All posts by Laura S

Después de Guatemala Después: Three Questions Post-Launch

1. What does the visitor take away?

In a recent interview with Radhika for a different class project she mentioned (wildly paraphrasing here) that when she plans exhibitions she is constantly looking for that “thing” that lingers. She used the metaphor of a burr that you might find tucked away in your sock at the end of a long day. It is the “thing” that follows you around without having even realized it.

After the Guatemala Después launch, I’m still not entirely sure what that thing is. The works in the exhibit are more or less impactful in their own ways but I’m not sure together what they have to say about memory, healing, or trauma. This may be because there is no one thing– people are still struggling to negotiate the past in their own unique and different ways. This is a fair, and yet as curators I wonder how we could have better assembled these disparate elements into a coherent whole that offers something larger than any one art work could have done alone.

How could we have created a stronger presence for the exhibit?

Due to time/communication constraints I don’t think we really got to take advantage of the huge window facing fifth avenue. If our exhibit was about trying to make these issues more visible and engage a wider audience I think it was a missed opportunity not to consider how we would draw in visitors from the outside.

This street and the interior hallway get a lot of foot traffic but in my observations, few people actually lingered or attempted to understand what was in front of them. Or on the other hand if they did try to engage they were often confused or bewildered. Sitting in the hallway for our design symposium this past weekend, I had quite a few individuals approach me to ask what this work was and why the video was being projected. This was both a tactical problem as the sign for the video was not easy to distinguish, as well as a conceptual problem as people couldn’t easily draw associations and connections between the curatorial statement and the art works in front of them.

Furthermore, in my time at the gallery I saw almost no one (outside of opening night) attempting to truly engage with the timeline. This was likely because the text was quite small but also because reading a heavy amount of text in such a transient space is difficult. So again, how could we have created a more dynamic and magnetic presence?

How can performance art retain it’s performativity?

La Máquina de la Fortuna and Hipnosis are both pieces that draw heavily on this notion of an “intervention.” Their pieces look at the enunciative possibilities of words and language to change our relationships with past, present and future. A challenge for most pieces like this is how to bring their messages to life in the exhibition space. La Máquina de la Fortuna encourages interaction, and provides an interesting form of engagement as the visitor must press a button to receive their fortune. It’s a simple gesture that could likely be expanded in more nuanced ways but this tactile experience is still enjoyable.

This is in more of a contrast to work like Regina Galindo’s, whose intervention exists solely in video and photographic evidence from the event. Her process is captured in the documentation from that day and yet this doesn’t fully reveal the complexities of this work. I really enjoyed the “Take a Photo, Tell a Story” project at the Prison Obscura exhibition– the ways it blended, audio, image and space to create a more visceral experience. Perhaps it would be worth exploring other models like this that effectively translate public interventions into more sensorial representations.

Decolonial Ways of Seeing (and Creating) an Exhibition

There is an awkward but perhaps healthy tension in the exhibition of artworks relating to resistance, indigeneity and repression.  As a mode of display that first began as cabinets of curiosities, exhibitions and museums have historically been a space for the colonial class to share the objects and artifacts of their conquest. Still, Terry Smith argues that since the 1950’s, “Art exhibitions have played a major role within colonial and national liberation struggles.” He argues that as decolonization has emerged as a major driver of social, political, and cultural change, “Survey exhibitions in major galleries and the biennial form itself became an important medium to both manifest and examine this world transforming force.”

While exhibition and biennials can certainly create spaces to “examine” and investigate the effects of decolonization, they can also easily become spectacles that lack the rigor or criticality needed to spark this deeper engagement. Derived from the Latin word exhibere “to show, display, present,”  or “hold out, hold forth,” exhibitions are quite literally a vehicle for viewers to see, look and sometimes even gawk. However, while seeing is an important element of the exhibition, I wonder if there ways we can encourage visitors to be seen?

As Kency Cornejo points out in Indigeneity and Decolonial Seeing, “Why is Indigeneity relegated to a romantic past, one that is to be depicted, that serves to inspire artists and that is only to be seen?” The distancing format of the exhibition and the literal distance between New York and Guatemala will be a challenge for creating an experience that does not simply reinforce this muted past. However, as curators and exhibition designers I wonder what the spatial, narrative and even performative strategies may be for moving visitors beyond this mode of passive consumption to one of a more embodied presence?

As Paul O’Neill states exhibitions can be, “Political tools for maintaining the status quo – modern ritual settings that reinforce identities, whether these be artistics, avant-garde, gender, racial, subcultural, regional, national, international, global, etc.” The exhibition thus still retains its original flair for divisiveness. Yet, at the same time, O’Neill acknowledges the emergence of a more dialogical approach, noting that exhibitions, “Have the potential to activate discursive processes that enable dialogical spaces of negotiation between curators, artists, and their publics.” In this light, exhibitions can be spaces that both close-down and open up new way channels for communication. How we create this openness in both our design decisions and processes will be an important question as we move towards implementation.

Curating what is no longer there

“I cannot write poetry. Poetry no longer exists inside me” Javier Sicilia.

How to remember that which has been taken, that which is lost not simply during but in the aftermath of terror and violence? How to give form to something that is essentially a gaping hole, a void that may never be filled? This week’s reading further reminded me of the monumental task at hand when attempting to curate an exhibit that dwells on such incredible loss.

Across each of the different narratives in the Memory issue of Revista, Harvard Review of Latin America, is a pain that is at once collectively understood and yet so personally experienced. For a ninety-year-old mother it is a memory kept alive by the light bulb left on by her disappeared son, still for others it is a taxi cab that memorializes the drivers who lost their lives at the hands of the paramilitary and guerrilla leaders. In the absence of what was and no longer is, loss manifests itself in unique and varied forms.

Diving into the curatorial discourse of Paul O’ Neill in, “The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture” provides an interesting lens to examine our attempts to bring together these varied and distinct memories. As he notes the exhibition is a medium that is part of a “consciousness industry, (with) complex tools of persuasion that aim to prescribe a set of values and social relations to their audiences.” (90). I am greatly interested in the kinds of values we as curators will impose on this work, either unconsciously or not. How throughout his process of co-investigation can we “productively engage with the past” as Pamela Yates points out, in ways that animate rather than overshadow this experiences.

Laura Sanchez Bio

Hi everyone, I’m a first years masters student in the Design studies Program. Originally from Oakland, California I’ve spent most of the last six years working in urban development, philanthropy, and digital media. As an undergraduate I studied History and World Arts and Cultural Studies at UCLA. Always fascinated by why people behave the way they do, or why societies function as they do– I constantly find myself interpreting the present through the lens of the past.

This appreciation for the past is a large part of what drew me to this course. An often invisible yet inescapable force, I’m curious about the ways that history and memory become embodied in designed objects, spaces and social practices. In these resulting forms, how does design simultaneously reflect and project a specific set of values, beliefs and behaviors? What are the ethical implications for designers with respect to fully engaging with both personal and shared histories when designing? How can design and designers make the past more present in order to open up new spaces for critical reflection, contemplation, and even cooperation? I look forward to exploring these questions and many more throughout the semester.