Curating “do it UGA”

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Installation view

I had the chance to give a gallery talk last week about do it UGA, a show I curated with fellow art history graduate student Brooke Leeton at the Lamar Dodd School of Art, and it gave me a chance to think back about the whole process. I first came across do it at a one-night event hosted by tranzit in Budapest; I was fascinated by the artists making food, drinks, drawing on walls, and dancing—all based on other artists’ instructions. do it is a curatorial project of Hans Ulrich Obrist who, beginning in the 90s, began to ask artists to write instructions by which other artists could make a work of art. The instruction-based art project has spawned many iterations around the globe, functioning as a kind of open-source, proliferating and ongoing project. Working off the 2012 do it: the compendium book, my co-curator and I asked seven artists to select an instruction from this collection of 200+ instructions by artists from Marina Abramovic to Franz West.

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One of the questions I was asked was about the amount of trust we put in the artists, as we planned a show with no idea as to how it might materialize until the very end. And in a sense, that’s true, and at times was a cause for anxiety. Normally, a curator might do studio visits and ask for specific works or pieces from a body of work to be shown. Not only were we not starting from objects, we framed the project to the artists as a way to step outside their normal practice and experiment. In doing so, I feel we were working better with the nature of the project: instructions-based art is totally different from the normal, self-driven approach to making and it offers a chance to play and reconsider process.

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Instructions might seem like rules, specific and limiting to creative freedom, and thus against the grain of art itself. On the contrary though, the works the resulted from this show speak more of interpretive freedom and the inevitable personal mark attached to things we make. We placed an orange photocopy of the instruction from the book next to the artwork interpreting it, so viewers could see for themselves both the starting and end points. In the photograph above, on the right, is a board with two telephones that connect to a total of six telephones, part of Courtney McCracken‘s installation that provides elaborate mechanics for communal performing of Stephen Kaltenbach’s simple instruction: “Start a rumor.” All of the works have a similarly interesting degree of separation from the instructions.

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Many of the works were performative in nature, and the presence of the artists during the opening helped activate the space and suggest the freedom to interact (that even got, rather gloriously, misinterpreted at one point as guests started drawing on the walls). Above is a photograph of a dance performance by Hilary Schroeder, following Joan Jonas’s instruction that begins “dance with a large piece of chalk.” Below is a photograph of Allan Innman, who created the beauty mark that accentuates both the wall of the exhibition and his own face, adding a bit of wry humor to the Beauty Marks instruction by Hreinn Fridfinnsson.

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A final performative aspect of the opening occurred when I and my co-curator picked up brooms and swept confetti “evenly distributing it along one wall,” to signify the end of our contribution to the show, Amalia Pica’s do it (party). This instruction appealed to us, because, as we rather cheekily say in the exhibition hand-out, throwing a party and cleaning up afterword is “curating in a nutshell.”

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James Turrell’s Roden Crater

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Site plan of Roden Crater

Although I only learned about the Roden Crater a few weeks ago, this large earthwork has been installation and land artist James Turrell‘s major project since 1974.  His works typically include creating spaces and sensory experiences through an almost tactile manipulation of artificial and natural light. The Roden Crater, an extinct volcano near Flagstaff, Arizona, is being subtly reshaped and fitted with underground tunnels and rooms, some carved with “skyscapes” (openings that frame and seem to shape the sky). This ambitious project is still under construction, and few people have seen it outside models, drawings, and photographs. Turrell has stated that he wants to link visitors with the celestial movements of planets, stars, and distant galaxies, saying: “In this stage set of geologic time, I wanted to make spaces that engage with celestial events in light so that the spaces performed a ‘music of the spheres’ in light.” A lot could be said about this project, but I’m particularly struck by the way the site as a whole resembles an eye.

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Roden Crater

The artist has also said: “Roden Crater has knowledge in it and it does something with that knowledge. Environmental events occur; a space lights up. Something happens in there, for a moment, or for a time. It is an eye, something that is in itself perceiving.” With the latter comment in mind, I think it is fascinating to consider how light and knowledge are connected to the eye and the gaze. The crater is in part a naked-eye observatory, on a scale that puts it in dialogue with the heavens even as it reverses the traditional gaze of the all-seeing eye of the Judeo-Christian God who looks down on earth. In art history, this notion has been represented by a tradition of God as a disembodied Eye. From the medieval period onward the eye of God was invoked to represent all-seeing divinity and the Holy Trinity. A form of this symbol where the eye is enclosed in a triangle, often called the Eye of Providence, proliferated and was repurposed during the Enlightenment for secular, man-made knowledge. The power of the much-used symbol stems from the privileging of vision and its association with knowledge. Regardless of whether an eye was literally present, the implicit gaze of religious art in both Western and Eastern Orthodox traditions has been a divine, watching one.

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Crater’s Eye Plaza

Considering the power structures implicit in the gaze (at the Roden Crater, a man-made and God-like eye on earth staring up to the heavens) is fascinating not just historically but in today’s surveillance-prevalent society. Ancient monuments such as the Incan and Egyptian pyramids, which Turrell cites as an influence, were scaled for a privileged aerial viewpoint that once belonged only to God. Historically this privileged view became accessible to man through maps, which were once valuable luxury items. Now the aerial view is available to society en masse courtesy of Google Maps and Google Views, reinforcing Foucault’s notion of the surveillance society. While Turrell might seem to be creating a monument along ancient lines, contemporary societies’ changed relation to the aerial view complicates this understanding.

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East Portalt

While the site itself features tunnels, rooms, viewing stations, and the crater’s eye plaza already, as well as a small guest house nearby, Turrell is still working on the project. He is 71 years old, and it is unclear whether the project will be finished in his own lifetime. Once it is open, visitors will be restricted to small numbers at a time, but I for one would certainly love a chance to walk through and experience this strange modern megalith.

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Crater’s Eye


Opening Tonight: my Instruction-based Curatorial Project “do it UGA”

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Tonight an exhibition of instruction-based art that I curated with fellow art history graduate student Brooke Leeton is opening at UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art. I’ve been interested in do it since attending tranzit’s do it (party) in Budapest in 2013. do it is a curatorial project originally conceived by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist based on a simple proposition: “Create an instruction that someone else can use to make an artwork.” Initiated in the 90s, do it has expanded on a global scale and into the present day to include instructions from numerous artists around the world. Obrist considers this proliferation a form of continuous exhibiting. With a focus on interpretive freedom, participants realize instructions provided by contemporary artists found in the book do it: the compendium. Naturally, instruction-based art privileges themes of variation, copy and authenticity, play and experimentation, resulting in a work of art unconcerned with a specific aesthetic or ownership. Instead, what drives the exhibition is the act of interpretation.

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As curators, we were intrigued by the emphasis this exhibition places on individual interpretation and variation within the parameters of the instructions. We selected seven artists from the Lamar Dodd School of Art to realize the do it instruction of their choice: Michael Benedetti, Joe Camoosa, Allan Innman, Courtney McCracken, Ry McCullough, Hilary Schroeder, and Janelle Young. What is exhibited is the result of this interpretive process. In addition, Brooke and I will be contributing on our own performance–a first for both of us. As all the works were made for the show and some, like ours, will only come into being in the course of the opening, the show overall was and is a surprise even to me.

Opening reception if from 6 – 8 pm tonight in the Suite Gallery. More information available on the exhibition’s website.

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