Beyond the exhibition: a vessel for self-reflexive curating in the Mediterranean
thesisposted on 18.05.2017, 15:02 by Viviana Checchia
This thesis is the written result of a practice-based PhD. The thesis presents a ‘located’ model of curatorial practice that aims to actively benefit the cultural landscape of host regions. It challenges existing definitions of ‘the curatorial’, taking a multidisciplinary understanding of curatorial practice and evaluating curatorial methods in light of recent geo-political developments. Concerned with the effects of changes in European cultural policy, and the geopolitical position of the Mediterranean basin, this thesis evaluates contemporary curatorial practices in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership context and, through practice-based interventions, suggests ways to develop situated curatorial processes, appropriate to their geographical context. Specifically, I argue that the temporary, large-scale exhibition formats financially supported by EU policies, such as the European Regional Development Fund, are not necessarily the most appropriate or beneficial to the cultural development of their host regions. I therefore propose an alternative set of methods, tools and considerations for a self-reflexive model of curatorial practice. This proposal takes the form of a curatorial initiative ‘Vessel’; a long-term practice-based research project that seeks models of practice that effectively enable local engagement in cultural production, allowing culture to flourish independently of larger hegemonies. Several of Vessel’s experimental initiatives are presented here, and appraised in order to build a theoretical understanding of ‘located’ curatorial practices that can inform alternative approaches. This research is developed through case studies of Manifesta, Liminal Spaces, Matadero and Intermediae; all of them testing grounds for 'Vessel', a curatorial initiative based in Puglia, Italy. Puglia has been chosen as a site for this research because of its central role in the current Mediterranean situation. This thesis illustrates the theoretical, geographical and historical context of this investigative project, and documents the evolution and outcomes of the curatorial initiative attempted. This thesis represents the first practice-based study of contemporary curatorial practices in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EUROMED) context, which seeks primarily to develop situated curatorial processes appropriate to their geographical context. The thesis discusses aspects of human geography, cultural studies, social science and European studies, all filtered through practical implementation and reflective examination of the main discipline of interest: curatorial studies. This research acknowledges the role of the curator as a mediator between cultural producers and the political and bureaucratic conditions for cultural production. This role offers the opportunity to develop an awareness of the potential influence of those conditions on the artists, their work and their audiences. In other words, the curator is in a unique position to have an overview of the practices, interests and concerns of cultural producers, as well as those of policy makers and administrative bodies, and any potential conflicts of interest that may arise. Thus, curators are in a privileged position to operate as proactive agents, particularly when they observe that cultural policies are not achieving the aim of fostering cultural development. This thesis, therefore, invites curators to consider their responsibility to critically assess the long-term effects of their practice on cultural and epistemological development in Europe. The thesis is divided into four chapters. Chapter 1 presents the research questions, clarifying their terminology and broadly discussing their rationale, context and theoretical focus. The chapter questions current EU cultural and economic strategies and suggests that they may be misguided. In Chapter 2, the level of analysis shifts from the geo-political context to a more specific situation: the position of art practitioners involved in the above situation, and the outcomes produced. Since the exhibition format is popular and has been envisioned by the EU cultural agenda as one of the most effective instruments for creating a dialogue between different geographical areas, Chapter 2 challenges this understanding of the format and the ways of production embedded in it. Chapter 3 presents a series of alternative curatorial approaches coming from the South and related to the four theoretical pillars of the self-reflexive approach: geography, time, process and epistemology. Starting with the methods used to investigate the case studies, the chapter traces connections between theory and practice. The chapter moves through close readings of the alternative case studies and comparative analysis, to the use of self- reflexive practice. Chapter 4 is at the heart of the thesis: it presents the methodologies underpinning both the approach to case study analysis and the practical research. This involves the curatorial proposal put forward and practised through Vessel. Vessel is therefore presented, in Chapter 4, as a self-reflexive model of located curatorial practice that is appropriate for located curatorial engagement. The conclusion addresses the capacity of curatorial practices to cultivate local epistemologies. I propose the outcome of the Vessel research project, and associated case studies as a set of curatorial methods and considerations for a ‘located’ model of curatorial practice.
- The Arts, English and Drama