Johannes Rigal questions curation, exhibition and audience and gives some insight into how Adrift was put together.
Question for an Exhibition
Our exhibition Adrift will open on 9 October 2012. A photographic group exhibition raises questions that have to be addressed by curatorial theory and put into practice. These questions are diverse and manifold, however they are essential for its success:
What do you want to show us?
This question is certainly the essential one for any kind of material that is being made public. Adrift aims to present photographic work and through this, contemporary views on visual / photographic practice. It is important that the work shown in an exhibition is significant, visually attractive and connected to a deeper understanding of the world, society and processes that have an impact on life.
A group exhibition does what its name suggests: show work by individual artists framed first and foremost by the physical limitations of the gallery space. This space has to be viewed as an empty canvas – the concept of the “white cube” is in this case certainly suitable – and it will be filled by these individuals imaginations and creativity. If the curator is in the lucky position that the bodies of work can stand alone then it is considerably easier to fill the space with exciting visual material.
The artists in Adrift fulfil this preliminary requirement: with an enormous technical quality of their work that serves the viewer’s pleasure of visual experience.
How do you present 10 stances of photography?
Once it is established that the pure visual experience is served, one might come to the conclusion very quickly that this is not enough for an exhibition to “work”. Adrift presents 10 very different and diverse bodies of work. They are done digitally, on film, in large format, medium format and small format. The bodies of work will be printed in different formats and each will consists of a different number of single images.
There are a series of options to present these 10 stances / perspectives / bodies of work.
First, the work could be presented and connected within the gallery due to themes. Similar themes and topics can be put next to each other in the space. If there are two bodies of work concerned with social exclusion or urban segregation, etc. they can be put “on the wall” next to each other to present the audience with the opportunity to view them as perspectives on a this theme. The visual aspect of the works would then be predominantly important in the distinction of them and what the viewer would regard as significant in distinguishing them. The visual can be emphasized through this.
Possibly a more exciting way to connect bodies of work is through different / contrasting themes or points of view on the same theme. This will inevitably create tension and atmosphere within the space. Nevertheless it might contribute to confuse the audience. If confusion is not an objective that the curator wants to achieve then this has to be handled carefully.
Second, the work could be connected through purely visual aspects and facets. Colour might play an important role here or the use of a certain technique. This can prove to be a highly successful way to guide the audience through the space and therefore through the collected work. However, anything going further than these visual aspects could be lost along this way of putting together an exhibition.
Thirdly (and certainly not last nor least), an exhibition can tell a story and the big question is, if (especially) a group exhibition shouldn’t aim to tell a story. Think of the exhibition as a book with 10 different chapters where the chapters can be read individually but the full experience will only come from reading them all and viewing them all together. To achieve this kind of story telling is probably one of the hardest tasks for the curator. What is also to be kept in mind is that the curator will / has to / should / can pursue his or her vision. But this vision should ultimately not be self-serving but rather serve the artist, the exhibition and therefore the audience. This third point leads to the next question:
What do you want to tell us?
Is there something bigger behind the exhibition apart from presenting work? Other than presenting art? Is there something that the collective body of work will show us? Will it take us deeper into a matter, a state of mind, an issue of importance?
The subtitle of Adrift (The Unfamiliar Familiar in Modern Society) tells us that there is something deeper connecting and relating to the work. The individual viewer will have his or her own experience of this by visiting the exhibition. The viewer will be amazed by the quality of the work, will be taken to different places, will be challenged. The audience will leave the exhibition with a feeling of fulfilment and excitement. With answers and questions.
This is the aim of the exhibition.
Who is your audience?
Who do you want to attract? Is there a limited audience or is what you are showing accessible to everyone and anyone?
The mentioned concept of the gallery space as “white cube” brings certain problems with it. By definition it is sterile, it is clean and full of prohibitions for the audience and it is a geometric form – a cube with borders, physical limitations and a shape that has to be penetrated. The entrance is usually hard and has to be overcome physically as well as mentally. The gallery can be something intimidating, something you might not want to enter if you have to use a buzzer, if the door is locked and you have to knock, if there are security guards and bouncers.
Art should be accessible – the gallery should be accessible as well. To everyone and anyone. If the art work is visible to the “outside world” then it should attract audience. If it attracts audience there cannot be any obstacles for the viewer to enter and experience.
The audience is everyone. Everyone excited by visual work, by photography, by experiencing something new.