Saturday, January 24, 2009

From Elsewhere: Reflections on the Symposium

Angela Harutyunyan

The symposium with a laconic but vague title From Elsewhere took place on Nov. 6th at the Project Room of SCCA-Ljubljana, as a part of the networking meeting between several partners who established a collaboration of curatorial education-- Towards Collaborative Curating: Art Education in the Age of the Global Art Market. The individuals involved were Dusan Dovc, Petja Grafenauer and Barbara Borcic from SCCA-Ljubljana, Angela Harutyunyan and Nazareth Karoyan from AICA-Armenia, Renatta Papsch from Anadolu Kültür in Istanbul, Turkey, Valeria Ibraeva from SCCA-Alma-Aty in Kazakhstan and Laura Canderera from Townhouse Gallery in Cairo, Egypt.
Even though there was a lack of moderation, which did not provide the signposts for the audience to understand the purpose of the public symposium, it did not prevent an active and lively semi-formal discussion to flow after the presentation. The announced titles of papers were essentially the same (“The current condition of the contemporary art scene in Armenia (--Egypt, Kazakhtsan, Turkey) and the state of curatorial practices.”). However, the speakers presented rather heterogeneous views as well as structurally very different papers. Nazareth Karoyan addressed several artistic practices and curatorial positions in which the artistic/curatorial subjectivisation takes evolves on a spatial dynamic, as a relational exchange between different actors in the context of the Armenian contemporary art scene. The paper, while quite intriguing in its argument, nevertheless lacked in structure, which prevented the audience from getting a clear idea of the speaker’s own position within the presented discourse. Valeria Ibraeva told a compelling story about the ways in which contemporary Orientalism functions in relation to Central Asia and South Asia and the artistic challenges to this specific exercise of power, on the example of the exhibition “Destination Asia”. However, the speaker failed to address the context of the contemporary art scene in Kazakhstan or the artists’ specific positions within the discourses of subverting Orientalist assumptions.
Laura Canderera’s and Renatta Papsch’s presentations shared structural similarities in that both aimed at giving a clear and comprehensive idea about contemporary art institutions in Cairo and Istanbul respectively. Laura Canderera especially focused on the role of Townhouse Gallery in shaping the landscape of contemporary art in Egypt in the last 10 years, and its importance in bridging the gap between art as an exclusive, class-based place for subjective creativity and harsh and dystopian everyday life in Cairo. Renatta Papsch’s paper was mostly informative in that it comprehensively presented all the significant actors within the contemporary art field in Istanbul and their positions within this field.
With all the differences between the presented contexts, the speakers shared a similar concern about the lack of cultural practitioners, such as art curators, writers, critics and managers, and underscored the primacy of developing human recourses in these areas, as a priority. The round-table discussion which followed was mostly centered around the above-mentioned issues and more specifically, whether it is possible to establish shared paradigms and methods for curatorial education or the latter is always a context-specific and context-sensitive practice. The question did not receive definite closures, but the mere fact of bringing it up is perhaps more important for the process of reflection than finding quick and definite answers.
In my view, the symposium largely succeeded, if we are to stress the importance of communication between different cultural and geographical contexts rather than the presentation of simplified and easily digestible total knowledge about complex and heterogeneous contexts.

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