Issue 4/2020 - Artscribe
Vienna. The subject of this year’s “Curated by” was Hybrids. In case the term already sounds overused and isn’t clear, the festival was meant to examine “the dissolution of boundaries between artistic practice and its spheres of activity.” Orit Gat, a London-based author who was invited to write a programmatic essay, concludes her text titled “Hybridity: An Amateur History and the Possibility of Freedom” by proposing that “dissolving boundaries is also a reminder that the task of the day is to look at accepted truths, stories told, and told again, and reassess them. There is freedom in that.” With a rather enchantingly optimistic attitude, Gat wished to interpret hybridity in the contexts of emancipation and liberation. Thus, what stories about freedoms might one retell and reassess in the context of “Curated by 2020”?
Social distancing, medical masks, and fogged eyeglasses made the experience of viewing the exhibition resemble a visit to a Covid-19 testing lab or even a funeral parlor. Upon entering a solo show by Olu Oguibe titled The Sadness Descends Again at Galerie Kandlhofer, for example, one encountered “the precariousness of existence and the ever-presence of cataclysmic or colossal, life-changing crises.” According to its curator, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, the show questioned the subject of memory – “what is remembered, by whom, for whom and from what vantage point?” This notion echoed the task mentioned by Gat of retelling accepted truths. Formally, the exhibition was rather simple and yet surgically precise. Oguibe’s work New York, April 2020, for example, transformed part of the gallery into a morgue for unknown Covid victims that would most probably fill mass graves, referring to a rather surreal fact for New York City in 2020. Biafra Time Capsule (2017) reminded us, again and again, about the genocide during the Nigerian Civil War by way of its media coverage – the covers of magazines, books, and other printed matter.
But not everything seemed cataclysmic. Far from it. For example, SEÑORA! at the Galerie Meyer Kainer, curated by Kris Lemsalu and Sarah Lucas, was a hybrid collective portrait of a señora, or a lady who, according to the curators’ text, was born in Venice and might be a film, a magazine, a concert, or a very good exhibition. Which she was, and she or they also were – adventurous, quirky, emancipated, eccentric, and funny with exceptional and mostly sculptural work by ten women artists: the two curators and Kate Boxer, Angela Bulloch, Merilyn Humphreys, Patricia Jordan, Edith Karlson, Michèle Pagel, Bárbara Sánchez-Kane, and Johanna Ulfsak.
Quite a few exhibitions really blurred the lines between artistic practices and authorship in the so-called expanded field. As time went on, a rumour started at Gianni Manhattan, curated by James Lewis, questioned how asynchronous time and meanings are created. Guillaume Maraud’s Untitled was an installation of spherical funeral urns that examined the asynchronicity or hybridity of time but also reflected on the lifespan of materials and objects. Mire Lee’s suspended kinetic sculpture looked like a magnified hybrid mechanism recalling our own fragile bio-mechanics. And an “author-less” – according to a curator – YouTube video showed a montage of Aphex Twin’s Stone in Focus audio with a video scene of Japanese macaques bathing in a hot spring taken from the film Baraka (1992), which created the illusion that the exhibition should be experienced from the perspective of the apes.
The boundaries of the exhibition format were stretched in Ups and Downs of a Flipped Planet at the Galerie Hubert Winter, curated by Chiara Vecchiarelli. From outside, the show looked like a luxurious shop for designer leather jackets. However, everything in this exhibition was ambiguous and dialectical and signified the opposite of what your first impression was. Artist Jojo Gronostay from Ghana created an art platform and a fashion brand titled DWMC (“Dead White Men’s Clothes”) based on the 1970s Ghanaian understanding that the second-hand clothing they were receiving must have belonged to dead white men, as it was unimaginable that someone in their right mind would give away garments of such good quality. Nevertheless, charity from Europe in fact killed the development of the fashion and textile industry in Africa; thus, one of the tasks of the label is to support emerging African fashion designers. Conflicting and dialectical realities of upcycling were also visible in the Antipodos sculptures by artist Iván Argote from Bogota, who also thwarted our expectations and played with our perception by showing distorted figures sculpted in a way that made it impossible to distinguish between left and right and front and back.
To summarize, my impression of “Curated by” was that it revealed the conceptual “hybridity” problem in curating itself. A few of the aforementioned curatorial decisions placed and reconsidered the term in the sociopolitical context and re-examined its liberating potentialities. However, as a hybrid exhibition-goer myself, I still missed even more heterogeneous perspectives and introductions to even more diverse and more hybrid (“hybrid” sometimes is used as synonym of non-homogeneous) spaces in terms of curators, artists’ lists, and exhibition spaces.
Untitled (MOLLY HOUSE) at EXILE (curated by Julius Pristauz) was definitely the queerest exhibition. The title refers to how in nineteenth-century England gays call each other “molly,” although the term is older and originally referred to Irish female sex workers. The last work in the exhibition is a video by Dominykas Canderis straightforwardly titled Unsuccessful Porn (2020, 12 min.). The video about filming gay porn ends rather abruptly with one of the actors suddenly declaring that he has to leave for the airport. Which reminded me that, although hybridity, even of the temporary variety, is quite often an aim in our socio-temporal environments, it isn’t that easy to achieve when not engaging with or unlocking its emancipatory powers. Otherwise, exhibitions resemble more and more zones of quarantine rather than hybrid acts of liberated creativity. These are words I jotted down on the way to the airport with a planned stop at a Covid-19 test lab.
Valentinas Klimašauskas, a Vilnius-based curator and writer, reviews “Curated by,” Vienna, this year titled Hybrids.