Curator as Storyteller: sensing and writing productive refusal
The PhD research is a three-part project, comprised of a curatorial component (a completed exhibition and publication), a creative writing component and a critical writing component. The research considers the curator as storyteller through a cross-disciplinary, transdisciplinary approach to knowledge in which the three research components are discrete but not overlapping areas of research.
The project began with an exhibition and publication produced at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, Canada undertaken from 2012 to 2014. The exhibition, Convoluted Beauty: In the Company of Emily Carr, was an investigation of Carr’s personal and artistic narrative of illness, frustration and failure about her time in the United Kingdom, where she came to study in 1899. The project challenged the ways in which subsequent biographies and exhibitions continued to work within the constraints of that narrative.
This period of unproductivity was a crucial one in Carr’s life, galvanizing her and fixing her sense of her national identity as a core component of her painting. I became interested in ideas of unproductivity as a generative space, and of productive refusal, which have also been often cited by artists. My interest in decentred forms of working, biography and collaboration, agreed or shared narratives about creative work and artistic practice, and how to express the risk and nuance of artistic labour will comprised the next stages of the PhD research. How are artists, already precarious labourers, impacted by the vulnerability of their work within the contemporary context? Artists benefit from understanding, solidarity and support. How is creative work affected when art labour becomes an instrument of capitalization and wealth, without mitigating the vulnerable and precarious circumstance of its production? What are the uses of unproductivity and/or refusal in this context?
The failure to mitigate within these narratives, the precarity and vulnerability of creative work and its necessity for deep methodological understanding, patronage and support, means that it is possible to both consume cultural products while at the same time, reducing them as public support structures suffer from the attrition of neoliberal policies towards arts. The desire for entrepreneurial business practices, the aspirational messaging that is attached to forms of “self-reliance”, serve to muddy the waters, obscure the threat of lack of support by displacing the responsibility onto artists.
For the next phase of this project, I plan to construct the primary writing content of the practice-based research for the PhD: a series of narratives that address unproductivity in creative work as a form of resistance, as well as critique existing forms of neoliberal instrumentalization and incursions on creative work, within museum contexts and art practices. These narratives will take the form of self-reflexive fiction works arranged as 10 short pieces of flash fiction, a smaller group of longer stories, or a novella. The third component is a self reflexive critical text, functioning as meta-criticism that reveals and questions itself as part of its methodological approach. This critical section may explore the other two components of the PhD work or function as a separate work.