This past semester, I undertook an independent study with curator Michael Capio, along with my classmates Lily Lewis and Justine Wong. The class itself was a survey of the history of curating, as well as the issues that dominate the sphere of contemporary curatorial practices. I proposed that our final project be the curation of the work of non-seniors (1st, 2nd, and 3rd year students) in conjunction with the 2013 Visual & Critical Studies Senior Open Studios. I curated – well, I think a more accurate description is “threw together” – the non-senior show last year, and what with the crazy haphazardness of last year’s show, I thought this would be a great opportunity to create a much more structured and well-thought-out show, even within the confines of the same small classroom.
After much brainstorming and discussion with our peers, Lily, Justine and I decided that the structure of the show should be dictated by two points – the educational/institutional environment, and the spatial constraints of the classroom. Here is the press release that we drafted, explaining the concept of the exhibition.
The School of Visual Arts’ BFA Visual & Critical Studies Department is pleased to present Mapping Thinking Spaces, a one-night-only exhibition of site-specific work by 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year students. Curated by juniors Lily Lewis, Berny Tan, and Justine Wong, the show will be held in conjunction with the annual VCS Senior Open Studios, in the only room dedicated solely to non-senior work.
One of the smaller classrooms on the floor, 404C presents specific spatial constraints unique to the classroom environment. As such, the curators have created an exhibition structure that allows the artists to respond to both these architectural characteristics and the knowledge production they accommodate. In doing so, they have chosen to eschew their conventional responsibilities of artwork selection and arrangement, and instead exert their authority through a form of legislation.
Each artist was asked to submit a proposal for a work that would allude to a larger space than that provided, as well as complete an accompanying questionnaire about his or her art school experience. The pages of the proposals were scanned and posted on the exhibition’s Tumblr in order of submission date, establishing a chronological map of the then hypothetical exhibition. This parallels the class syllabi each SVA student receives at the beginning of each class, which anticipates the entire semester but cannot possibly foresee how it will actually progress. Artists were encouraged to read and review each other’s proposals, perhaps modify their proposals in order to embark on any collaborative works, and work around cases where different artists proposed to use the same space.
The installation, taking place in a functioning classroom, naturally had to accommodate the scheduled classes. Thus, the artists were given a 24-hour window to install their work through an incremental schedule mirroring SVA’s process of class registration. The more senior the student and the better his or her grades are, the more time they had for installation. The artists also had to work around a class that was happening in the room on the day of the event. Through this staggered installation schedule, the classroom accumulated a form of creative spatial memory that the artists had to work around, suggesting the communal nature of the shared classroom environment.
The structure of the Visual & Critical Studies program, in which each student is required to take 60 studio credits and 60 art history/liberal arts credits, establish the foundation for multiple links to arise between critical thinking and art practice throughout the student’s four years in the program. These unique circumstances not present in the average undergraduate fine art program bolster the curatorial decision to underline the pedagogical environment within which each artist has been working, writing and creating. The exhibition hopes to engage with the recent educational turn in contemporary art curation, which sees an increasing number of exhibitions and projects that engage, mirror, and often criticize the established educational structures of schools and museums. In Mapping Thinking Spaces, the curators sought to present a commentary on the professionalization of art practice within the art school context, while showcasing the integration of the cerebral and the creative in the work of their VCS peers.
Although I’ve seen my past curatorial experiences as collaborative processes with artists and whoever else was involved, this was the first time I’ve ever officially had co-curators. It was definitely challenging at times because we all had very different tastes and working styles, but this made the exhibition conceptually richer, and of course it was great that our workload could be split. There were a lot of times that we hit roadblocks – coming up with a name took much longer than anticipated, and so many things went wrong on the day of installation. However, when the dust finally settled, the exhibition turned out really great. To my honest surprise, we got really positive feedback on the show. This might seem insignificant, but the most heartening comment for me was that people couldn’t believe that such a small classroom could accommodate 16 artists. I think the breathability of the exhibition is a true testament to the show that we could triumph over the very space that constrained us.
I will be posting two more posts in the next few days – one about the essay that I wrote for the show, and one about the work that I created. Until then, here are some pictures of the exhibition, accompanied by more of my thoughts, as well as the wall text that I wrote for each work (with the exception of a few artists who chose to write their own).