I have a campaign going to challenge the hegemony of academic/museum curation which I believe is unhealthy and un-conducive to the democratisation of culture and the creation of new audiences for art.
If we were to turn the current 'curatorial' situation on its head - where most curators are academics/ gallerists or museum emplyees and look at say, the literary or academic world through the lens of visual artists – how would that pan out?
Visual artists would run all the publishing companies, they would people the boards of literary prizes and academic awards. Visual artists would review all new publications in newspapers and online and ‘curate’ all essay & short story collections. Their visual interpretations of literary conceits would dominate publishing decisions and critical responses. Unlucky for any writer whose book may not be ‘visual’ enough and very unlucky indeed for the academic whose recourse to visuals may not relate to their field of expertise.
Still, altered books, books sculptures and artists’ books would do well. Artists would have a lot of funding available to run conferences where all powerpoints presentations have minimal text but would include mixed media workshops and performances. Book covers would be strikingly avant-garde and multi-dimensional – all text would be judged on font aesthetic rather than boring old literary meaning. Damian Hirst would edit the next Oxford dictionary and Slinkachoo would ‘write’ a trilogy covering the life and times of Will Self using as few words as possible and in miniature format. There would be a movement for the dismissal of phonetic language and a return to pictograms….
This may appear facetious and strange, but for many artists and artist curators having an academic, a museum expert or an art critic, make decisions about which visual artists get seen by the public and in what contexts, is equally bizarre, invasive and inappropriate.
AXES TO GRIND AND QUESTIONS TO ASK
I am an artist curator based in London and working regularly in China. I am also Irish, educated in Ireland & France and a woman. Art is in transition (when has it not been?) across almost every aspect of its manifestation and we need to raise our awareness levels. I believe that these are a number of awkward questions that artists and the public alike should be asking.
Particular areas of interest relate to:
As an artist curator I want to query why curatorial practice has been so dominated by academics, critics and gallerists? and why so many artists have allowed themselves to be disempowered by this process - which never appears to be reciprocal.
The increasing incidence of the artist curator is evidence that things are changing, but are they changing quickly enough? Why is the power balance in favour of those with words, rather than those with images, in a world where visual language has far greater potential for global relevance? It feels both timely and appropriate that I have been invited by ArtZip magazine http://www.artzip.org/ to be guest editor for the Spring edition; the theme is the Artist Curator.
Another sea change in the art world is the rising importance of inclusion, in the context of publicly funded contemporary collections.
Globally, all major contemporary art museums need to redress the shocking gender imbalance in their collections, the fact that most of the works they purchase, as distinct from those they exhibit, are by men– these are the questions which need asking:
In terms of Public funding for the Arts, the UK has recently had a review the arts sector’s growth (with the aim of axing funding – of course). It was found that the Arts Sector had a contribution to the economy of 4% as compared with 2.5% from the New technology sector and 1.5% from the pharmaceutical sector. This put paid to any Arts Council cuts, but it is appalling that the misconception of the arts as being an economic burden – a luxury item still persists.
Of course, another part of me is disgusted by the constant drive to ‘monetise’ culture and creativity as though they were not necessary for our human well-being and quality of life…….
MOBILITY & CROSS CULTURAL IMPORTANCE
Referring to the situation in Ireland particularly, cutbacks to cultural funds have made international mobility very difficult if not impossible for many Irish artists. As a small island nation, how can artists battle against this isolation and narrowing of horizons? What will the impact be for practitioners who need to develop an international practice? How will Ireland sustain an international profile in the visual arts?
Every political/business link between countries has a cultural handshake to begin with, why are cross-cultural arts projects not seen as a vital part of this and funded accordingly. Yes, I know that no one has any money! (except for those who have….). But money also has to be spent to earn money in the long run and investment in the arts has wide reaching potential.
Other areas which I believe need careful monitoring and ongoing evaluation are:
In particular, I would argue that the age bias mitigates against women, who need to have their children when fertile and often can only gain professional freedom when their families are older, that’s right, not every woman who is an artist, is single and without dependants…... In an ideal world men and women would share family responsibilities but in practice, this is not so often the case. So why not design residency programmes around real lives rather than a Utopian ideal? i.e. more options for say, one month or even 2 week programmes? These could be valuable research opportunities and more feasible for artists with families, female and male.
If the focus of public and private funding bodies is age restricted and disproportionately allotted to young artists, then we need to consider whether this is entirely logical. Many graduates from art colleges remain ‘practitioners’ when they embark on post-graduate studies but, by the time they’ve reached 35, having despaired of the lifestyle, they’ve given up. I would query whether allocating funds simply on the basis of age, when funding is very scarce, to those who may not remain practitioners for very long, is both wasteful and discriminatory.
I really like to connect with people but if I don't know you and don't know why you want to connect with me then I won't! If you are an artist and you want to connect with me please send me your website address otherwise I won't follow up your invitation.
If you're an artist and you don't have a website then for your own sake set one up asap. I can recommend Weebly. As someone who has to research artists websites on a regular basis my advice would be to have a simple, clear layout plenty of good quality images - put your text (bios, statements etc on a separate page) and have very straightforward navigation.
If you look at my own websites:
www.fiongunn.org, http://www.bigsmallartists.com/www.intimatetransgressions.weebly.com and www.sewinginstreatham.weebly.com you will see the kind of artists I collaborate with and the kinds of projects in which I'm involved. So if you want an 'agent', a gallery or someone to promote your work commercially and if your work falls into the category of commercial then I'm not the person you should want to connect with!
Fion Gunn is a London based visual artist with an international multi-media practice.