Since beginning my internship at the Swiss Institute, I’ve gotten to do a lot of different jobs. These have included page, receptionist, librarian, gallery assistant, copy editor, and photo editor, among other things. But, the biggest and most recurrent job that I have is of the researcher.
Hans Ulrich Obrist writes in Ways of Curating that curation is only a fraction of the job of the curator. Coordination and documentation are two other fractions, but research is one of the most important parts. The curator, as they go about organizing exhibitions and acting as the connective tissue between major artistic organs, must act as historian, documenting the artists that they come into contact with, but also as researcher on past and current artists to stay up to date on current happenings in the art world as well as historical happenings that inform their praxis going forward.
Most of my work consists of research in support of the curatorial team. There is a deluge of information out there about art, obviously. Thousands upon thousands of people around the world make art, of all different kinds. There are yet thousands more different art news publications, cultural authorities, publishers, galleries, museums, and institutions of all sorts that support the arts. How, then, is any one single person supposed to keep up with everything thats going on? Apparently, I’ve learned, that’s where I come in.
One of my biggest responsibilities is to create dossiers of artists for review for the curatorial team. Unlike my first project, in which I had the opportunity to come up with my own list of artists to pitch, most of the time the curators assign me a specific task, such as a list of names to compile dossier’s for, or a specific topic to compile as much information on as possible. What seems like a simple cut and dry research task ends up being a much bigger undertaking than at first meets the eye. For example, an artist dossier consists of a bio, a CV (which includes current exhibitions, past solo exhibitions, past solo exhibitions, and honors and awards), and then a picture portfolio of there most prominent and indicative works. Sometimes this is easy, and galleries or the artists themselves upload all of this information online. Most of the time, its patchwork of going through different online publications to piece together a timeline of the artist’s career. Sometimes, it will take an entire day to complete a file for a single artist.
While the task at times can seem laborious, its an amazing one because it is a massive learning opportunity for not just the curatorial team who will eventually look at these research documents and utilize them to figure out which artists to work with, but also for me who is new to this “professional art world” and doesn’t have the most complete grasp on contemporary happenings. It’s also an especially exciting task because the Swiss Institute prides itself on representing emerging and otherwise underrepresented artists. They constantly seek to explore new narratives and new ideas, which keeps the curation cycle always interesting. It’s also very interesting because the more I work for the institution, the more I am able to see how exactly it fits into the larger cultural landscape of New York, For example, a few of the names on the 2017 Whitney Biennial list presented their first ever New York solo exhibitions at the Swiss Institute.
Working at the Swiss Institute has educated me on things that I have never ever thought about before. Right now, I’m working on a bear of a research project that has taken me a few days to work through. While on the one hand it can seem a bit pointless, I am performing an important and necessary task that supports the whole team. How can we put on a show if no one really understands the concepts behind it? That would make us a poor gallery at best. And, while the specific subject matter that I am working on doesn’t really fall into the category of my personal interest or study, learning about these topics has been absolutely fascinating, and has exposed me to concepts, art works, and designs that I previously had never encountered. Now, I know more about things that I never knew existed than I ever thought possible. Each project expands my understanding of art history and contemporary artistic practices.
On my own independent research, I have dived wholeheartedly into Christiane Paul’s Digital Art – a modern textbook on the evolution of the digital medium over the past 60 years. André Breton and Paul Éluard defined the concept of the readymade as “an ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artists,” constituting a radical recontextualization of a found object. The field of digital media is one that I never conflated the idea of the readymade with. French artists Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno changed that with their seminal work “No Ghost Just a Shell,” (2000) in which they purchased the rights to a readymade manga character called Annlee. This figure has no story, no character, and no animation: she is simply code waiting to be animated and given a story. Like the artists and architects who took pre-existing objects and buildings and manipulated their contexts to augment them into works of art, Huyghe and Parreno took a readymade 3D model of a manga character and gave her dimension in “Anywhere Out of the World” (2000) and “Two Minutes Out of Time” (2000). This connection was a powerful moment for me, taking two very disparate ideas and finding a link between them in one of the most unusual of ways. I think this is what Obrist was talking about.
“Re: Positioning Fear”, 1997, Lozano Hemmer’s third Relational Architecture piece, is a large scale installation on the court yard facade of one of Europe’s largest military arsenals, Landeszeughaus, in Austria.The installation is an interface projecting shadows of city dwellers, finding themselves in front of this fortress. The shadows of the dwellers were automatically focused, and generated sounds through the use of a tracking system. The shadows projected onto the military interface were accompanied by a real-time IRC (Internet Relay Chat) discussion about the transformation of the concept of “fear”, as the title implies, between thirty artists and theorists from seventeen countries around the world. The interface, called “Teleabsence” only allowed the text conversation to appear where the physical participants placed their bodies in front of the facade. The participants had to use their bodies to read the text, making it a highly interactive piece, both through the physical presence of the audience, and the virtual presence of the Internet contributors. A numerical count also followed the shadows wherever they went, calculating their distance to the facade, confronting the participants with the eery and fearful reality of surveillance technology. The sound accompanying the installation also fortified this contemplation on fear and made the experience all the more sensory. The title of the installation also deserves attention in studying this piece. Lozano-Hemmer along with all the artists and theorists involved literally made the participants reposition fear; both bodily and intellectually. Through this installation, fear is explored as both a collective and personal concept, projected onto a historical military landmark to invite the participants to consider and question it within that historical realm, but also outside of it, through the IRC discussion. “Under Scan”, 2005, Lozano-Hemmer’s eleventh Relational Architecture piece, is an interactive video art installation created for public space, in which city dwellers within that space are detected by a computerized tracking system, which simulates video-portraits projected within the dweller’s shadow. This installation is truly amazing in that it speaks to the concept of surveillance that is increasingly inherent to our cities today, while also serving as a live performance art piece. As the dwellers walk away from their shadows, the video-portrait looks away and eventually disappears if no one activates it, establishing a sense of ephemerality and anonymity, which reflects on the concept of the city being a public sphere and terrain for complete strangers that are nonetheless linked by their shared spaces. Over one thousand portraits of volunteers were taken, and in the presentation of the installation in Trafalgar Square in 2008 the portraits appeared at random locations activated by the dwellers’ shadows. Every seven minutes the piece stopped and reset, to reveal the computerized surveillance tracking system during a brief intermission lighting sequence. This is extremely important to the piece, as it directly confronts the audience with the reality of surveillance and tracking technologies.
Lozano-Hemmer’s sixteenth Relational Architecture installation, “Solar Equation”, 2010, is a large scale public art installation featuring an animated three-dimensional maquette of the Sun, visible at night. This installation premiered at the “Light in Winter” Festival Federation Square, in Melbourne Australia from June 4 to July 4 2010.“Solar Equation” consists of an authentic simulation of the Sun, only 100 million times smaller than our actual Sun. Lozano-Hemmer created the word’s largest captive balloon and animated it using five projectors. The solar animation of the balloon is generated by live mathematical equations, simulating the visual surface of the Sun, which emphasizes the importance of Lozano-Hemmer’s scientific background. These equations produce a display that never repeats itself and that give the viewer an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the beauty of our most beloved planet, the Sun, otherwise only observable at the solar surface. The installation uses the latest SOHO and SDO solar observatory imaging available from NASA, overlaid with live animations derived from various equations. While viewing the installation, viewers have the ability to interact with it in real-time by using an iPhone or other device which disturbs the animations. This installation creates a highly interactive experience. This piece is extremely powerful in the largeness of its scope. It invites the audience to experience the Sun in a variety of manners: to experience its romantic quality inherent to its ephemerality, to perhaps contemplate the urgent question of global warming, but also to create their own personal narrative around the piece. Its scale and beauty engage the viewer to interact with the piece, yet its design assures the minimum urban disturbance. The balloon being tethered 20 meters above the ground, the audience is able to roam freely under it, during night and day, making it extremely subtle yet so powerful. Its power is expressed through this very subtleness: city dwellers can decide weather to be impacted by the work, which mirrors the very nature of the Sun; everyone is aware of its presence, yet its distance prohibits it from being forced upon us. The piece is also accompanied by sound; a live channel or rumbles, crackles and bursts, that is a live software simulation of solar activity, heard only faintly under the maquette. By bringing an audience together under this installation, Hemmer seems to make a metaphor about the very nature of the Sun in relation to society; we are collectively constantly standing under it, no matter where we are in the world, and it connects us without having to interact directly. This places his installation at the intersection of architecture and performance art and through this work, Lozano-Hemmer embraces urban media technologies to create platforms for public participation.