David A Bailey, Robert Storr and Curating Diasporas

On Thursday 27 November, CCW Graduate School will host On Interpretation: panel discussion with Robert Storr, Bernd Behr, Rebecca Heald. This panel discussion will explore the relationship between the exhibition maker and the interpretation of the artist’s work, especially in the context of the Venice Biennale. In the past Professor Storr has spoken about how contemporary art deals with complex form and content that includes visual qualities, ways of making meaning, thinking capacities, personal and public interests, and the need to communicate with others.  He has also suggested that these are characteristics of contemporary artists whose artworks adumbrate a set of coordinates that may be extended far beyond the confines of exhibition but will reliably gauge such qualities wherever they are found. Concluding that past practices of defining art by identifying common trends that categorize art and artists according to historical styles, groups, hierarchies, or ‘isms’, is no longer viable. The tendency to divide art into genres of old-new, objects-ideas, forms-contexts, or insider-outsider, has limited utility today as a way to consider what artists do and how we might benefit. Suggesting, that there is a need to identify how contemporary art practice might be conceptualized as a human and cultural phenomenon that addresses present day issues that have personal and public relevance. Professor Storr will re-visit these ideas in his talk and in addition discuss his participation in the 2007 Venice Biennale.

The event was proposed by and will be chaired by CCW Visiting Professor, David A Bailey MBE. He is a photographer, writer, curator, lecturer and cultural facilitator who lives and works in London. Bailey’s practice is focused on the issues around the question of  representation in the areas of photography, performance and artists’ film. These interests have informed his appointment as an adviser, and subsequent curator with Autograph (ABP) and the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva) in 1994. One of his main concerns is the notion of diaspora in art. He co-curated the groundbreaking exhibitions Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance with Richard J Powell at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1997, and Back to Black: Art, Cinema and the Racial Imaginary with Petrine Archer-Straw and Richard J Powell at Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 2005. Bailey has written extensively about visual art and performance. From 1996 to 2002, he was Co-Director of the African and Asian Visual Artists Archive (AAVAA) at the University of East London. From 2005 to 2009, he was Senior Curator of Autograph (ABP), and from 2005 to 2011 he was a Curator at Platform for the Remember Saro-Wiwa Living Memorial. Since 2006, he has been the founder and Director of the International Curators Forum (ICF), and between 2009 and 2010, he was the Acting Director of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas in Nassau. Bailey was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2007 for services to art.

Under his Visiting Professorship, Bailey and ICF have undertaken Curating Diasporas with UAL. Speaking about the project, Bailey said it was ‘conceived as an ambitious collaborative international network initiative between three UK visual arts groups of researchers: the ICF International Curators Forum, UAL and  the V&A. Together in network partnership with the Sharjah Art Foundation & Biennial in UAE, the Barbados Community College Black Diaspora Visual Arts in the Caribbean and SUUM in South Korea, we will investigate as an international network how emergent cultural diasporas have impacted the curatorship of contemporary visual arts specifically, and how new models of contemporary curating have developed as a consequence of these effects. The project will demonstrate how curatorial practice has been radically transformed by the diasporas of people, intellectuals, artists, and cultural workers over the last twenty years.

More than any other field of enquiry, contemporary art curatorship has felt the impact of diasporas. Since the late 1980s, contemporary curating has moved from being primarily associated with museum and exhibition display to a practice understood as the organization, framing and circulation of ideas around global cultural production, its mediation and its dissemination. During this time, the world has experienced an increased movement of languages, cultures and identities. For intellectual and cultural diasporas from diverse origins and disciplines, a new kind of curatorial practice has attempted to represent these changes by creating what Ute Meta Bauer has called “a space of refuge – an in-between space of transition and of diasporic passage” for cultural workers across the world.

During the past two decades there has not only been a proliferation of large-scale global exhibitions, but an exponential rise in trans-national curatorial projects taking diaspora as both their main focus and dominant theme. Since 1989, all large-scale global exhibitions in some way or another, from the first truly global exhibition Les Magiciens de la Terre (1989) to Documenta 11 (2002), to the 11th International Istanbul Biennial (2009) have all engaged with and contributed to a widening of the issues as to how to present diverse cultural diasporas, and how their accompanying new networks of cultural co-operation have contributed to post-colonial models of curatorial practice that have explored beyond previously-established Western centres of artistic production.

Whereas increased global mobilities, displacement, and the vast emigration of cultural producers has had a profound effect on contemporary art and curatorial practice, focused research has not been conducted on the impact of these developments. Similarly, little attempt has been made to understand how curatorial practice has been influenced by cross-cultural diasporas or how the emergence of a more globalised art world has taken account of these new networks, flows and their dispersal, which increasinlyg operate at an international, trans-national, multi-national and global level, with the local and global in constant dialogue with one another.

As a collaborative international network team of researchers, educators, theorists, curators and writers established within the field of visual arts curating, we will develop an integrated three-year research programme that builds upon their expansive existing international networks, cultural partnerships and expertise. The project will establish new knowledge in the relationship between the study of cultural diasporas and contemporary curating, which will be made possible by a three-year programme of focused public events to be held in the UK, the Middle East, South Korea and the Caribbean between 2014 and 2017. These will be developed in partnership with significant cultural organisations in each of the outlined locales. All of the proceedings from these events and the research outcomes will be disseminated through a dedicated website and a major publication in the final year. We aim to generate an increased understanding and critical appreciation of the role of specific cultural diasporas at these locations and internationally, and to demonstrate their major impact on contemporary curatorial practice and its accompanying discourses during a period of accelerated change across the world.

Under the rubric of Curating Diasporas, the international network collaborative research team will look at how, over the past two decades, emerging cultural diasporas in specific geographical areas have influenced methods of cultural production and, how these diasporas have played a key role in redefining what constitutes global curating more generally. The overall objective of Curating Diasporas international network will be to examine “diaspora” as the defining characteristic of our current globalised curatorial practice, its reception and its attendant discourses.’

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