Prompted by the range of responses to Thinking Contemporary Curating (2012), art historian Terry Smith has followed his earlier publication with Talking Contemporary Curating – a compilation of conversations with twelve leading international curators, including Claire Bishop, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Okwui Enwezor, Boris Groys, Jens Hoffmann, Mami Kataoka and Hans Ulrich Obrist, who reflect on ‘the challenges of curating art in contemporary conditions worldwide and in a variety of different contexts.’ In a related essay for Broadsheet, Smith identifies eight forms of contemporary curation, stating that ‘discourse, in all of its various senses, is now upfront and at the centre of curatorship.’

Smith, who is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Pittsburgh and Professor of Art History and Social Theory at the European Graduate School, also presented the Australian Pavilion’s ‘Australian Performance Art Then and Now’ at New York’s performance festival Performa 2015. The Australian participation in Performa’s inaugural Pavilion Without Walls is reviewed in this issue by Macushla Robinson, Assistant Curator at the New School Art Collection in New York.

With a new design by David Corbet, this first issue of Broadsheet for 2016 features an arresting cover image from the activation of Rosanna Raymond’s SaVAge K’lub at APT8. In ‘21st Century South Sea SaVAgery’, Billie Lythberg reflects on the SaVAge K’lub’s memorable opening night performances at APT8 (involving more than twenty performance artists) and the centrality of the Samoan notion of the ‘to both the orthography and ethos’ of Raymond’s project (previously convened in locations throughout the UK, Europe, Canada, America and Australasia).

A regular contributor to Broadsheet and Program Manager at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Pedro de Almeida also alludes to Raymond’schallenge to the imperialist foundational premise of the “wall-to-wall ooga-booga” interiors of the nineteenth-century men’s clubs’ in his compelling profile of Eric Bridgeman (a participant in Raymond’s APT8 iteration of the SaVAge K’lub). Interestingly, de Almeida frames an analysis of the artist’s oeuvre (of ‘cacophonous performances and associated videos and photographs’) within a discussion of Junot Diaz’s 2007 novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – an analogy reflected in de Almeida’s title, ‘The wondrous art of Eric Bridgeman, briefly.’

This issue coincides with both the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Magic Object (27 February – 15 May 2016) and the 20th Biennale of Sydney: The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed (18 March – 5 June 2016). Rebecca Coates – recently appointed the Director of Shepparton Art Museum – considers the practice of multi-disciplinary artist Nell, including her engaging ceramic installation The Wake (2014-16) commissioned for Magic Object (and emblematic of the biennial’s themes). 

In recent years, spaces such as abandoned industrial and commercial sites – notably Cockatoo Island, first used as a Biennale of Sydney venue in 2008 – have offered more than a mere backdrop to contemporary art. Listed on the State Heritage Register, Mortuary Station, which is one of only three (surviving) mortuary stations globally, is for the first time a venue for the Sydney Biennale’s Embassy of Transition. In consultation with heritage architects Paul Rappaport and Judith Rintoul, Ann Deslandes reflects on the architecture, the history and function of the nineteenth-century Gothic Revival building (designed by James Barnet), which presents biennale works by Marco Chiandetti and Charwei Tsai. Deslandes concludes that in ‘recasting Mortuary Station as an artefact wrapped around the theme of transition, in celebration of ‘pure art’, the Biennale of Sydney may have well have found purposeful form in the wake of terminal functionlessness.’

The revitalised, nineteenth-century Eveleigh Rail Yards have certainly acquired purposeful form, since Carriageworks is now the largest contemporary largest contemporary multi-arts centre of its kind in Australia. ‘What role does art – particularly that based in photographic and moving image and the invocation of documentary languages – play in the process of cultural amnesia and its resistance?’ is the question posed by Jacqueline Millner in a consideration of the artists exhibiting at Carriageworks, as part of the Sydney Biennale’s Embassy of Disappearance. ‘Amid a crisis of cultural and social memory,’ Millner observes, ‘art has become one of the most important agencies for memory-work.’

In two further texts relating to contemporary curatorial practices, Frances Barrett – Curator of Contemporary Performance at Campbelltown Arts Centre and a member of Brown Council –  discusses live curation with Adelaide-based Emma Webb and Steve Mayhew, who are co-directors of Performance and Art Development Agency (PADA). Alex Gawronski examines the rise of alternative exhibition models, which ‘address issues of community embedding, racial and gender exclusion and… pre-established concepts of hierarchisation’ in his penetrating essay ‘Barbarians at the Gates: Corporate Art Institutions Against the ‘People’. Stating that existing circumstances are unlikely to change unless directors, curators, artists are prepared to take risks, Gawronski advocates embracing ‘the possibility of futures not fundamentally beholden to the limits of the possible, the usable and economically accountable.’

Couched within a review of Technologism at MUMA, Paris Lettau touches on the capacity of technology to dismantle old hierarchies, observing that; ‘Anyone can put anything on the Internet without censorship by the museum, gallery or curator’. Featuring 43 historical and contemporary works, Technologism surveyed the artistic engagement and critique of electronic systems (radio, TV, the Internet, social media, smartphones, surveillance etc) since the 1960s. As Lettau points out, the exhibition’s largest (588 square metres), yet least visible work by artist collective Greatest Hits – ‘a machine for surveillance and the collection of visitors’ data (accessible only by Greatest Hits) via Wi-Fi devices such as smartphones – exposes ‘a power reversal in art brought about by the Internet.’

Finally, it seems pertinent to add that smartphone technology plays a disturbing role in one of the Biennale of Sydney’s most compelling works; at Artspace, Brad Butler and Karen Mirza’s The Unreliable Narrator incorporates CCTV footage of the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai and actual mobile phone recordings of the terrifying exchanges/exhortations between the gunmen.


Wendy Walker


Editor: Broadsheet Journal

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