Curatorial development in Scotland


Publication: Living Out Ideas

- 01.10.2016

Anna McLauchlan, Cicely Farrer, Claire Walsh, Emmie McLuskey, Frances Davis, Frances Stacey, Gemma Lawrence, Gordon Douglas, Grace Johnston, Grant Watson, Jason E. Bowman, Katherine Murphy, Kirsteen Macdonald, Lauren Printy Currie, Marcus Jack, Maria Fusco, Nick Thomas, Rosie O’Grady, Shireen Taylor, Viviana Checchia.

Living Out Ideas is a new, self published document from the Curatorial Studio programme.

This ‘prospectus’ brings together new collaborative writing, interviews and individual works by programme participants and guest contributors. It forms a broad creative and critical response to the conditions of the curatorial from the context of working from Scotland within wider networks of contemporary practice and theory.

The printed version of Living Out Ideas is distributed by Good Press
It is also available as a 
free digital edition on issuu.




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Half Way Point

written by Kirsteen - 12.05.2016

After three intensive weekend sessions we (the Curatorial Studio) group are taking time to archive the work we’ve done so far, and prepare materials for the next three sessions. Part of this process involves planning a small publication and future public events. The content of these will be announced next month. In the meantime, and if you’ve attended any of the events so far, please send us your thoughts and responses.

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Open Reading texts

written by Kirsteen - 02.02.2016

Thanks to everyone came to CCA on Saturday for the open reading. It was a pleasure, although a rather nerve-wracking one, for us to share this prelude of the Curatorial Studio project with you. If you are interested in the material we read, the list of texts follows, accompanied by a longer list of suggested reading that we had chosen for the day. This responds to, and includes, preparatory material that Maria Fusco shared with us for her subsequent workshop ‘Tamer of the Elements: Object Writing’ the same day.

Open Reading 30 January 2016 CCA Creative Lab

Maria Fusco, Thirty-five Hundred Years of Consecrated Objects (2015)

Samantha Steven, The Techno-Witch and Magickal Appliances

Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizmann, Mengele’s Skull: The Advent of a Forensic Aesthetics (excerpts)

Bill Brown, Thing Theory (excerpts)

Jaleh Mansoor, A Spectral Universality: Mona Hatoum’s Biopolitics of Abstraction (excerpt)

Sian Robinson Davies, Conversations (Penis & Credit Card and Pound Coin & Ice Cream)

Tyler Coburn, Adventures of a Genre

Herta Muller, The Swabian Bath

Katrina Palmer, The Dark Object (excerpt)

Neil Bickerton, The Plough

Other suggested reading

Dave Hickey, A Rhinestone as Big as the Ritz

Borges, On Exactitude in Science

The press release to The Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art

Ponge, “The Pebble” from The Voice of Things (1972) or Siding with Things (1942)

Frances Stark, The Architect and the Housewife

Raphael Rubenstein, The Miraculous (2014)

Elmgreen & Dragset with Tim Etchells, Drama Queens

Robert Smithson, Language to be looked at and/ or things to be read (1967)

Walter Benjamin, Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting 

Raymond Carver, Cathedral

Francis Ponge, Le Savon (Soap)

Bruno Latour & Adam Lowe, The migration of the aura or how to explore the original through its fac similes (2010)

Georges Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces 

Sergei Tret’iakov, The Biography of the Object

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Questions of Self Organisation

written by Kirsteen - date 09.07.2013

These are some broad questions for participants set ahead of Anne Szefer Karslen’s walking seminar ‘Self Organised’ this week.

One premise of the book Self-Organised is to explore how self-organisation in the artworld can no longer be approached as “part of an opposing dichotomy” with institutional or corporate structures.  How does this relate to your own experiences?

How can we consider self-organisation beyond terms such as ‘alternative’, ‘non-profit’ or ‘artist run’ – e.g. as an expanded complex field of individual responses from “an organised community within society”?  Since these terms are used to imply different, often very specific things in different geographical or social contexts, how does a particular time and place (e.g. working in Scotland now) influence how you respond to discussion of the subject?

Barnaby Drabble’s text considers our own self-imposed micro management that “borders on the institutionalisation of the self”.  What shifts of position do you see in how you organise your own practice?

Anne also poses the following question “If self-organisation is indeed an emerging Institution, we are in a bit of trouble? Does it mean that the art world, or the art system, whatever you want to call the sector of society that we work within is becoming a closed circuit (maybe in the process of short circuiting)?”


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Peripheries and Residencies

written by Kirsteen - date 24.05.12

Ahead of next week’s residential at SSW looking at Periphery and Remoteness I thought this was an interesting link

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Notes from Be[com]ing Dutch workshop

Benjamin Fallon - 09.05.12

On Wednesday Annie very kindly flew into Edinburgh earlier than originally intended to come and speak with us about the project Be[com]ing Dutch

Starting with a 10 minute presentation on the development of the project and her personal development from an independent curator to curator of exhibitions at the Van Abbemuseum. Throughout the afternoon Annie articulated ideas of curating as a speculative intellectual process borrowing Donna Haraways idea of ‘staying with the trouble’ constantly reinventing and retooling our methods to ‘stage the encounter’.

The afternoons discussion touched on a number of very important areas, that we will be following up on at the forthcoming Framework residential, particularly interesting was the discussions on how we as young curators have to take control of structures and reshape them. The actual question of cultural nationalism was somewhat skirted around for a number of reasons but this will hopefully be rectified at the residential. One thing that emerged was the idea that we maybe need to organise a project of ‘Be[com]ing Scottish’ to try and unpick these difficult questions

I would ask the participants to add any thoughts they had below here.

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Notes towards Be[com]ing Dutch

Benjamin Fallon - 28.04.12

This edition of Framework will look at the project be[com]ing Dutch delivered through the Van Abbemusem in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

For me, the project managed to get somewhere near the synthesis of form and content and as such I would propose that we look at both aspects through the discussion.

The project took place over 2 years with multiple outcomes (which can be seen on the website).  I would suggest we focus on the 2 forms of the caucus and the exhibition and their inter-relations. The caucus took place over 4 weeks at the Van Abbemuseum and other locations around Eindhoven as an intensive theoretical investigation into the concerns of the project; placing what is often done behind closed doors at the forefront. The word caucus was used for its idea of a coming together to decide how to progress.

Over the period a set of paradoxes were posited:

  • The revival of nationalism versus the reality of globalisation and migration. How can art imagine a way out of this dichotomy?
  • The re-emergence of religion as the dominant cultural identifier versus the secular globalisation of capital.
  • How can art imagine identity differently today?
  • The autonomy of art versus its use (critically, economically and socially)
  • How can a museum effect change in a provincial city (Eindhoven).
  • Can art change politics, does politics determine art?

The caucus presented multiple often conflicting voices discussing what might be the differences between being Dutch as a highly prefigured political subject and becoming Dutch as a transitional state. There are obvious reasons to be looking to this project and the discussion that came from it at the current moment with the idea of independence in Scotland looming large. I would suggest that we don’t use this as a platform for a discussion on our political positions but instead try to have an open conversation on some of individual and collective concerns to try and work out how we might continue to develop these contingent positions through our actions as cultural agents.

I would propose that in preparation we try to watch some of the videos from the Eindhoven caucus all available online,9,1 Obviously there is a lot of information. I would suggest the first panel Becoming Dutch in the Age of Global Democracy as an interesting starting point and the following day’s sessions, particularly the keynote by Roger Buergel.

As another, unrelated but interesting, short introduction I would suggest reading ‘The Obsession with Identity Fascism’ by Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi – available here

If there are any other interesting and relevant articles you can think of please share in the comments below.

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Notes from Value and Evaluation workshop

written by Kirsteen - 10 April 2012

Here are some things I can still  remember from the discussion.  I’ll post a more comprehensive summary soon.

The tendency in discussing value is towards an economic value of the cultural, yet economic value is more than just a financial value.   Nonetheless, money becomes the default definition of value.

We lack a definition of actual cultural value – generally when we talk about practices in relation to an organisational context we’re actually using a personal value set – and evaluating how those serve the values of an organisation

Cultural value is based on the representation of something that doesn’t diminish the more its shared, but the process of sharing it grows it further.

Selling art is a process that monetizes the art’s cultural value.  Is there a point at which art can shift from having alienable to inalienable value and it can’t go back?  If that is the case, then the value of that piece of art has become money.

Problematics often begin with the rub between personal values operating within the institutional (political, aesthetic, etc) – attempting to redefine this as something coherent can lead to a sense of being value-less.

What a contradiction that a curator also working as a waitress would automatically refuse to have their waitressing skills and experience devalued below minimum wage, but is compliant with the devaluation of their skills and experience as a curator or curatorial assistant through being employed on a voluntary basis.

Artist run or non-institutional projects can be the enabler of an ideology of values where art comes first, and doesn’t have to be artificially redefined into economic value.

New-ness in contemporary art is a conditional implication of value

It’s not our job to evaluate our own work.  Funders should provide the tools for what they want evaluated and do it themselves – we’re neither economists or analysts.

Eastside Projects Users Manual – focuses on verbs, i.e. the things it does, rather than fixed points of analysis.  It mixes both vernacular and state institutional language. One way that inherent values can be exposed is through exposing layers in the flow of ideas, inherent within the applied language.

Refuse meaningless evaluation!

Would it make a difference if all projects and organisations reported their evaluation on a fictional basis for a year? Would fictional evaluation been more useful to cultural evaluation?

Activity in relation to policy creates conflicting values

Evaluation is a process of learning rather than a measure of accountability

Relational comparatives.  How does evaluation operate outside the value conditions it’s set by?  What’s the difference between peer to peer values and those of the external examiner? What is lost in the process of representing the response of others through evaluation?

An exhibition does its own evaluation innately.

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Thoughts from Value & Evaluation workshop @ DCA

written by Emma Balkind - date 26 March 2012

Thursday’s workshop at DCA is the third Framework I have attended. This time, rather than occupying the role of participant, I was employed by Kirsteen to work with her as a reader. She supplied some texts which I then summarised and we discussed together prior to the workshop.

The questions which we decided to lead the discussions with were roughly as follows:

1) Value – How does ideology affect ones perception of value? For example, how might we consider value in non-fiscal forms? What are the connotations of / concepts of value in your recent practice?

2) Evaluation – Considering the problematics of evaluation. How has evaluation affected your work? What are your experiences of evaluative processes, and what conflicts have arisen from this?

My own answers stemmed from my experience as a recent graduate (2007 & 2011), my arts administration experience (2006 – 2010) and postgraduate art theory education (2010 – continuing…).

Answering the value question, I decided to discuss the concept of value from a “Tesco Value” perspective. Due to the marginalization of small scale and public arts institutions, this kind of squeezed value is often seen as an innate ‘good’. Thus, the provision of free labour at entry level for a long period of time as a ‘voluntary’ worker or ‘intern’ is normalised and even expected. The young worker provides ‘good value’ in that they work for free, but their work is often seen as something of no value precisely because it is free labour. Does free work have any value at all in this case?

My answer to the evaluation question was not discussed on the day as we entered a looser discussion in the second half of the day. I wrote about self evaluation in application-making, since at the moment I have been proposing projects to open calls at galleries, and applying to PhD programmes. When in the process of applying or proposing, there is a strong feeling that you must rank yourself competitively against your peers. You must pre-empt the evaluation of a board or committee by guessing their criteria and expectations. Being the same but different, or the same but better is often a particular expectation in art and academia.

In regards to the discussion, I was particularly interested to hear Gavin Wade talk about forming an association with The Lombard Method and Grand Union,  two smaller artist run spaces in Birmingham. This format of providing certain forms of perceived ‘value’ to funders, also allows for solidarity and resource sharing between institutions. It seems to be a means to continuing practice which may not otherwise be supported in the current economic climate.

Overall I felt that we had a diverse selection of responses to Value and Evaluation, a much broader set of viewpoints and experience than those I had come across in the reading. This was due to the variety of backgrounds, age, and experience around the table, from young curators who are not associated with any institutions, to committee members of artist-run spaces, those who work in public art organisations, and those with academic affiliation.

We also talked about the idea of evaluative response being provided in a local/personal vernacular and I feel that perhaps the respective arts councils would benefit from accepting this differing array of viewpoints in their consideration of the arts ‘ecology’ as it stands today.

Emma Balkind
Art Worker and recent graduate of MA Contemporary Art Theory at Edinburgh College of Art

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Value in Curatorial and Artistic Practice

written by Kirsteen - date 15 March 2012

Last night’s GI Primer organised by Transmission Gallery used Vasari’s The Lives of the Artists as a starting point to examine the ways we assign the ‘value’ of contemporary art.  This is linked to the Transmission’s upcoming presentation for Glasgow International – an experiment in interpretation which reflects critically upon the ways in which value is assigned, accumulated and circulated with an exhibition of 6 new artworks where the authorship of the artists is not revealed.

In the Primer presentations by Dr Evelyn Welch, Fiona Jardine and Jan Verwoert and a discussion chaired by Dr Dominic Paterson, proposed lots of ideas around systems of value in the artworld ranging from: the signature of the artist as a guarantor of authority and capital;  the development of artistic identity and cultural value from the Renaissance; the cult of anonymous publishing during the Enlightenment as a reaction against the representationalist position that presented value and meaning as rational; and the non-capital potential of states that can be part of the creative process, things happening when we get lost in exchanges, things like embarassment.

Hope to pick up on some of this with Transmission committee members at next week’s discussion, but it also reminded me that this event is an extension of the discussion which took place at the first Framework event last summer hosted by Jan Verwoert at Cove Park.  There are 5 blogs entries below that reflect on the connections between these ideas and curatorial practice.

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Workshop reference material – Value and Evaluation

written by Kirsteen - 14 March 2012

In the week preceding the workshop Value and Evaluation at DCA we’ll be posting links to reference material on the subject and our planning for the event itself.

A first point of reference is a text written by Clive Gillman, Director of DCA, who will co-host the event.  In 2009 Clive organised an event at DCA called Manufacturing Culture and the PDF of his introduction The Alienated Nation also serves as a touchstone for this discussion on value and the need to reclaim economic value from a presumption of pure financial value.

Another key reference which we’ll talk about in more depth is Eastside Projects three day production symposium Public Evaluation Event in October 2011. At their website you can access the programme, some audio recordings and Freee’s manifesto “Economists are Wrong”.

Other things we’ve been reading include:

Economist John Kay’s essay on the true value of the arts  – a very interesting read to find in the Financial Times!

Sarah Thelwell’s report for the Common Practice consortium in London with support from Arts Council Englands Size Matters: Notes towards a Better Understanding of the Value, Operation and Potential of Small Visual Arts Organisations. Her contextualising of ‘deferred value’ created by small  visual arts organisations is appearing in all sorts of contexts just now.

The report by Dany Louise in January’s a-n magazine  Realising the value: How practice-based organisations will fare after ACE cuts

Please also share your own links.

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A few thoughts on the weekend of 24 -25 September

Anonymous - 15.10.11

I really enjoyed the Framework structure of the Saturday. The opportunity to hear other people’s practice and their lines of inquiry while also getting my project peer critiqued, is often missing from my working institutional practice. Generally there is little time for hearing about work in progress and reflection is often on a practical level. However by the time it got to me I was slightly nervous, as I realised how institutionalised I am. But in some ways I am grateful for the freedom that the institution has given to explore work and practices interest me and challenge preconceived notions of that institution.

I also realised the cushion being part of an institution can be. I also think it influences my practice as I don’t always decide where that work is going. I also don’t necessarily have the luxury of time to explore ideas for exhibitions and themes and then present them to galleries I think would work best, as I get given exhibition time slots, the galleries to use and on occasion the theme and contexts I have to work in. But given all those ‘constraints’ I don’t feel I am any less free to take risks or work with really exciting artists and communities to curate exhibitions and programmes.

The other presentations made me think hard about the way I was approaching my work but also the feedback I received on Saturday was very useful in preparing me for the research discussion on ATELIER PUBLIC that I had on the following Thursday. It gave me much more confidence about exploring difficult ethical questions about the exhibition.


Although I missed a couple of the workshops the ones I was able to attend related to broken conversations I have had or reaffirmed ideas or brought about new challenges to a practice I have begun to explore. Sunday was no different. The idea of ‘extended practice’ and the explorations of the curatorial seemed to give me a framework to describe in some way where my practice is going. I was really excited by the ideas of preserving the space… the commons….  the physical space … the play space …… what is possible in constructed spaces. I heard something recently that resonated with these discussions of spaces we are creating where conversations happen – ‘What we do in creating these spaces, we create Geographies of Hope’.

The stronger the framework the better the loss of control or the ‘free play’

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Reflections on the Framework Forum – Curating as Expanded Practice

Iain Irving - 04.10.11

Day 1 – Saturday 24 September

It is always an interesting exercise to ask a group of people who appear to do the same practice what it is they are actually doing. Generally we all agree in our open discussions but to really open up, the person’s articulation, perceptions and ideas through this openness are out of the bag. This exists within any group of similar practitioners – artists, musicians etc. Our practice is a personal and self-developed thing but in this sharing, there is much self- questioning and perhaps doubt in what we are actually all doing. This is my own experience of this session. It is healthy to be challenged; this is the point of these sessions. Personally when I was challenged about my presented material and focus, whatever I thought was okay “as research” was not okay in ‘the actuality and present practice’. This created an interesting awkward moment when trying to explain research findings of issues and context, which were perceived to be focused on middle class male privileged curating ‘names’. But it did wake me up to the facts that I needed to address issues such as gender (even sexuality, nationality and age) as I sensed that these contentions did touch a nerve in the group. Therefore this opening up (expanding of perception) can cause slight turmoil but energises a deeper understanding of the real present-day issues of curatorial practice.
Day 2 – Sunday 25 September

The previous day’s sharing certainly bonded the group and there was a positive feeling in the room – more playful. Ellen put forward the concept of curating as an expanded practice, which is a good observation of curatorial practice – as it stretches out from the institution, extending its experience, blurring the boundaries. I am all for this form (attitude) of practice. But is this just an inevitable development that our boundaries become boring and predictable, so we start to challenge them as we have skills to change, make other things happen in other ways. Through experience of curating in whatever context, we start to use the effectiveness of the practice to become political, economic or spiritual perhaps – things that are more meaningful in life than status or power. Ellen discussed the relief of leaving the institution and surviving. Maybe we get burnt out from the relentless mill. So time out is good. But what tends to happen is that we begin to create our own ‘institutions’, and become constituted with a board of directors – over managed.
The closing exercise was a great bit of playful, hypothetical curating. We all had to spend just a short time determining a proposal for curating. This creative exercise of no restrictions and open possibilities produced a brilliant range of very dynamic and interesting possibilities. Particularly about how and where the curator existed in non-institutional contexts. These helpfully illustrated current curators’ ambitions of the practice to touch the everyday, be involved in local politics, develop mindful methods and creative experiences, place themselves in social services; be the host and facilitator for example. We should do them all.

Iain Irving

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A reflection on Maria Fusco’s workshop

Iain Irving - 21.09.11

Maria Fusco’s highly invigorating seminar and workshop was a personal challenge but on reflection has given my writing a new editorial rigor and awareness. I daren’t look back on my previous outputs given her fresh and feisty methodology. But the technique of a subjective narrative is a voice I recognise and have used for a few years in discussing art and culture. Crucially the message from Maria’s session is that the writer can/should adopt this subjective voice as a critical method and therefore as writers we have the mandate to discuss art things in this manner. What was also apparent is that the methods and stern focus on the detail and exactness of this voice gives this genre of art writing the gravitas to challenge and bypass the tyranny of art theory writing.

This particular writing voice has been evolving in art writing for a while. Influences on my own work are the catalogue for the seminal Jan Hoet curated exhibition Chambre d’Amis in Ghent (1986) which layers the publication with selected historical factual and fictional texts with documentation of the artworks; the Private View catalogue (1996) for the exhibition of contemporary artworks in the Bowes Museum, County Durham which has a great text by the curator Penelope Curtis which plays with the concept of the imaginary exhibition and the catalogue for artist Mike Nelson’s A Forgotten Kingdom (2001) which is designed like some pulp fiction novel dovetailing his own artwork with sections from choice fiction.

And, if I can mention some of my curated projects – The House in the Woods with Janice Galloway and The Blue Chamberwith Duncan McLean – employed the creative writer to give an interpretation to the exhibition either as a commissioned piece or republished text. But these texts have a purpose in this context. They give extended interpretation to a specific curated project.

Taking such writing out of this context is interesting but may as Maria pointed out in a recent Art Monthly critique, produce hostility and confusion of its intention and integrity. Maria’s own work can stand alone in its own publication as does Chris Kraus’s writing. But it can be an easy target as illustrated in Kraus’s recent book Where Art Belongs (2011), which is a collection of sectioned short stories narrating the ups and downs of the LA artworld, as the text on the short lived Tiny Creatures gallery reads like some sort of horrible trendy Brett Easton Ellis tribute act. Not so groovy.

Iain Irving
Iain is a lecturer at Grays School of Art, Aberdeen and currently working on a PhD to produce a definition of independent curatorial practice.

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The subjective voice workshop

Benjamin Fallon - 09.14.2011

This was the workshop I was most unsure of. I have over the development of my curatorial practice had an uncomfortable relationship with writing. Understanding it’s importance but never fully able to commit myself to it in any other way than the completion of funding applications and press releases. This was a concern that seemed to be shared by a few of the other participants.

The workshop started with Maria presenting a version of her essay ‘Say who I am. Or a Broad Private Wink’*. With a call to inductive process in opposition to the traditional idea of deductive criticism. Instead of attempting to create a fixed relation to the ‘art object’ she suggested that the role of the critic should be to work within the contradictions and problematics that the ‘art object’ throws up.

Following on from this we where given 2 options of how we wanted to proceed with the day. Either a practical workshop or a continuation of more theoretically based discussion on the role of art criticism. I voted for the 2nd option but was overwhelmingly disagreed with. In hindsight I am glad it went against me.

The workshop took the participants through how the use of different tenses and persons in writing alters the way a text is read. Working with a material selected from a visit to Hans Schabus’ exhibition ‘Remains of the Day’** we were set a number of exercises starting on ones own and building to a choral text working in 2 collaborative groups. At the end of each writing exercise we then had the uncomfortable experience of reading out the texts to the group and the discussing what the different registers did to the tone of the writing.

The event as a whole cast light on a number of issues I have been thinking through on the interrelations between curating, writing and editing and how subjective voices emerge within all of them. Echoing some of Jans points in the first workshop there was an idea that working with art needs to shift from the readily assigned roles of the artist as the dominant voice with the curator/critic attempting to disentangle in a pure act of interpretation to a position in which everyone adds further subjective layers in the process further complicating our relationship to art. The workshop was helpful even though I am a long way away from coming to terms with my relationship to art writing although maybe this is the point?

Benjamin Fallon


* published in judgment and contemporary art criticism edited by J.Khonsray and M.O’Brien for Artspeak/Fillip Editions.

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Maria Fusco writing workshop

Amy Fung - 09.12.11

Coming to the end of this inaugural arts writing gig at Deveron Arts, I am more unsure than ever as to what it is I am actually writing. I know I write, but I know little else. I have no idea what it is I am writing, just that I am definitely writing it. Working on the border of cultural commentaries and creative non-fiction, I am tired of looking, if not legitimating what it is I write, rather, I continue to read the writings that have influenced me as a reader and inevitably as a writer. A small handful of these voices appear on my current reading selection for the Art Reader Network ( including Gertrude Stein, Deleuze and Guattari, and Serge Deney, all of whom were specters to my experience of Maria Fusco’s writing workshop yesterday.

Reconfiguring the value and limitations of arts writing as a creative practice that runs alongside, across, in and through the works of visual art our words accompany, Fusco’s approach to arts writing meets at the nexus of experimental poetics, post-structuralist theory, and the sculpting of subjectivity. Shifting art objects, and the history of art itself, as bricks, rather than the keystone, in the arch of understanding and rendering, Fusco pushes us into a minefield of subjective interpretations starting from the first person position of (art) objects.

Encouraging us basically to “re-caress the art object” – to write and read the object simultaneously – Fusco’s series of writing exercises led us further down the constructive path of subjective reimaginings, and hopefully hit home that writing is a practice that employs creative skill. A quiet, but nevertheless startling realization came during the collaborative exercises, when we had to do pronoun hurdles in small groups, and I was reminded for the first time in a very long time that writing and editing are acquired skills that not many people have grasped. As somebody who compulsively writes and edits, I unfortunately forget before eventually remembering that writing remains one of the most undervalued skills in terms of appreciation and labour value.

Concerns disguised as questions were raised early on as to why one writes if nobody is going to read it? This commonly held position reveals the underlying attitude that writing is supposedly a servant to communicate knowledge, and that knowledge is presupposed, rather than created.  Would anyone ask if a musician would play and sing if there is no audience to hear it? Or if a thought is going to be explored if nobody is ever going to understand it? Eventually somebody comes across the work in some incarnation or another, but the work must begin somewhere.

Having been given an option between production or discussion, I am thrilled the majority voted on production, as that’s at least a positive sign towards a better direction.

For more information visit
writing and editing for all

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Art in a show touring Britain

Anonymous - 08.19.11

Whilst I respect the curators’ aim to set out clear parameters in dealing with those complex and institutional issues mentioned below – such as the portrayal of a British art, the survey show infrastructure, setting guidelines for their collaboration – those parameters weren’t opened up in the discussion.  In describing their conditions of approach – albeit with the caveat that these aren’t interesting for discussion in themselves – the conversation that followed could have developed to focus on the art in the show or the strands running through their curatorial approach.  Perhaps we should have started out by talking about art, rather than the construction around it?  Against the highly complex set of arrangements binding it, this exhibition intends to reinforce a validity of encounter between people, ideas and objects in a defined public space (gallery), free from obstacles that interrupt looking at artwork, such as the spectre of theory. However, the political potential can only be talked about when the parameters that are set around the exhibition don’t preclude from discussion of the space, the work and the people that are left within.

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Blogging about Britishness?

Kate Martin - 08.13.11

I’m not sure entirely how I feel about this workshop. While on the one hand it was interesting to hear about how such large scale arts events like BAS 7 are developed conceptually and then organised practically, I do tend to agree with Amy’s blog below: the part that was missing from the day was perhaps the part I consider to be the most important aspect – how they dealt with curating a show with such a history of being associated with representations of national or even cultural identity.

The feeling in the room was definitely at times tense and I think this was due to the double-act nature of Lisa and Tom’s discussion. Perhaps if they’d asked more questions, or perhaps if we’d interrupted, more questions about developing BAS 7 would have been answered in more depth. This was certainly a contrast to Jan Verwoert’s workshop where participants were questioned about their own practice or asked to think about it in a different way. Probing and intrusive, yes, however this was a wonderful opportunity for a more established curator to mentor participants- not in a horribly patrionising way – but by guiding positive self-criticism and introducing new ways of thinking.

We all knew both Tom and Lisa had just come out of afternoon talks prior to our workshop and it was a rather hot and lazy Saturday afternoon – but did this stop participants from being more inquisitive? Stop them from probing Tom and Lisa as Jan had probed us the week before? Or perhaps it was the fact that there were two of them that put us off somewhat….however, after summing up the courage to ask a few questions I was more than a little disappointed. I began by sharing an experience of taking in a group of mostly 60+ workshop participants to visit the BAS7 exhibition at GOMA and the feedback the participants gave me – which was mostly negative regarding the accompanying literature and signage. I must admit, I was relieved to learn that this was something outwith the control of both curators due to the PR control of Hayward (something that I thought tied in rather nicely to Jan’s talk the week before).

Too scared to tell them that my students had also told me “Well after seeing the whole exhibition and reading all the literature and talking to the gallery staff, I still don’t see what’s British about it” I held my breath until the conversation turned to the murky subject of “cities need big art events like BAS 7 and biennials and art festivals”. I felt I couldn’t hold back any longer and I had questioned why somewhere like Nottingham needed BAS7. Unfortunately, I was met with a rather vague response…to be honest, I can’t actually remember exactly what was said about why these kinds of events are important, however I remember the conversation ending with an answer along the lines of events like BAS7 are important for inspiring lazy art students who no longer have an interest in seeing exhibitions….but what about the rest of Nottingham?

What concerns me most of all – and yes, perhaps I’m still a bit revved up after attending Rocca Gutteridge’s Artachat talk in the Borders ( about immigration policy affecting cultural exchange between the UK and non-EU countries – is that in an age when the UK government is a little too preoccupied with defining cultural borders, two leading curators could be so irresponsible as to not openly discuss what makes a British Art Show a British art show to a group of emerging curators.

Kate Martin is a freelance curator and arts educator based in Edinburgh and a participant of Framework.

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Response to discussion with Lisa le Feuvre and Tom Morton

Amy Fung - 08.03.11

The lingering memory hanging over from last Saturday’s afternoon with Lisa le Feuvre and Tom Morton comes in the form of clearly remembering several facial expression from fellow participants: a raised discerning eyebrow followed by an uneasy shifting of eyes as if silently asking, “What? Really?”

The expressions came near the end, responding immediately to le Feuvre’s question of whether anyone in the room had thought about curating the BAS. That question, on paper, is fine, and potentially interesting to consider as a long term professional goal. Only, the question came after 90 minutes of tense pauses, well-practiced double-team promotional pitching, and vague attempts to cut through the double-speak of “unspectacular legacies” and being “experts in the present”. While the group, or the small handful who spoke, seemed directly interested in the politics, logistics and marketing of an animal such as BAS, its role as a rejuvenation event, as an appeal to the idealized broad public, the curators would only indulge in how they found all of that the least interesting, yet could not seem to separate or differentiate how their curatorial choices existed outside of the system. While their curatorial focus has been on selecting individual works of merit, history cannot be escaped, and motfis cannot be suppressed. The exhibition of BAS 7 may be trying to do something different than previous editions, but there is no convincing argument that the system of a large group show based on such a loose parameter of “British in the past 5 years” can be anything but a survey show.

Looking back, the discussion wasn’t so much a discussion then as it was a sales pitch starting from the point of self-denial. Comfortably playing off each other, though visibly exhausted and drained as they approach their fourth and final installment of BAS 7, Morton and le Feuvre stayed firm to their message, filling in each pregnant pause to keep the pitch alive. In the moment I thought they were just too well rehearsed to do anything but stay on course, even if the atmosphere wanted something different, but in light of the question proposed by le Feuvre at the end, their determinate denial feels more like a steadfast reflection of their own affirmation of the system, one that they feel they may have changed in some way.

I went to see The British Art Show 7 again the next day, and my favorite works remain Christian Marclay’s The Clock and Luke Fowler’s collaboration with Toshiya Tsunoda. It doesn’t actually matter if Marclay isn’t  British (though he sometimes spends time in his London home), but why it doesn’t matter is certainly one (missing) entry point towards discussing the relevance of carrying on and on this exhibition. And in attempting to explore this further, we would require a considered and realistic perspective on how we exist within a moving history of politics, and not just a belief of existing hermetically (and with expertise, no doubt!) in the present.

Amy Fung is the Visiting Arts Writer at For more information, visit

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British Art Show discussion with Lisa Le Feuvre and Tom Morton

Kirsteen Macdonald - 08.03.11

Thanks to Lisa and Tom for Saturday’s discussion on the British Art Show and curatorial collaboration.  We talked about the mechanics of the BAS structure and a curatorial mode for working within it: Lisa and Tom’s catalogue essays make associative references to literature, using the motif of HG Well’s title “In The Days of the Comet” rather than referencing theory or exhibition histories.  We discussed the marketing and promotion of BAS in relation to attracting new audiences in different locations for the show and ways of addressing the audience through events and written material in the context of the curators’ decision-making process for the artists they have selected.

I’m interested to hear comments from others on the discussion.

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Jan Verwoert workshop

Rocca Gutteridge - 07.30.11

Jan- “How do you value your practice?”
“What resistances and obstacles do you encounter?”

Me-   “I value it when… when the creative process can be socially useful… I mean I don’t want to sound like a complete hippy but, erm, well there you go- I’m interested in art’s
potential, well at least exploring it’s potential to be useful, socially useful…

…and the obstacles?… well feeling like I’m a complete hippy”

A glance away and discussion on the roots of socially engaged practices, Labour, socialism, the failures the successes, then more discussion on the importance of discussion around the artwork then…

Jan-    “Right I’m going to return to you (pointing at me)… this term hippy…”

Jan is very good at pushing you, I’ve never felt so hot and embarrassed in a casual crit situation.  He’s brilliantly direct yet charming and confidence enhancing.  I needed the pushing, I now realise it has been a long time since I have been made to dig deep and really challenge, why and why and why.

The afternoon picked at (the ones that resonated most for me) artistic integrity, loosing and keeping curatorial values, institutional logic and the importance of interruptions, problems and processes of collaborative curating, transparency- how much and why.  The key phrase I’ll use in my, wanting to be potentially useful practice is, “the gay uncle”.  When you’re in a project, say for example with a group or youth kids and it’s your time to get out, (funding, contracts, pain) bring in the gay uncle as a distraction- the kids love him, they forget about you and you can leave, quietly through the back door.

Framework’s first session for me was the fantastic cliches: inspirational, mind expanding, invigorating.  Hard work too. Cove Park was stunning, the artists in residence focused, friendly, thought-provoking.

Thank you very much Framework, the cobwebs of my brain are slowly being brushed away.

Rocca Gutteridge is an Artist, currently in residence at the Mela Festival and working with socially engaged organisation Deveron Arts

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Some thoughts from workshop with Jan Verwoert

Magdalen Chua - 07.29.11

Jan started off the session by asking us to what we consider as value, and recurrent obstacles in our practice. Through the course of the discussion, I found that a lot of concepts – authority, authorship, transparency, value, etc – were raised yet addressed in different contexts and to various ends. It made me recognise the range of positions and backgrounds of the people at the table, different understandings of where and how curating occurs, and the value of a communicative platform such as this, to consider the linkages between different practices through these broad concepts.

Jan’s question made me reflect on why I continue to pursue my practice, and what – external or self-imposed – issues that have hindered me. Recurrent obstacles are difficult to pinpoint, because so many sprout up in my mind. Sometimes it is self-doubt coupled with a fear of doing something which I haven’t done before. Sometimes it is the burden of the labour involved and how that takes its toil. Sometimes it is the process itself that I have chosen which requires the response of other people and when those responses are not forthcoming, the project can fall apart. I think another recurrent obstacle is the feeling that creeps up now and then, of not knowing where I am heading towards. The value, for me, is something I have to constantly return to, in initiating or developing art or curatorial projects – because they help me go through a process of making myself intelligible, especially in this age where uncertainty and values seem to falter. I think it also gives me the space where an emotional or instinctive response is legitimate, and becomes a starting point for me to understand myself, in relation to situations I find myself confronted with.

Among the participants, some of the responses to value included the moment at which interpretation occurs and the discussion and inter-relationships manifested. A common refrain was the issue of the relationship between value and use, and the connection between the term “usefulness” and its relationship with productivity, utility and expectations of efficiency and speed at which work is done. The discussion of recurrent obstacles included the structures of the art world and institutions, such as routines and assymetries of power, and questions of authority.

In particular, I found the discussion on the workings of collaborative practice and how transparency functioned, of interest. There was some discussion on the issue of compromise with collaborative practice, and the value of collaboration to open the space for discussion and lead to something stronger. I see this as telling of the process, trials and benefits of a democratic process – of communication and negotiation that could be sufferingly laborious yet productive because of the stronger ties and inter-relationships that are formed. The question of transparency was brought up, as a means to explain one’s decisions to funders and the institutional authorities. For me, I see transparency as a means to address the tension between one’s authorship and perceived authority. Jan brought up the possibility of bringing in external intervention – “the granny” – someone or something that does not fit in within the logic of the structure, as a way out of the impasse. Although the curator might be the one who chooses that particular intervention, and subjectivity cannot be fully eliminated, it can help to displace authority to reconsider the situation at hand.

Jan’s presentation – on the complexities that curators face, from possessing a mandate from the public, defining what value is, to inhabiting a discomfiting position of middleperson – provoked me to think not just about issues that recur within curating but also on a larger level about how individuals could respond to structures that somewhat constrain them. In particular, the issue of speaking and/versus doing, and the notion of exposing the contradictions within the system that one indubitably lives within. The presentation made me think of how we have the space to negotiate and lay out the fallacies and contradictions of the system, as a means of responding the desires imposed on our. It also made apparent the different positions one could take with regards to how we choose to inhabit or search (perhaps in a futile manner) with-out these structures. The idea of speaking and raising of the conditions of a crisis resonates with me, because I think that speaking is an outcome of thought and a decision to articulate what does not cohere or does not seem right. At the same time, I also think about the distinctions between speech and an act, and wonder if speech is more easily valorised and theorised, whereas the act, or even attempt, to search and find a way out of the crisis would satisfy the search or desire to venture into undefined terrain.

Magdalen Chua is Curator of studio 41, a space for contemporary curating and art in Glasgow

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Some Thoughts…

Kate Martin - 07.27.11

After Kirsteen and Amy’s blogs that summed up the day so eloquently, I feel I can’t add too much more, however there are some thoughts and ideas that came out of the discussion that have stuck with me since last Friday that I thought might be nice for others’ to respond to:

As we are constantly being asked to identify personally and professionally with our work, can curators emotionally detach from the projects they are working on and the mechanisms that control them? Is the integrity of a project both the obstacle and the value in curating? At what point do you give yourself permission to assume certain roles within curating?

And as a nice segue into this Saturday’s discussion topic of curatorial collaboration, where is the boundary between compromise and challenge when creating a dialogue?

Kate Martin is a freelance curator and arts educator based in Edinburgh and a participant of Framework.

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Reflections on Jan Verwoert workshop

Kirsteen Macdonald - 07.24.11

In skilfully mediating shared and opposing concerns throughout the day Jan set the agenda, supported by a little magic and substantial pastoral care.

Sharing a table invites everyone to bring something to the table.  Without formal introductions and no initial sweep of asking everyone to summarize themselves in a few words, is it safe to assume that the reasons for being there will emerge during the course of discussion? I was keen not to presuppose what each of our relative positions might be, to dissolve explanations as to how we arrived here and to function in real time.As we questioned the common or principle values we associate to curatorial work, we also set about naming what the obstacles and patterns of resistance might be; soon discovering a predisposition to the institutional language of the proposal, the report, the funding request, the evaluation.  Slippage between clear motivations to support artistic integrity, define social value or interpret transparency as a means of mediation between producer and audience; and the omnipresent culture of accountability.

When we tire of obstacles and barriers asserting themselves more strongly, we can shift our values or terms of reference accordingly, but eventually we may have to shift the barrier completely from our direct view.  Institutional burnout from institutional logic.  Equally tiresome barriers and obstacles come into focus from the lack of a fixed physical location or a budget at your disposal, or general dissatisfaction with the complex segues of project-based work rhythms so familiar to artists.  In our contemporary high performance culture we are likely to move in and out of different positions in the ongoing trajectory of a career – shifting the focus of our negotiations rather than giving up on negotiating entirely.

If we can assume differences in institutional and independent practice, we can also assume their similarities.  Do curators working in institutions develop their work inspite or because of the institution? Could the evaluated ethics and summoned energies necessary to maintain a functioning freelance career ever amount to the position of ‘outsider’? When an institution’s policy is to promote an autonomous/automated authorship, the curator has to assert their visibility through actions outside of the production of that institutional work.  In the artworld, like any other business, to assert your visibility is to assert your viability.

In the course of developing any creative practice a common necessity is the need for self-reflection.  But without a community structure for this act, is there a danger of reflective disfunctionality?  Another hermetically-sealed system of implosion?

The contemporary tendency of institutions to summon participation from predefined constituents of interest – target audiences – can create an expectation of access to a “radical epiphany” through art, following a logic of instant gratification that is out of step with our real experiences of the “displaced reception” that flows between ideas, emotions, learning and encounters in our lives or in productive working methods.  Building a relationship takes time.  As curators we call into question our own position in initiating social encounters as part of our working practices. Cultural experience functions in this world of constant ruptures between private and public space alongside the perpetual re-presentation or re-appropriation of historical truths. As curators, as artists, as critics, as people, our souls, thoughts and ethics need constant nourishment in order to collaborate with anyone else.

Jan asserts that the curator’s work exists on a threshold, a space shared by artists, public, critics, institutions. Beautifully and absurdly illustrated in an excerpt from Marguerite Duras’ 1972 film Nathalie Granger is the analogy of the salesman, like the curator whose livelihood is derived from the ability to second-guess the desires of another.  The notion that it might be necessary to assert ones own mandate of assumed knowledge about the desires of others leads to the difficulty of alluding to “secret knowledge” where value judgements are made on the premise of “rarified experience”, easily in conflict with the reality of what the other might actually want, or might already have.Valuing the absurd in curatorial practice seems to be an essential survival tool on the Swiss Army Knife of curatorial skills, alongside constantly updating ones seduction techniques. If the critic’s position is rooted in a linguistic origin to discern criterion within a crisis, the curator’s endeavour can still be rooted in the act of caring. Not caring for managers managing management or evaluators evaluating evaluation, but caring for the maintenance of the threshold, and the terms of reference asserted to define this as an active and responsive space.

Reflecting back on our initial free-formed roundtable discussion after Jan’s presentation later in the afternoon, it appeared that the flow  of conversation could have been conjured into a preordained argument illustrated by his selection of iconography. In associative tight riffs between philosophy, art history, the Enlightment, sociology, Bob Dylan, a Catholic Education and pizza ovens, forms had evolved to give shape to slippery subjects. Circular loops of thought but not a circular conversation.

The “dynamic contradictions” that emerged from this productive discussion needn’t be fixed into an immediate synopsis.  I’d rather perfect the illusion of casually “misinterpreting the brief” than master the performance of a magic trick.

Kirsteen Macdonald is the organiser of Framework

All quotations taken from my notes on Jan Verwoert’s presentation.  With thanks to all the participants in the discussion, to Cove Park for hosting the event and to Kate for the photos.

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Response to Jan Verwoert workshop

Amy Fung - 07.24.2011

I remember first reading Jan Verwoert’s essay, “Life Work”a couple of years ago and feeling both disturbed and drawn to this cult of the art world’s inability to separate work from life. Is this really what the subversion of the division of labour leads to: the absolute collapse of our pleasure from our pain?  As we all still operate within a capitalist society, this collapse of pleasure and pain into a single stream towards achieving value is further complicated when we remember that labour remains the root of value.

I had left an office job then, the last real job I held, fulfilling my obligations to be somewhere between 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday to Friday with mandatory overtime plus working as a full time art critic, serving on boards, and organizing various events. The balance of life and work was out the window. I worked all day just so that I could work all night (made all the more ironic as I was employed by a new business and lifestyle magazine that was targeting the balance of work and life).

I didn’t know I would begin devoting my life to work, but I knew I was not going to devote my life to working twice. The day job financially supported the precarity of my moonlighting, thus undermining the labour value of what I had actually been achieving.

The alluring cult of the art world then is something more than just exchanging services for financial compensation. It must offer something of value if people are willing to work for free. Dare I say there lies buried in art a purpose that keeps us running, influencing our ways of being, our ethics, and intentions. Here is another non separation: the trinity of the body, mind, and spirit. I am not religious in any official sense, but I do believe in more. More questions than answers, more narratives than doctrines, and more voices than outlets.

Frameworks is a starting point to more. The model boils down to reframing conversations  between people who care. The first event was led by Jan, who generously challenged how we perceive the values and obstacles in our life work. He could only do so amongst a group of strangers by being an intent listener, as one can only engage with what is going on in a room if there is the will to listen.

The one resounding fact, as eloquently echoed in “Life Work”, is that, “no matter how fast the art world grows, we – ‘we’ being those who have become part of each others’ lives through what we do – will continue to inhabit the worlds that we together create for ourselves.”  We can only begin to shift the system if we collectively shift, and that includes listening to and revaluing how we have been talking to each other through our life’s works.

Amy Fung is the current visiting Arts Writer at Deveron Arts ( For more information, visit 


Jan Verwoert, “Life Work” Frieze Magazine Issue 121, March 2009

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