Kisito Assangni continues his dialogue with Kantuta Quirós & Aliocha Imhoff as part of his research on “curating as a phenomenological history of everyday life”.
[…] Kisito Assangni: Is there universal truth in curating or is it a particular opinion?
Kantuta Quirós & Aliocha Imhoff: If the opposition between “universal knowledge” and the notion of “opinion” has been widely questioned by the epistemology of science itself (since Sandra Harding and Donna Haraway, to name but a few, were able to initiate a profound critique of the distribution of knowledge and the notions of expertise, authority, objectivity and universal enunciation), curatorial practices seem, even more so than the university, to benefit from a double status in terms of what it produces – between scientificity and auctoriality. An exhibition is always both a site for the production of knowledge about art history, and a space where radical narrative attempts are played out, that is, a space both for fictional production (which falls under the paradigm of the curator as author), and a space for scientific display (which falls under the figure of the museum curator). Playing on this dual status of auctoriality and authority, the curatorial gesture also allows us to deploy narrative modalities that are often more complex and diverse than in the context of theoretical, academic writing, thus breaking down this opposition between immutable truths and what would be the result of radical subjectivism, beliefs and particular opinions.
How do you confront global and transcendent issues related to art production?
This is an issue that is not really resolved for us. Whenever we try to connect curating with research, we often come to think in terms of “global and transcendent issues”. But I believe that we have a deep trust in the ability of artists precisely to thwart this form of totalization in the problems facing contemporary thought today. And this is precisely what keeps us in this fragile place, or how the artists’ proposals always come to surprise us and completely thwart our expectations while at the same time fully meeting them.
In 2017, Stefan Heidenreich, art theorist at the University of Cologne, subsumed the usual criticism of curatorial authority in a laconic article entitled “Against Curating”. The curator would be a new despot, because he would be supposed to annex the meaning of the works to his own narrative, a superior voice encompassing the artists’ micro-narratives. Curating, apart from the risk of instrumentalizing the artists, would risk serving, according to Stefan Heidenreich, the political consensus with the production of art “about something”. A certain number of exhibitions, whose statement would draw from the toolbox of contemporary thought but also claim to deal with the most burning themes (climate emergency, migrations, changes in capitalism, etc.), could appear as an overarching commentary, an illustration of contemporary thought.
It seems to us, however, that after the postmodern turn, which invited a critique of master narratives, the current pre-eminence of the curator’s voice in the narrative chessboard of the art world is to be read differently than as the only arrival on the scene of a new discursive hegemony. We try to envisage it on the basis of the polyphonic enunciative arrangements that this new metanarrative agent – the curator – has tried to imagine.
For us, curators would be the ones who tries to weave and link the works together, despite their unassignable part, the opacity, the enigma, that artworks offer, from their sovereignty, and very often oppose gaze’s curator. It is less a question of “themes”, “issues” than of starting rather from the subtlety and complexity of the enunciative arrangements that weave the art works / art production .Which enunciative knot do they embrace? How to keep them a part of the rest, of secrecy, of opacity, of enigma and irreducibility?
We see in the curator a rhapsode that can attach itself to less overwhelming scales of narrative, to an attention to what is. In Le Miroir d’Hérodote (1980), the historian François Hartog made the researcher a surveyor and a rhapsode, that poet of Ancient Greece, that narrator who goes from city to city to tell the poems written by others, like the one who, in the primary sense of the word, sews spaces together, the linking agent who has been concerned with linking spaces, continuously, to the limits of the inhabited world. We like to think of the curatorial gesture as an operation of weaving stories, the making, for the world, of a Harlequin coat. As a surveyor of the world, the rhapsode has no totalizing, overarching representation of its path. For him, space not give itself as a totality, confronted as it is with a world without a prior map. Here, the idea is to get rid of the propensity of cartography to subtle extraneation, in order to try instead to think about the features of singularity of the art works that we are trying to approach, and to connect, in relation to which we try to be attentive to the particular enunciative knotting that they draw.
The curator as a rhapsode could be the one who connects the scales between them, without pretending to know or construct the whole map: a discontinuous and connected geohistory; the curator as a rhapsode would still be the one who tries to weave and connect the works together, despite their unassignable, irreducible part. The curator as a rhapsode would still be this collector of fragile clues, of tenuous traces, who tries to find his way to interpret.
What do you think are the hierarchies inherent in the work of curating collections, archives, and contemporary artworks? Is there something right or wrong with the idea of curating from an absolutely pluralistic perspective?
But if by pluralism we mean the way in which the great Western museums have sought to open the canon of art history to scenes once considered peripheral, it seems, in fact, that this decentring seems rather to re-engage, paradoxically, a new universal geopolitical language: “world art as a postcolonial lingua franca offered to the world by the West”. This new “geoesthetic regime,” as we call it with the Mexican-American art theorist Joaquin Barriendos, is thus based on a profound paradox, perpetuating asymmetries and hierarchies at the heart of this new globalized narrative: a fragmentation of narratives, an opening to postcolonial studies, to situated knowledge and to the epistemologies of the South, on the one hand, against a return to the meta narrative as much as to the global museum (as the ultimate avatar of the universal museum) and the deployment of world art history as a methodology, on the other.
In 2015 we held a symposium-performance entitled “Beyond the Magician-Effect”, precisely against this art that is both global and situated, and we wondered what other geoesthetic regimes to invent and deploy in the years to come? It was a question, in the form of a diplomatic scenography, of collectively inventing other possible contemporary geoesthetic regimes.
Do you consider your own bias and cultural limitations, you are aware off, and how do you deal with them in your curatorial practice?
This is a fascinating question that would deserve the publication of a book in its own right, and we are preparing a book entitled “Who Speaks? », which revisits the enunciative positions that are played out from the space of art, both historically and in an ultra-contemporary manner. The challenge of the book will also be to reflect on the context of the Anthropocene, which now demands to hear the “voice” of non-humans, their particular enunciative position. This does not imply so much claiming, as in the 1970s, a “right to speak” but rather a capacity to listen, to translate, to be diplomatic with those who “conjugate verbs in silence”, as the poet Jean-Christophe Bailly wrote.
What we can say succinctly to answer your question more directly is that this question “who speaks? “as it has been played out since the 1960s, has precisely been played out between the life and death of subjects, that is to say, between the proliferation of modes of subjectivation on the one hand, with the emergence of numerous possible subjects of enunciation on the other (female subjects, black subjects, queer subjects, etc.) while at the same time affirming a destitution of the very notion of subject (which would always reproduce asymmetrical relations of power).
Thus one should always be able to claim situated positions – a place of cultural, historical, geographical, political anchorage – and at the same time always seek to shift one’s own subjectivity, which of course requires a great deal of work on oneself. In a way, we would always have to resist twice: first the illusion of a thought freed from its conditions, then the reduction of the thought to these conditions.
Curatorial practice in turn enjoys a kind of privilege, in a sense, because it can only exist in the arrangement of forms of knowledge and subjectivities external to itself (through the works of artists). The works, when they are powerful, always come to shift in return the very position of the curatorial gesture, despite its authority and mastery of the proposed metanarrative, putting it in crisis and in a sense, and this is what makes it a deeply perspectivist gesture, the place of a multiplication of ways of being in the world, the place of a displacement of its own cultural limitations.
Define a tension in curatorial practice, describe its attributes and context, define its relation to archives and evidence, what is there to display?
Your question is very interesting. If we have set up a series of “mock trials” from the space of art, it is precisely in order to try to answer this question. It seems to us that the very nature of a trial is to redefine a series of relationships between archives, testimonies, displays, and what may or may not be evidence. Evidence is always the site of a network of clues and always what is put back on the job, a precarious constructivism whose path can always be retraced in order to produce other possible paths a posteriori. Le Procès de la fiction (The Trial of Fiction), for example, which we carried out in 2017 in Paris, sought to stage fiction itself in its relation to truth, to proof.
Any book or exhibition recommendations
Juste au dessus du silence (Just above the silence). A beautiful collection of poems by the Algerian poet and anti-colonialist activist Anna Greki, the first opus of the new French publishing house Terrasses whose project is to reactivate the legacies of a liberating internationalism, backed by the poetics of the South.
images (cover 1)Tania Bruguera, Talking to Power, 2017. Installation view at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. © Tania Bruguera (2) Krista Franklin, Radiohead, 2011, Collage on antique photograph. © Krista Franklin
This is the second appointment of two of the interview by Kisito Assangni to Kantuta Quirós & Aliocha, part of a research that consists of:
Transitory conversations with reputable curators who engage positively with artistic practices driven by non-oppressive facilitation, alternative pedagogies, chronopolitics, and contemporary urgencies within the context of larger political, cultural, and economic processes.
Interview by Kisito Assangni and Kantuta Quirós & Aliocha Imhoff. Pt 1
Kisito Assangni is a Togolese-French curator and consultant who studied museology at Ecole du Louvre in Paris. His research interests gravitate towards the cultural impact of globalization, psychogeography and critical education.
His discursive public programs and exhibitions have been shown internationally, including the Venice Biennale, ZKM Museum, Karlsruhe; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Centre of Contemporary Art, Glasgow; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Malmö Konsthall, Sweden; Torrance Art Museum, Los Angeles; Es Baluard Museum of Art, Palma, Spain; National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Moscow among others.
Assangni is the founder of TIME is Love Screening – International video art program and curatorial advisor to Latrobe Regional Gallery in Morwell – Victoria, Australia.
Aliocha Imhoff & Kantuta Quirós are curators, art theorists, filmmakers, based in Paris, founders and directors of the curatorial platform le peuple qui manque, created in 2005, which works between art and research and which initiates exhibitions, international symposia, festivals.
Their projects have been shown at Centre Pompidou, Paris; Konsthall C, Stockholm; Rebuild Foundation, Chicago; Halle 14, Leipzig; Biennale de Lyon; Nuit Blanche, Paris among others.
They have published Les potentiels du temps (Manuella Editions, 2016, with Camille de Toledo), selected among the 10 best essays of 2016 by Les Inrocks and directed Géoesthétique (Editions B42, 2014) and Histoires afropolitaines de l’art, Revue Multitudes 53-54 (2014). Members of the editorial board of the review Multitudes, the Nuit des Idées, they were residents of the Rebuild Foundation (Chicago South Side, 2015) and Ateliers Médicis (2018).
Kantuta Quirós was born in La Paz, Bolivia. She holds a PhD in Aesthetics from the University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, under the direction of Jacinto Lageira. She has been an associate lecturer at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture in Nantes for the past 6 years, where she teaches aesthetics and art theory. She has also held various institutional positions, notably from 2007 to 2011 in the Film Department of the Musée Nationale d’Art Moderne / Centre Pompidou.
Aliocha Imhoff was born in Paris. He holds a PhD in Arts and Sciences of Art. His doctoral thesis is entitled “Who Speaks? Politics and Poetics of Enunciation in the Age of the Anthropocene” (University of Paris I). He has also held various institutional positions, notably at the Centre National des Arts Plastiques and currently teaches art at the University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne.