Show Me the World Symposium: Day 1

Ng Yi-Sheng

June 26, 2015

1944 hrs: So I'm gonna try and liveblog this curating symposium, because I'm too lazy to go home and distill everything into a cogent whole tonight.

Also, this way I can get my immature jokes out of the way without the filter of my better judgment:

[ Source]

So what's this symposium about? It's originally founded by German curator Sigrid Gareis (thanks for the support, Goethe-Institut!), and it's about curating performance arts, which is performing arts + performance art. He's brought together eight young curators from Southeast Asia, as well as curators from all six continents, together to discuss issues in curating/curation/curatorship.

KS: In the performing arts, there’s been a lot of programmers but not a lot of curatorial practice.

There's gonna be a hell of a lot of events tomorrow. A few on Sunday, too, but that's gonna be for a more down-and-dirty, private discussion. Sounds like fun.

Heinrich Bloemeke, Jakarta Goethe Institute Director, said some stuff about the internationalisation of the arts in Europe, but I didn't catch it. Enschuldigung!

KS: Our topic is "Show Me the World". Sigrid meant it to be ironic, because can we really show each other the world? Can we really see Bogota tonight?

Are we opening up the space? Or are we approriating and taking over the space?

1953 hours: Colombian theatre director Rolf Abderhalden is speaking. 

RA: I am not a curator. I became a sort of curator because of some circumstance that has obliged me to reflect and think about how to bring to the colonial landscape another kind of problematics and strategies, out of the mainstream, out of the established festivals, to allow people, another audience, to be touched by questions that are not always in the current festivals.

So he's talking about how Heiner Müller once explained his desire to have watched a performance of his play Mauser by a group of prisoners on death row. And this was very meta, because there's an execution that takes place in the play, and of course the executed man gets to come back to life for the curtain call...

Later, in 1994, Abderhalden and a social worker Bogotá prisoners in a performance of another Müller play, Horacio/The Horatians. Incorporated prison rituals of spinning top games and knife fights and sign language.

(Müller actually recorded a segment of himself with his trademark whiskey and cigar for the show, even though he already had throat cancer and would be dead in two months.)

2025 hrs: I went to the loo for a long while. Not feeling so great, health-wise.

He's showing the video of the show now. How they  carted them all out of the penitentiary, handcuffed on the bus, for a full staging at an old classical theatre, 200 guards monitoring them in the wings.

RA: What made it even more unpredictable is that the prisoners could not even touch themselves, so it was very intimate.

YS: (to my boyfriend) Touch themselves?

Boyfriend: I think he means touch each other.

There were nine prisoners involved, but one of them - the most sensitive one - wasn't allowed to leave the prison because of the severity of his crimes. They recorded him on video instead and did a projection.

2046 hrs: Oh, and when the whole show was over, they went out for a curtain call, and the audience asked them what they wanted. And they wanted pizza, because they never get pizza in prison.

And it seems the whole video was actually created as a little message in a bottle from the inmates to send Heiner Müller, expressing their thanks and their curiosity over the subject. And Abderhalden dug it up for an exhibtiion on the history of Latin American theatre in the '80s and '90s, and he's been showing the footage ever since.

No-one's asking what happened to those prisoners. That's the intelligentsia for you.

2051 hrs: He's talking about another related work now, from 2012. It's called Incontados, which can either be translated as The Unaccounted or The Untold. It's a triptych reflecting on the history of the horrible civil war that's Colombia suffered since the sixties.

For one part of Incontados, he's taken a whole bunch of archival radio recordings from the era, many from the revolutionary priest, Camilo Torres,  and played them on radio in a tiny glass room on stage. And within that tiny glass room is a party - balloons and everything - and a group of sullen uniformed schoolchildren (real ones, not adults in dress-up), who listen to the Communist propaganda of days gone by, and then play a bunch of orchestral instruments as they march out.

2110 hrs: 

RA: One very interesting question when you aremaking poltiical teatre, is when are you making political theatre? It is not when you use political themes that you make political theatre; it is when you do it politically that you make political theatre. And this is a question we should bring into curating. What does it mean to be political in our choices and our statements?

2124 hrs: Another part of the same project drew inspiration from the Black Caribbean customs of coastal Colombia: the carnivals when Black men go out, masked and dressed as white women, and whip each other viciously. A reflection of the history of slavery since the 1500s in the region - and a poignant parallel to the drug violence that continues in the country.

Abderhalden's showing us a recreation of that whipping ritual by a Black Colombian actor in the Palace of Glass at Prague: a recording not simply of the performance, but also of the audience's visceral, physical reactions to it, their need to record and mediate it through iPhones and cameras.

Also a work recreating the discourse of the drug baron Pablo Escobar, who dreamed of becoming President in spite of his crimes. He forged a document, supposedly retrieved from his pocket by the CIA on his death in 1993 and now declassified, revealing his plans on how to revolutionise and develop Colombia by legalising the sale and export of cocaine.

Loads of folks believed it was genuine. Hey, I'd believe anything dastardly of the CIA myself.

RA: My question for all of you at the end of this presentation is how to make a curation of work from the forces of what is happening in your own contexts and not from the forms from what we necessarily see in the art scene, the theatre scene? How a curator, an artist, how is this dialogue with the forces and not only with the forms? And could these forms really be the expression of the forces and not just a reflection of the fashion of what man should do in festival programming?

I've a question too. Why was he talking about art making rather than curating per se?

KS: I think one thing that's interesting is what is the curator, or who is the curator? I think one thing that struck me about Rolf's intervention tonight was the curator as a worker of social imagination.

He's bringing up the debate of whether a curator can be thought of as an über-artist: a person with a vision who gathers loads of artists' works to embody that vision.  Or a guardian of a collection in a museum, who dusts it and brings it out with new meanings for the public. But he says that's not important: the real issue is what we're actually doing in our practice.

It was his idea, it turns out, to get Abderhalden to talk about the Horatians, because the act of bringing the disparate elements of Müller and the prison inmates together was an act of crafting a vision - just what a curator does.

2141 hrs: Ooh, but it turns out dinner has been catered for. All is forgiven!

  • 2015