Degrees of Freedom

Symposium:


Session Title:

  • The Ideology of Interactivity: Freedom, Choice, Creativity

Presentation Title:

  • Degrees of Freedom

Presenter(s):



Abstract:

  • Historically, aesthetic theory has often been informed by considerations of the reader/viewer’s role in “producing” the work-through interpretation and, increasingly, through more material forms of participation. Mondrian and Cage offer two instances along this axis, suggesting a societal drift towards art’s dispersal linked both with new technologies and with greater individual freedom. Recent developments in other areas, such as business management, echo the trend toward participatory structures. But all these can equally be understood as marking an exponential increase of efficiency within a productivist culture. Can the freedoms and constraints that characterize digital technologies be used toward other ends?

    Intro

    This paper is a cumulative piece, charting the transition from my work as curator at The New Museum, New York, over the past eight years, to my current project, which is to develop an infrastructure for exhibition practice that operates outside and between existing institutions. Reflecting on recent transformations in art and exhibition practice, I want to bring into focus art’s participation in a widespread cultural shift toward open, networked, participatory systems. The infrastructure I envision utilizes networking technologies as part of a curatorial strategy that engages with this environment.

    When I started at The New Museum in the mid eighties, thematic exhibitions were a genre on the rise. Such high concept exhibitions as Damaged Goods, organized by Brian Wallis for the museum in 1986, were not just shows, but thematic investigations, emphasizing art’s close associations with a wider sphere of cultural effects. Damaged Goods helped to announce the advent of “commodity art,” but also sought to illuminate a more pervasive trend, the “damaged” or precarious status of objects in an era of simulation. It situated art within a mediated landscape of consumer culture moving into hyperdrive. At the same time, activist art practice was engaging the idea of a social aesthetic. The installation, ‘Let the record show’, organized at The New Museum in 1987 by curator William Olander, is an example. Olander offered the museum’s large shop window on Lower Broadway to the AIDS activist group, ACT UP, both as a platform for their sophisticated agit-prop and in recognition of ACT UP’s contribution to the visual culture of our time. The installation resulted in the formation of the smaller collective Gran Fury, which went on to use the infrastructure of the art world – administrative and interpretive as well as financial – to gain access to venues otherwise beyond their reach: subway and bus poster projects, billboards, and the media coverage that their work eventually earned. The concept of the curator as a cultural producer, rather than an arbiter of taste, helped carry curatorial practice further into the realm of public culture.

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