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SYNAPSE Workshop 2015 | June 30 – July 4, 2015

SYNAPSE 2013 – DAY 3

25.04.2013 | Blog
R&Sie, "Hybrid Muscle" (2003) in “Boys from Mars,” by Philippe Parreno (2003). © 2010 Philippe Parreno

R&Sie, “Hybrid Muscle” (2003) in “Boys from Mars,” by Philippe Parreno (2003). © 2010 Philippe Parreno

The third day of the Synapse conference began with a stimulating talk by Natalie Jeremijenko. Jeremijenko is an artist and scientist, based in New York, whose work focuses on, among tohers – in her words – “In the tradition of institutional critique… developing an alternative institution (xClinic, but also OOZ, the Cross(x)Species Adventure Club, Farmacy and HSIM)  as a way of working on or redesiging/reimagining our shared urban environments” (see our interview with Jeremijenko here). As a respected scientist and artist, Jeremijenko was in a unique position to comment on issues of relevance to Synapse participants: the nature of scientific work versus artistic work, a contemporary ‘crisis of agency’, for example. One of Jeremijenko’s claims that stood out to me – or was at least unexpected – was her urging that artistic work not shy from making truth claims in the way made by scientists. Jeremijenko did not touch with much detail on the nature of factitude or ‘truth’ in a scientific context – it seems to me that many scientists, working after Latour (for one), might adhere to notions of scientific certainty or truth with a kind of understood sense of provisionality (it may also be the case that this provisionality is a precondition for scientific ‘progress’). Suggesting that artists are in a position to make truth (or “truth”) claims represented to me to be – if I understood Jeremijenko correctly – a striking argument for a potential overlap between scientific and artistic research. In addition, this thinking might go a long way in actualizing the political/social implications of artistic practice.

Next we heard three talks by SYNAPSE cyrators Margarida Mendes (who spoke about entropy and systems theory in a talk titled “On Conductivity”), by Xiaoyu Weng (“More Human Than Human”) and Etienne Turpin (“The Design of the Anthropocene: A prehistory”). Mendes – as Jeremijenko pointed out in the Q&A after the talks – adopted a systems theory approach to artistic practice that was otherwise mostly untouched by the other talks in the programme; Jeremijenko cautioned that systems theory, which emerged from engineering, is not equally applicable to all fields. Personally, I was most interested in Mendes’ discussion of the Philippe Parreno film “The Boy from Mars” (2003), the production of which involved a commision by architects R&Sie to build a structure, titled “Hybrid Muscle” (2003) that generated its own electricity via the use of an albino Buffalo, whose motion was converted into electrical power. Xiayu Weng’s talk took its point of departure from the Ridley Scott film “Blade Runner” (1982), specifically by analyzing the use of animal imagery in the scene where Deckard endeavors to prove whether Rachael is a replicant or human. Since replicants don’t have empathy, animals seemed to serve as a stand in for an ethical understanding that is uniquely ‘human': reporting a calfskin wallet, a little boy’s butterfly collection, a wasp on one’s arm, etc. Weng’s argument presented an interesting and subtle take on the ethical and even diagnostic/critical implications of human-animal relations (the domain of testing, for example).

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Lastly we heard a talk titled “The Design of the Anthropocene” by Etienne Turpin and a well-argued discussion of problems behind anthropocene-related concepts in dOCUMENTA13 by T.J. Demos. During the Q&A After Demos’ talk, Bergit Arends pressed Demos on his understanding of the political activity that can be potentiated by engaging specific audiences in an exhibition. Arends was reacting to Demos’ ostensible disregard, in his talk, for questions of audience in an exhibition of such a scale. Demos – rather patly, to my mind – claimed that viewing and discussing art in itself constituted a political act. It seemed to me that this idea indicated a rather limited understanding of what counts as political action. Fittingly, this was followed up by the opening of “The Whole Earth: California and the Disappearance of the Outside” at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, an exhibition curated by Anselm Franke and Diedrich Diederichsen that engaged with many of these questions and quandaries.



SYNAPSE 2013 – DAY 2

25.04.2013 | Blog

SYNAPSE 2013 Continued on Wednesday with a screening of Galapagos, which related to a project in which twelve artists were brought to the Galapagos Islands and asked to freely respond to the fragile environment around them. Following this screening co-curator of the Galapagos exhibition and Curator of Contemporary Art at Britain’s Natural History Museum Bergit Arends held a discussion, moderated by Julia Voss of the F.A.Z., about the Galapagos project and the activities of the Natural History Museum generally. Yesterday, Voss brought up the phenomenon that Natural History Museums tend to be geared in their exhibition design toward children, and inquired here about questions of audience. Arends pointed out – to the surprise of certain participants – that due to budget cuts in the UK, collaborations with contemporary artists have to be engaged with by the Natural History Museum as ‘researchers’, not ‘artists.’ This sparked a lively discussion: Jill Bennett pointed out that, in her experience, internal or external reviews of institutional projects find that the ‘research’ done by artists, when evaluated as a whole, do not tend to deliver on their promise as ‘research.’ Admittedly playing devil’s advocate, Bennett queried whether there is not “a bit of hubris in artists’ sense that [they’re] doing science”.

SYNAPSE 2013 Curator Alice Carey contributed an anecdote about her involvement in a project involving a collaboration with scientists by artist Mark Dion. HEre, the artist’s own activity inadvertently led to the discovery of two insect species of significant value to traditional ‘scientific’ research. The scientists, Carey went on, later confessed that Dion’s project was a unique opportunity to reflect on their work.

After Arends’s lecture, Carey gave a talk on her projects, which relate to “art + farming”; Carey’s work, which stems from a personal engagement with the act of farming, investigates, for one, how the animal becomes a container for cultural heritage. She quoted Michel Serres, who wrote that “[t]he greatest event of the twentieth century incontestably remains the disappearance of agricultural activity at the helm of human life in general and of individual cultures” (Serres, The Natural Contract, p. 28). Carey discussed Robert Bakewell, the 18th century agriculturalist responsible for implementing selective breeding of livestock and, according to Carey, was a key figure in the history of anthropogenic activity. Following this, we heard a discussion of Bioregionalism by Laura Cassidy, an investigation of the technology around eco-listening (“Landings: On Sounding the Earth”) by Natasha Ginwala, and an talk about the book as exhibition from Anne-Sophie Springer of K. Verlag.


SYNAPSE 2013 – DAY 1

23.04.2013 | Blog
Photo: Dante Busquets, 2013

SYNAPSE Conference 2013. Photo: Dante Busquets, 2013

The SYNAPSE 2013 conference got off to a start today. Present at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt were this year’s round of eleven curators – Nabil Ahmed, Arlette Quynh-Anh Tran, Xiaoyu Weng, Natasha Ginwala, Alice Carey, Manuela Moscoso, Etienne Turpin, Margarida Mendes, Vincent Normand, Laura Cassidy Rogers, Anna Sophie Springer – as well as SYNAPSE jury members and invited speakers.
Haus der Kulturen der Welt director Bernd Scherer opened the day with an introduction to The Anthropocene Project, a two-year program that opened in January and that sets the stage for many of the discussions of relevance to SYNAPSE participants: the conditions of knowledge production, say, and links (and possible conflicts) between artistic research and scientific research. Heike Mertens of the Ernst Schering Foundation alluded to a common tug-of-war between artists practicing in the domain of artistic research and members of the scientific community who appear skeptical about artistic work constituting research in itself.

Photo: Dante Busquets, 2013

SYNAPSE Curators 2013. Photo: Dante Busquets, 2013

After this introduction, Jens Hauser got the ball rolling with an informal lecture titled “Art in the age of Microperformativity, Biofacticity, Co-Corpo-Reality and the Epistemological Turn”, which set up a lexicon of several key concepts alluded to during the remainder of this day of the conference: biohacking, biosemiotics. Hauser pointed to the interesting case of Jack Burnham, who authored the book The Effects of Science and Technology on the Sculpture of This Century (1968), where Burnham asks: “is it possible… that art is a form of biological signal?” Also helpful in visualizing some anthropocene-related concepts was Hauser’s list of artists he has curated: Art Orienté Object (Marion Laval-Jeantet & Benoît Mangin), Tour Van Balen and Paul Vanouse, for example. Anselm Franke followed up with a discussion of his recent curatorial projects, including The Whole Earth: California and the Disappearance of the Outside, which Franke co-curated with Diedrich Diedrichsen and which opens this Thursday, 25 April at the HKW. The exhibition posits, among other ideas, how the counter-cultural mentality that emerged in 1960’s California (and a product of which was The Whole Earth Catalogue) might be seen as the historical completion of the feedback loops (or “circular causalities”) analyzed and described by the field of cybernetics.

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This was followed up by SYNAPSE Keynote speaker Jill Bennett. Her impromptu talk summed up many of the central concerns of the SYNAPSE conference as well as the Anthropocene when taken as a curatorial enterprise: How does interdisciplinarity fall apart within institutional frameworks? What are the issues of scale associated with the Anthropocene as a historical event and th[oretical model? What implications does this have in terms of what constitutes human agency? Chus Martinez, Chief Curator at El Museo del Barrio in New York and the head of dOCUMENTA(13)’s department for artistic direction, gave an excellent talk on her intense involvement with dOCUMENTA(13) – an exhibition whose impulses often aligned with many of the science-art relations that SYNAPSE seeks to investigate.

Photo: Dante Busquets, 2013

Chus Martinez speaks about dOCUMENTA(13). Photo: Dante Busquets, 2013

Finally, we heard presentations from four of this year’s curatorial selectees: Vincent Normand spoke on Latour and Foucault in a talk titled “Frankenstein in the role of nature”, while Manuela Moscoso of RIVET took a point of departure in the Spanish phrase “se hizo” which means “it happens” but which literally translates to “it made itself” – might we find in this phrase a curatorial or artistic approach to (non)-agency? Arsenic – originally a byproduct of the copper industry – was the focus of Nabil Ahmed’s talk “Earthly Poison” – while Arlette Quynh-Anh Tran wrapped up this leg of the conference with a talk on “Unconditional Belief.”


Interview with Natalie Jeremijenko

11.04.2013 | Blog

Natalie Jeremijenko is an artist and engineer who directs the xdesign Environmental Health Clinic at NYU. Previously she was on the Visual Arts faculty at UCSD, and Faculty of Engineering at Yale. Her work was included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial of American Art (also in 1997) and the Cooper Hewit Smithsonian Design Triennial 2006-7. She has a permanently installed Model Urban Development on the roof of Postmasters Gallery in Chelsea, featuring 7 residential housing developments, concert hall, and other public amenities, powered by human food waste where it continues to toy with new conceptions of urban futures, and re-imagine our relationship to nonhuman organisms. Her work is described as experimental design, hence xDesign, as it explores the opportunity new technologies present for non violent social change. Her research centers on structures of participation in the production of knowledge, and information and the political and social possibilities (and limitations) of information and emerging technologies — mostly through public experiments. In this vein, her work spans a range of media from statistical indices (such as the Despondency Index, which linked the Dow Jones to the suicide rate at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge) to biological substrates (such as the installations of cloned trees in pairs in various urban micro-climates) to robotics (such as the development of feral robotic dog packs to investigate environmental hazards). The Environmental Health Clinic develops and prescribes locally optimized and often playful strategies to effect remediation of environmental systems, producing measurable and mediagenic evidence, and coordination diverse projects to effective material change. (Source: NYU Steinhard Faculty Bio).

SYNAPSE: How does your practice – as an artist and a scientist – differ in its goals from those of an urban planner, architect or an engineer?

NJ: My work is set up in opposition to the idea that some planner, architect, or engineer has a monopoly on what and how we design our cities and our shared environmental commons (and monopolies the resources and public funds for doing so). I develop alternative criteria and oppose the goals and institutional logic of planners and particularly engineers, as a systems engineer by training. Part of my work is to develop representations that show different institutional framework, logic in addition to presenting a desirable …. I don’t agree with the rban planner criteria but they cannot be opposed to improving health.  Moreover, and the service structure of engineers and architectural professions desperately limits what and for whom they design. I also oppose formulaic ideas will promote “behavior change” as if we are robots that can be reprogrammed. In the US this idea is usually framed in somewhat-heroic -consumer speak:  there are 10 things you can do to “save the world”, like changing a lightbuld, recycling shopping bags or  buy local lettuces, etc., Everyone knows that changing a light bulb is necessary but radically insufficient. A new report just out on a huge Swedish experiment with thousands of energy meters in private homes, five different incentive strategies and marketing campaigns, that proudly boasted it had achieved a 12% energy saving. These kinds of incremental changes that don’t really re-imagine one’s life, they are necessary but insufficient (and really just about deprivation rather than producing a desireable future.


SYNAPSE: What is the alternative?

NJ:  In the tradition of institutional critique I am developing an alternative institution (xClinic, but also OOZ, the Cross(x)Species Adventure Club, Farmacy and HSIM)  as a way of working on or redesiging/reimagining our shared urban environments. The service structure of architecture and engineering design professions limits what and to whom they are accountable. These professions are not accountable to community health and environmental performance, for instance, (landscape architecture is an imagistic profession too) nor are they necessarily embedded in community for ongoing monitoring and adaptation–whereas both xClinic, OOZ and other structures of participation I work on/as are specifically accountable and involve local constituents in the initial value proposition and the ongoing evaluation/adaptation.  Given that there is little experiment and less empiricism that drives the by-definition topdown urban planning activities I see them as cultural/technological fiction writers sans interesting plots, sans even compelling McGuffins, and in the queasy realm of futurology – I haven’t seen a single Urban Planning process I like (though I was one of 4 artist led teams to develop urban plans for Long Island City). Frankly I am tempted to spend more time critiquing engineering (there are few engineering critics…. who are actually critical, and not just dazzled by scale, budget and chutzpah) bc they are just such inadequate structures of accountability.

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SYNAPSE: Much of work your artistic practice focuses on ways of addressing the public, or give awareness to certain kinds of phenomena, or for example to enable social change. How has the notion of the ‘public’ changed throughout your artistic practice?

NJ: The “public” has disintegrated into very specific individuals, and small groups, or impatients. The disintegration of the public is part of the crisis of agency, which is not necessarily the atomization and individualization of risk and concern. It does disambiguate how and who can act — and suggests more specific aggregates or impatients who are bound by shared material conditions of our environmental commons.

These fragments of public are every bit as specific as a particular “collector” in the art world context, limited by their own resources and concerns. in xclinic the person/impatient attends to address their own questions and immediate concerns, voluntarily and self initiated, not unlike like when someone goes to the doctor. Although at the xClinic we codeveloped things people can do to treat that concern and improve environmental health, whereas in a medical clinic u are likely to leave with a prescription for a pharamaceutical

SYNAPSE: What does the ‘x’ stand for in projects like “XClinic” and “XDesign”?

NJ: The ‘x’ locates it in specific local experiment. X marks the spot on the territory ….  in xClinic – I like camelcase, even though it offend the more literary, it is the mark of programmers – it is short for ‘environmental health clinic’ which functions both as a deadpan generalizable institutional context that one cannot abstract from local environmental conditions. I just launched a new xClinic in Manchester with a phenological xperiment.

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SYNAPSE: Do you see much of a precedent for this kind of fusion – between art and science – in the history of science, or the history of art? Who are your influences?

NJ: Science studies as an academic discipline has been a tremendous influence treating science as culture but I am equally interested is treating culture as science like computational linguistics or the legacy of AI and cybernetics. I am infected by the earnestness of the engineering–why I went into it rather than the anthropological stance of studying it (in Science Studies tradition)…. I was attracted to the chutspah of using  intellectual/theoretical ideas and new technologies as an opportunity to address pressing social and environmental issues.  I find earnest-ness much more appealing as a stance than cool irony, or even the critical remove, hence using our own lifestyles as lifestyle experiments. which is consistent with the “life as art” paradigm in contemporary practices.

All of my students are required to do a self-designed lifestyle experiments that measurably improves environmental health.

“Look & Feel”(2003), at de Verbeelding art landscape nature, Zeewolde, Netherlands (Source: xDesign, NYU)

SYNAPSE: Tell me about the environmental health clinic.

I call them ‘impatient’ because they’re too impatient to wait for legal and legeslative wranglings… such as in the case of cleaning up the Hudson River, for example, you know that took 30 years. The cleanup effort is uninformed and not only inadequate, but it is also making the problem worse. The bioaccumulation of fish has steadily been going down in the past fifteen years. Not only is it wrong, it verges on immoral. As an environmental  strategy this paradigm of suing the deep pockets – in this case GE was only one of the companies that contaminated the river – it happens to be the one that’s still around, and has deep pockets. This idea that you go wrangling for thirty years and then task someone to do the cleanup – and the number of good, young minds involved… The number 1 concern of students coming into NYU is the environment – they could care less about the war, and even student debt. The environment as a topic of research pulls young people. But they think they need to go into environmental law, which is usually unimaginative and a great waste of the young, interesting minds.

The environmental health clinic is twisting the definition of health from an internal, atomized, medicalized, genetically predetermined view of health into an external, shared, environmental view of health.

In the tradition of institutional critique – xClinic is a very specific critique of the medicalization of health. Hippocrates himself said that the better part of health lies outside the body – to treat the inner we have to treat the outer. In this kind of Hippocratic strategy is a critique of how we’ve formulated health. We can take environmental questions and see how they affect health. And I think that that’s a compelling metric. It’s a collective formulation of our shared environmental commons. It’s in my interest, and its in your interest too, to improve your environmental health. And this makes it a very different kind of framework than global circulation models – of nature being ‘out there’, climate being ‘out there’, but instead really grounding it in one’s own health and urban symptoms. Which, I would argue, has a great advantage in that – you can act on it. It’s in your own interest to.

The globalization of discourse around the environment has the unfortunate consequence of making it feel like you can’t do anything – that you can’t act.

In the east river, I’ve been building an alternative way of addressing the contaminants: aggregating small actions of many people motivated by their own one-day interest and engagement into collective action, collective remediative action that is not about making anyone follow – not about provoking ‘behavior change.’

SYNAPSE: Why unimaginative?

NJ: I just think it’s a strategy that’s empty now. In fact, cleaning up these large industrial contaminants…that’s one issue, but it’s not the only issue. But with the structure, and the professional structure, of law, that’s all they can do – is act on regulating companies. I don’t think the strategies are appropriate for the issues we’re facing today.

Twoilets: Toilets for Birds (Source: xDesign, NYU)

SYNAPSE: How do you generally like to frame your work discursively? Any insights as to what you’ll be discussing during the SYNAPSE conference this april?

NJ: I usually start my talk showing why I frame environmental issues as health issues and health issues as environmental issues. To address what I call the crisis of agency – which is, what to do? As an individual, as a collective, as an institution, so I think that this question of what to do is open. changing a light bulb, recycling your shopping bags…again, radically insufficient. And I think this is a shared cultural feeling – this crisis of agency.

Source: NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

Natalie Jeremijenko                      Source: NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development




Roundup: recent Anthropocene-related articles and links

26.03.2013 | Blog

The recent The Anthropocene Project: An Opening (10.01.2013 – 13.1.2013) at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt cast overdue light on a theme that’s being increasingly discussed well beyond its original geological context: the Anthropocene and its ties to art and science. Below are some Anthropocene-related links that have been circulating around the blogosphere in the past few months. (Is ‘blogosphere’ itself an anthropogenic term? Discuss.)


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On 25 February 2013, no less a figure than Bruno Latour gave a lecture at the University of Edinburgh titled “The Anthropocene and the Destruction of the Image of the Globe”:

“Do you remember how at school we were asked to be very impressed by the slow pace of geological time? Well, today, the phrase ‘geological time’ is now used for an event that has passed more quickly than the very existence of the Soviet Union. A distinction between history and geostory has actually vanished.”

Latour expounds a thesis that there is no longer a ‘global globe’, for which he substitutes the familiar notion of a loop:

“This slow operation of being wrapped in successive looping strings is what it means to be ‘of this earth’ – it’s rather the slow and painful progressive merging of cognitive, emotional, and aesthetic virtue because of the way the loops are rendered more and more visible through instruments and art forms of all sorts.” 

Illustration used in Bruno Latour's Gifford Lecture at the University of Edinburgh, February 2013

Illustration used in Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lecture at the University of Edinburgh, February 2013

In the description from Latour’s website:

“Those six lectures in ‘natural religion’ explore what it could mean to live at the epoch of the Anthropocene when what was until now a mere décor for human history is becoming the principal actor. They confront head on the controversial figure of Gaia, that is, the Earth understood not as system but as what has a history, what mobilizes everything in the same geostory. Gaia is not Nature, nor is it a deity. In order to face a secular Gaia, we need to extract ourselves from the amalgam of Religion and Nature. It is a new form of political power that has to be explored through a renewed attempt at political theology composed of those three concepts: demos, theos and nomos. It is only once the multiplicity of people in conflicts for the new geopolitics of the Anthropocene is recognized, that the ‘planetary boundaries’ might be recognized as political delineations and the question of peace addressed. Neither Nature nor Gods bring unity and peace. ‘The people of Gaia’, the Earthbound might be the ‘artisans of peace’. “

2. In a recent ArtReview feature on Future Greats, Berlin/Amsterdam based artist Katja Novitskova – selected here by Laura McLean-Ferris – explicitly references the Anthropocene:

“A recent body of work charted the evolution of new technological species against the demise of existing biological ones – a rare, delicately winged butterfly becomes extinct, but is traded for a new silicone wafer. Images of cute baby giraffes might survive better than the actual creatures themselves, suggest her large display stands featuring aluminium cutouts of the animals (Approximation II, 2012), while digital prints of the Cambrian dolphin, on papyrus, no less, reference animals that have been bred and trained to carry out military operations.”

3. Jenna Sutela’s review of the Anthropocene opening up at the frieze d/e blog:

“Such exercises in listening and giving a representative voice to those that cannot speak – or putting an alarm on the silent monsters of human creation – provided the most resounding content of The Anthropocene Project: An Opening.”

 4. A talk, titled “Objects and (their) Time” with The Anthropocene Project: An Opening participant Lorraine Daston and Ana Ofak in the most recent issue of Mousse (print only, unfortunately); and in the same issue, a discussion between Lauren Cornell and artists Katja Novitskova, Jacolby Satterwhite and Mark Leckey about “Techno-Animism”.

"GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction" (2010) by Mark Leckey. Courtesy: Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

“GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction” (2010) by Mark Leckey. Courtesy: Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

 5. In a recent article on Dis Magazine, artist Timur Si-Qin argues that motifs commercial stock photography be likened to evolutionary ‘attractors’:

“Image conventions are naturally occurring formations in the geology of images, formations that if inspected more closely, reveal the deep history of our past and the real lives that lived through it.”

Timur Si-Qin, Attractors, DISimages

Timur Si-Qin, Attractors, DISimages, 2013

6. A working group at Stanford University titled “Generation Anthropocene” has an interesting series of podcasts, including one by ecocritic George Handley on environmental morality and one on extremophiles of the Anthropocene (here)

7. And finally, an excellent article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the 24 December 2012 issue of the New Yorker about the Rewilding Europe movement (subscriber only, unfortunately). 


Photograph illustrating for "Recall of the wild" depicting Flevoland, an attempt to 'rewild' a 15,000-acre park in the Netherlands. Photo courtesy Ian Teh

Photograph illustrating “Recall of the wild” depicting Flevoland, an attempt to ‘rewild’ a 15,000-acre park in the Netherlands. Photo courtesy Ian Teh (c) 2012 Condé Nast Publications


SYNAPSE Curators’ Questionnaire – Pt. 3

04.02.2013 | Blog

To mark the end of 2012, initiated a curators’ questionnaire, sent to the first round of SYNAPSE curators, who participated in 2011. 

This is part 3 of 3.

Timur Si-Qin, “Mainstream” (2012)

Anthropocene-related topics such as climate change, technological breakthroughs, and developments in medicine and biotechnology were particularly present in the media this year. How did your engagement with the topic change over 2012?

“During 2012 I had the chance to develop – in cooperation with Elena Agudio, whom I met through Synapse – a project focusing on the interlacing of art and science: Entering the Mind’s I, a group exhibition organized on the occasion of the International Conference for Human Brain Mapping held in June 2012 in Beijing. The exhibition, focusing on the work of a group of artists from different backgrounds, faced the same issues pointed out by the scientific community invited to the symposium: the (im)possibility to define one’s identity, the unlimited potential of the brain as well as its highly unpredictable and not-yet-fully-explored nature. This chance provided me the inspiration to deepen the dialogue with the scientific community and conceive my practice in a less self-oriented way, by trying to blur the line between different disciplines and approaches.”

– Manuela Lietti

“I am curator and artistic director of a Platform for contemporary art and neuroscience in Berlin, the AoN, collaborating with Charité Hospital + University of Medicine and with the Humboldt Berlin School of Mind and Brain. Thus, I have to say, my engagement with medicine and science started more than 4 years ago. But this year my research focused with more emphasis on the human body, and on its perception across cultures and disciplines. I collaborated with Christina Lammer and Artur Zmijewski on the project “Anatomy Lesson” conceived for the Berlin Biennale, inviting pediatric neurosurgeon Ulrich W. Thomale to participate in a drawing performance and workshop where the doctor was asked to describe his perception of the human body of his patients (as Lammer did with other medical doctors too, trying to understand how much doctors are seeing the body of patients as an object of their work or as a subject). Moreover I invited Beijing based curator Manuela Lietti to collaborate on an exhibition organized for the Organization of Human Brain Mapping (this year organized in Beijing) and to write the text  “Some reflections on the Chinese notion of Self.”

I am than working and researching on body perception and space, proprioception and embodiment issues.”

 – Dr. Elena Agudio

Martin Beck, Panel 2: “Nothing better than a touch of ecology and catastrophe to unite the social classes…” (Installation View, 2008)

  “My engagement with this topic has been ongoing since 2009, involving reading the literature on posthumanism as well as observing the spectacle that is the current mediated debate on climate change between climate change ‘deniers’ and activists.

Two points.

1.     As someone inspired by Fernand Braudel’s longue durée historiography, I think it is important to place the concepts of humanity and climate change in a different perspective from that of the courte durée (short term). So, climate change is nothing new, the climate has been changing as long as the planet has been in existence; we have had ice ages as well as phases of ‘global warming.’ Yet there is a sense in contemporary discourse that the climate change of our generation is something caused more or less by humans (as distinct from ‘nature’). This appears to be an unjustified attribution of causal agency to humans.

2.     Apropos the notion of the Anthropocene, it is debatable whether or not the short span of human existence (as a species) justifies such a periodization. It also appears to be associated with a very problematic concept of the human, namely the human as somehow divorced from nature, and transcendent over animality. To return to the climate change topic, there is an assumption that we humans, unlike other animals, have done things to ‘distort’ the natural order, as though we ourselves were not an expression of nature. Only we humans are capable of acting against nature, because it seems we have transcended the realm of our animal nature. Here, one is tempted to say (tweaking Latour’s excellent phrase on the modern) Nous n’avons jamais été humains – We have never been human.”

        – Leon Tan

Iain Ball, RARE EARTH SCULPTURES [Cerium], 2012

“I’m particularly interested in how artists have used new technologies as platforms for a new social and political critique, even and especially regarding those very technologies. Notable examples include Gretta Louw, Eva and Franco Mattes, Owen Mundy and Igor Štromajer with digital technologies and Brandon Ballengée, Anna Dimitriu, Rich Pell and Hacketaria with biology and biotechnology. Another interesting current is an interest in the science of food as developed by the Center for Genomic Gastronomy. During the year I’ve gathered notes and links that I’ve found of interest and published hem on the blog I am also preparing for the upcoming MutaMorphosis conference in Prague in December, where so many interesting people are coming together:

 – Christian de Lutz

Earlier this year in September I attended the symposium, “Designing for the Anthropocene: Climate, Food and Health” at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University in Singapore. Le Tuong Vi and I (as our persona, Vile/Rats) presented our preliminary investigation into the curious life of minerals in “Neither Animal nor Vegetable”.

In June 2013, I will be showing new work in a solo show at the Hue Arts Space in Paju, Korea. The title of the show, naturally, will be “The Anthropocene”.

– Richard Streitmatter-Tran

Still from television show The Big Picture (1953-1963)

“My curatorial engagement with this topic was actually minimal. I could point out my recent research which will be finished at the end of this year. It deals with the garden scenery in installation arts. The gardening is one of the eldest culture phenomenon reflecting the relationship between human and nature; called “Third Nature”. I examined the artistic strategies of three artists, Marcel Broodthaers, Olafur Eliasson and Roman Ondak whose installations find a reflection in their architectural form or in the choice of organic and natural materials in the tradition of the garden and gardening. “

– Keumhwa Kim

 “I attach a final draft of a text/lecture I gave in Linz and then Bremen this year that refer to two projects 2006 – 2012:

 – Luis Barrios-Negron

“What concerns me are the limits of subjective (individual?) agency in relation to those critical issues. How can one develop truly effective means of negotiating with matters that happen in a super-human scale?”

– Gabriel Menotti

Barbara Kruger, “(Untitled) We Won’t Play Nature to Your Culture” (1983)

“My engagement with the topic has in no way been influenced. Not by the media and not in 2012… climate change, technological breakthroughs, and developments in medicine happen every year. I mean the Anthropocene has been on many peoples’ lips since Crutzen, Stoemer and a few others threw this on the table.

I must also say I am very sceptical about this Anthropocene hype in the art world. Why should Anthropocene be all of a sudden more present in the arts than Gravitation or Osmosis? I mean, I have hardly seen exhibits on the latter phenomena.

As a curator with a natural science and engineering background, I tend to look at such issues with a very critical eye, as I do observe a lot of smattering when some curators deal with such issues. So instead of sticking to the contemporary expressions and interpretations of Anthropocene, I will like to draw attention to the like of Antonio Stoppani and others who described similar phenomena of the human’s effects on the Earth some 140 years ago.”

– Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung

“I have come to realize that our narratives of earth history and our conception of man’s relation to earth have very intricate social and political histories. As a historian, I find this a fascinating chapter in the history of science. As a member of the Green Left party in the Netherlands, I struggle with the question how one can make such insights instrumental for a new engagement with information on the destruction of the earth, especially in a world that seems over-saturated with warnings of climate change.”

 – Flora Lysen


SYNAPSE Curators’ Questionnaire – Part 2

22.12.2012 | Blog

To mark the end of 2012, initiated a curators’ questionnaire, sent to the first round of SYNAPSE curators, who participated in 2011. This is part 1 of 3.

Question 2. What were your two or three favorite exhibitions of 2012?

Artivistic’s Promiscuous Infrastructures (Phase 2) at Centre SKOL, Montreal, SKOL  Ineffable Plasticity: The Experience of Being Human, MOCCA, Toronto.

(Alvis Choi)


dOCUMENTA13 in Kassel

Mike Nelson, “408 Tons of Imperfect Geometry” at Malmö Konsthall

(Trine Fris Sørensen)


Modern Monsters / Death and Life of Fiction – 2012 Taipei Biennial

Raqs Media Collective, “A Phrase not a Word” at Nature Morte, Delhi

(Leon Tan)

Raqs Media Collective, “A Phrase, Not A Word” at Nature Morte (2012)

This year Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev launched her vision for the 13th iteration of Documenta in Kassel. Of particular interest to me was the inclusion of a wide span of intellectual investigations from quite diverse systems of knowledge. Of note, was the publishing of the Documenta notebooks, of which Jill Bennett’s “Living in the Anthropocene” was one of the standouts for me.

In Asia, I am looking forward to the launch of the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane, Australia at the Queensland Art Gallery. A fantastic curatorial team has for years taken three years snapshots of arts practices throughout Asia and put on shows that I feel capture the pulse of this region.

(Richard Streitmatter-Tran)


Qiu Shihua, “White Field” at Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin

Qiu Shihua’s works are landscapes of the mind suspended between perception and vision, the real and the ideal dimensions. His body of work is centered on portraying natural sights that become mental visions and bridge the gap between nature and man, reason and emotion.   

Berlinde de Breyckere, “Yara – The Wound,” at Arter, Istanbul

In this solo show, Berlinde De Bruyckere presents her most iconic sculptures and drawings that refer to suffering and desire, by revealing the fragility of the body and the vulnerability of existence. Her pieces bravely venture into the abysses of the human condition and are able to combine intimate tones with universal feelings of despair, loss, as well as compassion.   

“Where to?” at The Israeli Center for Digital Art, Holon, Israel

A central issue of this show is the possibility of re-imagining, of coming up with alternative forms of existence for Jews in this highly complex and  controversial age. By presenting works that challenge stereotypes and pre-constituted visions, the exhibition addresses specific political and social issues that nevertheless open up the dialogue on identity at large.

(Manuela Lietti)

Qiu Shihua, “White Field” at Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2012)


Taryn Simon “Photographs and Texts” at Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow

“The Big Inexplicable Paravent Illusion” at Isabella Bortolozzi Gallery, Berlin

(Elena Yaichnikova)



“From Trash to Treasure” at Kunsthalle Kiel

 Alfredo Jaar, Nationalgalerie, Berlinische Galerie and NGBK

(Keumhwa Kim)


Zvi Goldstein’s “Haunted by Objects” at K20 in Düsseldorf

(Luis Barrios-Negron )

Zvi Goldstein, Installation view from “Haunted By Objects” at K20, Düsseldorf


In Berlin Bios at Georg Kolbe Museum. I also had luck to see Brandon Ballengée’s exhibition at Ronald Feldman Gallery in NYC this Summer. While it’s certainly rather subjective to include the exhibitions I curated, I was honoured and thrilled to work with some amazing artists on ALB’s ‘Time and Technology’ series: Gretta Louw, plan b (Sophia New and Daniel B. Rogers), Shlomit Lehavi, Sam Belifante & Simon Lewandowski, Dave Hebb and Yasuhiro Sakamoto. I’m also excited about our new series ‘Synaesthesia.’” – (Christian de Lutz)

I’m increasingly infatuated by the temporary shows that have been put up by the Wellcome Collection (London), with their often surprising combination of historical artifacts and art pieces.

(Gabriel Menotti)


Positioning Osmotic Impulses, SAVVY Contemporary

The 3rd Paris Triennial

There is no wind on the moon, SAVVY Contemporary


(Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung)


The long-awaited re-opening of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The last time I entered the museum, I was 17 years old. Suddenly, the relationship between museum spaces and memories became very apparent to me.

dOCUMENTA 13. Because I was (literally) hypnotized by artist Marcos Lutyens.

Our Metamorphic Futures. Design, technical aesthetics and experimental architecture in the Soviet Union 1960–1980. Estonian Museum of Applied Arts and Design, Tallin.

(Flora Lysen)


“Animism” at the Generali Foundation in Vienna

Susanne Pfeffer “Absalon” at Kunstwerke, Berlin

Susanne Pfeffer “One on One” at Kunstwerke, Berlin – I like it as a kind of curatorial development of Absalon’s exhibition

(Dr. Elena Agudio)


SYNAPSE Curators’ Questionnaire – Part 1

19.12.2012 | Blog

Juliette Blightman, “nothing of significance grows under the shade of a large tree – as tears go by” (2012) at Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin. Installation view.

To mark the end of 2012, initiated a curators’ questionnaire, sent to the first round of SYNAPSE curators, who participated in 2011. Responses ranged from the theoretical to the practical, reflecting the heterogeneity and breadth of curatorial voices. This is part 1 of 3.

Question: What would you single out as the most significant phenomenon or trend in curating this year?

“Materiality and what might be termed ‘the curatorial gesture’.” (Trine Friis Sørensen)

“Playing with the immateriality of a work of art.” (Elena Yaichnikova)

“Community. Community is the new international.” (Alvis Choi)

“Over the past few years I’ve read again and again critics who’ve complained that the mainstream art world has become stale, repeating and mashing the art of past generations. Finally I’m beginning to see curiosity and questioning. While I think she pretty much missed what she was looking for, Claire Bishop’s article in the September Artforum did at least question the ‘Zeitgeist blindness’ of the last decade. Here in Berlin the 2000s and their spirit of ‘retrogeist’ has also been challenged. Now I think it’s time to look at art that deals with the issues of the new decade and move on.” (Christian de Lutz)

Martin Beck, “Untitled,” 2012. Courtesy 47 Canal and the artist.


 “Curating has become a trend itself, the practice of curating has become ubiquitous, embracing different fields of knowledge, patterns of creations but also of consumption.” (Manuela Lietti)

 “I think one of the more interesting trends in curating this year is the way it has gained momentum as a concept in popular culture and marketing. What I mean is the way in which several websites and web commentators have used this term to refer to events as diverse as organizing an online conference to the commonplace activities of maintaining a Tumblr or Instagram account. We had declarations such as ‘everyone is an artist’ some decades back. Today, it would seem that ‘everyone is a curator.’ In this sense, perhaps non-professionals have, through the past two decades of immersive mediated experiences (with still and video cameras, smartphones, websites, etc.), come to grasp some basic principles behind the emerging discipline of experience design. Such non-professionals (and I use this term simply to distinguish these from those identified as ‘artists’) understand the importance of building and responding dynamically to a globalized and diversified audience, they experiment with and manipulate aesthetic effects for maximum impact (quantified in number of ‘likes,’ views, and comments), and essentially compose collective experiences featuring mediatic objects and processes.” (Leon Tan)

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“Para-Institutions. Emerging from the field of “Artistic Research”, artists have expanded their practice to include research and becoming “one-person bands”, taking on roles of critics, curators, and publishers. Biljana Ciric, an independent curator in Shanghai and Sally Lai of the Chinese Art Centre in Manchester, published “Institution for the Future” which examined this trend in 2012. These para-institutions mimic in many ways the operational modes of larger institutions on a much smaller scale and their relationship fluctuates from the symbiotic to the parasitic.” (Richard Streitmatter-Tran)

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“The politics of exhibition design and the strategies of curatorial practices of display .” (Dr. Elena Agudio)

“I haven’t perceived any patterns so far, but I just happen to know that “knowledge production”  (whatever that means) was a buzzword in many successful funding applications. There you go.” (Gabriel Menotti)

“The continuing erosion – or perhaps more accurately, the mutation – of the auteur aura of Szeeman-style curating. Rather than an exclusively singular model for the most prominent and visible exhibitions in the world, we see the proliferation of curatorial teams, collectives, braintrusts and councils. Documenta13 and the Berlin Biennial were headlined by marquee names, but built collectively with/by large teams. Gwangju assembled a quintet of able curators, while the WHW collective continues to travel the world and animate their agency. In the exhibitions that come out of these group dynamics, individual signatures are simultaneously blurred and obscured – creating a more non-linear, democratic infrastructure within the highest echelons of exhibition-making.” (Steven Matijcio)

“It seems that the topic about art and science, art and urbanity, art and ecology gain growing interest in the art scene. It is interesting to see the development, we had in the 70’s and 90’s the similar phenomenon, however, with stronger accent on the art and ecology and now, twenty years later we discover the high potential of this topic in the art production and curatorial practices.” (Keumhwa Kim)

“[I]f frequency is what you mean, I would say the phenomenon of “artistic research” caught my attention a few times. I think it is one of those terms that mean everything and nothing. (Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung)

“Theme-making. Preparations.” (Luis Barrios-Negron)


Interview with Jill Bennett, Part 2.

08.11.2012 | Blog

SYNAPSE – The International Curators’ Network is pleased to present part 2 of our interview with Jill Bennett, who will deliver Synapse’s keynote speech on April 23, 2013. Jill Bennett is a professor of experimental arts, and writer and curator. Her book Practical Aesthetics: Events, Affects and Art after 9/11 (2012), which explores aesthetics in relationship to historical events such as 9/11 and to problems of affect, was recently published by I. B. Tauris. Also this year, Bennett released Living in the Anthropocene with Hatje Kantz Verlag as part of dOCUMENTA13’s “100 Notes, 100 Thoughts Series.” Bennett is also founding director of the National Institute for Experimental Arts (Australia) and previously founded UNSW’s Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics, where she is also the Associate Dean Research at the College of Fine Arts.

SYNAPSE: How critical are you of the notion of an Anthropocene? Do you accept its existence with hesitation, or do you see this paradigm shift as something extant. Further, is this something with inevitable consequences?

JB: The naming of the Anthropocene is a bold rhetorical gesture. It’s one thing to present scientific evidence that human activity is impacting on Earth System Structure, another to say that we are living in an era of our own making, and that this era has been emergent for 250 years. This really does impact on the way we think about history, culture and spheres that are not conventionally defined in relation to the natural world. What it might mean in the immediate future for cultural disciplines is that our goals and priorities shift, and with them our organizational structures and ways of doing things.

SYNAPSE: In Practical Aesthetics, you devote a section to the ‘virtual event,’ pointing out Thomas Demand’s project of “inhabiting and…reconfiguring the historical event” in his piece Poll (2001)

JB: Yes, this is a key work—a very successful work in terms of its capacity to describe the core features of a momentous event. I love the idea that the essence of such an event can be expressed in the medium of Post-it Notes! Demand captures with some subtlety the way that history turns ultimately on a very limited set of possibilities. Poll is the event distilled into its most bureaucratic and constraining features. I would argue that aesthetics is ‘practical’ to the extent that it holds out the possibility of thinking around constraints.

SYNAPSE: How is the Internet changing the image? You mention in Practical Aesthetics that “exhibition space…is material” – do you see a key difference in the materiality of ‘actual’ objects and the materiality of images in virtual spaces?

JB: Yes, but in the exhibition context, continuities are as interesting as material differences. The relationship of media ecologies to material objects opens up exhibiting possibilities, particularly in terms cross-platform relationships. For one thing, the question of how a continuing ‘social practice’ may be captured within an exhibition framework is potentially addressed in the structure of the relational database.

I am also very interested in atmosphere– another ‘Anthropocenic’ topic. Atmosphere is an ‘immaterial’ domain that has provided cultural disciplines with a rich metaphorics for describing the social experience of space. Events are all about atmosphere but traditionally we haven’t thought much about how this tangible quality is produced or perceived. These days, however, architects are concerned with designing micro-climates; at UNSW I am involved in a 3D immersive interactive project that models atmospheric phenomena in virtual space. Such projects—and, indeed, the experience of immersion—offer a way to imagine and conceptualise immaterial dimensions of environment.

SYNAPSE:  What kinds of currents in curatorial practice do you find valuable or intriguing?

JB: I found the last two documentas interesting in terms of the way they each in different ways (and with varying degrees of critical success) attempted to trace the trajectory of objects and materials through both exhibition space and geographic and temporal space. I would also locate Patrick Keiller’s The Robinson Institute (Tate Britain, 2012) in this current. This show embodies a pedestrian exploration of the English landscape, folding out into a rich historical, political, geographic description. It incorporates Keiller’s video work, which sets up the narrative of a fictional explorer, but around this he curates eclectically from the Tate collection (Turner, Gursky, Fontana, the Situationists and so on), bringing in maps, meteorites, found objects.  The premise resonates more with emergent ecological writing than with curatorial methods but there is something very contemporary about the mix.

SYNAPSE:     Are there specific artworks, particularly in an exhibition like documenta13, that you feel serve as examples of the reorganization of institutional art practice mentioned in “Life in the Anthropocene”? Can this form of reorganization – this paradigm shift – happen ‘within’ the institutions themselves, or must it come from the ‘outside,’ in other disciplines and fields?

JB: Pierre Huyghe’s work for documenta13 would be a choice example – but even the ill-fated attempt to present the El Chaco meteorite as art (in the event, the correspondence and the push-back from local communities enriched that whole presentation). Another interesting ambition of documenta13 was the inclusion of various scientific instruments. In the end this borrowing can’t be one sided. It must be generative. The point is not to aestheticize science – to transpose it into our exhibiting structures; it is rather to do something with science.

Ultimately institutional change occurs only when there is a confluence of social, economic and artistic interest driving change. On the other hand, as I say in “Living in the Anthropocene”, we don’t chose to address something of the magnitude of a paradigm shift; it addresses us, obliging us to rethink our ways of operating. Some institutions notice this – others are oblivious.

It can be exciting from the point of view of an institution or of one’s own practice to discover the capacity we have for adaptation, collaboration, invention and so on. The challenge from ‘outside’ should not be met as an imposition or thought of in terms of subjection to a fixed agenda. Just as science brought into the gallery should not be reduced to a mute object of fascination, aesthetics in the wider sphere must not be subservient or instrumentalized but should actively assert its capacity to render the world intelligible in ways that are not envisaged in science.

Jill Bennett


Interview with Jill Bennett, Part 1.

05.11.2012 | Blog

SYNAPSE – The International Curators’ Network is pleased to present part 1 of our interview with Jill Bennett, who will deliver Synapse’s keynote speech on April 23, 2013. Jill Bennett is a professor of experimental arts, and writer and curator. Her book Practical Aesthetics: Events, Affects and Art after 9/11 (2012), which explores aesthetics in relationship to historical events such as 9/11 and to problems of affect, was recently published by I. B. Tauris. Also this year, Bennett released Living in the Anthropocene with Hatje Kantz Verlag as part of dOCUMENTA13’s “100 Notes, 100 Thoughts Series.” Bennett is also founding director of the National Institute for Experimental Arts (Australia) and previously founded UNSW’s Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics, where she is also the Associate Dean Research at the College of Fine Arts.

SYNAPSE: For dOCUMENTA13’s 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts series, you wrote a text called “Living in the Anthropocene,” where you consider some of the challenges and implications of a geological shift toward the ‘recent age of man.’ In another work, Practical Aesthetics, you’ve focused on problems of affect, eventhood, and visualization. How might these two projects relate to one another?

Jill Bennett: I’m interested in how art occupies and is shaped by events—and in the role that art plays in enabling us to understand momentous events or shifts. My book Practical Aesthetics is concerned with art in the social and political climate “post 9/11” – art that makes sense of that climate by examining its constitutive emotions and the media through which these circulate. “Living in the Anthropocene” outlines future possibilities. Both texts in effect deal with a watershed. 9/11 was self-evidently a major event with profound consequences; the Anthropocene or, more specifically, its recognition and naming, may be the catalyst for a paradigm shift – a shift in fundamental belief that changes the way we do things.

SYNAPSE: In “Living In The Anthropocene,” you mention that “art practice will be configured beyond contemporary institutional boundaries,” and explain that this will be a “transdisciplinary revolution.” How is this the case – what might the Anthropocene have to do with the institutional divisions of contemporary art?

JB: The scope for transdisciplinary work is expanding. Problems like climate change—so called “wicked problems” with complex interdependent variables and no single technological solution—increasingly challenge conventional disciplinary methods. To generate action around these problems often involves thinking in creative ways about issues of communication, behavior, consumption, belief and so on. The grassroots role that art plays in this process has been expanding significantly, particularly with regard to sustainability. One modest example is a project I am currently involved with, called Curating Cities. Instead of presuming that art needs to be curated, it proposes that art can itself curate (literally ‘care for’) the city—but only if art ranges beyond the given spaces of public art commissions.

Art institutions will themselves transform in response to such agendas.  In the same way that the trope of globalization influenced not just the content but the structure and shape of exhibitions in the last decade, the concept of the Anthropocene will impact on exhibition practice. And it will raise some fundamental questions because the principles of ecological thinking challenge the logic of high consumption productions like one-off exhibitions, which direct a whole lot of traffic to one place for a very short period of time.

SYNAPSE: How might curators and artists incorporate some of the concepts in your writing on the Anthropocene in their own exhibitions and projects?

JB: The challenge for curators is to find ways to realize ecologies but also to explore how the exhibition itself functions as part of a larger ecological system. In this regard, the recent Manifesta presented an interesting experiment in terms of its transecting geographic, geological and cultural strands. Thinking ecologically means thinking about chains of connection and legacy—not just about ‘relationality’ in the immediate sense. It means reimagining the geographic and temporal structures of exhibitions. This could, for example, entail rethinking the exhibition space as part of a lifecycle rather than as the ultimate destiny of art. This in turn opens up the question of how we encompass practice that is oriented toward external action and that continues to produce effects in the world. Joseph Beuys notwithstanding, there has always been a divide between gallery art and “social practice”, partly because social practice is not exclusively focused on art as a fully resolved outcome.

SYNAPSE: How do your critical and theoretical writings bear on your practice as a curator?

JB: I am into Slow Curating (like Slow Food!). In other words, I’m not exclusively focused on delivering shows. My curating is always linked into emergent collaborative, cross-disciplinary research projects that run over several years. I think art galleries are very important sites of experimental production—but we shouldn’t take their form and function for granted. New ideas don’t always fit elegantly into pre-configured institutional spaces and we should go where our practice takes us.

SYNAPSE: In Practical Aesthetics, you discuss Mauss’ identification of an “obligatory expression of sentiment” and critique the tendency of certain presentations of images – in the media, in art – to oblige us to feel and express empathy or compassion. How is this different from the curator’s task, which is often likewise one of evoking, and shaping, the sentiment of viewers?

JB: The term aesthetics derives from aesthesis: sensory and affective perception. All forms of media engage us at the level of sensation and affect. Art or curatorial practice is not distinctive in this respect, except to the degree that it opens up and scrutinizes the process of engagement. In itself, promoting feeling is neither good nor bad; sympathy and sentiment can be marshaled to different ends and may or may not be accompanied by critical awareness.  In the book, I discuss certain instances where sympathy, compassion and indignation become self-righteous, even pernicious—and where an engagement with art can lead to something more productive. Precisely because art deals in affect and sensation, it can be adept at uncovering the workings of media in this regard.

Jill Bennett