Friday, 17 April 2009

Relative Simultaneity

‘Relative Simultaneity’ versus ‘Right Here, Right Now’
The mediated and the real

I love music. I listen to it while pottering in the kitchen, while working at my computer, or while sitting on the bus with my ipod. What’s more, I also go to live gigs on a regular basis. Whether a band is great at live performances is not so much the point of my train of thought here. My concern is this: enjoying a live performance seems to sit in our perception on a fairly equal footing with listening to music captured on vinyl or a CD. While the latter are in essence forms of mediation of something that once happened in real time, we understand the live and the mediated as different manifestations of one and the same creative process. With music we seem to be able to wholeheartedly embrace the experience of the real and the mediated as natural extensions of each other. The record or CD and the live event can sit happily side-by-side, and there doesn’t seem to be much of an issue of hierarchy, or it being less, or a coming after of the mediated versus the real.

The same can hardly ever be said about art, and the exhibitions in which it is often displayed, and their different forms of mediation: they rarely go beyond the obligatory catalogue. Some contain great reflections by gifted writers and theoreticians and attempt to contribute to critical discourse about the work and the concepts behind it. Others focus on particular groupings and formats of presentation of the work, and are more concerned with the curatorial concept underpinning the project they accompany. Others simply give an impression via brief descriptions and some images. What most of them have in common though, is a sense of ‘coming after’, and an impression of them being less than the real thing. Invariably they seem to function as mementos, as tokens by which to remember what once was.

Picking up my train of thought in relation to live and mediated music, I wonder: could publications take in a similar position of relative equality, a position of sitting alongside the real thing? Is it possible for publications to elevate themselves, so they no longer function as just a translation or mediation of artistic practices into another medium or language that can be read or looked at at another moment in time? Is it possible for them to have a currency of simultaneity, like the record has to the live performance? Is it possible for them to somehow take on a shape and form that is no longer subservient to, but that simply is the real deal?

Of course some artist’s books go some way in relation to the issue of status and time when it comes to artists and their work. At best they are the real deal, the real and the mediated coinciding in time and place. But even if they do so, they often have a tendency of operating in their own ghetto. More because of a general perception rather than reality, they seem to still hover in the corner of crafts and the hand-made. Despite the liberating impact of conceptual artists’ practices in the 1960s and 1970s, there’s still a lot of headway to be made.

And what about curatorial practice in publications? How many attempts have there been since for instance Seth Siegelaub’s Xerox Book (1968) and July-August (1970)? What publications can claim to have successfully captured curatorial practice, beyond simply talking about it? With the plethora of books about curating in all its different manifestations and with all its various specificities, it’s maybe time to ask whether publications can be sites for curatorial practice in their own right, and, if so, to start using them as such.

Proposal for Vision Forum:

A workshop to explore the potential of publications as sites for artistic and curatorial practice. Some proposed questions are:

1. What strategies could curators adopt to generate publications that can be considered as equal to, or at least similar to exhibitions?

2. What strategies could artists adopt when thinking about publications as platforms on which their artistic practice manifests itself?

3. What could the outcome of such collaborations between artists and curators be when they manifest themselves as publications?

A bit about myself: I'm a free-lance arts project manager / editor based in London. Alongside working on projects, I have over the years worked in various capacities (as [commissioning] editor, copy editor, translator, producer) on a wide range of magazines, art books, catalogues, artists' books and other publishing projects. Sometimes I do this on a one-off basis, sometimes through working with organisations for a longer period of time (most recently I've been overseeing a series of publications entitled 'Fabrications' for Book Works, an independent art and artists' books publisher). I also teach at various institutions.