Michelangelo Corsaro is a writer and curator temporarily based in Athens. He works as guest curator at Kunsthalle Athena and is part of the editorial team of South As a State of Mind.
CON.TEXT: How do you visualise the progress of an exhibition from start to finish – what’s the process behind your process?
MICHELANGELO CORSARO: First of all there is an idea. And that one belongs to the childish urge to speak or to externalize one’s own existence. After the idea, everything is process. I think we should distinguish what belongs to the process, from what is instead the body of procedures it encompasses: the latter is no more than a series of actions undertaken in order to cope with the contingencies of our work. Instead, if we want to understand what process is we cannot avoid to consider the relation with the context in which we act. I would say that process is particularly visible in the way we adjust procedures in order to interpret the context, that is to say, how we determine and implement procedures to achieve the best result in a specific context. In this way you can focus on your vision while things will emerge very organically.
CT: Could you explain how, practical limitations during the process of a project have interfered with your vision?
MC: At the moment I work as guest curator in Kunsthalle Athena, a small alternative space in Athens. The exhibition space exists in a rundown building in Metaxourgeio, a neighbourhood in central Athens filled with contemporary art galleries, junkies and whores. Apart from the venue and the bills, which are generously covered by KM Developers, Kunsthalle Athena has no funding and its exhibition and events program is realized with the little money raised thank to visitors’ donations. Making exhibitions here, deliberately choosing not to have public funding, although it could be seen as limiting, means to design the institution so that it can reflect an interpretation of the context that surrounds it. There isn’t much money anyway, as the whole country is on its knees: it wouldn’t really make sense to tell you how we continuously switch from one idea to the other in order to be able to do our job. It is instead meaningful the way you confront the social, political, economical, and cultural context by adapting the process of exhibition making.
CT: Thinking about the logistics behind an ambitious idea can sometimes really destroy it. Have projects ever transformed during the process?
MC: I don’t think this should happen. Every one of us has a limited operational capacity, however in my experience I never had one reason to think this limit can affect the final result. That’s why a curator must be very conscious of the environment he’s going to work on and must adapt to it. Ambition is not a problem, even though it often means working hard; superficiality and wilfulness is. Also, good logistical co-ordination can make a good exhibition-maker but it’s not enough for making a good curator. And it’s not only logistics: bureaucracy, funding and sponsorships can be erosive elements as well. Strict health and safety regulations are in some places ridiculously demanding. A poor analysis of the context can lead to failure, and I guess it is frequent when you define your degree of freedom with inappropriate categories.
CT: Do you think an audience is aware of or interested in the process behind curating and making an exhibition while viewing it?
MC: Curating makes a difference in the final result insofar as it means to carry out a precise aesthetic, cultural and political vision. The procedure behind this work is often boring as it involves sending thousands of emails and dealing with shipping or insurance issues. There is a lot of creativity involved in it as well, and I love to find out about these things, but maybe it is more interesting for experts who are curious about technicalities. As we refer to the general audience, the process which I consider of paramount importance is the way you build your own personal aesthetic, cultural, and political vision. It might sound more trivial but this process is made by many different activities like eating and drinking, travelling, reading, discussing. It’s so difficult to convey this aspect to a broad audience and it has always been a concern of mine. In 2011 I took part to the exhibition Baton Sinister, curated by the artist Bjarne Melgaard, as part of Norway’s participation to the 54° Venice Biennale. I decided to use the room that had been assigned to me for hosting a lecture by Clémentine Deliss, a curator who had a great impact on me especially for her research about curating encounters Tempolabor: A Libertine Laboratory? and Office for First Intentions; just to mention a couple of references). I really wanted everybody to enjoy the intimacy of this process and so the lecture took place in front of a small audience, late at night, and before the opening of the Biennale. No more than twenty people could fit in that small room and with such a small group of participants I could make sure that every one of them had the opportunity to meet Clémentine Deliss and to know her presence, as a person and as a curator. And of course after the lecture we all went out together for a drink. A small experience on how curating can highlight process.
CT: Some artists focus on process over product and in fact, the lines are often blurred, right now I’m thinking of John Cage, Marina Abramovich, Xu Bing… Do you think that the process of curating should be recorded and exhibited?
MC: I think everybody should approach curating as they feel comfortable. Also, I don’t think that process can be used other than as a practice or methodology to achieve a final outcome: it can be tested and experimented, hence can exist as work, only insofar as it concludes its production cycle. In other words, its end is the formalization of a product that, no matter how ephemeral, is still the one that prevails in the end. This said, it is useful to have an extended knowledge over what has been done in the past, so that it’s easier to choose one’s own way. It is very interesting that the research of some artists, including the ones you mentioned, acquired a great importance in the curatorial field, particularly when the process becomes a creative discipline and a research methodology. There has been a lot of production on this side, especially in the 1990s, and what I can tell is just some personal reference points that helped me in defining some possibilities.
There is the example that you recall of the “documentation on display”. In this case you have an exhibit of the process, as it finds its natural representation in the traditional format of the exhibition. I think it was particularly successful in Carol Yinghua Lu and Liu Ding’s project realized in 2011, Little Movements at OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, where practices are interpreted as quasi-conversational artworks that can also be displayed in an exhibition.
Beyond this, you have the attempt to curate the process in itself. I already mentioned Clémentine Deliss, who investigated the potential of intimate situations: for her project Tempolabor she transformed the exhibition in a private encounter behind closed doors. The conversations between the participants, thirty-nine professionals in the arts field, were transcribed and edited as a theatre piece to form the third issue of Metronome. A third possibility is pointed out by those who stop curating art and begin curating life. Recently I’ve been studying the work of Joshua Compston in the early 1990s: his best exhibitions took the form of big street parties across Hoxton, Shoreditch, and Brick Lane, with the participation of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Gary Hume, or Leigh Bowery, just to name a few.
The terrestrial globe is covered with volcanoes, which serve as its anus (G. Bataille)