READING DIARY: Smuggling as Curatorial Practice after the ethnographic turn (Nippe & Preller)
‘Smuggling’ – An Embodied Criticality (Irit Rogoff)
Intrigue into this topic was initiated by the simple inclusion of the word smuggling. How can the concept of smuggling be an embodied criticality? There are obvious images created by the idea of the body as a tool for smuggling but an embodied criticality was not so apparent before reading this paper.
To me the idea of smuggling conjures up images of adrenalin-fueled misadventure, working outside the confines of the establishment or rules that govern imagined boarders and divides. Irit Rogoff however, was far more articulate in her description of the word: 'Smuggling’ - "an extremely potent model through which to track the flights of knowledge, of materials, of visibility and of partiality all of whose dynamic movements are essential for the conceptualisation of new cultural practices.”
Further, smuggling operates as a form of secretive transfer, the passage of contraband that is not sanctioned and operates with an element of invisibility.
Smuggling also involves the role of networks performed by:
o Squatters to name but a few.
‘Smuggling’ as a model allows us to “rethink the relations between that which is in plain sight, that which is in partial sight and that which is invisible.”
The question the author raises is whether or not ‘smuggling’ (including its necessary ‘shadow play’) can “be an active, political mode of ‘being in the world’ (Merleau-Pony) … if it can be the mode of artists, curators and of criticality?”
The use of the word 'smuggling' within the context of Embodied Criticality creates a far more interesting and in-depth scenario as described throughout the remainder of the paper.
As Rogoff states, through using: "models of analysis we have at our disposal, we have been able to unveil, unravel, expose and lay bare the hidden meanings of cultural circulation and the overt and covert interests that these serve.”
However, the fascinating aspect of this comes in the next paragraph that challenges the traditional notion of critical judgment, and although important, critical judgment does not “actualise people’s inherent and often intuitive notions of how to produce criticality through inhabiting a problem rather than by analysing…this is equally true of experiencing art and other aspects of manifest culture.”
There are limitations to putting work in ‘context’ and meaning is never produced in isolation but involves an intricate web of influences that are simultaneously introduced by the history and mood projected by the the viewer and the controlled environment in which the work is placed.
The semantics of the words critical, critique and criticality were defined as:
- Critical: finding fault or exercising judgment
- Critique: examining the underlying assumptions
- Criticality: operating from an uncertain ground or actual ‘embededness’… in other words to inhabit culture.
Embodied Criticality… “brings together that being studied and those doing the study, in indelible unity… to generate through the modalities of that occupation rather than through a judgment upon it.”
Other questions raised by Rogoff are:
- How do critical subjectivities intersect with contraband and what new forms of critical empowerment come out of this?
- Does smuggling enable communication and if we can conceive and materialise a new theory of mobility out of it?
- How can smuggling be produced as an operational device and not just illustrated through various works of art as a curatorial practice?
- How does smuggling undermine inherited systems of value and demand engagement with the law?
- In asking how contraband is implicated in systems of law it demands we ask whether the law is then bound to contrabanding?
- In terms of the possibilities conjured up by the notion of smuggling in relation to spatial considerations how does it help us to consider the state of ‘unboundness’ and of binaries of inside the museum and outside in public spaces?
- Smuggling introduces ideas about global circulations, cultural differences, translations, legitimacies, secure inhabitation, visibility & the queering of identity.
The Artist as Ethnographer (Hal Foster)
The focus of this paper is to determine the current ideas surrounding the concept of the 'Other' or 'Outsideness' in relation to current global geopolitical realities and the artist. After reading this paper a number of times I am still unsure of the intentions of the author in terms of their position on the artist as ethnographer and if Foster feels it is possible for the artist to work with anthropological ideas with any degree of authenticity. With statements such as - “…so the quasi-anthropological artist today may seek to work with sited communities with the best motives of political engagement…”
I’m unsure as to whether this is more of a comment on artists who don’t use legitimate anthropological references in their work but that’s not to say all artists or if the author is saying that its not possible for any artist to tackle such concepts with any degree of authority.
According to the author there has been a recent shift in power from the anthropologist having artist-envy to our current situation where contemporary artists have ethnographer-envy based on the ideals of:
1. Anthropology as the science of alterity (second only to psychoanalysis) and apparently artists love the idea of alterity even if it is just a projection of alterity with no legitimacy required?
2. Anthropology takes culture as its object, “and it is this expanded field of reference that postmodernist art and criticism have long sort to make their own.”
3. Ethnography is considered contextual, the role for which contemporary artists share with many cultural practitioners today.
4. Anthropology arbitrates the interdisciplinary, which contemporary art also values.
5. It is the self-critique of anthropology that renders it so attractive to artists.
So it is this romanticised periphery from which the anthropologist operates and the cultural position that is coveted by the contemporary artist who seeks to delve into the expanded field of culture. According to the author this shift has resulted in:
1. That the ethnographic mapping of a given institution or a related community is a primary form that site-specific art now assumes and that these pseudo-ethnographic critiques are often commissioned and even franchised.
2. This leads to the irony of site-specific work placed inside the museum or institution.
3. The potential for these institution and indeed communities who commission specific artworks to be displaced from their original intended site for the purpose of social outreach, public relations, economic devilment and art tourism.
4. In the above scenareo, few of the principles of the ethnographic participant-observer are adheared to.
‘Some Problems in Transcultural Curating’ (Gerardo Mosquera)
Gerardo Mosquera begins this short essay with an explanation of his approach to the above topic with what seems to me to be a slightly apologetic undertone.
To begin with, Mosquera presents an interesting perspective on the visual image most people in ‘central’ countries conjure up when contemplating the word ‘globalisation.’ “One tends to imagine a planet in which all points are interconnected in a reticular network.” However, what is a far more accurate representation of the concept, and yet hardly surprising when you actually stop to think about it, is a radial or hegemonic pattern around a series of power centres. The further out on the periphery you go, the less interconnection there is with one another. Or if there is a connection it is an indirect one and usually via the control of the centre.
This structure of a powerful 'axial globalisation', combined with a series of peripheral 'zones of silence' forms the foundation for the entire planet’s economic, political and cultural network.
Comprehending this visual representation of global macro economic (both cultural & political economics) is important to grasp when considering the possible problems that can arise when staging a transcultural exhibition.
The predominant problem is that this radial pattern of power that diminishes the further out you go beyond the centre is not limited to politics and economics. There also exists a very centralised system of museums, galleries, publications, collections and market networks which exerts its power on an international scale based on a very Eurocentric and 'Manhattan-centric' view of the world.
The coveted power of visual art as a prestigious and profitable currency has led to the art world being controlled by a very powerful market system making it difficult for art to pursue its social and cultural function. This is despite the business of art convincingly selling the ideas of a cultural aura surrounding all art even if it barely scratches the surface of social discourse.
Additionally, the global art market focuses on the evolution of a range of values art has provided society from a historical perspective, however, this perspective is purely a Eurocentric point of view which has been colonially exported to the rest of the world. As with politics, the West has constructed of a system of universal cultural values on which to place all art regardless of the aesthetic-symbolic intentions of the peripheral artist and the evolution of their own historical context.
Recent interest in peripheral contemporary art has increased, however, addressing the above concerns have not.
As Mosquera points out - cross-cultural exhibitions are usually financed, organised and curated by institutions and specialists within the power centres. These centres have begun circulating peripheral art according to their own agenda and perspective, fulfilling their visions and interests with little regard for the vision of the origin.
“The world is practically divided between curating cultures and curated cultures.”
The Eurocentric view of perceived value imposed on curated cultures has a tendency to provoke artists working from the periphery to adapt their work to meet the standards of the centre.
“…the restless desire and power of the postmodern West to curate the world has begun.” (paraphrased from James Clifford)
The start of the solution to address these concerns, as suggested by the author, is to establish small teams of curators with the input of diverse advise that ranges beyond the centre. In addition, multicultural communities within the centres need to demand more of the hegemonic tendency of the large art institutions as well as show initiative in organising their own institutions and exhibitions based on their own vision.
More also needs to be done to establish an international stage for peripheral art to be shown by those in the periphery in accordance to their own standards and vision for the art work.
“The efforts towards a truly inter-cultural circulation of art cannot be reduced to an international diversification and democratisation of existing circuits. Democratisation should also embrace the very structure of the circuits.”