Opening Reflections

Unfortunately, on short notice this week I was not able to visit the gallery with a friend to engage in a discussion.  I will try to do this later on this week, I definitely see the merit in doing this to understand our “museography” because there are some particular items I am curious about and how they are translated by a public that is more distanced from this project than the class and I.  My main question is how the public interacts with the timeline and projected piece in the hallway.  I wonder if it is blatantly obvious that this is a part of our exhibit, particularly the projection as it is located farthest from the entrance to the exhibit.  At the same time, it engages students who naturally flow through the building and are aware that there are often shows exhibited in the space, which I have witnessed with past exhibits and with ours.

I also have some questions that may seem obvious, but have not thought about until the opening. In general, I am curious about how the public at large engages with our exhibit, meaning outside of The New School Community.  The location of our exhibit in the Aronson Gallery is a great location and the window looking in is welcoming and inviting to the public.  However, access to the public in reality seems somewhat limited.  In order to gain access to the exhibit students have to use their ID cards to first enter the building.  I understand why this security check is in place, but also wonder what effect this has on the outside public coming to visit the gallery.  I would think it would be an immediate deterrent and have some logistical questions about whether and how the security guards allow the public into the gallery (especially when there are not specific events going, like the grand opening).

Before the exhibit was installed, I wrote that a major curatorial consideration would be not only how we tell the story of Guatemala after the Genocide, but how we could guarantee that certain projects voices weren’t heard more than others.  This is where the O’Neill reading was particularly helpful, especially his idea of “The Exhibition as Form”, which focuses specifically with group exhibitions, like ours.  I think we were able to address this issue which was difficult- the challenge of having a cohesive exhibition that allowed the works to still speak their individual stories, but would need to hear more feedback from the audience and how the artists who presented work felt that they were understood.

O’Neill’s categorization of spaces within the exhibit as being either background, foreground, and middle ground was helpful to me in understanding our group exhibit.  The background is the structure/architecture of the space, this area was easier to figure out. I mentioned the hallway and window structures before.  I think the window structure was especially helpful and crucial to ensuring that more projects were able to be shown in the foreground and not fall by the wayside.  Pointing the microphones to the street, as if poised to ask a question was a great way to give this piece a more of a headlining position .  If the window was a wall, this piece would be relegated to the farthest corner from the entrance and may have gotten less traffic.

I am interested to observe the public interact with the exhibit and will reflect more when I engage a friend about the exhibit. what do they

Post-Exhibition Reflection

Upon arriving at the exhibition opening I was struck by how minimal, muted and sparse the space seemed. It was airy and each piece was more or less thoughtfully laid out. Given the gravity of the subject matter, and the sheer number of artists being represented, I expected the exhibit to feel more chaotic and populated. The overall layout was palatable, almost unassuming and the placement of each piece felt purposeful. If I were to offer any criticism concerning the “museography” of the exhibition, it would mostly concern the language/writing of the placards and the timeline, which was overdone and poorly designed. In addition to the strange color combinations, which were distracting and aesthetically off-putting, there was far too much information on the timeline without the necessary context to properly situate the content. If the timeline were to be redone, I would have it heavily stripped and make sure that the language presented was meaningful; illustrating quality over merely sheer quantity.

Regarding the setup, “The Metamorphosis of Devaluation,” felt incredibly contrived and confused despite our best efforts to bring integrity and authenticity to the work. The receipts were pinned as flippantly to the sidewall as one would place memos on a corkboard in a conference room and the quality of all the prints in the entire exhibition was blatantly poor. There was a craft (DIY) element to how things were presented which, depending on taste, could be perceived as either charming or cheap. To improve the presentation of The Metamorphosis of Devaluation, I would actually take the whole project down and completely reconstruct the concept. This would obviously mean that the entire design and delivery would be different. The other work that I was equally unmoved by in terms of both its visual layout and labeling was the “Cliff Writing” by Yasmin Hage. I do not think there is a lot of clarity of thought behind this project and its manifestation was a sincere stretch to me. The intent to illustrate “ancient text in classic Mayan language,” had potential, however, unfortunately the project as a whole simply fell flat.

Alternatively, I did think that Sitio-Sena’s work was well displayed and I could immediately see the work and thought that went into the project. That said, I wasn’t really taken by it and rather immediately thought about the incredible work I have seen being done with encoded textiles and “coded stories” by other artists. Sitio-Sena reminded me of the work of Guillermo Bert, however, his artistic voice has far more presence and intentionality behind it. Bert designs hand-woven, large-scale tapestries, which, combine contemporary bar codes, indigenous design methods, and the stories of native peoples in order to both celebrate and revive traditional art forms. Guillermo’s work is both clear and incredibly layered and his production seamlessly conveys the intricate histories of indigenous weavers in Southern Chile. Sitio-Sena was successful in its depiction of a collaborative art project, but I personally failed to see the analogy between what happened with African slaves and the Underground Railroad in The United States and current migration between the U.S. and Guatemala. I found this element of Sitio-Sena to be incredibly problematic in myriad ways.

Lastly, two works that I did find compelling were K’ak’ Mul (Nuevamente. Otra Vez)/ K’ak’ Mul (Once More, Again) and Quema. Although very literal, Quenma was visually beautiful and displayed a vulnerability which, I found refreshing, compared to other pieces in Guatemala Despues. It alluded to other historic cases of persecution, censorship and book burning, therefore, it was memorable to me. Moreover, K’ak’ Mul was independently powerful, however, I’m afraid that given its placement, most people fail to take note of it. The piece was a modestly constructed video clip that showed the commemoration of activities conducted at the peak of Mt. Alaska, where a massacre of protesters took place in 2012. These two pieces provoked me on both an intellectual and emotional level, however as a whole and given the thematic nature of the artworks, the exhibition fell short. No one narrative was coherently crafted and as a result, I think a lot of value became lost in translation. Once I left and crossed the street, almost immediately, I stopped thinking about what I had just seen.

EXHIBITION DESING REFELXION

Katerine Vasquez, Guatemala Después

Putting together an exhibition design is something new for me. I will have to admit that it has been a roller-coaster. Interacting with artists in different country, completing last minutes assignments and following last minutes decisions in time were challenging task. However, every single student in our class was strong enough to overcome those obstacles and continued on with what now we call “Guatemala Despues, Exhibit Design”.

Throughout the course my interest has always been the Guatemalan community. My interest is/was to engage the Guatemalan community directly and hear their perspectives as part of the exhibit project. I thought we would have Guatemalan students at The New School speak about their past experiences. I also thought of extending an invitation to our Exhibit Design to Guatemalan natives in NYC, followed by interviewing them and hearing their intake on what we have done.

Even though we were asked not to pick an artwork that we worked on, I found very interesting the voiceover of the artist in Guatemala. While doing the translation I was able to feel a connection with them. Yet, I feel that this audio would have a greater impact on its audience if the public were able to see the facial expression of each of the artist. The artist tone of voice convey emotion and the words coming out of their mouth transports you to the time and location of the event. As filmed documentary student, I believe that the best way to understand one culture is by visualizing it yourself.

As Brenda stated, in her article “Getting to great ideas: Brenda’s fab five activities for fearless exhibit designers”, See the Story around you”. She gives the sample of a Bodega (Convenience store). She sees these small groceries stores “as if it were a person sharing a story about its neighborhood, incorporate objects, juxtaposition. Content and a deep awareness of visitor experience”, I believe this was accomplished with the Guatemalan dishes such as the atol and tacos. However, the emotional aspect of the exhibit was missing.

Overall with food, videos and quilts the exhibition design was able to illustrate how Guatemalan communities share the same story, culture or experience. Yet, I feel that the gallery leaves too many unanswered questions. The whole purpose of an Exhibition design is to provoke and emotional impact and educated its audience. I believe this could have been accomplished even more if more people from the Guatemalan community were involved in the project. Perhaps, if there were more images on the wall, or if the posters were bigger and all the videos had sound (voice).

GuatemalaDESPUES – project and process| YOU’VE BEEN SCHOOLED!

Guatemala Despues has been a whirl-wind, real-world education about the inner workings of art curation. It ask’s the questions; What does it mean to execute a show that has many artists, and how do you facilitate doing that? How do you address a culture not your own, with sensitivity and purpose? And also, what is meaning in the context of contemporary art?

Ultimately, how do you make a show cohesive and relevant in the aftermath of a devastation that affected a whole countries psyche?

It’s a huge undertaking, PERIOD!

As a class, we have been a part of that process, the messy, sometimes “shitty” process that can be equally rich and rewarding, when all is said and done. I witnessed, the arguments, and dissatisfaction as some things, because of time constraints and logistics, fell by the wayside. But at the end of the day, when it was most critical, we  ALL stepped up, and did what we had to do, for better or for worse. This is no different from any production experience, in my opinion.

Despite disagreements, when it came time to announce the shows opening on Thursday night, everyone was professional, and did what they had to do. It was something to be respected and learned from. We’ve had readings, speakers, and visits to other exhibits, yet NOTHING, to me, compares to the value of the process of putting together this exhibit, however problematic.

This is school, and we have been schooled.

A couple of days ago I brought my friend Erica Milde, a student in the Media Studies graduate program, to our exhibit and recorded her response and critique of Guatemala Despues.

Reflections

The art of textile and textile tradition in Guatemala has in spite of years of conflict remained authentic. Maya textiles are, and have been, a significant factor in the culture and ethnic identity of Guatemala. Weaving with the garments that came out of it, but nonetheless the act of weaving itself represents and embodies knowledge passing through generations. Artists of younger generations working with textile as a medium, such as Quique Lee, have however an approach to the medium that has less to do with traditional Maya Textiles, and more to do with the story of Guatemala during the years of conflict. In an interview last year he described his work with textiles in relation to memory: “One of the recurrent topics in my pieces is memory, and how an individual remembrance relates to a collective sub consciousness. I express myself through textiles and embroidery. Therefore my war-related works might seem superficial, but they reflect another point of view, sometimes forgotten, of what I see as a collective memory.”

For the exhibition at the New School I am a part of the group working with the textile artists in Sitio-Seña, where one of the members of the group is the artist Quique Lee. Sitio-Seña are working with quilts and codes to tell the story of how symbols allegedly were used to guide transmigrants from Guatemala to the United States for the exhibition in New York. The artists in Guatemala have been working with their project for a long period of time, they have gathered a great amount of work, both research, artwork and specific plans for the exhibition. During our conversations and with our correspondence we have narrowed our contribution to be an activity outside the gallery space, a walking experience in the city. The walk will be designed by The Walk Exchange, and both Sitio-Seña and The Walk Exchange are interested in arranging a walk in Guatemala as well.

As Guatemala has a long tradition in textiles, and artists in Guatemala currently use textiles as a technique to express their artwork, this has become to be something I would like to learn more about. In addition to Sitio-Seña and Quique Lee, I also found Jessica Kaire’s work with textiles in her project CONFORT Series to be interesting as it addresses the violence that occurred in Guatemala as an antithetical proposal. The CONFORT Series is a fictional brand of soft and warlike sculptures in textile. According to Jessica Kaire in her talk at our class-session, her work is addressing the violent history in a different manner than artists from earlier generations; the seriousness is still there, but amongst younger artists a there is also a sense of humor that was not present earlier.

Museums Today: A Glossy Curatorial Redesign

The juxtaposition between the museum’s Victorian façade and its high-tech contents is both jarring and depending on your personal taste, aesthetically off-putting. The Cooper Hewitt’s grand reopening has turned the classic design of a museum on its head and digitized it, replacing minimalism with technological overdesign; quiet with restless rustling and constant din. Everything about the museum’s massive transformation is completely new and encourages digital consumption. Upon entry, every visitor is equipped with an electronic Pen that records information that can be later accessed by the user online. It “collects objects,” enables the visitor to interact with myriad ultra high-definition-touch screen digital worktables and tracks content. In addition to the Pen, which the museum notes is its “most innovative and integral new tool,” most patrons couple the device with their personal cellphones; screens, therefore, ubiquitously stand between the visitor and whatever is directly in front of them. The amount of technology at the Cooper Hewitt is overwhelming and many of the additions scream of design for design’s sake. According to New York Times Museum journalist David Wallis, “Many cultural institutions have also turned to digital technology to transform static labels into compelling interactive attractions.[1]” The Cooper Hewitt purposefully underwent this monumental shift and extended it into all aspect of visitor engagement. It’s not a space where a visitor can simply walk in and explore with ease and it’s definitely not a museum where one would go seeking quiet contemplation, rather, it’s the exact opposite. Obtrusive informational briefings are required in order to train visitors how to experience the space before they can even begin exploring. Understandably, for some, the technological advancements add to their overall experience. The tools temper their wandering attention spans and reframe the museum into a more playful and accessible place. However, for others who go to museums seeking solace and to be with things personally, peacefully, and without constant distractions, the smart devices and high-tech immersion rooms greatly take away from the traditional museum experience.

Museumgoers have changed and museums are rapidly altering their approach to the public in order to remain relevant and build patronage, especially among younger audiences. Museums tend to serve as a respite, a break from the constant distractions of the outside world, however, today, there is no longer any separation. Museums, like libraries and other cultural institutions were once places people could go to escape from the buzzing anxieties of reality. They were places to simply be present, introspective and quiet. Holland Cotter of the New York Times, poignantly writes in her article, Just Being There: Art is what’s in front of your nose. You might not know it, looking at a cellphone, “They (museum patrons) move through galleries fast and with a new purpose – cellphones in hand, they’re on Instagram treks and selfie hunts – and with a new viewing rhythm: Stop, point, pose, snap. If you want, you can even take the tour remotely, virtually, as more and more institutions make their collections accessible on the Internet.”[2] The Cooper Hewitt’s newly renovated galleries cater to this type of audience. According to their new literature, each gallery, “promises new experiences, not only in the way content is displayed, but in how it can be navigated, positioned, interpreted, and seen in relation to collection objects not in the physical galleries. Our exhibitions invite interaction, play, and participation.[3]” These changes push the boundary of what a museum could be, and also, poses the question of what will be the museum of the future? Or as Cotter asks, “What exactly in an age of expanded digital access, are museums audiences seeing? Through electronic media – cellphone screens, laptops, Pintrerst and Skype- we can survey an extraordinary amount of art, see how it is displayed in museum galleries, zoom in on close-up details. But what are we missing by not putting these filters aside and just standing in front of the thing itself (F34)?”

I asked myself these same questions. The Cooper Hewitt is a lively, noisy and highly interactive space that does not invite thoughtful discovery, but rather, encourages active and immediate engagement. It’s a museum that would likely be more attractive to extroverts, and people who wish to talk through their experiences with others. I spent the majority of my time looking for quiet corners where I could personally explore Beautiful Users, an exhibit that highlights designers addressing contemporary human needs and desires, without being molested by other visitors trolling around for their next photo op. It was an enervating experience, which left me to question my position on how museums ought to be configured for the twenty-first century in order to pacify diverse needs.

The ground floor Process Lab is a hands-on learning space aimed at immersing visitors in the design process. Its digital and physical activities are engaging, however, design is presented with a glossy Apple product finish. The why and intentionality of the space is missing, leaving visitors to simply make because that’s what their guided to do. The Cooper Hewitt implemented the lab in order to enable visitors to “Play Designer,” nonetheless, even though it may be an entertaining way to experience the space, it does not provoke museumgoers to actually critically think about design, its implications or consequences which is a dangerous trend within the industry.

Additionally, the high-tech Immersion Room, made me feel as if I were in a design “incubator,” trade show or even lab as opposed to a museum. The room offers visitors an interactive experience and provides them with the tools necessary to sketch their own designs and then project them onto the walls. The shift into the visitor as curator has its merits, however, as a paying visitor, I prefer an educated specialist to subtly guide me through a gallery by establishing a thoughtfully designed floor plan and curatorial statement. Although, the Pen, when it works, is useful to collect large amounts of data, I am skeptical as to how many patrons actually go home and then access what they preserved through their Pen. That said, the Cooper Hewitt was conceived as a “working museum” for designers to engage in an immersive and interactive design experience where direct physical engagement was viewed as a critical part of the creative process. It’s a museum that will not satisfy all audiences, however, for those who seek a “twenty-first” century museum-incubator experience, the Cooper Hewitt is successful and provides a truly unique space to explore.

Museums ought to be seen with the eye and not through a Pen or lens. The Cooper Hewitt’s new identity and reconfiguration as more of a participatory design resource center has fundamentally redesigned the way visitors view its collection. For some, these alterations are absolutely revelatory, and represent a broader cultural transition. However, for people who are less technologically adept, I believe they miss out on the totality of what the museum has to offer. Ultimately, although I personally have an affinity for technology, when it comes to museums, I would rather be left alone to look at what’s in front of me without a filter.

[1] David Wllis, “You Are Here Now, Looking At This, New York Times (New York, NY), March 19th, 2015.

[2] Holand Cotter, “Just Being There, New York Times (New York, NY), March 19th,       2015.

[3] Cooper Hewitt Design Journal, November 2014

Reflections & End of Semester Proposals

The skillset that is most new to me this semester is the curatorial skillset.  Where I found myself struggling the most so far this semester was distinguishing the line between artist and/or curator and authorship, in particular the role that the curator plays in that authorship.  For our midterm presentation I felt uncomfortable putting words in the artist’s mouth.  This feeling eventually assuaged when we were able to communicate directly with the artist and get her feedback (we spoke most directly with Yasmin).  This interaction with the artist made me realize that these relationships with artists and interpersonal skills are essential to the curator being able to do their job correctly.  This seems obvious, but experiencing it firsthand allowed me to learn about the intricacies that curating demands.  I am excited to see how this process develops this semester on such a tight timeline.

This uncomfortableness is already something that has begun to change and I hope that by the end of the semester I will feel more comfortable stepping into a curatorial role  with more confidence.  I believe that more exposure, firsthand experience and education about the art of curating will eventually get me closer and this goal will be attained come May.  One of the best ways for me to do this is by focusing on the themes of memory (both historical and personal), storytelling and narrative which I feel most drawn to in this course and investing in projects like El olvido que no sabe es olvido and Me eschuchas(Can you hear me)? which deal directly with this topic.

Outside of this class I have been extremely interested in studying augmented reality as a medium.  In particular, I have been interested in personally using augmented reality to bring memories and wishes to the visible realm through virtual objects. This semester I am working on a project for another class where I am writing a fictional first person story that is augmented in order to explore memory.  In this story I will reveal my overarching narrative, to be somewhat revisionist.  I am hoping to use narrative and augmented reality to explore the important things that we forget to say, that we may or may not realize we aren’t saying when we tell stories.

By the end of the semester I think I would like to write a critical comparative essay about how different types of DIY art invasions (augmented reality being one of these) and invasions of space (like the performance art we have been exposed to this semester) can be used and are used as forms of protest and social activism.  I would also want to further look at how digital interventions contribute and can be employed, while also considering the digital divide and what this mean in terms of artistic interventions. This essay would be a way for me to continue to explore where art, personal narrative and public space intersect.

Another idea that I had for a media piece about Guatemala Despues would be augmenting our own exhibit.  When we spoke with Radhika and Lydia last week, they mentioned that a critical contextual piece, and one of the more challenging aspects of our exhibit, would be to make connections to the United State’s complicity in the Guatemalan Genocide and silenced history, and our ability stateside to be pretty wholly oblivious to this.

I think I would like to create a piece that would further reveal this. Using AR to do this would be powerful in the context if the NY exhibit because of the medium’s nature as well as the concept of not only Guatemala’s silencing of the past, but how the US helped silence this past.  Many times DIY tactics and DIY art invasions are employed as subversive tactics.  In the case of our exhibit, which is already seeking to subvert historic memory in the context of Guatemala it would be used to further reveal how it is that we could have so easily silenced the past and ways that we can open up this particular dialogue regarding the US.

Reflections 03.18.15

My involvement with “Guatemala Despues” began over a semester ago, in  Spring 2014, and since, with each new speaker we have been introduced to, my interests within Guatemala have broadened. Because of the high volume of performance/ installation art, I, a self proclaimed non-artist, have seen the art coming out of Guatemala as not typical of what’s around. Artists like Regina Jose Galindo, whose 2003 piece “¿Quién Puede Borrar las Huellas? “ have shown me a bold and socially aware community that is fed up with the erasure of history and demand to be acknowledged, even if it means leaving a trail of actual human blood in front of the national palace. Time and again we have been introduced to a strong aesthetic, a medium I appreciate very much so.

 

The aspects of Guatemalan society that have intrigued me have been race centered; understanding the race relations in a country whose horrific genocide was led with goals of wiping out indigenous groups, whose horrific genocide, that lasted 36 years, was left unknown to citizens from towns over, even for years after. The race relations of Guatemala have been presented as strict, with many rules that are understood within the country. With the majority of the country identifying as indigenous, mestizo and/or ladino, but the power laying in the hands of the minority-white (affluent) community the race relations seem poorly distributed throughout the city.

 

My personal project along with my partner, Novel Scholars, Black Banana, aims to represent the  black community of Guatemala, a marginalized group within the country. The black identity is part of the latin american identity. The majority of slaves were transferred to Latin America, migrating throughout the Americas and Caribbean. Guatemala included. Today, there is a black community in coastal areas of central america, some countries with stronger representation than others. Guatemala’s representation of their black community is seen as a disturbance, something they have forgotten about but that is still around. Our project rose out of what we noticed as a lack of black stories from a country that we know to have multiple ethnic groups. It aims to  explore this absence in Latin American art curations, particularly in Central America.


I would like to continue my exploration of race relations in Guatemala, specifically how it ties into the memory and identity of the people, through interviews captured on film. My goal is to collect footage of Guatemalans talking about the race relations within the country and how it has influenced how they see themselves.

Reflections 2.25.15

In reading the supplemental articles that were provided by Brenda Cowen, our guest speaker today, I learned a lot about the different ways that narratives and story forms can be exhibited in different ways, to create different connections with different audiences.  I fell in love with the idea of  Wilson’s, “Mining the Museum” and how he mocked the museum while using the museology as a medium to undertake social justice issues of institutionalized racism.

Of course, all the time while reading for this course I try to draw connections to our project, Guatemala Despues. The setting of his exhibit taking place in a museum, while critiquing museums was critical.  Similarly, I think our location is critical too.

It was noted of Wilson’s exhibit that he, “has formidable narrative skills and a talent for fashioning installations that pack a punch more powerful than the individual components”.  This was a technique that made was crucial for his overarching goal of the exhibit, but seems to be the opposite of ours. This made me consider how we will tell our story, how can we guarantee that certain projects voices aren’t heard more than others.  This is where the O’Neill reading was particularly helpful, especially his idea of “The Exhibition as Form”, which focuses specifically with group exhibitions, like ours.

This is where he introduces the idea of the exhibition space as always being a narrative space and the exhibition as a spatial medium for thought and experimentation.  He further categorized these spaces as being either background, foreground, and middle ground.  The background is is the structure/architecture of the space, this area is easier to figure out for us, I think.  It becomes more difficult when deciding what will be our middle ground-where the audience partially interacts and the foreground- where there is more direct interaction between the viewer and the art.  How we differentiate between our foreground and middle ground elements will be more difficult, and this is where the curatorial process and role of the curator as a storyteller becomes most apparent to me.

Curatorial Practice – Mining the Museum

Reading Paul O’Neil’s chapter on the evolution of curatorial practice, discourse and design, I could not help but think of artist Fred Wilson’s work in 1992 in the Maryland Historical Society aptly named “Mining the Museum” in which he used artifacts found in the museum vault that laid bare the hypocrisies and omissions dominant in art discourse at the time –and present today.  Wilson combed through the museum collection selecting artifacts that he juxtaposed with pieces from the same period that were “hidden” in deep the institution. His selection included a collection of intricately cast silver tea sets (see below) juxtaposed with a set of slave shackles in the center, thus calling into question the exhibition site (a former slave state) and curatorial position of the museum as purveyor of a dominant historical and cultural narrative.     tumblr_mm4ugcZ48r1qjo3peo2_500

I also thought the class might be interested in a critique of an exhibit called Re-Inventing Abstraction at the MoMA a few years ago. It speaks to some of the issues discussed in class the other day about identity and cultural erasure in Guatemala. The work in the exhibition was wonderful, however the curatorial lens was faulty to say the least! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/g-roger-denson/colonizing-abstraction-mo_b_2683159.html   

NMDS 5296 / CRN 7227, Spring 2015, School of Media Studies, The New School