Subversive Potential

By Angela M. Bartholomew

Report from the Young and Early-Career Researchers’ Colloquium, Artistic Subversion: Setting the Conditions of Display

From the vivid procession of Hélio Oiticica’s Parangolés – interjecting the aesthetic of the Mangueira favela and the bodies of its dancers into the museum – to James Whistler’s ostentatious Peacock Room in the home of a disgruntled patron, Artistic Subversion: Setting the Conditions of Display brought together cases in which artists have challenged the conventions of art’s presentation.

Panel – The Periphery and the Frame: Inclusion & Exclusion

Post-graduate and doctoral panelists from Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and the United States presented research that covered an array of artistic strategies. In the panel The Periphery and the Frame: Inclusion & Exclusion David Frohnapfel’s paper on the Haitian art collective Atis Rezistans brought into question the conditional embrace of ‘marginalized’ practices by the institutionalized art world. Despite having their own curatorial practices, such artists are invited to show their work in the museum, but rarely to curate it. Frohnapfel argued that this form of inclusion maintains exclusion through its celebration of ‘ethnic-otherness’ and the expectation of gratefulness. In the same line, Sally Mincher brought attention to the inherent problem of a museum being attributed the ‘cultural capital’ of a  group, such as those involved with the Chicano art movement. By presenting the work of these artists museums celebrate their own diversity in a show of multi-cultural enlightenment. A discussion moderated by Jelle Bouwhuis Curator at the Stedelijk Museum served as a retort, asking how institutions, or curators, might better serve practices that are subject to ‘conditional hospitality’. Bouwhuis proposed that the theme of the day, ‘artistic subversions’ could easily translate into a series of discussions on curatorial subversions or even institutional subversions.

Susan L. Power
Catalina L. Imizcoz

In the panel The Work of Art as Exhibition, researchers discussed two artists who crossed the threshold into the terrain of the exhibition maker. Susan L. Power introduced the multifarious practice of Bertrand Lavier, which transforms art world clichés into works of art, challenges the distinction between artist and curator, and blurs the line around what qualifies as the ‘fixed’ work. Catalina L. Imizcoz, in turn, discussed the work of Sebastián Gordín, an artist who erected a maquette he constructed of the exhibition space of the ICI Buenos Aires – fully installed with his own tiny exhibition – on the street in front of the very same gallery it imitated. By changing the scale of the exhibition, the artist claimed ultimate authority over the space.

Panel – Installation (as) Art & the Exhibition (of) Space

The panel Installation (as) Art & the Exhibition (of) Space also looked to the space in which art is installed, seeing it as a container for art but also as its content. In her presentation on ‘empty’ exhibitions, Anne Gregersen showed how artists, from Yves Klein to Maria Eichhorn, have used vacant or abandoned gallery spaces to reflect on the conditions and labor involved in display. Jack Smurthwaite revealed how the distinction of ‘installation art’, a container term by nature, serves to bring heterogeneous works together, and ignores their specificities in order to situate them comfortably within systems of classification.

Panel – Authenticity and the Production of Value

Finally, in the panel Authenticity and the Production of Value presenters addressed the means by which artists shape the mediation of art and the discourse surrounding it. Steyn Bergs’ presentation on the Internet as (Main) Frame looked at how artists engage with the Internet by short-circuiting, or rewiring access to information thereby shifting perceptions of a work. Likewise Tamar Shafrir considered how the designers Makkink&Bey employed the model of a diorama to create a replica of their own living room. She explained that the diorama, as a meaning machine, controls the perspective and positioning of the viewer to proffer the experience of factuality – a framing device par excellence.

Angela Dimitrakaki and Kirsten Lloyd

Rounding up the event, a joint keynote lecture by Angela Dimitrakaki and Kirsten Lloyd of the University of Edinburgh offered a negative definition for ‘subversive practices’. While collective authorship, and collective labor, is posited as a counter model to individualism promoted in the 1980s and 90s, Dimitrakaki and Lloyd assert that collaborative practices, far from subverting the mechanisms of neoliberal capitalism, are fundamental to its subsistence. Ending on this antithetical note compelled colloquium attendees to consider whether the historicization of subversive strategies acts, in fact, to limit their subversive potential. The colloquium effectively showed that artists develop  specific strategies to subvert modes of display and regain agency over the settings of art’s presentation. Yet questions still remain about the latent power of the strategies discussed, or their ability to incite a change in reigning orthodoxies. The upcoming issue of Kunstlicht, on Artistic Subversion: Exposing Conditions & Cracking the Frame, will further unpack these questions. Look for it to come out early in the summer.

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