“Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know.” Michel de Montaigne (Essays, 1580).
When, in 2002, we began to consider what the future tasks of the new Research Institute for Curatorship and Education ICE in Edinburgh could be, we knew on thing for sure: we did not want to simply establish another “school for curators” or develop a next curatorial course and thus promote the process of institutional detachment that we have been witnessing frequently over the last few years, perpetuating the automation of self-reflexive autonomous systems within closed “contextualisations”. (The fact that we preferably deal with different discourses especially within the Anglophone and German research traditions becomes evident with the reader presented here; it brings together basic texts from both approaches, which, as we know, are often significantly at variance).
“There once was a man who wanted a new boomerang. But, try as he might, he could not throw away his old one.”
Our interest in research lies in mediating the complexity of what we define as art in the widest sense of the term, in other words in developing an “operating system” that attempts in all its facets to balance order and change, old and new, theory and practice, and, after reaching a solution, to frame new questions that are immanent to the process. By developing projects with different foci in terms of content we wish to create situations where propositions made rigid through the uncertainties of “not-knowing” are dissolved and penetrated, in order to gain new insights and place them in an context that is accessible to all participants involved in the process. Cultural globalisation impels us to neither negate our own background nor to take it as the only premise but to question it time and again in the contextual flow of ongoing projects. Whenever possible we try to design our ICE projects as diversified as possible in terms of content and cultural orientation and to collaborate with local, national and international partners.
Patrick Panetta: How do you understand the term “curate”?
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Curare. The Curator as catalyst. Extending and intensifying (from: The absurdity of Marking art, 2007)
One of our main concerns is to avoid fitting the various participants involved in the curatorial process into a hierarchical; instead, we attempt to assemble different voices and create a multi-facetted image that enables us to visualise and experience interdependencies, permeabilities and transitions. In the course of the process many issues that are usually regarded as given facts – issues that have in the past shaped the views of artists, curators and other observers of Western culture, and still do today – suddenly become blurred and imprecise, no longer logically consistent. However, this can be resolved if one engages in the social processes that characterise contemporary life, as for example Zygmunt Baumann describes so convincingly in “Liquid Life” (2005).
By means of polylogue, presentation and mediation are able to lend a higher degree of specification to the curatorial process and thus attain a significant and indispensable position in today’s complex art system.
“In the contemporary production of images we won’t be able to understand the inherent driving forces if we don’t look to the other spheres of modern life.” (Alexander Dorner)
Since the end of 2003 we have been developing interdisciplinary projects in which we include in our joint work not only the interrelated visual language but also the discipline’s specific discourses. For us it is important that young artists become involved in the curatorial process in museums and similar institutions and learn how to transpose their works of art to these specific spaces. They collaborate with scientists “in the lab” in order to explore new ways of exhibiting, including scientific objects. Of course, filing the required research applications is not always easy because, as a rule, we are not looking for new solutions but seeking novel questions, and combining this artistic approach with a scientific modus is often quite problematic. However, as the following quote by the Nobel laureate and geneticist François Jacob (Die innere Statue, Autobiographie, Zürich, 1988) shows scientific research is increasingly taking into account, and incorporating, a more artistic understanding of its approach, and the work of artists:
“How does one trace research work? How comprehend a fixed idea, an enduring obsession? As in mental work focussed on a minute fragment in the universe, on a ‘system’ that is continuously revolving, having been rotated to and fro? Above all, how does one envision the feeling of being in a labyrinth with no exit, that incessant search for a solution, without making reference to what has proven to be the solution – without being blinded by is evidence?”
THE ICE READER
It is this kind of research work on and around art, together with artists, scientists, curators and many other partners that we wish to present on a regular basis in the ICE readers.
The first volume containing a selection of diverse texts and interviews not only provides a theoretical basis for inspiring discussions but also shows how different the approaches are between the UK and continental Europe. For this reason we have included the texts in both English and German; it shows how differently specific terms are sometimes used and understood and thus helps to uncover the source of some of the misunderstandings that we frequently face.
In 2004 Barnaby Drabble, PhD student at the Edinburgh College of Art ECA and his colleague Dorothee Richter approached me in my capacity as director of ICE and asked me whether I would be willing to edit the first ICE Reader Curating Critique. They wrote the introduction and were responsible for the selection of texts. We are happy that the stimulating volume has now been published and hope for a broad and interested audience.
Edinburgh, April 2007
Since 2003 Marianne Eigenheer is director of ICE, the Institute for Curatorship and Education at the Edinburgh College of Art. Between 1997 and 2007 she was professor at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, in addition to various teaching engagements in Europe, the USA and Australia. Since 1975 she has worked on theoretical and curatorial themes in the area of art, architecture, cross-cultural research and interdisciplinarity. She is an artist whose work has been shown, from 1977 to the present day, in numerous national and international solo and group exhibitions, and is represented in many international collections. In 1980 and 1981 she received the Swiss national award for her work and in 2001 she received an artist’s award from the Landis and Gyr Foundation, which included a residency in London. She now lives in Basel and London.