The role of the curator in the exhibition world has gained in importance during the last 30 years. The curator Luca Lo Pinto talks with Sabrina Möller about his current interactive exhibition at the Kunsthalle Wien ‚One, No One and One Hundred Thousand‘, the today’s curatorial practice and about his methods of involving the visitors in the exhibition making process.
After the exhibitions ‚Pierre Bismuth‘ and ‚Function Follows Vision, Vision Follows Reality‘, with the show ‚One, No One and One Hundred Thousand‘ you examine the terms and conditions of curatorial work today. The role of the curator has been gaining in importance in the last few years and the curator is seen as a superstar. How would you describe the position and the authority of the curator today? What are the contemporary conditions of curating like?
The role of the curator became more present lately due to the professionalization of art. This is evident particularly in the contemporary art field. The situation 30 years ago was very different. Now, there are many schools of curating and it became a job for a large amount of people. Today there are also a lot of panel discussions, magazines, publications etc. that deal with curatorial practice and history of exhibitions.
Originally, the curator’s role was to be responsible for the collection of a museum. That changed in 1960s when many freelance curators emerged. Some of today’s curators are public figures and in some cases they are even better known than many artists. Even though there is lots of discussion and publicity, there are not that many surprising or forward thinking exhibitions taking place. There is a lot of avant-garde discussion but on the institutional level, the exhibition making is bound by conventions.
In my opinion, exhibition making is a bit like writing: it is intertwined with the idea of authorship. Artists are always the protagonists — without artists, curators wouldn’t be able to do what they do. But instead of simply exhibiting artworks, you can use the tool of exhibition making in a more creative way. Sometimes you have to take a risk and to explore new possibilities. This show is a good example for that. I’m interested in activating a process I cannot control. And I don’t know what is going to happen. I’ve always believed that all the exhibitions I have made or I have seen were only one possibility among many others of conceiving them. Theoretically you could work on a single exhibition all your life continuously changing it. My interest is in the process of interpretation and how each of us look at things in a different way. It’s not only about art, but also about life.
The French literary group Oulipo developed a kind of a framework in which individual words could be substituted — a kind of machinery that enabled new possibilities of word combinations. In the exhibition ‚One, No One and One Hundred Thousand’ different possibilities of positioning of the artworks and thereby of exhibition designs are examined. However, in this case there is no given framework, but the new possibilities are created by the individual perceptions of the visitors without having to describe them as a mechanical process. To what extent was the Oulipo group a formative influence for the show? Where do you see the parallels?
There is a specific book which I took as sort of loose manifesto. It’s Raymond Queneau’s One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems which is a book made of ten sonnets. Each sonnet comprises 14 lines that the reader can recombine as they please, creating one hundred thousand billion different combinations. This idea of looking at things as an open arrangement inspired me when I was planning the exhibition. The typical Oulipo approach is that the process is more interesting than the actual result. Georges Perec, for example, also a member of the Oulipo group, wrote a book with the rule of not using the letter “E”, which is the most common letter in French. Oulipo combines the idea of chance with mathematics, it is an interplay between order and disorder.
You invite the visitors to newly arrange the objects on display. Why did you choose this concept for the exhibition? Aside from the conception of the greatest possible number of different exhibition stagings, is there an overriding aim? An intention?
Traditionally visitors to a museum usually take the exhibited works as art for granted in the sense that they are influenced by the symbolic power of the institution, which builds an aura around the artworks that in turn distances them from the audience.
I believe the observer has to ask questions such as: “Why was this artwork acquired by the museum? When was it bought? Is it still relevant today?” Nothing should be taken for granted. The show One, No One and One Hundred Thousand plays with the individual’s perception of art. I would like people to perceive the subtle shift that occurs when an object becomes an artwork due to the institutional framework and its aura that adds something to it. Involving the audience is crucial for me. It’s not just about moving things around in space, it’s about adding meaning to them by contextualising them as art works in relation to other art works, the space, the viewer etc.
The show also contemplates the idea of failure. If only a few people decide to take the opportunity of rearranging the exhibition, I don’t see it as a shortcoming. The show can be seen as a portrait of the audience as much as of the city and its inhabitants. Everybody has a different way of looking at things: the individual experience is very important.
In my opinion, most of today’s exhibitions are similar to one another. No one’s taking risks. At least with this project, I’m trying to do something different. Museums usually only want to attract as many visitors as possible and plan their exhibitions accordingly; since the Kunsthalle is not a museum, we try to involve the visitor through alternative approaches. The show indeed opens many questions and people might have strong feelings about it, both positive and negative. But taking this risk is in my opinion definitely worth it and more important than a visitor taking a show for granted.
How will this work in practice? Do the visitors actually take the artworks in their hands? And honestly, how did you solve the resulting insurance issues?
There are certain safety measures: the visitors must wear gloves and pay attention. There is always a member of staff nearby as well, who looks after the exhibition and helps visitors move the heavier objects.
After every arrangement, the exhibition is documented using the Polaroid and digital cameras on site and the works are uninstalled. The Polaroids are presented in the exhibition space and become a part of the show, functioning as a visual diary. The photographs will serve as a foundation of the exhibition catalogue as well, recording the exhibition. I am also considering taking the security camera footage and turning it into a film.
The idea of touching the works just for the sake of it is not important. It’s not so peculiar for me to touch an art piece, but for the visitor, it certainly could be an unusual experience which provides them with an opportunity to manipulate and move the artworks.
The fact that the artworks are taken down after each day is also very important. When the visitors enter and the artworks are lying deinstalled on the ground, it feels unnatural and it compels the visitors to ask questions. It removes a sort of a mental barrier. If the objects weren’t deinstalled after each day, the visitor would come to an existing exhibition and would not feel the need to participate.
Do you see the exhibition as a means of learning more about the perception of the visitors?
I don’t deny my role as an author of the exhibition but I don’t like the idea of putting myself on a pedestal and looking down on others. I am looking forward to being surprised by the results of this exhibition and to experience ideas I had not thought of.
I consider the exhibition as a large choreography, as a performative act. No one forces the visitors to participate, the decision is theirs to make. In my opinion, the exhibition functions whether they choose to participate or not. The process remains active even when you enter the space, see the works uninstalled on the floor and you leave. When the works are uninstalled, is this also the exhibition? Under which circumstances can we define an ensemble of objects or non-objects as an exhibition? To me, any kind of gesture that takes place in the exhibition space has a meaning. Nothing is neutral.
The authority of the curator is not in any way negated in this exhibition. You choose the artists and you establish the concept, the topic and the initial positioning of the works, as one would usually do as a curator. The one important difference being that after the exhibition has been opened, the exhibited artworks can be moved and arranged in new ways. Be that as it may: the works have been created specifically for this show — have you formulated any concrete criteria or specifications for the artists and their respective works?
The artists were very enthusiastic about the idea that their artworks would be rearranged and manipulated. The selection of the artists was based on their approach, not on the materials or techniques they use. They work with different media and they have very different practices. For example Adriana Lara’s work is the opening hours of the exhibition: she employs time as a readymade, which results in an invisible work. She plays with the notion of whether it’s possible to exhibit or affect time.
Generally speaking I’m fascinated by works that aren’t immediately understandable or approachable. There were no particular criteria of choosing the artists or their works. I prefer giving the artists freedom in what they make for the show instead of guiding them through the process.
// Sabrina Möller
One, No One and One Hundred Thousand
Exhibition 19/02 – 22/05/2016
Kunsthalle Wien Karlsplatz • Treitlstraße 2 • 1040 Vienna • Austria