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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”