The essays published in this issue of OnCurating under the title Extreme have been assembled and appear as a result of my ongoing exploration of art and curating in the margins of the globe. They relate to my curatorial research into artistic and curatorial methodologies that revisit subjugated, local, situated knowledges, specifically supporting local communities of the Naqab Desert in Israel.
The investigations that have been undertaken and presented in this issue by my colleagues from around the world are all, in many ways, tied together by specific circumstances that have continuously and mutually affected marginal areas and are rooted in a world dynamic based on the historical division of labour and the exploitation of certain countries by Western agents. The manifestations of the inequality of our world model in our everyday reality have brought about austere societal, territorial, and climate conditions that are experienced ever more harshly on the margins.
The issue begins with a section titled Art and Curating Celebrates Difference: Turning Towards Local and Subjugated Knowledge, which provides the basis for the issue. The term situated knowledges developed by the American professor of the history of consciousness and feminist studies Donna Haraway explains currents in feminism that build on vantage points of subjugated and embodied knowledges developing a feminist objectivity. The practice of developing ideas from local conditions is at the root of this section demonstrating how artists and curators turn to situated knowledges in order to develop a set of creative tools in the face of global crises.
In their contribution, “Art as Expanded Rationality,” the visual artist João Pedro Amorim and philosophy and aesthetics scholar Nuno Crespo demonstrate how colonial and globalizing processes define Western relativism and how the positivist mission of the colonization of knowledge is a driving force that abandons experimental and open-ended forms of knowledge including what is unknown and unresolved.
In order to better understand how the driving force of the colonization of knowledge works, the writers explore a number of artists and collectives. These include the Karrabing Film Collective—an indigenous collective from the Belyuen community situated at the edge of Anson Bay in Northern Australia. By giving presence in their films to past lives in the present, Amorim and Crespo demonstrate how the situated knowledges that the Karrabing Film Collective bring into their films create a break within the value system of Western representation.
Celebrating a shift within the Western system of value is central to curator Jacqueline Kok’s contribution to this issue. In “Tracing Resistance”, Kok argues that the “Miss First Nation Taiwan”, the very first drag show in Taiwan (2018), serves as an effort to reconcile not only the gender binary in Taiwan but also a discriminatory tendency towards the indigenous population. Although Taiwan has proved to be one of the most progressive East Asian countries, recognizing same-sex marriage in 2019, Taiwanese individuals who identify as trans or intersex are required to undergo sex reassignment surgery to change their legal gender on official documents, and they are often the targets of sex-based discrimination. By reappropriating a longstanding form of Western institutionalized culture, Kok asserts that the beauty contest titled Miss First Nation encourages cross-cultural collaboration that allows visibility for non-binary identities and indigenous people to meet, engage, and create.
In “General Nourishment: The Aga Khan Museum of Islamic Arts in Marawi,” the curatorial researcher from the Philippines, Renan Laru-an, examines the country’s first Islamic arts institution, The Museum of Islamic Arts of Marawi. Through attributes of the science of limnology, the study of lakes, Laru-an embarks on a poetic investigation into the museum’s curatorial ethos by reflecting on the museum via the study of bodies of water. Analyzing the activities of the lake and its rivers, along with its ecological efficiency, Laru-an considers the museum lying on the shores of the large ancient Lake of Lanao, overlooking the city of Marawi, as neither central nor peripheral with regard to its geographical location and its activities. Through the notion of the tributary stream, a stream that flows into a larger river, Laru-an considers the museum as a drifting entity, a curatorial force of turbidity of tributaries that revitalizes curatorial ideas based in Western thought to which we continuously refer and which we uphold.
The issue continues with the second section, The Ecology Crisis: Can Art Fill the Enviromental Communication Gap?, which investigates how art and curating may create the means to pull the audience back towards the everyday reality of global crises and to interrogate actual environmental damage. Based on the notion that the increasing environmental catastrophe is based on a failure of communication, this section explores art as a means to communicate the depoliticization of the catastrophic dimensions of the climate crisis and to reveal the growing normalization of its effect on subjectivities in susceptible areas of the globe.
“Wonders in the Heavens and in the Earth: Notes from the Dormant Exhibition,” Sebastian Cichoki’s contribution to this section, is titled after a book that tells the story in which protagonists.The book tells a story in which protagonists from the future see in our era the shadow of anti-intellectualism that fell over the techno-scientific nations of the Western world, preventing us from acting on the scientific knowledge regarding the climate crisis that was available at the time. One of the key historical references in the exhibition The Penumbral Age is the Slovenian OHO Group, which began to operate in the mid-1960s. With a philosophical and artistic non-anthropocentric outlook, the group created interventions in nature using readily available materials. After a few decades of activities, members of the group collectively left the art world, continuing to operate through an esoteric and ecological approach. According to Cichoki, the positioning of OHO Group’s activities demonstrates a need for the art world to conduct a deep systemic transformation in the face of the environmental crisis; otherwise, according to Cichoki, we may end up in the scenario as described in the book The Penumbral Age.
In “Toward and Ecological Singularity,” the researcher, artist, and curator Dennis Dizon draws on a personal historical connection with the climate. Growing up in Manila, the summer monsoon season was always a period of a mild climate catastrophe. Dizon conducts a techno-ecological inquiry that re-imagines the potential of communicating through difference and by destabilizing existing logics through queer sensibilities—among humans, with nonhumans. By practicing thought-queering as a tactical exploitation of delusion, Dizon visualizes ecology of communication as an infrastructure that maps existing pathways to look for possibilities beyond a linear transmission of information. According to Dizon, by analyzing communicating as matter-ing, we may arrive at the concept of an “ecological singularity” as an experimental and experiential repositioning to transcend human exceptionalism.
The artistic practice of the Rotterdam-based Spanish artist Lara Almarcegui is the focus point of “Lara Almarcegui and Extreme Unagitation” by cultural scientist and curator Helene Romakin. Over the last fifteen years Almarcegui has invested in the long process of acquiring underground iron ore deposits in order to prevent large companies from mining the land. She investigates the origins of construction materials by looking for their natural origins. In her exhibitions, the artist repeatedly challenges the engineering aspects of exhibiting institutions by exhibiting the maximum weight of material that the building’s structure can carry. Her works don’t elevate spectators to philosophical and sublime thoughts on landscape, but rather they pull them back to the ground, or even under the ground, showing the actual environmental damage.
In the face of the Covid-19 discourse that notably and quickly took up the comparison to the ongoing climate change problems, Romakin argues that the work of Almarcegui is never extreme in a sense of improbable or uncanny catastrophism—she shows us the world of extraction as it is without any exaggerations or exception.
The third section titled Art and Curating in Conflict Zones deals with art that operates within colonial narratives and through subjectivities that occupy conflict zones and borders. This section takes as its starting point subjectivities that are many times interpellated to become characters in a colonial discourse. By focusing on art and curating that place themselves inside tangible or conceptual conflict zones and barriers, this section opens up a discussion on the potentiality to propose paradigmatic counter-strategies of socio-cultural forms of resistance. It imagines art produced and exhibited beyond institutions—possibly in the geographical extremes—that permeate a reconstruction of identity and cultural narratives.
The contemporary art curator and researcher Carla Gimeno Jaria’s contribution to this issue considers art that has been situated in areas of material and conceptual borders. By exploring the breaches of the border as a constitutive body of possibilities of contact, “What Borders Can Do” asks how might the tangible border become a space to actively challenge, question, and reformulate imposed norms of division?
Through an example of one of the earliest artistic endeavors that challenged the tangible border between Mexico and the U.S., Jaria demonstrates how borders might become a site of possibilities and change. Founded in 1984, Borders Art Workshow/Taller Arte Fronterizo (BAW/TAF), a bi-national group of artists, activists, and scholars, demonstrates how borders can be considered negotiated and transformable entities. Performing both in the city of Tijuana in México and at the border itself, BAW/TAF was the first of a line of collectives and artists in this region that conducted site-specific interventions and live art actions based on an engagement with the community. Through this example and others, Jania imagines a future that continues to challenge these limitations through collective artistic actions that reimagine and subvert the divisive conditions of the border.
In “Errant Curating,” the art historian and curator Nadim Samman asks how is it that the site of the exhibition wandered so far from its historical locus—the home of the muses? Samman considers wandering as curatorial method—exhibition-making in an errant mode, beyond galleries, beyond cities that traverse the globe, from domestic settings to geographical extremes. Samman speaks to errant curators that leave centers for geographical extremes, not to escape, but to make the contemporary hearth more visible. He demonstrates errant curating through a series of examples that include the exhibition Treasure of Lima: A Buried Exhibition (2014) involving the burying of an ensemble of commissioned works at a secret location on Isla del Coco (500 kilometers from the Costa Rican port of Golfit) and the The 1st Antarctic Biennale (2017) a biennale that took into consideration that nothing was to be left behind and that the on-site audience included only its artistic participants—it departed from standard models of perennial exhibition-making and viewing and included a landscape photography exhibition for penguins and an underwater installation for whales. Rather than arranging objects on the walls of a gallery or museum, the task of errant curating concerns selecting what powers are to be put on display in a given project and staging their relation to one another as a complex arrangement.
At the basis of architect and researcher Ronny Hardliz’s contribution, “‘and here I am’—De-Colonial Aspects of Advanced Curatorial Work (of Art),” are three missed encounters that demonstrate the current global states of exhaustion. The three encounters that may at first seem disjointed, chosen by Hardliz through artistic intuition, are: a curious friendship between Georges Bataille and Walter Benjamin that has remained largely unexplored; an exploration into the cave keeper’s daily control of measuring instruments in the prehistoric cave of Lascaux; and, thirdly, the exploration of artistic representation in the case of the Freedom Theatre of Jenin as a means of cultural resistance. According to Hardliz, the three cases have the potential to demonstrate paradigmatic counter-strategies of socio-cultural forms of resistance that are rooted in the question of representation in art and specifically photography.
Summing up the trajectory of a decade of activities, from Sabreen in Jerusalem, the Holon Digital Art Center (DAL), the Palestinian Association of Contemporary Art (PACA) in Ramallah, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, and the International Academy of Art Palestine (IAAP) in Al-Bireh, the curator Galit Eilat emphasizes trust and social imagination as crucial for soft power's negotiating methodologies. Amidst the conflict between Israel and Arab nations, Eilat regards soft power as an effective and sustainable method in contrast to hard power’s attempt to change people's behavior through schism, intimidation, and coercion. As an example of how soft power was implemented in the art scene in the occupied territories of Palestine and in Israel, Eilat unfolds the local conditions that produced the chain of events that eventually led to the Palestinian artist Khaled Hourani's Picasso in Palestine project. Picasso in Palestine has been regarded as a triumph over the Israeli limitations on the occupied territories of Palestine’s cultural activities. Eilat questions the possibility that Hourani’s project, along with other soft-power art initiatives in which she was involved, will eventually lead artists and curators to lean towards a much broader social imagination that envisions the breaking down of barriers enforced by the West on the rest rather than automatically continuing the tradition of the glorification of the unique art object and the genius creator.
The title of curator Johanne Løgstrup’s contribution to this issue is based on a chapter in History of Consciousness scholar James Clifford’s book Museums as Contact Zones (1993). To the title of her essay “Museums as Contact or Conflict Zones,” Løgstrup adds the word “conflict” due to the fact that she believes that there is a need to acknowledge that conflict is inherited with the very idea of the museum. Løgstrup raises a series of ethical questions regarding the museum and collection practices, specifically asking who has been excluded from the history that has been told so far in order to encompass the culture of Western history and how do we decolonize our museums and radically transform them from within? In order to deal with the above questions, Løgstrup expands on the example of the temporary opening of the Sámi Dáiddamusea (the Sami Art Museum) based in the closed Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromsø, Norway: “Finally, Sápmi, Norway and the world has a museum dedicated to Sami art! After almost 40 years of activism, acquisition, negotiation, lobbyism and stubbornness, the world of art enters a new era. A big day for Sápmi. A big day for Norway. A big day for the world.”
These emotionally charged opening lines of the museum announcement shed light on the history of oppression of the Sami people and their culture. The title of the opening exhibition, There is no., carries several meanings: one was that there is no permanent institution to present the Sami art collection, and the second refers to a long discussion surrounding the hierarchy of art and the dismissal of indigenous cultures that are not considered art, but have different relationships to art objects, for example, regarding them as crafts or as relics.
In the aftermath of the temporary takeover of the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum by the Sami collection, the museum is slowly but steadily changing its collecting activities through a curatorial agenda with a local and global awareness in order to nourish the differences and multiplicities of voices, and hopefully in the future changing the collection’s mandate to include Sámi art.
The curator Anastasia Chaguidouline interrogates dissident and subversive artistic practice in Russia by focusing on the contemporary artist Petr Pavlensky. Pavlensky‘s rapidly gained international visibility brought him to spend roughly eleven months in prison—most of the time in solitary confinement—where he held two hunger strikes. Chaguidouline reports how Pavlensky invited her to a house "opened" for his ex-partner and his two children, shared with two political refugees.
In Pavlensky's double-performance Threat (2015) (fig. 1) and Lighting (2017), Pavlensky set fire to the Russian Federal Security Services (former KGB) and to the office of the Banque de France in Paris. Both actions, which shared a similar aesthetic, caused him to be arrested by the police. Chaguidouline asserts that as cultural practitioners, we should allow Pavlensky's actions speak for themselves and let time reveal what they have set out to do. She believes that our role as collaborators, allies, and supporters in solidarity with the artists we care about and write about are important in order to create space for the emergence of unexpected art to take root.
The fourth section, titled Free Culture: Post-Humanist Technologies and Algorithms as Alternatives to Techno-Capitalist Industrial Society, discusses the horizon of creative anti-capitalist approaches to technology of political and economic systems founded in technological organizations. This section discusses collaborative practices on the borders between art, science, and technology that make use of extreme anti-capitalist methodologies that include hacking and DIY, and are critical to technology companies and to the desire of technological devices by consumers.
In “Vitalist Materialism—Life Mining,” the curator Laura Netz aims to create a critical basis for the practical development of art and technology relations, focusing on practices beyond pure digital art, based on innovation and scientific evolutionary progress.
Artistic-technological practices are put in the relational context of the post-human conception of matter as an agency that produces a re-engagement with the geopolitical and socioeconomic structures. Netz demonstrates how ecology and personal and social relationships become an integral force and a critical proposal to promote alternatives to the techno-capitalist industrial society. However, in the context of late capitalism, any alternative practices are also subsumed in the economic system, through concepts of precariousness, intellectual work, immaterial labor, and new subjectivities that are under the influence of cybernetics and computer control. Netz continues to assert that there are almost no pure anti-capitalist approaches involving technology because they require the structural organization of political and economic systems founded on networks, servers, and other technological deployments. Potentially, there are rival forms of production based around what is called social production, based in hacking and open-source methodologies, but their arguments consistently fail to surmount the structural similarities with late capitalism.
The focus of “Algorithmic Extremes in Terram in Aspectu” by the curator Park Myers is Liliana Farber’s work Terram in Aspectu, which is concerned with the structure of thought in the age of the algorithm. The work, produced through machine learning, provides a thought experiment in how truthfulness is determined in the extreme state of the post-truth era. Terram in Aspectu is a series of Google Earth screenshot images of various islands purported to exist in extreme locales. The machine learning process that produced the work is unsupervised in that it automatically recognizes patterns and creates labels from that data to generate new images.
According to Myers, the work exemplifies a shift in critical thinking, pointing out that the means through which knowledge, intention, and expectation in exhibitions are communicated prioritize only a pointedly human subjectivity. The linearity of this interpretive thinking seems to be increasingly incongruent with the complex state of globally networked social and political relations. In his contribution to this issue, Myers insists on the notion that thinking with uncertainty does not outweigh or diminish individual identities, instead it motivates an examination of the inherent means of determining truth in exhibitions. When faced with uncertainty, Myers asserts, the audience retreats to basic logic as a means of protecting a predetermined truth. Myers proposes a curatorial methodology that allows for speculative thought and thinking uncertainty to take place, thus challenging the prescribed means of public discourse that automatically reproduces unchallenged ideologies in the pursuit of maintaining dominant narratives.
The OnCurating issue titled Extreme focuses on the conditions that have cultivated unique modes of production and creation on the world’s margins—modes of art and curating in remote areas resulting from an imbalanced framework that has historically developed through colonial realities. The compendium is a selection of partial, situated knowledges, originating from the four corners of the globe that, when combined, create a world view that envisions a future overcoming of the limitations of the cause-effect models of Western rationality. It creates, momentarily, a public or a community conjoined through a multitude of partial, situated knowledges, sustaining contradictions inherent to a variety of rooted partial vantage points.
Hadas Kedar is an artist and curator based in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and the Negev Desert and currently a PhD Candidate at the Research Platform for Curatorial and Cross-Disciplinary Cultural Studies, Department of Art at the University of Reading (UK) with the Postgraduate Programme in Curating (Zurich). Kedar established a residency program and contemporary art center in the city of Arad in the Negev Desert.
She has participated in exhibitions including: Summer Harvest (Israel Museum) and Rulers (Camden Arts Centre, London, in collaboration with Alex Schady) and curated exhibitions, including Anti Anti: Between Art, Knowledge and Power (Tel Aviv University), Time is Out of Joint (ARTLV Biennale in Tel Aviv – Jaffa), and Israeli Shots (Asperger Gallery, Berlin). She has also chaired and participated in conferences, including “Art, Power and Knowledge” (Tel Aviv Museum of Art), “Protest and Art” (Israel Museum), “Contemporary Political Art” (Van Leer Institute), and “Warsaw Under Construction” (2015, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw). An essay of hers, “The Art of Free-Portism: A Disappear-ing Act” will appear in the volume Collecting & Provenance published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in mid-2021.
Since 2019, Kedar has been the director and curator of “Studio Bank”—a temporary art complex, a joint venture with the Tel Aviv – Jaffa municipality, comprised of work and exhibition space for over fifty artists from a wide range of disciplines. She is a staff member of The Mandel Center for Leadership in the Negev and is a lecturer in the Visual and Material Culture Department, Bezalel Academy of Art and Design.