This essay addresses the display of relationality as a significant part of curatorial self-staging in contemporary network cultures, focusing on an example from the most recent history of documenta: dOCUMENTA (13)’s The Logbook. Together with The Book of Books and The Guidebook, The Logbook is part of the three-volume catalogue that was produced on the occasion of the thirteenth edition of documenta in 2012. Besides providing installation shots and information on events beyond the show’s main venues in Kassel, according to artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (CCB) The Logbook was intended to give “an inner perspective on the making of dOCUMENTA (13)” (11).[i] The publication not only includes numerous e-mails that the curator exchanged with those involved in the show’s production but also many smartphone pictures, a large number of them showing her together with her “elective affinities”—be they artists, colleagues, or members of family. Taking into account the historically shifting political implications of publishing intimacies, I will explore how The Logbook turns into a quasi-autobiography that exhibits the curator’s authority by exposing her familiarity and friendship with important others. The essay follows several propositions simultaneously: first, I suggest that as a display of professional and private relationships, this part of the dOCUMENTA (13) catalogue is exemplary for how immaterial and affective labors such as networking, travelling, and meeting people have moved to the core of contemporary curatorial practice in neoliberal post-Fordism. Second, I will discuss how, as an autobiographical exhibition of Christov-Bakargiev’s central position in the art world, the catalogue contrasts with the modesty of modernist display rhetorics that was used in the exhibition itself. Third, I will think about how the book reflects on the translation of objects into image-data and their (re-)materialization into a tangible book object, thereby providing meta-medial problematizations of the tensions between materiality and immaterialization in an increasingly digitalized age. To analyze the ways in which The Logbook with its exposure of processes of social and technical re/production reflects reconfigurations of curatorial authorship under The New Spirit of Capitalism, I finally compare it to the similarly (auto)biographic 1981 monograph Museum der Obsessionen: von/über/zu/mit Harald Szeemann (“Museum of Obsessions: by/about/on/with Harald Szeemann”).[ii]
Thus, I argue that the catalogue’s display of social processes of communication and conviviality on top of more or less conventionally documenting the objects on display relates to a radically altered socioeconomic frame of reference, in which (formerly feminized) immaterial and affective labors are no longer considered marginal or countercultural but have become paradigmatic. In their study, The New Spirit of Capitalism, sociologists Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello, for instance, discuss how libertarian values, models of living, and modes of working that had been central in artistic and social critiques of capitalism and hierarchical (patriarchal) power structures up to the 1970s have meanwhile been co-opted by neoliberalism.[iii] Against the backdrop such an ambivalent entanglement of libertarian self-realization and neoliberal exploitation of subjectivity, this essay seeks to analyze the ways in which The Logbook’s autobiographical exposure of the curator’s relationality, may be read as symptomatic of a biopoliticization of curating, that is: a shift of attention from the exhibition as an end-product of curating to the persona of the curator and her life. Thus, my aim is to call attention not only to the historically shifting political implications of the publishing of intimacies but also to the role of gendered economies in performing curatorial authorship. Before problematizing how the capitalization of subjectivity, affectivity, and relationality in neoliberal network economies affects specific contemporary curatorial practices, I will first take a closer look at the ways in which gender intersects with socioeconomic transformations from industrial to post-industrial societies and the increasing significance of the curatorial in the art field.
Curating as a Labor of Love
Since the 1970s, countries of the global North have undergone a transformation from Fordist to post-Fordist economies, with the rise of service sectors, informatization of production, and an increasing relevance of symbolic as well as affective dimensions in the production of surplus value. According to political theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negi, productivity today takes the form of “cooperative interactivity through linguistic, communicational and affective networks.” [iv] The proliferation of “immaterial and affective labors,” which was pushed further by the spread of digital technology, economic financialization, and an acceleration of globalization since the 1990s, was sometimes conceptualized as a “homework economy” or a “feminization of labor.”[v] The term feminization of labor not only refers to the quantitative rise of women in the wage labor market but also to an expanding precarization and flexibilization of work and its growing qualitative likeness with what was traditionally considered women’s reproductive responsibilities (i.e., management of relationships, blurring of life and labor, voluntarism, care). As Hardt and Negri note, the expanding feminization of labor, which they also refer to as biopoliticization of production, poses “significant challenges to traditional concepts and methods of political economy in large part because biopolitical production shifts the economic center of gravity from the production of material commodities to that of social relations, confusing [...] the division between production and reproduction.”[vi] Moreover, they call attention to the fact that what is considered feminization of labor also goes hand in hand with a biopoliticization of authority in neoliberal Deleuzian “societies of control.”[vii] This means that power is implemented no longer merely through hard disciplinary measures of force but also by dispersed effects of governmental soft power through which subjectivities are programmed to become self-responsible Foucauldian “entrepreneurs of the self.”[viii]
Remarkably, the feminization of labor and the proliferation of biopower also coincided with the appearance of the figure of the curator beginning in the 1970s and an increasing relevance of the curatorial in the artistic field since the 1990s. Beyond the shared etymology of care work and curating in the Latin curare (“care”), this parallel development of the “curatorialization” of the arts and the “feminization” of labor is no accident. Both, curators and women, have in common a tradition of working as invisible hands whose shadow labors as housekeepers and support structures behind the scenes of commodity production were (and often still are) neglected in order for art work and wage labor to appear as sole and autonomous sources of value. Throughout the twentieth century, feminists have challenged this gendered division of labor, which confined women to the so-called private realm. While many fought for better access to public employment, in the late 1960s a group of Marxist feminists provocatively demanded “wages for housework” to criticize the naturalization of housework as a “labor of love.”[ix] By requesting remuneration for what was hitherto considered to be personal, they called attention to the fact that domestic, reproductive, and affective labors are always already part of the general economy and should be recognized as such. Whereas critics cautioned that such an approach risked contributing to the commodification of social relations and the capitalization of the private realm, others argued that instead of merely asking for better representation in the workforce, it was indeed necessary to problematize the underlying binary ideology of productive work on the one hand and supposedly non-productive labor on the other.[x]
The conflicts exposed by these controversies are still “highly relevant to our time,” as formerly marginalized activities, soft skills, and affective labors have moved to the fore of economic wealth creation,[xi] which is also exemplified by the rise of the curator.[xii] Apart from giving heightened publicity to formerly invisible actors, the increasing significance of biopolitical production in post-Fordist capitalism implies a more explicit capitalization of immaterial and affective practices that had not been recognized or considered part of wealth creation in industrial Fordism with its focus on wage-based factory work. Some scholars have therefore even gone so far as to describe feminism as “capitalism’s handmaiden,” acknowledging the inadvertent complicity of liberation movements with neoliberalism,[xiii] insofar as practices that challenged rigid norms of living and working paved the way for the flexibilized economy and were recuperated as productive forces in what has been termed “the new spirit of capitalism.”[xiv] The new modes of immaterial production entail an increasing mobilization of subjectivity, affects, and relationships at the core of North-Western post-industrial service and information economies, while manufacturing goods—despite their ongoing significance—plays an ever decreasing role in the generation of surplus value. As a consequence of this transformation, manual labors (including paid and unpaid domestic chores) lose their status and are frequently sourced out—for instance, to immigrant workers or the labor force in the global South.[xv]
Whereas women and artists—in accord with the significance of passion and personal commitment in the roles they are traditionally expected to perform—have for some time been cited as role models of the post-Fordist entrepreneur,[xvi] under the conditions of global connectivity “house work and art work”[xvii] are complemented by yet another labor of love, that of “net-working.”[xviii] Feminist science and technology scholar Donna Haraway has linked networking to the blurring of the boundaries between public and private, when home and market become increasingly entangled in the social factory.[xix] She underlines the ambivalence of networking by defining it as “both a feminist practice and a multinational corporate strategy.”[xx] Unsurprisingly, contemporary curators have been identified as masters of networking who epitomize post-Fordist subjectivity.[xxi] No longer primarily associated with the craft of making exhibitions and installing artworks, but increasingly concerned with communication, collaboration, the circulation of ideas and the generating of encounters, curating has become a paradigmatic immaterial practice of biopolitical production. As a consequence of their tasks of managing subjectivities and social processes, curators are frequently forced to capitalize on their own emotive resources, personal ties, and relationships. Hence, the neoliberal friendship economies with their blurring of the boundaries between leisure and work as well as between friends and colleagues have provoked considerable criticism in the field.[xxii] Against the backdrop of an increasingly explicit biopolitical colonization of what used to be considered private, the politics of the personal have thus become an urgent issue once again.[xxiii]
The slogan “the personal is political” was coined in 1969 by feminist activist Carol Hanisch in a text that defends feminist consciousness-raising groups against the accusation of being merely apolitical.[xxiv] It has played an important role in feminist politics ever since, often by publicly addressing issues that had previously been banned from visibility. Yet, due to norms of transparency and (self-)surveillance in post-industrial screen societies, the political strategy of increasing one’s visibility has become more ambivalent. The emancipatory promises of participation and agency that are conventionally associated with public self-assertion turn out to be compromised as they risk being recuperated by neoliberal capitalism with its imperatives to constantly exhibit, broadcast, and brand oneself. Such reification of one’s self may also be associated with the celebrification of culture, which has been theorized by art theorist and critic, Isabelle Graw with regard to the objectification of artists in their self-stagings. Graw discusses how the replacement of the star by the celebrity exemplifies the biopolitical turn from an economic valorization of labor to that of life itself.[xxv] The democratization of the celebrity logic and its expansion to other fields also corresponds with the increasing amount of time spent online, a consequent “dematerialization of the real”[xxvi] and the necessity to devise digital alter egos in order to be able to participate in the immaterial networked “second life.” Taking this as a point of departure, I consider how the affective labor of building, managing, and maintaining relationships in curating is showcased in dOCUMENTA (13)’s The Logbook and complemented by a second-order affective labor of incorporating the resulting networks into the curator’s public image.
Analyzing Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s embracing of extreme visibility in the first section of The Logbook, I ask: What are the (bio)political implications of CCB’s presentation of herself as a dialogic, caring, enthusiastically committed, round-the-clock networker in a context where flexible project-based labor systems, teamworking, multitasking, flat management, and full personal identification with one’s work have become hegemonic ideals? In the following, I will argue that while the display of Christov-Bakargiev’s multiple relationships fosters her image as a generous, conversational collaborator, whose authorship is based on dialogue, flat hierarchies and affective bonds, The Logbook also demonstrates the ambivalence of networking as a feminist and a corporate practice by exposing how an altruistic crediting of others may at once serve to accumulate what sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls “social capital.”[xxvii] Focusing on the public persona of CCB, the essay, significantly, does not attempt to reconstruct the curator’s intentions nor to make a statement about Christov-Bakargiev as a person. It rather engages with the book as a virtual space of affective labors, or as an “exhibition without walls” that provokes reflections on the tensions between the personal and the political, publicity and relationality, as well as processes of materialization and immaterialization in contemporary network cultures.
The Catalogue as a Curatorial Autobiography
At first glance, The Logbook looks like an institutionally authored catalogue for dOCUMENTA (13) because there is no individual name on the cover. [fig. 1] According to the imprint page (319)—which lists Christov-Bakargiev as the “artistic director” first, followed by Bettina Funcke “Head of Publications,” “Co-editor” Nicola Setari, as well as a number of assistants, translators, copyeditors, proofreaders, picture editors, researchers, interns, and designers, before crediting Leftloft for the graphic design—it may in fact be said to be authored collaboratively. The extensive list of d (13) participants on the back of the book as well as interviews with collaborators in its final section could also be taken as arguments for applying a model of plural authorship. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to attribute authorship primarily to CCB: due to her meta-responsibility as the artistic director, she is not only obviously responsible for the publication’s overall design, but more significant for my argument here is the fact that the first section of The Logbook is largely centered on her person, thus turning the exhibition catalogue into a quasi-autobiographical self-mediatization.
Already the structure of The Logbook foregrounds the importance of the curator’s immaterial and affective labors. The “making of” appears in the beginning of the book before the documentation of the installed show and is complemented by an extensive final section of “conversations” at the end of the book, thus documenting relational practices behind the scenes of the staged exhibition. As indicated on the contents page, The Logbook is organized chronologically from shortly after Christov-Bakargiev was appointed artistic director of dOCUMENTA (13) in December 2008 until the exhibition closed in Kassel in September 2012. [fig. 2] It is divided into three general sections. The first spans roughly three years of planning, preparation, and production before the show’s opening (January 1, 2009 – June 6, 2012). The middle section covers the opening period (June 6 – 16, 2012) with its ceremonies, performances and documentation of the artworks’ installation in situ, ordered by venues. It also briefly documents the opening events and the exhibition in Kabul (17 – 20 June 2012). The final section consists of information on seminars, conferences and lectures that were scheduled to take place during the exhibition’s duration (June 22 – September 16, 2012), additionally presenting interviews with CCB and her so-called “agents” (i.e. her co-curators and advisors), reprinted from other sources. Taken together, the first and the last section make up about half of the publication, presenting black-and-white photos and text on green pages, while the middle section, which documents the opening events and the show’s installation, is printed in color on white pages.
Deferring the presentation of the installed artworks to the second section, Christov-Bakargiev breaks with (feminized) scripts of curatorial modesty. Rather than putting the artworks first, The Logbook opens by prominently displaying the life, work and relationships of the curator, to the extent that she becomes the catalogue’s prime exhibit, a sort of personification of dOCUMENTA (13). Furthermore, as typical for autobiographical formats, she is the subject and the object of speech acts and photographic acts alike. Most of the pictures that appear in the first section of the book, for instance, are either shot by CCB or show her together with artists, friends, family members and other collaborators. Since the image credits (315) for the first section (8–111) are dominated by the phrase “Photos: CCB,” The Logbook may also be seen as an expression of celebrity selfie culture, because it draws upon popular conventions of self-chronicling to expose the curator’s life and work. [xxviii]
The Logbook as a Family Album
Due to the kinds of pictures included in the first section of The Logbook, it resembles a family album in many ways. [figs. 3 and 4] Apart from a striking number of snapshots that show the curator’s dog Darsi (21, 39, 79, 91, 94, 100), several images depict Christov-Bakargiev with her then husband Cesare Pietroiusti (39) and their daughters Lucia and Rosa (37). Even the whole family is captured posing in front of a memorial in Ho Chi Minh City (58), as well as in front of an airplane in Warburton (33). What must have been research trips in preparation for dOCUMENTA (13) bear semblance to family vacations. [fig. 4] This inclusion of images that look like private holiday pictures is quite an unusual but important choice for the catalogue, for it demonstrates the inseparability of the curator’s private and professional lives. These pictures make visible the necessity of balancing personal ties with job demands, a double bind which has long been censored by masculinist norms of autonomous professionalism while becoming much more acceptable in neoliberal times, where formally feminized relational aspects are increasingly valued in many jobs as soft skills and signs of social responsibility. As a consequence, the heteronormative mother-father-children family model has assumed new significance in societies of biopolitical governance, where “motherliness” has become an important model for leadership roles, regardless of their bearer’s gender. Moreover, including family pictures may help to convey the image of the curator as a warm, caring person, an effect that is frequently used to enhance the likability of politicians and other public figures.
Publishing these personal images in an exhibition catalogue—rather than keeping them out of the public eye—is therefore not only a strong statement on the difficulty of drawing a clear line between personal and professional issues but also calls attention to the comparability of the emotional and affective investments into family life and the passions that go into curating as a labor of love. The blurring of boundaries between the curator’s labor and her leisure also becomes obvious in the notable fact that CCB’s husband was invited to participate in dOCUMENTA (13) as an artist by Chus Martínez, co-curator of this documenta edition. However, as can be observed in an e-mail-exchange presented in the book, Pietroiusti turned down the invitation on the ground that he did not want to endanger the relationships with his artist friends in Italy. As he explains, “With difficulty I would have to continue working with them without an awkward sense of difference and privilege that comes from being the husband of the artistic director of such an important cultural event.” (46) Publishing this humble denial to take advantage of his privileged relationship with the curator not only seems to be good PR, but moreover also highlights the increasing importance of networking and negotiating affective ties in a “project-based polis,”[xxix] where it is necessary to remain on good terms with everybody because one might want to collaborate with someone again at a later point.
The Logbook as a Facebook
Adopting numerous features of the family album—transforming it from a collection of personal souvenirs for retrospective private use into a more public platform of instant postings—Facebook is probably the most pivotal manifestation of today’s neoliberal friendship economy. In many ways, The Logbook therefore also adheres to the Facebook rationale, where a voluntary exposure of formerly personal aspects of life has become as essential as displaying one’s well-connectedness. In terms of layout, for instance, The Logbook seems to borrow Facebook’s logic of the timeline by presenting text and images in columns according to chronological order, which is not a typical choice for exhibition catalogues. Also graphically inspired by real logbooks, dates and places visited by Christov-Bakargiev are successively entered into a grid of two columns, complemented with pictures taken on these days and/or e-mails of the respective dates. This geo-temporal information also portrays CCB as a “nomadic curator,”[xxx] a typical member of the global art jet set. It reveals how—at least in preparation for dOCUMENTA (13)—she was constantly on the move, travelling all around the word at dizzying speed. Many entries read like the following lists: Sharjah-Doha-Dubai-Dublin-Turin-New York (15), or Rome-Paris-New-York-Rome-London-Kassel (27). Moreover, a great number of the pictures included in The Logbook resemble typical Facebook images. [figs. 3 and 4, 5 and 6]
They show CCB posing with artists, curators, intellectuals, and other practitioners, emphasizing her closeness with these often very important people.[xxxi] When pictured with one or two other persons, Christov-Bakargiev’s name is omitted from captions that adhere to the pattern “With [+person’s name],” thereby implicitly presuming that she does not have to be identified. Following the tradition of photo albums, this choice of caption suggests that the book is conceived from her personal perspective. Hence, the more famous of her peers are simply identified by their proper name, while for less-known individuals—such as “Francesco Cavalli and Francesca Bozzia of Leftloft, the design company, and Bettina Funcke, Head of Publications” (77)—their function or role is frequently added. This establishes a hierarchy of naming in which some do not need to be identified, while others require introduction or even remain anonymous collectives, like members of the construction crew (97) and education programme (110).
The choice of published e-mails follows the same logic as the image selection: even though innumerable e-mails must have been written amongst the people who helped produce the show—primarily a selection of those that were sent by CCB or to CCB were eventually published, among them exchanges with Cesare Pietroiusti, written in Italian (25, 26, 29). This selective duplication of her in-and-out-box supports the impression that The Logbook was designed to represent the curator’s point of view. Moreover, the display of e-mail exchanges with art world VIPs underlines CCB’s importance. Among her correspondents, there are theorists such as Giorgio Agamben (14), Michael Taussig (23, 30), Franco “Bifo” Berardi (37, 41, 44, 56), Judith Butler (53), Donna Haraway (74), and Karen Barad (89), the curators Hans Ulrich Obrist (25) and Okwui Enwezor (16), as well as artists such as Thomas Bayrle (45), Wael Shawky (51), Lawrence Weiner (53), Jérôme Bell (36, 62, 92–94) and Sanja Iveković (79), to name but a few.
She often addresses them by first or even nickname, thus signaling intimacy. Taussig, for instance, is greeted as “Dear Mick” (23), Bell closes his e-mails with “Love” (36) or “baci” (92), and Weiner ends his with “AS ALWAYS LOVE AND KISSES” (54). By thus publicly stressing the curator’s familiarity with famous individuals, CCB is displayed as the nodal point of an international network of cultural producers. Showcasing her intimacy with art world VIPs reinforces the curator’s importance, while on the other hand also ennobling the emerging practitioners and less famous others who are depicted alongside her. A literal Facebook, the first section of The Logbook thus may be seen as a portrait gallery of Christov-Bakargiev’s collaborators that characterizes dOCUMENTA (13) as a collective endeavor, while at the same time serving as a self-promotional medium that allows readers and viewers to intimately witness CCB’s life and labour as a celebrity curator.
The Catalogue as an Exhibition Without Walls
Paradoxically, this egocentric approach in the Logbook that stages the curator as the center of everything counteracts the more modest display rhetorics in the exhibition itself as well as verbal disclaimers in press interviews by way of which Christov-Bakargiev diminished her authorial powers for the sake of declared curatorial neutrality, an ethics of care, and artistic autonomy that I have analysed elsewhere.[xxxii] [figs. 7 and 12] The ghostly effects of invisible curatorial hands producing meanings and affecting the viewers' perception through assembling, juxtaposing, framing, and lighting objects were indeed more apparent in The Logbook than in d (13)'s whitewashed display.
Many of the snapshots that CCB took during extensive travels in preparation for dOCUMENTA (13) are represented in The Logbook as a materialization of the virtual archive of digital pictures from her smartphone. It appears as an idiosyncratic imaginary museum, where objects of different categories have been equalized by being scaled down, digitized, and flattened to the format of digital data displayed on a touch screen. In his book project Le Musée imaginaire (orig. 1947/1952), known in English as the Museum without Walls, [xxxiii] André Malraux reflected on two “waves of decontextualizing of artworks” by “transplantation” to the museum and other “sites of reproduction,” while experimenting with the “equalizing” and “democraticizing effects of camera and press.”[xxxiv] Playing with cadrage, lighting, gray scales, perspective, and the size of the photographs he included, Malraux aimed to emancipate objects from their original context in order to create a narrative of transcultural kinship and anachronistic likeness between a diversity of things from different geographical and historical backgrounds.[xxxv]
Apart from the obvious autobiographical quality of the images in The Logbook that give insights into Christov-Bakargiev's associative mode of working, they also address the shifts of significance implied in curatorial and editorial reshuffling. In fact, a picture that represents d (13)'s head of publications, Bettina Funcke (79), editing the catalogue seems to be a reference to the famous pictures that show Malraux editing his Musée imaginaire with the images spread on the floor. [fig. 8] The contemporary restaging of the iconic image in The Logbook hints at the medial transformations of the digital age, where the photographical no longer serves as the meta-medium, but instead, the digital has become paradigmatic for every form of cultural production.[xxxvi] This does not necessarily result in code-based, screen-based, or other net-based practices but rather calls attention to the ways in which digital media also inform contemporary interactions with materiality. In The Logbook, the process of digitalization and informatization of tangible objects through smart-phone photography is being reversed by re-materializing the immaterial digital avatars of things into a haptic book-object, whose materiality is emphasized by the fake linen hardcover as well as by the thick matte paper. [fig. 2] Furthermore, the nostalgic appeal of black-and-white prints that evoke times when photographs still existed as material entities rather than as digital data, as well as the fact that the images are often presented as overlapping in the layout of the first section of the book, add to stress the physical substance of these pictures as hyper-real simulacra.[xxxvii]
The almost fetishistic emphasis on the book as a material thing follows an “Aesthetics of Bookishness,” which has been defined by Jessica Pressmann as “a serious reflection on the book, […] through experimentation with the media-specific properties of print illuminated by the light of the digital.”[xxxviii] As one can gather from the selection of the reproduced images in The Logbook, Christov-Bakargiev’s habit of using smart phone shots as photographic note taking is mirrored in her obvious interest in books and notebooks as well as museums and archives (27, 28, 39, 49) as material storages of knowledge. The Logbook features several pictures of the curator’s own notebooks (18, 55, 57, 64, 69) in addition to photos of György Lukács’ diary (23), Lee Miller’s notepad (39), and William Kentridge’s notebook (69). [fig. 9]
Furthermore, the memory stick of Christov-Bakargiev’s phone and her handwritten notes may be said to have functioned as extensions of the curator’s brain, where d (13) as an imaginary exhibition was slowly taking shape. In fact, many of the objects that CCB photographed during her travels literally turned up in the show, particularly in the space called The Brain that was situated at the heart of documenta's traditional main venue, the Rotunda of the Museum Fridericianum. [fig. 10] Separated from the rest of the exhibition by a transparent glass wall, it contained a multiplicity of heterogeneous objects. The Logbook—in line with the other d (13) publications—provides a special focus on The Brain. Besides photographically indexing Christov-Bakargiev's first encounters with some of the objects in their contexts of origin in the first section, it also dedicates ten pages of its second section to the installation and presentation of exhibits in the Rotunda (138-147). Like in the Guidebook (24-33), the documentation of The Brain precedes the presentation of artists and venues, setting it apart as the curator's personal vision.
The Logbook as a White Cube
The remaining hundred-plus pages of the book’s second section (137-244) are dedicated to the documentation of the exhibition, providing installation shots (entire rooms), constellation shots (constellations of exhibits), and photos of single artworks. This part is ordered by venues, starting with The Brain as a point of departure (138-147), preceded by color pictures of the preview days and opening ceremonies (114-136), which capture the many events and activities that took place during the first days of d (13). In contrast to these pages that document the socializing of VIPs mostly, in the documentation that follows there are only few shots of the people that populate the show, pictures are no longer laid out as if they were overlapping, and most importantly, the green pages have been replaced by white ones. The convention of having installation shots devoid of visitors as well as the norm of giving each image its own autonomous space on white ground are typically associated with the tradition of the white cube, which has been famously criticized by Brian O’Doherty for creating an illusion of objectivity and neutrality. With regard to the second section of The Logbook, O’Doherty’s observation of modernist exhibition pictures seems to remain valid: “The Eye is the only inhabitant of the sanitized installation shot. The spectator is not present.”[xxxix] The middle section of The Logbook cites this convention not only with regard to the content of the pictures but also on the level of its own white cube-like page design, replacing the collage layout of the book's first section. In many instances, images of white cube spaces are printed on white pages (e.g. 169, 170/171, 180), and this superimposition of white cube and white page calls to mind their analogous function as ideological machines suggesting objectivity and neutrality. [fig. 11] Besides dematerializing reality by translating space into image, projecting 3D-materiality onto less material flat surfaces, this layering of white cube and white page also relates to the leveling and self-negating camouflage of display to which I referred earlier as being characteristic of many parts of d (13).
The history of documenta provides an interesting early example of this relationship between exhibition and catalogue. Whereas Malraux had robbed the museum of its walls, compressing its reality into the virtual space of the book dominated by flat pages, the first documenta of 1955 (curated by Arnold Bode), took the opposite direction, while adhering to a similarly universalist art history. Bode not only used reproductions of images from the Musée imaginaire in the art-historical “preface” of the first documenta,[xl] what is more, the publication Painting in the Twentieth Century (1954), published by co-curator and art historian Werner Haftmann a year earlier, provided the script for the show. The exhibition was a material assemblage of the artworks that the book had only talked about. As Lutz Jahre remarks about the catalogue of the first documenta, “The expensive catalogue reproductions also found dual uses. In 1954, Haftmann was already preparing a volume of plates to supplement and illustrate his monograph. Its first (illustrated) edition appeared in 1955, after the first documenta.”[xli] But Haftmann not only recycled the documenta reproductions for the new edition of his book, what is more, “[...] both were published by Prestel-Verlag, ten colored and forty black/white reproductions were identical, and the layout and sequence of illustrations were very similar.”[xlii] Therefore, Eduard Trier, who curated the sculpture section of the second documenta, referred to Haftmann's illustrated edition of Painting in the Twentieth Century as an “imaginary documenta,”[xliii] while Tietenberg in turn observes with regard to the first documenta: “To a certain degree, the layout of the exhibition was also oriented on the layout of the book's pages. In particular, presentation of paintings evoked a mode of reception comparable to ‘browsing’ through the pages of a book.”[xliv] Furthermore, she describes the sculpture section of documenta II, curated by Trier, as “a book made architecture”[xlv] because, “With the white walls suggesting neutrality and each sculpture sitting in its own niche, the exhibition visitors were liable to view the sculptures from the front.”[xlvi]
Against this historical backdrop, it is interesting to note that whilst it adheres to the white cube principle of isolating images and presenting them on white ground, The Logbook’s second section breaks with the corresponding convention to present perfect scans/facsimiles of paintings/photos, film stills, professional, flawless pictures of three-dimensional work, and installation shots on shiny glossy paper. Instead, it is printed on matte paper with open pores in a natural white, not a bleached one. Moreover, many of the images in this book have an amateurish DIY touch. They were obviously taken in the exhibition (not in photo studios). As a consequence of not isolating the objects from the exhibition for documentation, a number of the photos feature tokens of context. In many cases, for instance, the lightning is not ideal, so traces of the flash or other reflexions may be discerned. Furthermore, picture frames appear in the images. Sometimes other display features intervene into the representation as well. These somewhat improvised aesthetics of the images resembles the personal souvenir photographs of an ordinary visitor documenting his or her visit to the exhibition, or perhaps even the image stream of a blogger. As a consequence of such a break with conventions of “neutral” decontextualizing photography, on the level of the aesthetics of the selected images The Logbook's catalogue section, despite the white-cubesque layout, in a way still resembles a private vision of the show rather than a professional perspective.[xlvii] The subjective point of view—which also captures the spatial dimension of the objects' positioning in the space instead of smoothly isolating them from their contexts of display—necessarily implies a body moving through the exhibition holding a camera.
The Logbook as a Museum of Obsessions
Christov-Bakargiev’s collaborative artist-oriented approach also clearly echoes Harald Szeemann’s explicit interest in artistic attitudes, which—according to curator Søren Grammel—helped the curator to acquire meta-artistic authorial status by modeling his own subjectivity on that of the artists.[l] Szeemann’s Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Forms (1969) has been canonized as one of the first shows of contemporary art that was based on commissions, inviting artists to work in situ rather than selecting art objects for display. The catalogue for this famous show is a two-hole-punched binder with the exhibition title printed in Szeemann’s handwriting on its paper cover, thereby giving it a DIY touch that functions like a signature. Apart from its self-made office aesthetic, the personal appeal of the catalogue is underlined by including a double page with facsimiles showing the front and back of the worn, handwritten paper phone list in which Szeemann compiled the contacts of artists and other people he met in preparation for the exhibition. The display of e-mail contacts in The Logbook similarly depicts Christov-Bakargiev’s collaborative method, showing her networking and communicating with interesting and important people around the globe. Yet, while Szeemann’s catalogue with its handmade look reflects the “aesthetics of administration”[li] of conceptual artistic practices, which at the time were involved in a “dematerialization of art,”[lii] the design of The Logbook seems to be more in tune with the new materialisms and postinternet aesthetics in contemporary art, characterized by a new emphasis of materiality mediated by processes of digitization.
Christov-Bakargiev has not only repeatedly expressed her gratitude for having been supported by Szeemann when she was younger,[liii] but she also pays tribute to him in The Logbook by including photos of her own 1999 Arte Povera publication on the shelves of his archive (still located in Switzerland at the time), as well as a photo of herself together with his widow, artist Ingeborg Lüscher (38). [fig. 3] Because there were numerous other references to Szeemann’s practice in dOCUMENTA (13), it is likely that the catalogue for When Attitudes Become Form, with its publication of personal notes and facsimiles of letters by artists, also served as an inspiration for The Logbook. I would even suggest that The Logbook provides an upgraded version of Szeemann's Museum der Obsessionen (1981), one of the first monographs to center on individual curatorial practices (auto)biographically.[liv] Even while the Museum der Obsessionen publication was not conceived as an exhibition catalogue but rather as a retrospective compilation of a variety of different types of texts and images, it shares many characteristics with The Logbook. Like The Logbook, the Museum der Obsessionen includes black-and-white pictures, showing Szeemann “with” his significant others and elective affinities. [fig. 14] It features numerous references to his partner Ingeborg Lüscher and deliberately blurs the lines between private life and work, blending both into a Gesamtkunstwerk held together by its protagonist’s passions. A hybrid of museum and memoir, the book canonized Szeemann as a model of subjective curation, and its focus on his eccentric personality contributed to consolidate the idea of the curator as author.[lv]
Moreover, Museum der Obsessionen includes a text called “How an Exhibition Comes into Being,” subtitled “Diary and Travel Account on the Preparations for and Consequences of [...] the exhibition When Attitudes Become Form (Works, Concepts, Processes, Situations, Information).”[lvi] The text, reprinted from the catalogue for the exhibition Op Losse Schroeven (literally “On Loose Screws”) (1969), consists of chronological entries documenting Szeemann’s curatorial practice. Starting with how Szeemann was commissioned by Phillip Morris, Inc. to produce the show, it gives insights into how he developed the concept, researched suitable artists, travelled to the United States and other places for studio and gallery visits and, finally, how he and the artists installed and opened the controversial exhibition. It ends with an extensive list of headlines and newspaper reviews that appeared as reactions to the exhibition and is complemented by a black-and-white facsimile of the very phone list that had been included in the show’s catalogue. [fig. 13] In the daily entries, Szeemann reports on his nightly meals, talks, and drinks with artists, gallery owners, and museum directors, displaying his intimacy with many important art world figures, prefiguring Christov-Bakargiev's conversational self-staging. The diaristic disclosure of Szeemann’s networking and the blurring of his private and professional lives in this text in particular may well have served as a role model for the “making of” section in The Logbook.
Despite these similarities, it should be kept in mind that in contemporary neoliberal times of intensified biopolitical capitalizations of life, the autobiographical mode has different implications than it had in a pre-1990s cultural context still largely defined by the “old” spirit of capitalism. Christov-Bakargiev’s choice to expand the catalogue’s scope from merely documenting the objects on display to also highlighting the social processes of communication behind the scenes of the shows production relates to a radically altered socioeconomic frame of reference. Szeemann’s insistence on exhibition-making as unconstrained self-realization and his 1969 resignation from the Kunsthalle Bern to found the Agentur für Geistige Gastarbeit (“Agency for Spiritual Guest Work”, my translation), for instance, have been considered as acts of liberation from a limiting institutional framework and professional norms in tune with the countercultural spirit of the time. Even though they eventually turned him into the prototype of the freelance curator who played the role of a creative, autonomous meta-artist, it should be noted that the founding moment of independent curating was not as voluntary as its subsequent mythologizing by Szeemann himself or the mainstream reception would have it, but rather an instance of forced emancipation: after having been urged to resign as the director of the Kunsthalle Bern in 1969, Szeemann did not cease searching for a new institutional position until he was hired by the Kunsthaus Zürich in 1981,[lvii] the imaginary Museum of Obsessions perhaps functioning as a substitute home institution.
Retrospectively, Szeemann may nevertheless be seen as the ideal “entrepreneur of the self” for making the best out of his precarious situation. His definition of the “Agency for Spiritual Guest Work” not only perfectly matches Foucault’s original definition of the entrepreneur of the self, but also Hardt and Negri’s notion of the biopoliticization of production. Underscoring his believe that curating is a mode of “self-realization,” in 1969 Szeemann wrote, “You need love in order to fill out a given framework [...] today a new generation of exhibition makers try to be private publicly.”[lviii] Szeemann’s own self-publishing played a significant role in the authorial ennoblement of formerly less glamorous curatorial care work. In fact, he used a politics of the personal to make visible formerly invisible curatorial labors at about the same time Hanisch declared the personal to be political (1969) and the International Wages for Housework Campaign (1972) called attention to the economic significance of housekeeping and care labor. Yet Szeemann’s empowerment of curating was achieved by a heroizing singularization or even masculinization of his role as a sovereign maverick. This is exemplified by a photograph from Museum der Obsessionen that depicts him on the last day of documenta 5 (1972) surrounded by participating artists. Analyzing this iconic photograph, Dorothee Richter points out how he adopts gendered historical patterns of depicting men as primus inter pares (“first among equals”) in order to demonstrate power and creativity. As she observes, “Szeemann’s pose is a distinctive positioning, based on historical schemata, especially of the curator as a god/king/man among artists.”[lix]
In the meantime, independent curators are not only generally recognized as central authorities in the art field but have also come to be widely associated with precarious working conditions and new dependencies on the markets, putting an end to the glamorizing of independent curation. Recognizing the necessary heteronomy of curating, since the 1990s curatorial discourse has explicitly revaluated institutions under the heading of New Institutionalism.[lx] In the late 1960s and early 1970s, up until the 1980s, the autonomist exodus from repressive factories and institutions as well as the insistence on a creative blurring of life, labor, and love could still be seen as feasible alternatives to the alienation of disciplined, standardized wage labor and hierarchically organized institutions. But in globalized post-Fordist neoliberalism, where artists and curators serve as role models for a generalization of the labor of love, and where self-marketing and the passions to perform have become economic imperatives, idiosyncratic self-assertions and the blurring of life and labor are very much in line with the demands of the new spirit of capitalism.
Against this backdrop, Christov-Bakargiev’s hyperbolic exhibitionism, in which she turns herself into the prime object of display and multiplies her countenance into an army of cloned avatars tagged all over the pages of The Logbook’s first section, may not only be read as a feminist re-appropriation of Szeemann’s politics of the personal but also as a self-branding strategy in accordance with commodification of subjectivity in neoliberal biopolitics. By abstracting her personality into an image, reiterating stereotypical poses with significant others, “CCB” also turns herself into a marketable brand that circulates globally. The relationality on display in The Logbook therefore oscillates between identity politics, practices of solidarity, and reciprocal support on the one hand, and corporate marketing strategies on the other. It thus complicates feminist politics of the personal in the age of the feminization of labor, female shift, and Facebook’s “lean in” feminism, in which privileged (white) women—often corporate executives—encourage peers to network and capitalize on their femininity in order to gain access to leadership positions, thus naturalizing both femininity and capitalism.[lxi] Besides its particularities, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s display of relationality in The Logbook thus reflects larger socioeconomic trends towards the intensified deployment of affect in biopolitical regimes of immaterial labor. The biopolitical turn has given rise to an increasing significance of the curator’s persona in order to mark projects as parts of a recognizable brand while at the same time calling for a more relational model of authorship in tune with neoliberal networked relations of production. CCB’s autobiographic self-presentation, her references to Harald Szeemann’s practice, and her potentially burlesque play with and combination of contemporary and historical models of authorship thus demonstrates how performances of curatorial authorship intersect with shifting gendered labor regimes. Moreover, The Logbook’s reflections on the new medial conditions of exhibition-making invite further elaboration of the relationship between social and technological reproduction as central sources of value in contemporary network economies.
*This text first appeared in the Journal of Curatorial Studies, 5:1, 2016, Special Issue “Affect and Relationality,” ed. by Jennifer Fisher and Helena Reckitt, pp. 76-99, and has been revised for republication.
Nanne Buurman is an art educator, curator, and scholar based in Leipzig currently working on her PhD in art history at the Freie Universität Berlin, where she was a DFG (German Research Foundation) funded member of the International Research Training Group InterArt Studies from 2012-2015. Her main research areas are curatorial and exhibition studies with a focus on documenta, authorship and gender, socioeconomic contextualization, and globalization. In 2015, she co-organized the international conference Situating Global Art at the Freie Universität Berlin for which she is currently co-editing the publication. Besides her academic commitments, Buurman has worked for a number of art institutions, including Documenta11 and documenta 12 in Kassel. She has also been involved with numerous collaborative formats of cultural production, among them the art mediation project Arbeitslose als Avantgarde (The Unemployed as an Avant-garde), which she initiated in the framework of the documenta 12 art education program (2007), as well as a number of exhibitions and book projects. Publications include “Angels in the White Cube? Rhetoriken kuratorischer Unschuld bei der dOCUMENTA (13),” FKW/Zeitschrift für Geschlechterforschung und visuelle Kultur, 58, April 2015 (English translation in OnCurating, 29, May 2016); “Exhibiting Exhibiting. documenta 12 as a Meta-Exhibition,“ Kunsttexte, Nr. 3, October 2016; “Hosting Significant Others: Autobiographies as Exhibitions of Co-Authority,” in Beatrice von Bismarck and Benjamin Meyer Krahmer (eds.), Hospitality: Hosting Relations in Exhibitions, Sternberg, Berlin, 2016; “Vom Gefängniswärter zur Heilerin. Kuratorische Autorschaften im Kontext vergeschlechtlichter Ökonomien,” Kritische Berichte, 4, December 2016; and “Home Economics: Curating as a Labour of Love,” Esse Arts + Opinions, 90, Spring 2017.
[v] See Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Routledge, New York, 1991; Cristina Morini, “The Feminization of Labour in Cognitive Capitalism,” Feminist Review, 87: 1, 2007, pp. 40–59; Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth, Harvard UP, Cambridge MA, 2009, pp. 131–49. For feminist problematizations of Hardt and Negri’s approach, see Silvia Federici, “Über Affektive Arbeit,” in Felicita Reuschling, ed., Beyond Re/production. Mothering, Revolver, Berlin, 2011, pp. 30-38, p. 35ff.; Leopoldina Fortunati,, “Immaterial Labor and Its Machinization,” ephemera, 7: 1, 2007, pp. 139–57, p. 146f; Kathi Weeks,”Life Within and Against Work: Affective Labor, Feminist Critique and Post-Fordist Politics,” Ephemera, 7: 1, 2007, pp. 233–49; Angela Mitropoulos, Contact and Contagion: From Biopolitics to Okikonomia, Autonomedia, New York, 2012, pp. 174f.
[vii] Ibid. p. 144, and Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” October, 59, 1992, pp. 3-7. See also Nanne Buurrnan, “Vom Gefängniswärter zur Heilerin. Kuratorische Autorschaften im Kontext vergeschlechtlichter Ökonomien,” Kritische Berichte, 4, December 2016, in which she discusses the shift from disciplinary societies to societies of control corresponds with conceptualizations of the curator as a prison warden (Smithon’s critique of cultural confinement at documenta 5) to conceptualizations of the curator as a healer (as Christov-Bakargiev was dubbed during dOCUMENTA (13).
[ix] See Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, Falling Wall Press, Bristol, 1972; Silvia Federici, Wages Against Housework,Falling Walls Press, Bristol, 1975, esp. p. 2; and Fortunati, “Immaterial Labor and Its Machinization”.
[x] For analyses of the controversy, see Christian Marazzi, Capital and Affects: The Politics of the Language Economy, Semiotexte and MIT Press, Cambridge, MA and London, 2011, pp. 74f; Kathi Weeks, “Life Within and Against Work”.
[xii] See Beatrice von Bismarck, “Kuratorisches Handeln: Immaterielle Arbeit zwischen Kunst und Managementmodellen,” in idem. and Alexander Koch, ed,, Beyond Education: Kunst, Ausbildung, Arbeit und Ökonomie, Revolver, Frankfurt am Main, 2005.
[xiii] See, for instance, Nancy Fraser, “Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History,” New Left Review, 56, March/April, 2009, pp. 97–117; Nina Power, One-Dimensional Woman, Zero Books, Winchester and Washington, 2009.
[xiv] Boltanski and Chiapello, The New Sprit of Capitalism. See also Andreas Reckwitz, Das Hybride Subjekt: Eine Theorie der Subjektkulturen von der bürgerlichen Moderne zur Postmoderne, Velbrück Wissenschaft, Weilerswist, 2006.
[xv] Marazzi, Capital and Affects, pp. 94, 83; Fortunati, “Immaterial Labor and Its Machinization,” pp. 154; See also Encarnacion Gutierrez Rodriquez, “Affective Value: On Coloniality, Feminization and Migration,” eipcp.net/transversal/0112/gutierrez-rodriguez/en. Accessed 03.03.2014.
[xxii] See, for example, Jan Verwoert, “The Friendship Dimension: Against the Commodification of Social Relationships”, Springerin 4, 2011, pp. 18–21; Beti Žerovc, “Networking Competence: On the Role of Curators and Schools of Curating in the ‘Left-wing Politicization of Contemporary Art’’, Springerin 3, 2007, n.p..
[xxiii] See, for instance, Franco “Bifo” Berardi, The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, Semiotexte and MIT Press, Los Angeles, Cambridge, MA and London, 2009. The private has not always been considered extra-economic. The ancient private oikos (“household”) was in fact the economic complement to the non-economic political public sphere. See Nanne Buurman, “Ausstellen einstellen. Kuratieren als Sorgen für Unsichtbarkeit,” in Sophia Kunze und Marietta Kesting, eds., Dark Rooms. Räume der Unsichtbarkeit, Neofelis, Berlin, 2016.
[xxiv] Carol Hanisch, “The Personal is Political”, 2006. http://www.carolhanisch.org/CHwritings/PIP.html. Accessed 01.15.2014.
[xxxiv] Rosalind Krauss, “Postmodernism’s Museum without Walls,” in Reesa Greenberg, Bruce Ferguson, Sandy Nairne, eds., Thinking about Exhibitions, Routledge, London/New York, 1996, pp. 341-348, p. 344.
[xxxv] For a historicization of Malraux's universalist approach to constructing a world art history as a “family album of art” by tracing formal resemblances across space and time, see Walter Grasskamp's chapter “The Layout of World Art” in his book André Malraux und das imaginäre Museum. Die Weltkunst im Salon, C.H. Beck, Munich, 2014, pp. 98-130. He also addresses the time-specific colonialist and imperialist underpinnings of such a decontextualizing approach. It recently appeared in English as The Book on the Floor: André Malraux and the Imaginary Museum, Getty, Los Angeles, 2016.
[xxxvii] These processes of translation between different im/material “states of aggregation” could also be read in relation to CCB’s expressedly critical stance towards processes of digitalization that she reflects in her essaysCarolyn Christov-Bakargiev, “Letter to a Friend/Brief an einen Freund,” dOCUMENTA (13)- 100 Notes/100 Thoughts Series, No. 003, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2011, p.14; Idem., “The Dance Was Very Frenetic, Lively, Rattling, Clanging, Rolling, Contorted, and Lasted for a Long Time,” in The Book of Books, dOCUMENTA (13) catalogue 1/3, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2012, pp. 30-45.
[xl] See Annette Tietenberg, “An Imaginary Documenta, or, the Art Historian Werner Haftmanna as an Image Producer,” in Michael Glasmeier and Karin Stengel, eds., archive in motion. 50 Jahre documenta.1955-2005, Steidel, Göttingen, 2005, p. 39.
[xlvii] Even though the imprint identifies Anders Sune Berg, Nils Klinger, Roman März, Rosa Maria Rühlig, Henrik Stömberg, and Krzysztof Zielinski as the “Installation View Photographers” (319), one may ask if in continuation of the book's first section, Christov-Bakargiev's point of view is evoked again.
[xlix] Heinz-Norbert Jocks, “Das Erzählen als Wille zur Wahrheit,” conversation with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Kunstforum International 216, 2012, pp. 364–76, esp. p. 369 (translation by the author).
[liii] See Ralf Schlüter, “Madame Maybe,” Art: Das Kunstmagazin, June, 2012, pp. 21–24, esp. pp.22-23; and Idem., “Das Herz der documenta schlägt in Kabul,” conversation with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Art Spezial: Documenta 13, July 2012, pp. 96–98, esp. p. 96.
[liv] For Szeemann, the notion of the “Museum der Obsessionen” was more than a book, it was a “life-long speculative project” that never materialized as an institution or an exhibition. See Museum der Obsessionen p. 125 (translation by the author).
[lv] See Beatrice von Bismarck, “Der Meister der Werke. Daniel Burens Beitrag zur documenta 5 in Kassel 1972,” in Uwe Fleckner, Martin Schieder, Michael Zimmermann, eds., Jenseits der Grenzen. Französische und deutsche Kunst vom Ancien Régime bis zur Gegenwart. Thomas W. Gaehtgens zum 60. Geburtstag, Dumont, Cologne, 2000. pp. 215-229.
[lvii] I thank Maria Bremer for sharing her insights on this matter. After having directed documenta 5 (1972), he also unsuccessfully applied for the following editions, a fact that is also rarely taken into account.
[lix] Dorothee Richter, “Artists and Curators as Authors: Competitors, Collaborators or Teamworkers?,” in Beatrice von Bismarck, Jörn Schafaff, and Thomas Weski, eds., Cultures of the Curatorial, Sternberg, Berlin, 2012, pp. 229–48, p. 232. See also von Bismarck, “Der Meister der Werke.”
[lxi] Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Knopf, New York, 2013. For a critique of such a brand of feminism, see Susan Faludi, “Facebook Feminism: Like It or Not”, The Baffler, 23, May 2013.