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THE CURATOR (S)PEAKS

The Irish News September 2000

I notice in my dictionary that the primary meaning of the word, “curator” is; “One appointed as a guardian of a lunatic”
Looking at the “Perspective 2000” exhibition at the Ormeau Baths Gallery I began to understand the etymology of the word.
Lynne Cooke is a curator at the New York Institute of Contemporary Arts. She was invited to select and judge this exhibition. She selected work by 28 artists from 330 submissions.
Life is too short for most normal people to read the essays or monographs which preface art catalogues. Unfortunately the critic has to read them just in case they unveil the essential character of a particular exhibition. I tried to read the two pages of Lynne Cooke’s explanatory notes in the catalogue. I succeeded on the third attempt. She helpfully entitles them; “DOUBLEB(L)IND.
Her foreword reads as though it was badly translated from another language, but this of course, is common with curatorspeak and excellently prepares one for the exhibition. The Press Release makes its contribution by telling us that the “Perspective” exhibition is Northern Ireland’s Turner Prize equivalent: praise indeed.
Increasingly the most common feature in exhibitions which claim to show vanguard art, is how little skill the artists appear to have in their chosen media. If you want to see videos which; are shaky, out of focus, under exposed, have distorted sound, have no production values and above all, contain one line profundities, then make haste to the Ormeau Baths. If you want to see the kind of photograph one accidentally takes when loading a camera, well, you’ll see that here as well.
What on earth is happening to critical judgement when a curator selects this lot from 330 submissions? Is it possible that the work of the other 302 artists was less visually stimulating than these? Or could it be, that artists, knowing the nature of the competition are beginning to “catch on” as to what is required;

“ The Perspective Competition? Who is the selector?
Well in that case I’ll submit a plastic tub and I’ll put a couple of bin bags lying on the bottom of it, and what about placing a fluorescent tube lying on top of it? That should please her.”

Yes it did and its there in the upstairs gallery. Good for you James Ireland. Pity you didn’t win a prize, but maybe next time.
When you are upstairs have a look at Jeroen Offerman’s video, or should I say video installation? Anyway I’m sure that you’ll be captivated by it. A static camera films a hovercraft sitting on a beach. A man goes inside it. The hovercraft takes off and goes out to sea. Great stuff. I’ll have to go down and see it again before the show closes. He calls it, “The great escape”. Offerman says his video “draws on diverse references including,..Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Day the Earth Stood Still..and the landscape paintings of Kaspar David Friedrich” He also says that we see in his video “the relationship between nature/landscape and the human figure.” Well who’d have thought that?
There are however, one or two intentionally humorous pieces; Nik Ramage’s machines performing useless tasks, although hardly original, are diverting. His Unplugger, which as the name suggests, unplugs itself as soon as it is plugged into a socket, makes one smile: Well it did on the Preview night but like all mechanical toys it has broken down after its first big night.
Sometimes work of a particular, intellectual density requires more than one mind to bring it to fruition. Sabine Hagmann and John Rearden obviously felt this when they collaborated to produce their contribution to this show. It can be seen sitting beside a pillar in the first gallery. It is a plastic, carrier bag containing a cassette player which is playing some barely audible music. Perhaps we need the artists themselves to unlock the true secrets of this innocent looking bag. Here is what they say:

“ This object evokes a sense of travel, exile, longing, belonging and imaginary places. Music is audible as one draws closer to the object, sound emanating from inside the bag itself. The music subtly creates the atmosphere of being elsewhere”.

The rest is flatulence.


Joseph Mc Williams September 2000©