|PhD in Art||Winchester School of Art||Southampton University (UK)|
The exhibition space as a laboratory: experiments in curating Art and Technology
Advisors: Prof. Ryan Bishop and Prof. Jussi Parikka
About the research:
As art institutions continuously implement the concepts and structures of the “tech” and “media lab” within their spaces, the need to better understand these formats and their relationship to curating and exhibition-making arrises. Although there is a wide range of literature on the relationship between the laboratory and the Arts, most approaches focus on artistic inquiry, and rarely on exhibitions and curatorial practices. Considering this gap, the project proposes to not only revisit past initiatives and document current strategies as to insert them within the historicization of curatorial practices, but to also expand existing investigations in Curatorial Studies by taking into account the roles of and the relationships between the exhibition space, the laboratory and the experimental within the analysed practices. The research, therefore, asks: what formats are currently being implemented and how do they relate to past practices and discourses of laboratorization and experimentation in Art and Technology since the early 20th century? What roles does the laboratory and “experimentation” play within these scenarios and how do they interplay with the roles ascribed to the exhibition space, to curators and the curatorial as a whole? Moreover, how has the exhibition space performed as a lab and, taking into account its present relationship to curatorial research, how has it performed as a space for curatorial experiments?
Background of study
The laboratory has permeated the Arts as early as the 20th century as a historically established space for experimentation. In 1929, Sigfried Giedion was already calling for an “experimental laboratory” to be created in every public institution as a space against the musealization of the arts (Bippus, 2013). Later, from mid 1950s to early 1970s, artists adopted more prominently the concept of the experimental laboratory within their practices and novel initiatives appeared in Art and Technology. The 1990s also saw a prominent movement of artist and curators exploring the relational aspects of the lab and the experimental studio (Bishop, 2004). Currently, we see a rise of the art and tech lab in the field (Bech & Bishop, 2018), showing the continuous interest of art institutions in exploring the concepts and structures of the lab and the experimental, as major art institutions incorporate hackerlabs, makerlabs, fablabs and other formats within their spaces, programmes and parallel activities.
This more recent movement can be traced back to the early developments of the “tech lab” in the 1960s (Parikka, 2017; Beck & Bishop, 2018), where the promises of “innovation” and the potentials of technology sustained by those spaces fuelled many initiatives by artists and curators of the period. Initiatives such as the Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T), the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)’s Art & Technology (A&T) created in the 1960s as collaborative experimental practices sprung innovative research and technological developments in Art and Technology. While most may not be officially named as “labs”, these projects incorporated the tech and the innovation lab culture within aspiring Art and Technology practices. In many ways, they reconfigured the existing practices of the time, with project such as the E.A.T acting directly towards reshaping the exhibition space as a site for experimentation and collaboration, shifting the role of artists and curators.
These past initiatives, therefore, need to be revisited as to bridge the existing gaps regarding their relationships and their contributions to the current scenario of labs in Art and Technology. As argued by Beck and Bishop (2018), current approaches have been explicitly drawn from the legacy of previous programs, such as CAVS and the A&T, but have been unproblematically reclaimed. As such, they risk falling into the same techno-utopianism which drove many of the initiatives of the 1960s into their downfall, and, for that reason, a more critical analysis of their relationships to their predecessors is needed - one which includes not only the similarities and differences between projects, but also a wider understanding of the political, economical and cultural contexts they rose from (Beck and Bishop, 2018).
Along side Beck & Bishop’s (2018) recent research and publication on the matter, a prominent effort in this regard can be seen in the project conducted by Emerson, Parikka & Wershler (2019), What is a Media Lab?, which sets to document and contextualize current media labs within contemporary discourses. Nevertheless, the existing literature regarding the concepts and practices of the experimental and the lab in the Arts often focus on artistic research, artworks and artists, and rarely addresses curatorial research and exhibition-making. The historicization of curatorial practices is a relatively recent field, and it’s absence from hegemonic art historical narratives have had a direct impact on the ever-changing notions of the curatorial, of curating and of curators (O’Neil, 2007; Tyzlik-Carver, 2011). Therefore, in the same way that the current scenario of media/tech labs calls for a mapping of practices as to situate them within the historical developments of “laboratories” and “experiments” (Parikka, 2017), it has also become necessary to situate them within past and current developments of curatorial practices, discourses and concepts.
In curating, there has been several attempts to explore the concepts and structures of the lab and the experimental within exhibition spaces, such as done in Laboratorium (1999), Iconoclash (2002), Palais de Tokyo (2002) and Making Things Public (2005). The lab has also been situated as a separate space, as institutions insert the tech and media lab within the structures of existing exhibitions, such as in net_condition (1999) and more recently in Open Codes (2017-2019). Past curatorial practices have also attempted to transform the exhibition space into a scaled experiment, where participatory practices are evaluated, such as demonstrated by England et al. (2016) and in Muller and Edmonds (2006). The potentials of the exhibition and the curatorial as a lab has more recently sprung many research labs worldwide, such as the Creative Europe programme’s Curatorial Lab (various locations), the Curator’s Lab in Porto (PT), the Curatorial Lab at the University of Sydney and the Beta_space at the Sydney University of Technology (AU), the Exhibition Laboratory of the University of Arts in Helsinki (FI) and the Exhibition Research Lab of the Liverpool John Moores University (UK), among others. Not to mention the appearance of several “Innovation Labs” and Research and Development (R&D) departments in art institutions worldwide (as sprung both within major museums such as MoMA and as a subject of study, such as conducted by the University of New South Wales, among others).
Although researchers such as Bishop (2004), Basu and Macdonald (2007), and Schwab (2013), have already marked significant gestures within curatorial practices towards the lab and its experimental nature, there are no literature which compares the approaches as to identify their correlations and which situates them within the history of curating and exhibition-making. The practices described by Claire Bishop (2004), for example, differs significantly from the current wave of curatorial labs. The first appeared as a direct reaction of curators to the impact of the highly open-ended and interactive art of the 1990s, and focused manly on the potentials of the lab and the experimental towards the presentation and the experience of the art exhibited (Bishop, 2004). The second, on the other hand, seems to be related to the revived interest in interdisciplinary art and technology collaboration described by Bech and Bishop (2018), as they focus on the potentials of the lab and the experimental for the development of novel strategies in curating and exhibition-making in the digital age.
While both curatorial gestures seem to relate, in one level or another, to the challenges of technology in the Arts, the later seems to have turned more prominently towards the potential of the curatorial lab as a site for research-making, thus also aligning to the current trends in interdisciplinary collaborative approaches in the Arts and of art as research, as described by Beck & Bishop (2018). In fact, this gesture “is part of a recalibration of the meaning of ‘research’” (Beck & Bishop, 2018), as artists (and curators) increasingly expand art-making (and thinking) beyond art institutions, towards universities, tech labs and further research facilities.
Within this scenario, curatorial experiments seem to be taking novel formats in order to incorporate current technological developments in exhibition-making. While curatorial “experiments” (in its many forms) has been most often set behind closed curtains (within the controlled environments of the “Innovation Labs” and R&D departments), it is also being extended to the exhibition space, which then asks for a rethinking of the roles conventionally ascribed to such spaces, to curating and to the curatorial as a whole, thus reshaping our understandings of the curatorial field. A comparative analysis of such initiatives may, therefore, not only indicate important shifts in perspectives throughout the history of curatorial practices, but also their connections to the very development of Curatorial Studies.
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