Curating People” conversations, I look forward to hearing how the pioneers with whom I studied have or have not influenced current artistic and curatorial practices, and how the challenges and rewards of “hybrid” art-making have evolved since my own brief forays into that world.

Curating People: Leigh Markopoulos

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium “Curating People” on April 28 and 29, 2011. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Leigh Markopoulos, Chair, Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice, California College of the Arts.
I joined the Hayward Gallery’s exhibition department in 1991, becoming one of a staff of around 70 in the visual arts arm of London’s multi-disciplinary South Bank Center (SBC). At the time there was a very clear-cut distinction between our remit and that of the SBC’s other cultural, mainly music, programs. This distinction was based not solely on different media, but on the assumption that art audiences would never equal concert goers in their numbers, or paying power, and that the Hayward Gallery’s role consequently might not be as vital or valuable. The blockbuster exhibitions of the 90s, from Toulouse-Lautrec to Magritte put paid to this theory, but to this day the Hayward continues to pose conceptual problems for the SBC’s management. The Gallery’s recent exhibitions seem to be following center-wide directives to create “experiences” for audiences, installations that entertain across ages, and appeal especially to the young.  In 2010 the exhibitionMove: Choreographing You sought to trace the trajectory of artworks that propel viewers through spaces, from Nauman’s Green Light Corridor to Tania Bruguera’s installation, “Untitled” (2002), in which participants are alternately plunged into mute darkness and noisy spotlights. As one critic said, usually exhibitions have doubters asking, “is it art?” here they were also asking, “but is it dance?”
At least there’s no question that people are indispensable to exhibition making. From technicians and installers to artists and graphic designers. Occasionally they are indispensable to works, for example the silver-lame-bikini-clad dancer animating Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled” (Go-Go Dancing Platform). And then there are those works which are or were people, or performance, and which consequently may require completely different frameworks for (re)presentation: Marina Abramovic’s “Rhythm 10,” in which the artist jabbed knives at the splayed fingers of her hand. Andy Warhol’s Invisible Sculpture of 1985, created in 1985 by Warhol posing momentarily on a pedestal at the New York nightclub Area, leaving behind a wall label that identified the empty pedestal. Tino Seghal’s “staged situations” which are performed by “interpreters” and activated by viewers, for example This Progress, in which one is led through the space by a progression of increasingly aged (from a child to an elderly person) docents.
Issues both practical and conceptual related to the presentation, documentation and reception of performance are worked through as part of the curriculum of the graduate program in Curatorial Practice at CCA. They are especially relevant again now with the resurgence not only of performance, but also the emergence of performing as part of the repertoire of contemporary interdisciplinary artist. I’m not sure if they call for a new kind of curator, given that curating can most broadly be understood as “exhibition organizing,” but they certainly have galvanized the discussion around exhibition practice and formats and have re-energized thinking around the definition of the parameters of the visual arts and their place in the broader spectrum of culture.

Curating People: Constance Lewallen

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium “Curating People” on April 28 and 29, 2011. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Constance Lewallen, Adjunct Curator at the Berkeley Art Museum.
Performance emerged as a new genre in contemporary art at the end of the 1960s. Alongside other new forms, such as video and installation, which developed contemporaneously as aspects or off shoots of Conceptual art and concurrent with the radical politics of the time, it was conceived as oppositional to the increasing commercialism of art and a way to break down boundaries between artist and audience, art and life, and to de-emphasize the art object in favor of the process of creation.
The San Francisco Bay Area rivaled New York in the amount of performance activity that took place in the seminal period between around 1967 and 1980. In the early years, Tom Marioni was the prime catalyst for performance, first as the curator at the Richmond Art Center from in the East Bay from 1968-1971, and then at his Museum of Conceptual Art (MOCA) founded in 1970 in San Francisco.
Mel Henderson, professor of art at San Francisco State College who had taken part in 1968 anti-Vietnam War marches on, drew on these experiences, as well as on Allen Kaprow’s Happenings, in staging with two fellow faculty members several spectacular political outdoor events.
In the mid-seventies, the collaborative Ant Farm similarly commanded public space for equally dramatic, political actions.
Berkeley was another locus of performance activity through such forward-looking curators as Brenda Richardson and Susan Rannells at the University Art Museum, Berkeley (now the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive). In its temporary quarters in the Power Plant Gallery Terry Fox enacted his notorious “Defoliation” during the reception for the provocative exhibition “The Eighties.”
The new museum building on Bancroft Avenue opened its doors in November, 1970, with Anna Halprin’s unclad dancers and an unscheduled performance by bunny-suited Paul Cotton as the Astral-Naught Rabb-Eye, in which he appeared to be in conversation with a George Segal plaster sculpture of a naked woman. The UAM presented performances, such as Tom Marioni’s Concert, Lecture, Demonstration in 1973. While musicians played, Marioni (as the artist), a dancer, a janitor, and an actor swept the floor to demonstrate how the same activity is altered according to intent. There were several other performances and performance series in the early seventies, including one devoted to women. David Ross, who followed Richardson as senior curator at the University Art Museum, continued a strong program in performance and video, curating, among other live events, Joan Jonas’s first major retrospective in 1980.  Jim Melchert, a professor in the UC Berkeley’s art department, inspired such students as Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and Stephen Laub to explore the possibilities of performance.
Several early Bay Area performers, such as Linda Montano, Bonnie Sherk, Darryl Sapien, Lynn Hershman, Howard Fried, and T.R. Uthco (Doug Hall, Diane Andrews Hall and Jody Procter) acted on their own in claiming the street as a performance space.  The subgenre of performance for the camera, pioneered by recent UC Davis graduate Bruce Nauman as early as 1967, was also widely practiced.
As the decade progressed, many alternative or nonprofit spaces—80 Langton Street, Southern Exposure, La Mamelle, Camerawork, Site, Artspace, Bluxome Street, Galleria de la Raza, The Farm, et al—opened to accommodate radical new forms of artistic expression unsuited for or ignored by existing institutions. By the end of the 1970s, one could attend a performance on one side of the bay or the other, almost every night of the week.
For the most part, however, commercial galleries and museums and galleries not connected to schools, were behind the curve. There were exceptions. The Reese Palley Cellar gallery, under the directorship of Carol Lindsley, was a site for non-traditional installations, such Marioni’s 1972 “The Creation,” in which he lived in a gallery for a week, making different kinds of action drawings each day. And, Suzanne Foley’s 1979 San Francisco Museum of Art exhibition and catalogueSpace/Time/Sound: A Decade in the Bay Area, remains, along with Carl Loeffler’s 1979 book Performance Anthology, a major source of Bay Area performance documentation. By 1979 the SF Art Institute, whose gallery was also a site for new genres, had created its Performance Video (now New Genres) department that included as faculty Paul Kos, Howard Fried, Doug Hall, Sharon Grace, and a bit later, their former student, Tony Labat.
Performance waned somewhat in the succeeding decades, but current interest in its development—viz the recent highly popular retrospective of Marina Abramovic at the New York Museum of Modern Art—has led to a resurgence of activity and debate about such issues as the value of reenactments and performance as a collectible commodity.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Curating People: Susan Miller

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium “Curating People” on April 28 and 29, 2011. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by independent curator Susan Miller, currently Associate Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media and formerly Executive Director of New Langton Arts.
Top Ten Things Every Curator Should Know about Supporting Experimental Work
1) Being a good curator is more than having good taste or knowing how to arrange things.
2) If supporting experimental work ONLY requires facilitating the production of it, the title of curator is probably overstated. Facilitator, coordinator, producer is probably more like it. (See next.)
3) In addition to the above, being a curator also means you are a critic and capable of writing good text about the work. Work that is “experimental” is often so because it is new, and without description or context yet. It is unfamiliar, fresh, and somewhat “undefined.” Think of every moment of artistic innovation that is now part of the lexicon of artistic invention and experimentation, and you’ll discover the moniker “experimental” was once attached.  The curator should bring language to the work, shaping its relationship to other practitioners and history, and foregrounding it in the continuum of artistic invention.
4) Know everything technical about every kind of artistic production. Be familiar with software, hardware, mechanics, how to run/control lights, operate a soundboard,color theory, set design, etc. These are tools that can greatly enhance a production that you won’t think to use if you don’t know how to use them. Even if you have a knowledgeable crew, it’s hard to problem solve or plan a project effectively without firsthand experience. This is why artists often make excellent curators, producers, and crew. They know their materials, and have a commitment to craft.
5) Time is an important resource that should be used effectively.
6) Sound and light are difficult to control. Be thoughtful and careful.
7) Production is always a collaborative process. Takes a lot of people to make something, even the most mundane object or experience. Know the various tasks and match them with the skill sets of the people involved. Credit everyone appropriately and visibly for their contributions.
8) The best productions facilitate the talent’s vision, with minimal interference and ample support and enthusiasum from the institution.
9) The most interesting productions invent new and engaging ways to interact with audiences.
10) Performance is an element in every artistic practice I can think of.
11) While seemingly glamorous, being a curator is work just like any other job. Best approached with humility and grace.
Confessions of an X turned Y
I am a trained painter and art historian turned curator, writer, and producer. East Coaster turned Californian. Parent turned empty-nester, and so on. I think all hats worn have contributed to my approach to my work. I’m curious about where other curators come from and what informs their practice.
Why I Wanted to be Part of This Conversation

I accepted the invitation to participate because I loved the idea of a conversation with peers on the production of interdisciplinary work, and performance in a gallery context. Seems timely, if not overdue. Since I believe that all work should be seen as some kind of performance, I hope to see what kind of conversation that idea might stimulate. I want to talk about new work production, and what and how others are approaching the funding of new work with continued economic and cultural challenges. I’m also looking forward to sharing the conversation with Connie, Tony, Frank, and Stephen about Bay Area work. We don’t get to do that very often.