I would like to present some thoughts on how curators and dramaturgy can be linked—combined with a few hints on what this relationship has to do with the hybrid artistic, mediating, researching, performative, exhibiting, and documenting fields of presentation in Revisiting Black Mountain.
Although curating has long been understandable as artistic work, it is striking that it mostly refers and limits itself to contextualization, superordinate narratives, theoretical discourses, and forms of knowledge transfer. It is obvious that this is of great importance at a university. At the same time, however, against the background of an art school, the question arises as to what, in addition to presenting artistic discussions on the subject, ofthe artistic could also exist in curating?
At first, the philosophical significance of the ready-made seems to me to be central to how curation can be understood as art. Because the ready-made shows that contemporary art is characterized above all by the change of habitual perceptions. Thus, for what constitutes contemporary art, the aesthetic experience is central, but also—and this seems to me to be easily overlooked—a new hermeticism of the object as a constantly differently chargeable, yet ultimately inescapable and enigmatic, thing. With a view to the visual arts, a first art of curating could therefore be described as an institutional sovereignty of interpretation mediated by curators, which knows how to create an aesthetic experience in the staging of spatial relationships.
Since Revisiting Black Mountain was not only about contextualizing and relating forms of teaching and learning, but essentially about their transformation and reflection in and as an artistic process, and not about objects, but about the performativity of modes of perception of the institution, the curation also had to become processual, remain unfinished in a productive way, and above all learn to understand itself as ignorant in the field of different arts and disciplines.
Crude Curation – The Productivity of Ignorance
Curating initially combines the contextualizing and discursive perspective on aesthetic phenomena with dramaturgy. But a dramaturgy that becomes effective in and as art acts in the midst of events, in the midst of the field of tension between social processes; moreover, it is communicatively involved in elaboration processes without which no aesthetic experience would arise at all. It has therefore learned, despite the observational perspective, to become effective as part of collecting processes that are self-dynamic and larger than themselves. And it has learned not to simply apply the knowledge that is available, but to repeatedly put it to the test of its performativity.
Working at the theatre is therefore never the work on and with the ready-made. It's always unfinished per se. And as art, always crude art. Often broken by the raw, the repetition, the sweat of the bodies, the dialogue of knowledge, the resistance of the actors—their feelings, interests, intentions, whether private, played, shown, affected, or forced.
The work of dramaturgy in rehearsal and production processes is therefore more related to intervention than to the accompanying letter, more to the provocation of discourses than to the transfer of knowledge, more to the defense of the singular than to the understanding of the superior, more to the negotiation of what could be the case than to the rhetoric of legitimation. Dramaturgy is a test of reality and not a proclamation of realism.
To make all this productive needs more than curation in the aforementioned contextualizing and mediating senses in order to become an artistic process.
However, the forms of directing theatre, which in the tradition of the historical avant-garde have long guaranteed the art of the theatre, can no longer be reconciled with the demands of contemporary art, whether in state theatres or in museums at work. The processual openness and participativity announced here sound too easy from the mouth of too many directors like legitimacy strategies or well-intentioned marketing phrases.
If we regard the curation of contemporary art itself as an artistic process, then it becomes the sovereignty of interpretation; it must transcend the secure position of contextualization, knowledge, and criticism. In this transgression, it becomes dramatic when, quite in contrast to the common image of dramaturgy, it endures being inside and outside discourses. When it is prepared to deal with the open and the unfinished and to aim at the unpredictable, the ambivalent, and the ambiguous.
Maybe that's why it's better to apply dramaturgy to the arts than curating to the theatre at the moment.
Ambiguous Dramaturgies – The Productivity of Curation
In Revisiting Black Mountain, we saw what we presented as traces of an art academy's artistic engagement with itself. In this respect, curation could also be understood as conceptual art, as an attempt to materialize the questions about the self-image of art schools as traces of the examination of these discourses. However, since the materials are always also related to the actors themselves, they were embedded in the performativity of the institution and repeatedly questioned the relationship to the institution. The art school thus became a place of self-observation for the society that populated it; it became a theatre on a temporary basis, a black boxin which the performances, wishes, and utopias of the development of the arts and design took place.
What the theatre was able to learn from contemporary art refers less to the intersections with the visual arts (to the opening of the work to aesthetic experience, to the processual and the performative), but to a further central reference point of contemporary art—namely, to understand art as work on and it itself as institutional critique.
With regard to the theatre, it became particularly clear how dramaturgy could be understood as contemporary art. For the work on the institutionalization of theatre against the background of aesthetic questions and the work on participativity was not only the starting point of dramaturgical thinking in the Enlightenment, but it also concerns the current central fields of action and practices. Through the mediation of contemporary art and its curation, a dramaturgy understood in this way ties directly to the discourses of its origin and returns to the tradition of its practices at the theatre. Who could and should oppose the claims to unification of the world, the claims to sovereignty of interpretation, if not those who are at the same time part of the production processes and part of their criticism, who are at the same time inside and outside the discourse of the theatres?
Participation in the dramaturgical sense therefore means not only an opening to the outside—it is not a format of mediation—but an opening to the inside, meaning the test of the reality of discourses in and for one's own work processes. The dramaturgical production of the public is not a membrane, not a diffusion of content, but first and foremost it means questioning the conditions of the possibility of an art of the present as an open process of transgressing actuality, appropriation, and meaning.
It takes a dramaturgical art of mental undermining, of reversing and questioning values, of making contradictions and conflicts productive. And it needs the defense of pluralization and simultaneity, the defense of ambiguity and a sense of ambiguity.
At the End of Inter-Disciplining
Curation, which has immigrated not only to the theatre but to all areas of art and life, is almost always associated with interdisciplinarity because of its potential to transcend borders. To what extent, however, the proclaimed interdisciplinarity accommodates the claim of opening up thinking, the potentiation of aesthetic experience, and the dramaturgical sense of ambiguity seems to me questionable. Because discipline has to do with rules, regulations, or laws and would be a bad advisor for artistic processes in their normativity. Or discipline means different scientific disciplines, which upon reflection and definition of their epistemology brings insights to the term. In my view, however, aesthetic experience is less about types of knowledge than about pointing out and making perceptible the potentials of knowledge and recognition.
The problem with regard to the idea of interdisciplinarity in the arts is that arts and design, at least in the narrower sense, are not disciplines at all. And if by disciplines, one means specific techniques and procedures, crafts and languages, then one should actually try (rather metaphorically interesting) inter-techniques, inter-procedures, or inter-languages.
From the perspective of institutional critique, interdisciplinarity seems problematic above all when it makes the diversity of the arts the scene of commonplaces of aesthetic discourse. Interdisciplinarity thus becomes an inter-disciplining, the current form of social disciplining of the arts by the institutions.
In the discussion with Black Mountain College, it became increasingly clear that the focus here was not on plays of forms of interdisciplinarity, but rather on concrete social questions and problems as well as the self-evident multiplicity of the arts and scientific disciplines, wherein a dynamic, processual, and cooperative context emerged.
It is therefore not only true for theatre that curating becomes art if it is supported by real social relevance and is in a position not only to assert processual openness and participativity, but also to make it productive as institutional critique. In transgressing the discourses of interdisciplinarity, the plurality of the arts opens up to a processuality that understands her otherness as fields of gravity and forces of attraction.
If this is the case, not only the way of theatre and dramaturgy into contemporary fine arts is free, but also the incursion of curation into the theatre.