Structures of Blindness*|
How foolhardy would it be for a curator to work with artists he has, for the most part, never met, in a space he has never visited? This was the first challenge offered by curarequito,** which proceeded, through emails and phone calls, in an ultra-contemporary way, dematerialising the process of exhibition making. No studio visits, but portfolios sent by post or the Internet; no actual encounter with the space, but a CD of images. Given these restrictions, the first task was to research the various, and sometimes contradictory, practices of the participating artists and to consider how they might resonate in the exhibition space, two rooms within a former hospital that is now Quito's municipal museum, the Museo de la Ciudad, a space full of historical significance and symbolic possibilities. Although we were allowed to transform the space and could have built walls, we decided that the works should respond to the existing interior: tiled floors, an open network of cables on the ceiling, an adjoining patio, and a series of niches breaking up the whitewashed walls.
The work of a curator is a flexible, changing mission that offers up a visual proposal, a coherent and conceptual experience that we are used to calling an exhibition but is better described as a spatial composition of tangible and tense equilibriums. Our undertaking at the Museo de la Ciudad was to build a project from a quantity of unknowns.
Where to start? We began the process by discussing, and in some instances questioning, the artists' practices, artistic evolution, and existing work, especially works created collectively or in residencies, as this would be the basis of the curarequito project. At the same time we considered the theme of the exhibition: what were its aims, how would it resonate in a space of this shape and size and with these architectural features, what energy and effects did we want it to have? Do we fold the space to the exhibition or the exhibition to the space? We then invited the artists to participate in an online forum on notions of the spectral. Together we discussed the gaze, the dematerialization of the artwork, the optical unconscious, and the end of art; we touched on cultural differences and brought out a diverse range of references from legends and tales, history, conceptual art, and contemporary philosophy. The exchange helped the artists to understand our point of departure as curators and helped us to define a common ground for the experience we were about to share. Instead of insisting on a unified voice, with its totalitarian, top-down implications, our intention from the beginning was to generate polyphony. We next asked the artists to submit proposals for works to be produced in Quito. These initial artistic concepts entered the conversation, although many of them were later abandoned. The space itself was the subject of a parallel exchange with the museum staff, in an effort to understand the museum's architectural, historical, and geographical placement within the city, country, and continent, and to collect stories and rumours from staff and visitors that would give a sense of its symbolic charge, to penetrate beyond its walls.
At the core of this project were dialogue and doubt, exchange and generosity, collectivity and individuality: the fragile possibility of a community, a community to create between the artists and curators and between the proposed works, and eventually a community to extend - via the exhibition process - to the museum staff and visitors. "Being cannot be anything but being-with-one another, circulating in the with and as the with of this singularity plural existence." (Jean-Luc Nancy). In short, a paradox: the utopian (thus bound-to fail) and atopian (thus irresolute) possibility of an international, intercultural, artistic correspondence. An exhibition is a political situation, if and only if "Political would mean a community ordering itself to the unworking of its communication, or destined to this unworking: a community consciously undergoing the experience of its sharing" (Jean-Luc Nancy).