"Everything in the world began with a yes"
In January, I moved to the Netherlands to take up the directorship of Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. Four months into my tenure, I inaugurate my program there with a number of exhibitions and a series of initiatives. A press release listing details can be found here. This inaugural program expresses some of my longstanding curatorial interests, for example, my research in Latin America and my exploration in the politics of description.
Several participating artists come from the Americas; some others are from elsewhere, but have developed projects there. In one way or another, the artworks showcased in the exhibitions program address the region’s indigenous cultures and its philosophical contributions; its ancient, present, and future-thinking perspectives; its geography and geopolitical borders, as well as the meeting points between them, as these may be experienced socially, economically or ecologically.
The program also tells of my longstanding exploration in description. The program is, at least, an attempt to articulate the sensual unfolding of analytical experience through the language of visual arts and the grammar of exhibition display. It is, at best, a sum of choices that prioritize visualizing different forms of accessing the world. It is, at worst, and it’s not even that bad of a thing, a didactic way of presenting an interpretation of artistic and cultural investigations being developed today.
On that last note, the program is shaped all the while attending a nagging question: What makes art contemporary? This last question may elicit simplistic responses. For example, that contemporary art is what is new, that which is being created at present. Another and more likely accurate response to this question would, for its part, address technology. But such an answer would be limiting. While many visual artists experiment with newly developed tools and media, several have chosen or are limited to working with so-called primitive or conventional artistic means. To avoid a free-fall unto technicalities, my attempts at responding the question here posed entails an inquiry into the ways art and its public displays manifest changing value systems at present.
I will give an example of this exercise: While I am interested in the history of travel, I am less inclined to using it as an exhibition theme than as a subject for making an intersectional approach to art. So I am looking not only at what is figured in an artwork, but more so in why and how its prefiguration entails a process whereby a journey was required or is implied. Long-distance travel is what I am especially interested in. This kind of travel is something relatively new for anyone other than aristocrats, colonialists, diplomats, traders and their related service providers, mainly men. It is only until recently when working-class people had the possibility or opportunity to travel by choice. And it is only until recent times when women artists increasingly and independently began to travel to develop their work.
This last is what I give special attention in my inaugural exhibition program. Three exhibitions at Witte de With center on the work of women artists, specifically, these showcase work involving field-research in places that are not exactly easily-accessible. The artists are Irene Kopelman, Teresa Margolles, Susana Mejía, Pamela Rosenkranz, and Anicka Yi. To create their art projects, they combined fieldwork with other kinds of artistic investigation conducted in their studios and in their immediate surroundings. Their work is also informed by cultural histories and by the artist’s own cultural environments back at home.
To end, for now, a brief note on the relationship between journey and home, or lack thereof: when referring to travel and class mobility it is impossible to shy away from the subject and expressions of forced immigration, including slavery and exile. A traumatic form of displacement, forced immigration is one of the longstanding and most pressing issues of human civilization. I will write in another instance about this subject, and will certainly address this through programming at Witte de With, too. This said, research is underway and there is more to come.
The title of this entry comes from Clarice Lispector's opening line in "The Hour of The Star" (1977)