While we as curators think that we give artworks a ‘voice’, it is actually the artworks that speak through our choices and scenarios. Perhaps artworks are the only full-time curators I know.
A couple of years ago I spoke with the curator Mathieu Copeland about the possibility of an exhibition curated by a table. The parliament of things by Bruno Latour was a reference. Yet we denounced the idea because a table is too deeply invested as a philosophical trope of objectivity.
Nevertheless, a table as a thing in itself rather than a trope could probably still surprise us with something, though not necessarily with an art project – the creativity of a table does not have to be locked into the artistic realm. When the curator Francesco Manacorda added that he would like to see an exhibition curated by two parrots, six chocolate cakes, a bowl of seawater, two cans of warm Guinness, a pot of geraniums and Maria Lind, I thought this would be my favourite Documenta.
The big question here is, of course, whether we should see an artwork as machine, animal or alien, and whether its curatorial capacity depends on the aforementioned definition. Common knowledge would suggest that animals tend to lean towards a more domesticated curatorial practice than aliens, but this shouldn’t be a reason for us to get into a discussion of what it means to be full-time vs. free-lance.
There are some interesting aspects in seeing artworks as curators: artworks are not committed to a specific meaning or agenda; they have no ego; they have more freedom than artists and curators; they don’t get old; they have no intentions (only potentialities); they don’t have to justify themselves, because someone else does that for them; they don’t authorize their actions.
Or are these all just a bunch of our pre-conceptions about artworks? Might we not just as well claim the opposite: artworks are pure ego without personality; they get older faster than the signatures on their backs or their certificates of authenticity; they stick to rules but at least allow us to have radically different conceptions of what they do or don’t.
Nevertheless, the main issue at stake here is perhaps not definition, but the concept of responsibility. If artworks do curate without authorizing their actions, don’t they discard the responsibility of the curatorial act entirely? Perhaps so¬ – after all, the main problem of responsibility is its close ties with authorship. How, then, do we engage with authorless yet highly responsible structures of creativity?
Before I answer this, let’s follow another twist. For his piece Parents Meeting in Sydney, the artist Darius Mikšys invited the parents of the participating artists of the 2008 Biennale of Sydney to meet the exhibition’s Artistic Director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, who would inform them about what kind of ‘projects’ their children were creating. Instead of answering the obvious question ‘Are you an artist or a curator?’ with a ready-made answer like ‘No, I am cultural producer’, he said, ‘I am an artwork.’ Darius Mikšys meant he was an artwork of his parents. Yet we can expand this notion with a statement uttered by Canadian filmmaker Terence McKenna, who in 1989 responded to the question, ‘Are we going to be like we are in movies in future?’ with a short answer: ‘We are the movies.’ Yes, we are the movies, I completely agree.
Perhaps you are an artwork too, if you are reading this. Even if your parents might have not intended you to be an artwork, you may have chosen to be one yourself – the artworld is a liberal religion, a matter not only of inheritance, but also of choice. Does this imply that you have to behave like an artwork? No, you don’t have to impersonate any particular delusions; it is enough to think like a self-created collective artwork.
Raimundas Malašauskas is a curator and writer, Paris. He will participate in the symposium Rotterdam Dialogues: The Curators, which will take place 5-7 March at Witte de With, Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam.