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Curatorial Studio 2016 An update on the project so far

by Cicely Farrer
Image: Curatorial Studio

Curatorial Studio is a peer-learning environment for fifteen early career curators from across Scotland, that developed from conversations between SCAN, the curator-led Framework programme, CCA Glasgow and the MLitt Curatorial Practice (Contemporary Art) programme; a partnership between The Glasgow School of Art and the University of Glasgow; mutually concerned about the provision of opportunities, critical forums and support structures for developing curatorial practices

Since January, we’ve come together every 4-6 weeks for two days, around a programme of talks, events and workshops. With this blog post, we want to reveal more about what’s happened during and outside of these meetings, and where we are going.

Our shared motivation for being part of Curatorial Studio was the appeal of creating a space to reflect on contemporary practice. We all produce contemporary art projects within the broader understanding of the ‘curatorial’ whether through our roles in institutions, academic research, or our independent curatorial, artistic or writing practices. Not everyone in the group defines themselves as ‘curator’ and this has proved to be an important aspect of our peer-learning as it brings together different approaches and understandings of the broadly used term ‘practice’.

Curatorial Studio
Curatorial Studio

In the first three weekends together, we also presented a public programme comprising a live reading event led by writer Maria Fusco; a discussion centred on talks by Nikolett Erőss (Off Biennial and Curatorial Dictionary, Budapest), Sarah McCrory (Director of Glasgow International) and geographer Anna McLauchlan; and a public talk and screening event with independent curator and writer Mihnea Mircan (formerly Director of Extra City Kunsthal, Antwerp). These events drew our attention to and offered an in depth understanding of a diverse range of practices that sit amongst ‘the Curatorial’ and also shared the knowledge and experiences of the invited speakers beyond our discussions to a broader group of peers and colleagues in Scotland.

The focus of our first workshop with Maria Fusco was ‘object writing’, responding to many of the participants’ desire to gain more confidence in writing for and about art. Before meeting we were asked to contribute our own texts around this concept which meant we needed to immediately establish a way to work together to present a public reading at the CCA on Saturday 30th January. In addition to writing and editing exercises, the process of putting together a shared reading list proved important in learning about our individual points of reference. A metaphor that emerged during Fusco’s workshop and that we frequently employ is the ‘unreliable narrator’: a voice that does not necessarily give answers but prompts questioning. This has fed into our thinking whilst preparing for our contribution to this year’s Fieldwork: Not Every Tent is the Same at Hospitalfield.

Orchestrated by Curatorial Studio member Nick Thomas, the ensuing workshop and discussion around Dahn Vo’s work at the Venice Biennale provoked our first debate around current contemporary art practices and brought up quite clearly how each of us as individuals tend to trust or evoke the voice of specific thinkers – whether they be artists, art historians, philosophers, social theorists or curators.

Alan Dimmick
Alan Dimmick

Our second weekend in March, had two strands beginning with a workshop led by Nikolett Erőss, one of the members of the working group behind the project, Curatorial Dictionary – an initiative set up by a group of curators, artists and art historians in Hungary as a resource to unpack and make tangible dialectics that opaquely roll off the tongue – terms like ‘collaboration’, ‘performativity’ and ‘educational turn’. Their aim is to create a framework in which these concepts, their signification, and discursive formation could be more thoroughly understood, and, at the same time, how specific case studies could identify relevancy and meaning within curatorial praxis.

In response we presented our own case studies touching upon the terms and ideas addressed. What became clear through employing the Dictionary’s methodology was that many of these terms have inherent meanings that differ in specific contexts. This tangibly reasserted how starkly different priorities for an international art audience can be to a local one.

Our discussions rolled into the talks on Saturday 19 March with Sarah McCrory, Nikolett Erőss and Anna McLauchlan, on the relationship between politics and place within the curatorial methodologies of two European biennial festivals of contemporary art: OFF Budapest and Glasgow International. McLauchlan brought our attention to our physical encounters with biennials, exhibitions and even with one another in the Studio. Helping us address key points of ambition amongst the group but also refreshingly, we had space to work through methodologies of working and practice through physical action.

In May, curator Mihnea Mircan discussed two projects ‘Allegory of the Cave Painting’ and his ongoing research into the mythical figure of Daphne through presentations via a public talk at University of Glasgow, a screening titled Spiral Shots at the CCA and a workshop with us at The Common Guild. Mircan’s research revealed the rigourous methodology employed in his work with artists, art works and historical research, is also embodied in his thinking and modes of communication. Mircan revealed how his ideas about anamorphism and the ‘anamorphic gaze’ could act as a metaphor for the convergence of different perspectival systems.

Curatorial Studio
Curatorial Studio

Our most recent weekend in June was a group reflection on what has happened so far, what we individually have been working on, and what we might produce together as a tangible outcome of Curatorial Studio. The weekend was punctuated by MAP’s event Footnoting the Archive (one of our Studio peers Claire Walsh is currently co-editor) and a visit to Cove Park. Aptly we self-titled the weekend ‘Collective Imagination: The Social and the Civil’ and much of the weekend was spent working out what we might produce, the use-value of our discursive space and how we can work together. The range of theoretical and geographic references being voiced in our workshops has piqued an ongoing discussion about how we use and circulate references, our responsibilities around referencing and establishing linguistic forms of common ground when discussing practice; another focus of our preparation for Hospitalfield.

As a support structure, the Studio enables an important space for critical reflection, self-education as well as continued engagement with international contemporary art practices. It seems important to flag up that although the support that Curatorial Studio can provide emerging curators is remarkable, it is not going to solve problems faced by curators and producers in relation to institutions and jobs in Scotland. There are very few entry-level jobs for young practitioners in Scotland which is arguably symptomatic of the lack of movement amongst people throughout the arts, and a lack of consistent funding for trainee and temporary positions. What’s more, many positions for early career curators are temporary contracts, providing a lack of security or space to grow within a role. What the Studio does support is the development of individual voices, opinions and approaches within an expanding network – encouraging the orchestration of a curatorial position outwith of the institutional or educational archetypes.

Curatorial Studio will culminate with a two days of public events on 30 September & 1 October in Glasgow. We’ll be joined by Jason Bowman, Andrea Phillips, Mick Wilson and Julie Crawshaw co-researchers at Valand Academy of Art in Gothenburg. The two days of events will also see the launch of our publication and will reflect on the nature of how we’ve shared, supported and discovered together, which we hope will be of interest to our peers and colleagues across Scotland.

Cicely Farrer

Curatorial Studio are Frances Davis, Gordon Douglas, Cicely Farrer, Rachel Grant, Marcus Jack, Grace Johnston, Maria Lanko, Gemma Lawrence, Kirsteen Macdonald, Emmie McLusky, Katherine Murphy, Rosie O’Grady, Frances Stacey, Shireen Taylor, Nick Thomas and Claire Walsh.