The Artist as Curator
‘Bring together a series of 12 images (a typology)in which a particular motif appears again and again. For this exercise, you may use found images (images you have at home as part of a family archive, for example) or images found online (from photo-sharing sites such as Flickr for example). Select an appropriate way to display your series (as an animated slide presentation, in grid form, as single images, etc.) and present them on your Learning Log.’
For a series of 12 images I have selected some of those typical of the Blackdown Hills where I live. This is to find out how to find out the technique of presentation in one of the suggested formats. The first experiment is a slideshow using my own archived images. The repetitive motif is the beauty of the Hills. I discovered that my WordPress account does not support video and so I need to store it elsewhere and make a link to it.
1 You Tube
Uploaded to YouTube was one option. YouTube formed a video and added its own soundtrack but I have not yet found out how to link to this.
2 Google Drive
I had more control over the making of this film, but also more choices and decisions. I decided to leave it without sound to give a realistic sense of the repetitive link of the quiet in the lanes. I left the image duration long enough for the viewer to feel immersed but not bored and used a page turn to indicate that the events were separate.
4 Contact sheet
The effect here is more immediate.
I have specifically used the same 12 images in these trial presentations for a clearer comparison. In order to make the Imovie film small enough for this presentation, I found, after many trials, that I needed to open the film from Imovie in QuickTime and select the option for iPhone. This reduced the transfer time from 4 hours to 20 minutes. When selecting the images for the presentation, I chose a variety that conveyed the colourfulness of the area and its pastoral qualities. These are the typically consistent themes through the set. However, I think the conceptual content masks the communication of a repetitive motif.
This next set uses feet trampling on nature as a clearer and more tangible use of a repetitive motif. The photographs are a mixture of my own and network images. The colours are more dynamic here and the footprints provide a good contrast. Perhaps the image with text on introduces some inconsistency. The idea of subverting images by combination is not new but conforms to the theory of emergence whereby two objects depend on each other to form a third entity with an emergent meaning. The work of John Heartfield is a strong example of collage being put to political use by creating an emergent third meaning. His work is often harsh and difficult to look at but exhibits an underlying sense of compassion and integrity.
This next set of collaged images is intended to highlight the disconnect between people and nature. On a more superficial level, the spoiling and carelessness of people in the natural environment is obvious. Although the images are unpleasant, they originate from a passion to change what is happening and to concentrate the viewer’s attention on their own actions, as with Heartfield’s evident motivation, Recent TV coverage of plastic in the ocean and the action that has provoked shows that exposure can have an educational value.
I found Sam Taylor-Wood’s time-lapse video of rotting fruit a powerful illustration of death and decay and searched for images that might convey a similar message. This time I have concentrated on dying and added images communicating death and decay.
An interesting observation for me has been the journey from the first collage to the third. The first is static and raises few questions. The second introduces some dynamism but is relatively pedestrian, whereas the third involves the viewers’ interpretation and also caused me to search my feelings of the horror involved in the destruction of the natural world. A movie was the best way to communicate this as I had creative control over the insertion of decaying organic material, the inclusion of human beings, and the timing and transitions for maximum effect. I understand that I could not have arrived at the third without the building blocks of the first two. This could, therefore, be a productive method of working for me.
I could not succeed in creating a link to this video on my GDrive. My forum colleagues suggested embedding this video via Vimeo. This can now be seen by clicking on the play arrow bottom left and a full page option is available. It is more accessible this way than via a link.
Having been inspired by the work of Corinne Vionnet, I trawled through website touristy images in order to find a possible subject. I chose well-known landmarks or objects from the natural world. After experimenting, I discovered that three or four images were enough to work with before risking a confused result. In this first attempt, I chose images of an oak tree and leaves. The result is not satisfactory and looks posterized.
This combination of three images of blossom is an improvement, but still lacks the dreamy quality that Corinne Vionnet has achieved,
The Dover cliffs were my next choice but confusing.
These images of Tower Bridge began to have more of the dreamy look I wanted and so I continued with architecture rather than nature.
These combined images are all of the Wellington Monument near to the town of Wellington in Somerset, and close to where I live. Corinne Vionnet uses mostly vertical lines and in this case, it is a method that has proved useful. The out of focus result may be too exaggerated but is approaching the result I was looking to achieve.
Returning to my theme of choice, I have selected 3 of my own images and tried to make them have the dreamy look that Corinne Vionet has demonstrated. Working with two layers, I enlarged and blurred one and left its original colour. I then inverted the top layer with some thoughts of the natural world being inverted by the people who trample over it, reversing its position from natural beauty to insignificance. The inverted layer hides the reality.
The Artist as Curator
A curator (from the Latin cura, to take care) oversees the collection and presentation of a variety of collections.The artist curator has existed in different forms from as long ago as Cavemen choosing a particular wall in a cave to make a collection of their drawings. In more recent times, there have been many artists with their own space for exhibition, eg studio, shop or public places. The art gallery curator has now become a formal job description, and degrees are offered with the title ‘History of Art with Curating’. Employing a curator is a costly exercise, the salary for an experienced practitioner being from £26,000 to £35,000. This obviously adds significantly to the expense for the artist wanting to exhibit. This, however was not the motivation of an early artist curator. In 1855, Gustave Corbet was refused admission to the Paris Salon and set up his own exhibition in a shop opposite. The work of the official trained curator is becoming outdated as artists realise the benefits of being their own curators, such as choosing a site specific location, eg Goldsworthy, with minimal cost, ability to organise the scenography, make their own selections and devise financial support. The disadvantages are that the onerous work of publicity and its distribution falls to the artist and the exhibition will stand or fall on this. If it goes badly, there is only the artist to take responsibility. The advantage of being accepted into a prestigious gallery is lost.
The work of the curator involves selection, organization and presentation. The curator acts as a middle man between the artist and the gallery or exhibition site. The selection will consist of editing the choice of exhibits and displaying them in the way that presents the message the artist wants to bring to the viewer. This will involve close co-operation between the two. Increasingly, artists are becoming their own curators and the formal designation is becoming out-dated. The digital revolution has offered many new opportunites with technology being used to give the artist curatorial authority. In 1986 a South Korean called Henrik Udalena set up an Instagram virtual gallery and there is now a choice of On-line options for artists to show their own work. Storage and retrieval both become the lifeline of exhibitors, with the use of tagging helping to make elective selection possible.
Curating is a complex area. I found this out for myself last year when, as a body of artists, the South West Group made the decision to show their work, thus becoming artist curators. The organisation involved the following steps:
- Identify Venue accessible to people from Bristol and Plymouth, with car-parking.
- Evaluate costing.
- Decide on date.
- Book venue.
- Design publicity.
- Distribute publicity both with various sized posters and digitally.
- Invite students and tutors to contribute.
- Explore details of hanging supports.
- Arrange rota for room duty.
- Chart size of exhibits.
- Make a plan for the rooms.
- Organise visitor book.
- Arrange a preview date.
- Clear away.
My own contribution was a palimpsistic collage with several contributors from the group. This process was to be shown as a film in a small room with the individual incorporated frames arranged on the walls. The finished result was an installation of the collaboration, with the final editing being my choice. In addition then, my own installation below required:
Film and sound track.
Acetates of individual frames.
Kodak Instamatic for viewers to rearrange acetates and re-photograph them on the lightbox.
Black paged visitor book for the results.
The organisation for this exhibition demonstrated the work necessary for artist curators and the team divided into individuals with particular skills in order to cover each task. In the end, the exhibition was a success, and we had all learned a great deal. Another artist curatorial event happens with local artists showing their work in their own houses, and artists using the outdoors as a gallery. Artist curating is a growing area and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
Joachim Shmid and Erik Kessels are examples of artist curators. Shmid began collecting discarded photographs that he found on the ground, and old photographs and postcards he found in flea markets.
As his collection grew, he recognized clear categorical patterns emerging, for example, babies in prams, weddings etc and he began curating these into groups. With the advent of the World Wide Web, his modus operandi changed and he began collecting images from the Internet, which he says has made his job a lot easier, with an unlimited supply of categories and images that proved much more efficient than looking through a box of snapshots. As artist curator, he is making his own selections and editing them himself, presenting as he wants to. The thematic contents of his collections have become a statement of how we take the same sort of pictures repeatedly and are obsessed with ourselves. It is difficult to ascribe accurate authorship to his images as he has made prints from found negatives, as can be seen is self-published book ‘Other People’s photography’
Though still working with found images, Erik Kessels has a different approach and curates absurdist collections, an example of which comes from his exhibition in Arles 2013 where he demonstrated the proliferation of images today by tearing them up and making a rubbish heap of them.
Using vernacular source material, Kessels uses humour to express his concerns. As an artist curator, he is able to make use of his own publishing house to distribute his work. He has also used the motifs that appears accidentally in amateur photography, as in a camera strap or finger over the lens. His publication ‘In almost Every Picture’ has been called the the world’s weirdest photo album by Sean O’Hagan in the Guardian of March 30th, 2014.
Employing a curator is a costly exercise, the salary for an experienced practioner being from £26,000 to £35,000. This obviously adds significantly to the expense for the artist. This, however was not the motivation of an early artist curator. In 1855, Gustave Corbet was refused admission to the Paris Salon and set up his own exhibition in a shop opposite. As a growing industry, the work of the author publisher is becoming well established. In his book ‘Inside the White Cube’, Brian Doherty challenges the ideology of the gallery space. He sees the gallery as a place of confrontation with aesthetics and economy plus social context in opposition. Artist curator plus the Internet is an exciting concept that opens up the field of exhibition and creativity to any artist.
After the style of Shmid, I have selected a number of images from the Internet and put them all together in a slideshow. I noticed how the colours of similar images form a clear pattern. I found the exercise interesting but it was so easy to find the related images that it felt like cheating! There was less satisfaction in sitting at a computer and having images arrive instantly than in taking a camera out into the countryside and seeking out your subject. However, it would take a lifetime to collect them all physically and so there are pros and cons.
O’Doherty, B. (2016). Inside the white cube. Johanneshov: MTM.
O’Hagan, S. (2018). The world’s weirdest photo albums. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/mar/30/the-worlds-weirdest-photo-albums [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].
kesselskramerpublishing. (2018). Catalogue. [online] Available at: http://www.kesselskramerpublishing.com/in-almost-every-picture/ [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].
Instagram.com. (2018). Henrik Aa. Uldalen (@henrikaau) • Instagram photos and videos. [online] Available at: https://www.instagram.com/henrikaau/ [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].