2014.08.18 Mon, by
Curating Lab: When Does an Exhibition Begin and End?

When Does an Exhibition Begin and End?

Level 5, National Library Building, Singapore. Saturday, June 14, 2014 (3–5 PM).

As part of Curating Lab 2014’s curatorial-intensive, the public symposium “When Does an Exhibition Begin and End?” brings together curators and artists working in Singapore to discuss their recent and ongoing projects.

Since the advent of the internet, we have seen sweeping changes in almost every part of our lives. From Edward Snowden’s startling revelations to more prosaic applications like crowd-funding, independent music and being untethered from television’s fixed broadcast schedules, it sometimes seems as if long-established systems and orders are tumbling like dominoes; the rug is pulled out from underneath at every turn by the agile, the hungry and the disruptive.

And yet, in many senses, the art world proceeds much as it has for decades. Denser and more interconnected, to be sure, but exhibitions continue to come and go in a stately dance of artists, collectors, galleries and institutions. At times, some attempt half-hearted stabs in the general direction of some vague notion of the internet—pressing official hashtags and suggested Facebook posts onto exhibition-goers, say, or organizing openings on Second Life—as if a few propitiatory buzzwords would enable the wholesale colonization of this new world.

Echoing the internet’s tendency to confuse or otherwise shatter once simple boundaries, Curating Lab’s recent symposium “When Does an Exhibition Begin and End?” discussed, naturally, a move away from exhibitions as discrete, well-defined, singular units—boundaries perhaps imposed by the physical and temporal limitations of exhibitions (just as television was once locked-in to the programming schedules of a handful of studios). Refreshingly, the discussion steered clear of glaring buzzwords and over-enthusiasm for “technicity” or the cargo-cult over-enthusiasm for technical minutiae they imply.

In the case of the curator Shabbir Hussain Mustafa and the artist Charles Lim’s recent show “In Search of Raffles’ Light”, the pair related a continuous stream of anecdotes relating to the inception, undertaking and eventual dispersal of the project—a series of extraordinary events which meshes well with Mustafa’s stated curatorial approach of accretion. It’s a process-based approach, suggestive of the “rheomode” proposed by the physicist David Bohm in 1980, in which language (and, by extension, thought) moves away from the static singularity of nouns, leaning instead towards a flow of verbs and adjectives.

As a continuous flow, this curatorial and artistic approach resembles the network architecture of our time—fragments of image and text duplicating, multiplying and permuting across cascading chains of links; circulating and proliferating to the point at which origin and authenticity are rendered moot. This collection of documents, images and artifacts has been washed up, so to speak, at the National University of Singapore Museum only to subsequently disperse, rendering a re-staging of the show impossible. It is an approach which seems to subvert the sense of the museum as reliquary—though perhaps not nearly as adroitly as a previous show whose remains were handed over to the artist Erika Tan, with the challenge (and title) “Come cannibalize us, why don’t you?”

A similar approach was presented by the curators Anca Rujoiu and Vera May of the Centre for Contemporary Art, in which the closure of the exhibition “Paradise Lost” occasioned a two-day event titled, fittingly, “The Disappearance”. Interstitial in both time and space, “The Disappearance” took place amidst the teardown of “Paradise Lost”, carving a space out for itself with a series of talks and screenings.

Exhibitions, according to May, extend themselves both backward and forward in time in the form of documents—the administrative circulation that gives rise to an exhibition, followed thereafter by memorialization in the form of catalogues, reviews and other media. This intervention, then, sits astride the boundary between the subsidiary document and the exhibition itself, encouraging crossover in both directions.

Further compounding the disappearance of these boundaries was a lecture-performance by artist Shubigi Rao, also involved in “The Disappearance”, who discussed the work of her late mentor, S. Raoul, on the dangers of mental derangement posed by contemporary art. For instance, in Visual Snow (2014), Rao described perfectly ordinary background noise in human vision as symptoms of degenerative brain damage caused by prolonged exposure to contemporary art—one that’s particularly pronounced in those exposed to the “trauma” of an exhibition teardown. Screening a sample of what visual snow looks like, Rao then confided that the “digital dandruff, or pixel dust” we’d just been exposed to was both contagious and hallucinogenic.

While S. Raoul is an elaborate invention of Shubigi Rao (and the dangers of art a parody of opponents of contemporary art) the fiction was never directly discussed, save for a photo of the artist with a fake moustache presented as a portrait of S. Raoul. Think of it as a puckish, knowing wink directed at us—a performance-lecture that winds its way through the boundaries that establish the limits of the exhibition, nudging stable definition towards becoming more of an open sandbox.

Along with the addition of the Curating Lab participants’ frenetic live-tweeting inscribing the symposium’s documentation simultaneously with itself, and the conversation between Shabbir Hussain Mustafa and Charles Lim in effect continuing the underlying conversations of their past collaboration (to perhaps coalesce once more for the next Venice Biennale), the symposium becomes less a documentation and discussion of the past, but one more hyperlinked node in the complex interplay between art and its documentation.