Editorial

Liberating Curation

in TURBA
Author:
Dena Davida
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Sandeep Bhagwati
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Tawny Andersen
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Victoria Carrasco
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Barbara Scales
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Yves Sheriff
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In recent decades we have experienced a resurgence of authoritarianism in previously democratic societies that have given way, once again, to populist movements, and in so many corners of the world that have been affected by social revolutions. The freedoms of progressive-minded people, live artists and curators are increasingly constrained not only by practicalities and aesthetics but also by political meddling and institutional censorship. A consequence of their convictions and positions of resistance is that their personal safety has been threatened. These are conditions that have been dire realities for curators living in many countries. Within the pages of this issue, they offer differing visions for imagining a radical curatorship in the face of tyranny by designing and defining innovative strategies that break down traditional ways of being and doing. And they model themselves as artivist community organizers and socio-political reformers.

In recent decades we have experienced a resurgence of authoritarianism in previously democratic societies that have given way, once again, to populist movements, and in so many corners of the world that have been affected by social revolutions. The freedoms of progressive-minded people, live artists and curators are increasingly constrained not only by practicalities and aesthetics but also by political meddling and institutional censorship. A consequence of their convictions and positions of resistance is that their personal safety has been threatened. These are conditions that have been dire realities for curators living in many countries. Within the pages of this issue, they offer differing visions for imagining a radical curatorship in the face of tyranny by designing and defining innovative strategies that break down traditional ways of being and doing. And they model themselves as artivist community organizers and socio-political reformers.

This fourth issue of TURBA ventures into dangerous territories and hidden corridors of live arts curation. We felt compelled to ask the question: how might curation speak to and against power? Twenty-four authors heeded the call. Among them, some practice their vocation within the unstable and oppressive conditions of their home countries, while others are currently living, writing, and curating in diaspora, seeking freedom of expression without fear of incarceration. From a wide range of perspectives and worldviews, the scholars, artists and creators whose ardent voices fill this issue seek to narrate, theorize, and question how live arts curation is being practiced in illiberal societies, as well as within democracies now under threat.

Among them are three articles that serve to explicate, articulate, and reminisce on past and present community events which activate the public as spectators, making them participants in immersive activities. Cassandre Langlois employs three case studies of “pre-enactments”—Training for the Future, la facultad and The Truth Commission—which she describes as “hypothetical scenarios” preceding real-life political events, in which the public is invited to explore alternative futures in the form of utopian trainings to prepare for their future. In an interview with Jingyi Wang, a Chinese artist established in Norway, Knut Ove Arntzen interrogates her about the aims of her conceptually driven performative works Static Theater and the Value Trilogy, in which she upends the conventions of performer-based theater and public auctions, and in the later, actively engages spectators in questioning whether money must inevitably control everything. Mariane Bourcheix-Laporte looks back on her essay in Curating Live Arts (Davida et al. 2019) thinking again about her optimistic idealism when organizing the “Collective Walks / Spaces of Contestation” marches in 2013 in Vancouver. She offers us a fresh appraisal, at once nostalgic and ironic, of the impacts of her current “behind-the-scenes” career in “the cultural policy praxis” of critiquing Canadian cultural policy.

The voices of numerous artist-curators populate this issue. One such vibrant case is Chinese performance artist and well-traveled xingwei (performance art) curator Cai Qing, who is here interviewed by Raimund Rosarius. We learn about the motivations behind his bold and defiant performance event with twenty local artists in Bangladesh, inspired by the Chinese anti- Zero-Covid policy movement, in which they embody the White Paper Movement through a series of symbolic, choreographed group actions. In her moving account of the theatrical work LICHT, film and theater director Tea Tupivać shares details of how she conceived this heart-wrenching performance in which she stages the first-person stories of Yazidi women who tell us about the violence enacted on them by ISIS fighters. Irreverent theater and performance artist Gavin Krastin relives the curation of the Arcade2023 event, presented in multiple locations in Makhanda's Monument, with the intention to “scrape open the skin” of South Africa's colonial histories by gathering a wild group of performer-creators. He wonders what impact this event might have offered in the end, and asks rhetorically “what is next?”

The orientation of this issue brings together decidedly artivist curators, some of whom are pushing the boundaries of curatorship in their work as community activists and their belief in the arts as a powerful force for social progress and political resistance. In their artworlds, arts events are literally survival strategies for event participants. Choreographer Saman Hajimohammad is the intrepid co-organizer of two underground Iranian dance festivals that were held in covert defiance of Islamic social and dress codes for women. Here, she pens a first-person outcry in praise of the power and resilience of dancing. Three research colleagues—Emmanuel Chima, Mathanamohan Subthiga and Abdullahi Yussuf—have co-authored an illuminating study of three artistic projects within refugee communities in the UK, India and Malawi. In these studies, they forefront refugee experiences in diaspora, how these artistic projects serve to build solidarity among them and to re-imagine conventional perceptions of their lives and experiences. Next, Ndèye Mané Touré, Senegalese dance company and culinary laboratory manager, speaks to us about the development of dance in her country and the vibrancy of the dance artists who have remained despite the challenges. With a certain optimism—despite decades of government instability in her country—she recounts the resonance of events such as Ouakam en mouv'ment (Ci lu nu bokk), described by its “leader” choreographer Fatou Cissé as a “March / installation / performance.” Writing about Beirut, Lebanon, another country with virtually no public arts infrastructure or support for the dance profession, powerhouse curator-choreographer Omar Rajeh recounts the battles he wages with “the machinery of power,” and the importance of prioritizing “the culture of creativity,” through his curation of the BIPOD festivals, Arab Dance Platforms, his activation of an Arab World dance festival network, and now the cisterne.live website.

Among these articles are multiple narratives of festivals that are constricted by political imperatives, whose governments will only support artists and artistic works that glorify the nation and a particular view of cultural identity. Within Amritha Sruthi Radhakrishnan's analysis of India's festivalization movement and the shaping of national identity, and particularly government-driven dance “festivals-as-cultural-showcases,” she calls for no less than the urgent need to reconfigure curation in her country as “a strategy of critique.” In her paper for the Young Curator's Academy and interview with TURBA, the founder of the Bangkok International Performing Arts Meeting, Sasapin Siriwanij, details disturbing encounters during performances with military enforcers of Thailand's unstable monarchy, even as she struggles for recognition in building her local professional theater community and pan-Asian network of artists and presenters.

Three articles from curators based in democratic societies call for no less than the dismantling of our curatorial powers and maneuvers “in the field” and in the office, with our co-workers and the artists and audiences we serve. American performance studies scholar Benjamin Ross Nicolson delivers a tongue-in-cheek, and yet quite serious, manual for corporate (read “cultural”) workers. He urges us to resist the corporation's KPIs (key performance indicators) with which they “curate workers’ bodies.” Extolling the virtues of gratitude, musician and researcher Francesco Venturi wrote a thought-filled piece urging experimental music curators to “assume an ethical stance” and disperse their powers by placing the new music arts community and its publics at the center of their course of action. In a companion piece, the outdoor performance of SÅLE at the 2022 Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival serves as backdrop for musicologist and music curator Brandon Farnsworth's plea for an expansive understanding of the task and role of new music curators, at last moving the field beyond the heritage of the “authorial composer.” And TURBA was gifted by Epona Hamden and Juma Pariri with their eloquent, enlightening conversation on possible futures for equity and cooperation between curators in transnational cooperation. Juma's Indigenous world view, springing from her community in Abya Yala, Pindorama (Brazil), offers a rich vision for humane curatorial practices that are rooted in the land.

In the book review section, from within the burgeoning literature of our recent field of study, we have chosen two new publications—and reprinted an article about both a book and the literary critic's journeys with the author—that are a study in contrasts. Ed McKeon offers his review in the guise of an erudite “contribution to a public conversation” in his assessment of Salomé Voegelin's “dis-ordered” improvisational monograph Uncurating Sound: Knowledge with Voice and Hands. Next, an imposing new collection Politics of Curatorship: Collective and Affective Interventions is surveyed by Louise Jashil R. Sonido—multidisciplinary teacher, scholar, artist, and cultural worker—from a unique premise: the idea of “the technological history of the book.” With her deeply moving and poetic prose, she delves into this “generous” and “beautifully sensorial” collection as a whole, rather than chapter by chapter, viewing the volume as a collective effort envisioned by the editors to compensate for the fraught political past of the curatorial field. In the Re/Visiting section, we have reprinted Mariagrazia Muscatello's article and personal journey from the pages of the online platform Artishock. Through his book Transformative Territories 2010–2020 (2023), she delves into Rodolfo Andaur's vast curatorial work, exploring the expansion of a Chilean art scene whose insular condition was the result of the 1973 coup d’état.

It is perhaps the words of Sonido that bring a sense of moral clarity to this project of speaking curation to power. In concluding her review of Politics of Curatorship, she declares that its assemblage of articles “enables, for the community that it addresses, a vibrant space in which to feel and to speak, to self-deprecate and to forgive, to explore and to revise, to commit errors and to rectify. To persist. To love.”

Dena Davida, Tawny Andersen, Sandeep Bhagwati, Victoria Carrasco, Yves Sheriff

Works Cited

Davida, Dena, Jane Gabriels, Marc Pronovost, & Véronique Hudon, eds. 2019. Curating Live Arts: Critical Perspectives, Essays and Conversations on Theory and Practice. New York: Berghahn Books.

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TURBA

The Journal for Global Practices in Live Arts Curation

  • Davida, Dena, Jane Gabriels, Marc Pronovost, & Véronique Hudon, eds. 2019. Curating Live Arts: Critical Perspectives, Essays and Conversations on Theory and Practice. New York: Berghahn Books.

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