© Tagny Duff, 2005. Used by permission
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Performing the Curator: Staging unstable relations
by Tagny Duff
Date: 03 December 2005
The performance of the curator is an intricate one. The relations sustaining the performance of the curator are fraught with tensions, antagonisms and negotiations. This presentation looks at the shifting performance of the artist/curator in conjunction within current debates on the relational (aesthetics) in participatory and interactive art works.
After a substantial re-examination of the naming of the curator over the last ten years it is now necessary to shift focus to the more complex relations and performance of this multifaceted role. How does the performance of "the curator" implicate the reading of an artwork? What formal and informal network systems does it rely on to function? How do transnational and local economic and ideological interests inform the context for this role? These questions point to relational undercurrents operating within the presentation and exhibition of works that rely on audience participation.
Nicholas Bourriaud attempts to amplify the potential of these relational undercurrents asking, "is it still possible to generate relationships with the world in a practical field art historically earmarked for their "representation?" (9 Relational Aesthetics). While raising this question Bourriaud does not recognize his own role as curator in this under-explored definition of the "practical field" of social relations between art and the audience. Claire Bishop argues that Bourriaud's focus on interactivity and audience participatory works is not enough to demystify the relational hierarchies and economies within the art work and in fact reinforces the role where the "director-curator... becomes the star". While I am in agreement with Bishop on this point, I want to focus on specific curatorial projects that evoke the complexity inherent in the performance of, and between, curator, artist, audience and institutions in the presentation of participatory art works.
My ongoing curatorial work with artists in Cuba is a prime example of the complexities and antagonisms I am alluding to. For five years, I have formed working relations with Cuban artists Tania Bruguera, Glenda Leon and Henri Eric Hernandez and curated/assisted in the presentation of their projects through various venues including FADO, La Centrale, Concordia University, Ontario College of Art, 7a*11d and Neutral Ground. I have also participated in artist residencies, artist talks and studio visits in Havana. What is often omitted from the public presentation enacted in these contexts is acknowledgement of the volatile and unstable methods of communication between countries (and artist and curator), the implicit nationalism that is enforced within the context and promotion of the work, the personal and economic risk and benefits involved in working across differing professional standards and cultural values, and the role of friendship, cultural capital and reputation in these exchanges.
Ultimately, I ask, how might the performance of "curator" be (re)considered in relation to participatory works of art given the aforementioned concerns? This presentation further reflects on the implication of this question while acknowledging the conference as a site of (re)producing roles and meanings for, and of, the curator.