Seminar and Workshop: Queering Curatorial Practice
Reckitt, Helena and Cervantes, Susana Vargas. 2016. 'Seminar and Workshop: Queering Curatorial Practice'. In: Queering Curatorial Practice. Delfina Foundation, United Kingdom 10 March 016. [Conference or Workshop Item]
Official URL: http://delfinafoundation.com/whats-on/seminar-quee...
Abstract or Description
This seminar/workshop explored the art historical and theoretical background to queer curatorial practice that thinks not only of gender and sexuality but also race/ethnicity and class. It brought together curators, writers, art historians and researchers to explore the limits, scopes and tensions of a queer curating’s potential.
Initiated by art historian and writer Susana Vargas Cervantes as part of her Brooks International Fellowship residency at Delfina Foundation in London, in collaboration with Tate, the programme was developed and led with Helena Reckitt.
In her introduction Cervantes highlighted how the ways in which artworks or exhibitions might be queered through contemporary curatorial processes are not clearly defined, and that such projects raise issues of identity and identification. Considering issues of cultural specificity, she noted that a curatorial project that reads as as queer in one context might not be perceived as queer in another.
Helena Reckitt then introduced queer tactics from a range of curatorial and artistic projects from the early 1990s to the present. Tactics of curatorial queering go beyond inserting LGBTI artists into museums or canons that were premised on excluding, suppressing, or misrecognizing such practices. Exceeding the avowed sexual orientation of the artists included, curatorial queering entails challenging the ideologies and values upon which modernist art traditions and exhibition conventions are premised. Vargas’s curatorial project ‘In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni,’ for instance, asked “what makes an exhibition queer?”. It broke with curatorial conventions, such as that works are installed spaciously so that can artworks can ‘breathe,’ and viewers encounter them in isolation. Instead works were installed in close proximity, at times overlapping, in playful, art historically-irreverant, clusters.
Reckitt foregrounded other queer curatorial practices that embrace deliberate misrecognition and cultural appropriation including Part Object, Part Sculpture, 2005, curated by Helen Molesworth; the 1991 book Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs, edited by Jean Fisher and Tessa Boffin; In a Different Light, 1995, curated by Nayland Blake and Larry Rinder; AA Bronson’s 2003 proposal, Documenta Sex; Disobedient Objects, 2015, curated by Catherine Flood and Gavin Grinder; and the work of artists Fastwürms that queers relations between human and non-human animals.
Reckitt went on to consider recent curatorial projects that stage a call-and-response between queerness and feminism of the past, the present and the imagined future, including independent and institutional projects such as Inessential Fathers, curated by Laura Guy, 2014; re.act.feminism, 2011-2013; Danh Vo’s 2015 exhibition Slip of the Tongue; and the art of Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz.
Workshop participants then broke into small groups where each group outlined the contours for a queer exhibitions in either a public museum, private museum, biennale, public space, art fair, or commercial gallery. The exercise entailed placing thumbnail images from a selection of c.50 artworks into floor plans of the proposed space. These images were based on proposals for works to be included in a ‘fantasy queer exhibition’ that participants had proposed to the organisers in advance.
After working in small teams for an hour participants then presented their plans to the rest of the group. The accompanying discussion focused on issues including: the prominence of phallic and phallocentric works within queer culture (which the private museum parodied in their proposal for ‘The Dick Show’, installed in a white cube gallery with rubber flooring); the paucity of artists of colour and under-represented in the proposed works; queerness as a threat to national identity and the extent to which queerness can cross national borders; queering the institution by foregrounding forms of intimacy, interaction and temporality; queerness, capitalism and commercialisation, and the concept of the ‘art-fair ready’ queer work of art; queer publics, class, safe space, and the binary gender divisions that dominate existing lesbian and gay public space; and the use of humour and irony as queer tactics.
In the ensuing discussion Cerventes pointed out that conceptualizations of queer curating seemed to be largely based on two trajectories: as sexual identification that aims to dismantle heteronormative assumptions and power structures, or as methodology that queers how we see or experience the world. Reckitt noted that, despite the scepticism that participants expressed towards the art market and other institutional norms, the interest in including and discussing artwork that was previously unknown to the group suggested that the encounter with art still has the potential to generate important forms of queer experience. Vargas concluded that the fact participants wanted to include more under-represented artists and artists of colour was revealing, given that the list of proposed artworks stemmed from their own suggestions. This underscores the complexity entailed in redressing such historical absences and exclusions.