‘CURATING THROUGH FILM AND OTHER CURATORIAL CROSSROADS: A REPLY TO GUILHERME GUTMAN’

Luiz Camillo Osorio, curator of PIPA Institute purposes a dialogue with Guilherme Gutman’s last article published on the website in August, “Film-Curation: the construction of another way of exhibiting images and sound”. Camillo analyses Gutman’s idea of a film-curation with new insights. Read the full text translated by Rebecca Atkinson.

CURATING THROUGH FILM AND OTHER CURATORIAL CROSSROADS: A REPLY TO GUILHERME GUTMAN

I’ve been slow to write replies. It’s been over a month since the psychoanalyst and curator Guilherme Gutman published his article “Film-Curation: the construction of another way of exhibiting images and sound” here on the PIPA website. From the moment I read it I was sure it was an invitation for us to talk. Or rather, to carry on a conversation that extends back to our courses together with Marta Mestre at MAM-Rio last decade, some comments of his on my texts, and many scattered chats, face-to-face and now remotely. A conversation between friends is the most important thing there is. I will be brief in my reply since life in the hyperactive and imperative synchronicity of the online world has produced a kind of haste in repose. We have stopped moving about, but movement has installed itself within us.

Even before Pedro Duarte and I wrote the article that Guilherme cites more than once about the curator and essayist Godard, I had already been thinking about alternative formats for curatorship, different ways of combining curating, criticism, and art history. More specifically, the question about curatorial thinking has to do with the way it affects an exhibition without infringing on the artworks. Curatorial thinking is a reflective gesture that presents a set of works together envisaging an intended meaning, acting like a gravitational pull between them. It inevitably displaces the works, makes them fit into a dynamic constellation, but not in a way that destabilizes or impose any arbitrary movement on them. The works gain new movement, are displaced, but without any external manipulation. Curating is like conducting an orchestra of unexpected and synchronous rhythms.

In these movements, curatorship encompasses both criticism and art history, while at the same time drawing out the works’ own way of being, reworking the past and tensioning the present. The act of putting together an exhibition and presenting a set of works together is always motivated by a desire to galvanize historical and critical meanings, to make the works receptive to different interpretations from the past and the present, and from this temporal multiplicity to conjure different ramifications into the future. An exhibition should therefore deal with the ways we think and feel, the ways we are affected, and make us reconsider how we perceive and name what is real. Not all curatorship has this power—actually, it is rare—but it should always be in the curator’s mind.

Guilherme begins his text by indicating that this new potential form of curatorship, film-curation, or curating through film, is inextricably linked to the time of pandemic and social isolation: “In the time in which we live, many visual art exhibitions will likely continue to also be devised as ‘virtual’; this prompts an investigation into the creative potential of a curator’s film.” But the text goes beyond this contextual reference to develop the question of how curatorship could be done using film: “Curator’s films could be used to experiment in and seek out different ways of talking about exhibitions. It would not be just a temporary replacement for more familiar forms of curatorship, but a different way of doing it. Admittedly, a great many ideas and methods can be combined in any curatorial enterprise, but less conventional methods may enable discarded images and thoughts with specific potencies to reemerge from the shadows.”

Two very different experiences immediately come to mind. The first ones are Frederico Morais’s audiovisual experiments from the early 1970s, in which he took art criticism into the realm of experimental filmmaking, using slides, music, and narration. At least three experiments were done in this way and broke new ground, blending new artistic formats and critical poetics. I make deliberate use of the word poetics here because it is all about linguistic invention, introducing an unexpected novel imperative to art criticism, without which it would lose touch with the present and be unable to think with the works. In this respect, these examples by Morais remain a unique feat of reinvention of criticism and its co-creative potential.

The second example is Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma. He makes radical use of archive footage to retell not just its story as language, but the story of the twentieth century as history against the grain, bringing forth what the films do not show, prizing out of them the horror and bewilderment they witnessed. Telling history by reediting and displacing its images, its texts, its voices. The philosopher Jacques Rancière wrote that in Godard’s historiographical method, history is “this relationship of interiority that puts every image in relation to every other image, which permits one to be where one has not been, which permits all the connections that have not been produced, and to replay in different ways all ‘stories’.” 

The invention of the past here is anything but denialism: instead of wiping out the past, it sets about revealing other pasts. Retrieving aborted futures is, it seems to me, the principal task of art history as art criticism, as it is the principal task of history as historicity, as writing that interrogates and redraws the ways the past is understood; and of curatorship as a critical, historical, and poetic practice. In this respect, to recall an important writer for Godard, Andre Malraux, it is worth thinking of the act of curating as an act of rallying imaginary museums. In the same way that for this French thinker, activist, and minister, art history is the history of all that is photographable, so maybe the proposal we are discussing here is about thinking of art history as the history of all that can be forever reedited, be it in space or in film. It is in this urge to foster new connections through different gravitational pulls and different semantic constellations that the works gradually fit into historical narratives capable of harboring multiple times, geographies, and kinds of knowledge.

As a ramification of this dialogue with Malraux’s Imaginary Museum and curatorship as film, I would also add Alain Resnais and Chris Marker’s anthropological, experimental short film, Statues Also Die, from 1954. As has been noted elsewhere, this film endeavored to interact directly and critically with the recently launched Imaginary Museum of World Sculpture, with its active mobilization of a formal repertoire that deliberately brought together disparate works from the most varied of moments in history and civilization. Irrespective of any idealistic or anti-historical vision, what interests me in Malraux is the faith he deposits in photographic reproduction and the framing of images for thinking about and articulating a new visual episteme. 

Resnais and Marker’s film offers a montage that ranges from a French museum of ethnography through African rituals and North American racial conflicts, taking in the rhythms of jazz and boxing along the way. All the conflicts are performatized, opening caesuras in the enslaved, unyielding, plastic bodies. There is no sublimation of scars in this “film-curation,” but an attempt to induce tension between the cultural object and political subjectivization. The deep narrative of Jean Négroni opens the film with the words: “When men die, they enter into history. When statues die, they enter into art. This botany of death is what we call culture.”

Behind these new forms of curatorship, between them and curatorship through film, there could be an attempt to react against this botany of death and/or idealization of art with the imperative pronounced by Rilke in Archaic Torso of Apollo: You must change your life! How can art forms and exhibition formats be multiplied and in any way empowered in a world that is hyperinstitutionalized and weary of so much affectation? I would say that there is much to be learned from music and DJs in their invention of programs that are at the same time celebration and critical essay. Mauricio Valladares’s extraordinary online channel ronca-ronca is a prime example. Ultimately, from the edits and framings of Malraux’s imaginary museum through John Berger’s experiments with television and ways of seeing to Histoire(s) du Cinéma with its cascade of texts, voices, and images, there is a whole world of editions and rhythms to be explored by curating through film. There is no shortage of applications or trajectories, no shortage of ideas or artworks, examples or possibilities. All that matters is being true to the present without succumbing to the prevailing mediocrity.

Text by Luiz Camillo Osorio
Translation by Rebecca Atkinson


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