Curing Vision

Curator's Note

On 12 July 2010, two Russian art curators were found guilty and convicted of the crime of “inciting religious hatred” at the Tagansky District Court in Moscow. The nature of their seditious act consisted of organising the Forbidden Art – 2006 exhibition, which featured artworks juxtaposing Eastern Orthodox iconography with signs of forces like communism and globalisation that have shaped Russian society and politics. By convicting Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev, the Russian court (and the ultra-nationalist groups that pressed for their conviction) can be seen to effect both the suppression of artistic expression by juridical means and, inadvertently perhaps, the recognition of curatorial power in the political sphere. Yet surely, one avers, is this not an overreaction to the mundane practice of curating, which can be defined most simply as the administration of artefacts for collecting and display? Indeed, is curating not ubiquitous today as the dominant metaphor for all those routine tasks involving sorting and organising?

According to cultural studies scholar Tony Bennett, museums and galleries as curatorial spaces are not merely repositories for artefacts, but function as “civic machines” that seek to form certain types of subjects through their visual (and other) experiences. Bennett calls such arranging for experiential affects the “sensory regime” of the exhibition. So while the organisation of objects are certainly tasks of the curator, the undertaking of the latter is in no small part also cultivate certain types of persons through inciting experiences in relation to the objects on display – a function that places the contemporary art curate not too distantly from her clerical predecessors responsible for the ritual “cure of souls.” In this sense, the Russian court and ultra-nationalists are correct to view the curators of Forbidden Art – 2006 as political agents actively engaged in the incitement of particular sensibilities and visions of what being Russian - and indeed, of what being Orthodox - should be like in our time. Where the curators’ opponents are mistaken is in assuming that the display of objects assembled in peculiar ways – whether religious or otherwise – necessarily represents a denigration of those objects rather than an opportunity to (re)activate them for new civic visions through the sensory regime of the art gallery.

Comments

Aaron Dickinson Sachs's picture

Implications for us curators?

This is a thought provoking post, Remy, thank you. I wonder what implications your ideas about the politics of curating have for us as the curators of posts on IMR this week. Does that make us all activists? Is curating inherently an activist endeavor, or are there some types of curating that are not activist? I think many of us in the US cringe when reading of the repressive response of the Russian court, and I wonder what alternative/other responses by Conservative and Orthodox forces could be called forth from such an act of curatorial activism? Counter-curating?

I’m also struck by the notion that so much of what life involves now, with the ubiquity of information through digital technologies, is a kind of information curating. When I ask my students to write essays, I am really asking them to “curate” an idea; to select a series of snippets from other essays and rearrange them, with more transparency as to the intentions than is typically done in museum curation. The emphasis is less on discovery of information and the creation of new ideas as it is about sorting through information and selecting a combination of ideas that is relatively novel. It further reminds me of Barthes’ idea that all texts are made up of other texts pulled together in dialogue with each other. Authorship thus becomes, in the words of Diakopoulos et al in “The Evolution of Authorship in a Remix Society,” “a collaborator in a system of authors and texts working together” to create meaning. IMR seems to be premised to a degree on the notion that an alternative form of creation is needed for addressing these issues of authorship within the virtual space of the internet, hence we are called curators rather than authors. Why curator and not author? Does this distinction matter in context of IMR, or this particular case in Russia?

Thanks again for the post, Remy.

Jackie Davis's picture

Wow, the pieces in this clip

Wow, the pieces in this clip are truly ‘snippy’. Their juxtaposition makes one uncomfortable—as only great art can—with the perceived statement of the piece, or even with the statements the piece draws from the minds of the viewers! At first, Remi, I agreed with your comment on the assumed denigration of the works by Russian officials. However, after seeing some* of the work, one can see the impression they must have had. YET, the sacred nature of religious icons and artefacts leaves them prone to being profaned. Remi, what exactly are you trying to convey about contemporary curates when you say ‘cure of souls’?

Aaron, thank you for your parrying posts this week! I think your questions of curatorship/authorship are good ones. In the context of IMR, it seems to me that we are ‘curators’ to fulfill the task of presenting information to enter into conversation rather than to ‘author’ or even create as an artists would. We are here as ‘hosts’ or ‘guides’ to create a web—as you’ve mentioned from Barthes’ work—of dialogue/s in order to break down barriers of author-reader-meaning which can be formal, daunting and full of misunderstandings. As for the context of Remi’s post about Russia…seems as if the conversation and meaning one would place in the hands of a curator to promote was shut down. Maybe this turn of events created more dialogue, despite it’s closure—over the exhibit?

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