Believing in a Different Tomorrow

Believing in a Different Tomorrow
Editor : Paul O’ Neill, Simon Sheikh, Lucy Steeds, Mick Wilson
Paperback : 544 pages
Publisher : The MIT Press (October 22, 2019)
Language : English
Reviewed by : Grady Trexler

Curating After the Global: Roadmaps for the Present is a recently published collection of essays reproduced from presentations at a symposium of the same name in 2017 in France. As Gerrie Van Noord, the managing editor, remarks at the end of this lengthy volume, “speaking at a conference is not the same as writing a text to be published,” and this proves to be both the book’s strength and weakness. On the one hand, as Van Noord points out, it provides a range of viewpoints and a snapshot of current discourse in the curatorial field; on the other hand, the book is dense, and difficult to read as an entire volume cover-to-cover. Furthermore, Curating offers no map between the various entries, except for grouping the essays into three different sections. In this review, I seek to merely provide a brief overview of each section, and mention the entries that I see as being particularly strong, as well as highlighting any themes that arise.

Section I is entitled “After the Global: Diagnoses of the Current Conjecture.” Contributions here deal with the meaning of “After the Global,” and in general provide a brief overview of the state of affairs in current decades with regards to globalization. Some essays mention curatorial theory and the art scene; others barely touch the topic. In general – and this holds throughout the whole anthology – contributions are stronger if they pick a specific event/ example and develop it throughout the whole essay.  

I was transfixed by Kristin Ross’ “The Seventh Wonder of the Zad,” which develops a theory of commune living as a way into a new, better internationalism. Ross takes as a case study the “zad,” a group of people inhabiting and working together on a group of farmlands and wetlands which are the target of a government project to create a new international airport. The zad, according to Ross, is a good example of the sort of communal living which is necessary in the face of “the global” – the act of staying as a political act. Ross’ contribution succeeds where others fail because it strikes the right balance between theoretical ideas about “After the Global” and the specific example of the zad (and related historical events.) I also enjoyed Qalandar Bux Memon’s “Zone of Being and Non-Being,” and Nkule Mabaso’s “Globaphobia,” which both deal with specific contemporary artists, mostly ignored by the “global art scene,” as examples of the kind of art that curators should be interested in. 

Section II, “After the Global: Exhibition Histories,” presents a series of entries about past exhibitions and their ramifications in an increasingly globalized world. This section is the most interesting and digestible. Every contribution is linked by a study of previous curatorial action, both good and bad. Lucy Steeds “Projeto Terra” tracks a single piece of art backwards through time and interrogates the legitimacy of the Biennale/ Triennale system in finding and defining “good” art. A few entries present positive or negative examples of past international art events. Grace Samboh’s “What Does the Elephant Remember? How Did the Ant Win?” examines Indonesia’s contemporary art scene and wonders if the state’s institutions provide an accessible and accurate look at art history, and whether or not artist-run spaces provide an adequate solution.

In the introduction to Section II, Steeds writes, “I don’t believe any of the contributors … would comfortably own the label ‘historian,’” but indeed, they have come together to challenge the current understanding of “Global Art History.” In this way, Section II provides the reader with a good mix of festivals and art events and what current art lovers and curators can take away from the past. 

“After the Global: Institutional Re-Positioning” is the final section of the anthology, Section III. It’s the culmination of everything else touched on previously in the book, and poses the question: what sort of better world can we imagine through curatorial theory? What sorts of changes need to take place in order to create a globally better art world? The entries ponder new forms of “global art”, as opposed to the traditional systems already in place. Hajnalka Somogyi presents the OFF-Biennale Budapest, now approaching its third iteration, which is entirely devoid of government funding – a rarity in Hungary. Marwa Arsanios and Alison Steeds discuss ways to move toward a more feminist international art system, specifically by discussing the work of “care” and asking who is doing the work that supports the international art system – mostly un(der)paid women. Paul-Emmanuel Odin discusses how la compagnie, a collective in Marseille, interacts with both the local neighborhood and international artists. 

Curating After the Global is a dense volume which still leaves many stones unturned, many voices unheard, many stories untold: the project of creating a better, more equitable, and more just global art system is an immense one. Curating instead holds value in its ability to provide alternate art histories and viewpoints, allowing the reader to more easily believe in a tomorrow other than the status quo. As Alison Green writes in Section III, “[Y]ou have to be able to imagine, and believe in, a future which is radically different.”

Artikel ini merupakan rubrik Sorotan Pustaka dalam Buletin IVAA Dwi Bulanan edisi November-Desember 2019.