A conversation with curators Jess Wilcox and Francesca Sonara
New Eyes For New Spaces, an exhibition curated by recent CCS Bard alumnae Jess Wilcox and Francesca Sonara, is a timely dialogue between five artists whose works investigate abstract and fragmented representations of place in the age of digital technologies.
In their catalog essay for the exhibition, Sonara and Wilcox describe the paradox of the way in which we experience the visual information around us. The very nature of digital photography, which translates visual information into a series of indecipherable codes before arranging them into a cohesive image, adds a level of detached mediation to our understanding of place. Austin Shull’s exploration of South America by way of his finger meandering across a map of the continent and Patricia Dauder’s documentary depiction of Mali before ever visiting the country reveal a new, altered mode of geographical experience. The work in the exhibition succeeds by quietly and critically exposing the system of unquestioned fragmentation that has become so ingrained in daily life. It defines postmodern urbanity to the extent that the actual processes of digital photography, for example, remain largely unconsidered. By uniting the research-based practices of Patricia Dauder, David Horowitz, Antonio Rovaldi, Austin Shull and Hong-Kai Wang, Sonara and Wilcox critically revisit the structures and systems by which we engage in contemporary spatial relationships.
The following is an interview completed with the curators shortly after New Eyes for New Spaces opened at the ISCP:
Mary Coyne: How did you get involved with the International Studio & Curatorial Program and how did the opportunity arise for you to curate a show in that space?
Francesca Sonara/Jess Wilcox: We each had the opportunity to visit ISCP and conduct studio visits during our time as Master’s candidates at the CCS Bard Center for Curatorial Studies. It’s a great space to gain a global perspective on what contemporary artists and curators are interested in and working on. Kari Conte, Director of Programs and Exhibitions, invited us to curate an exhibition which would take a perspective on research-based art practices. While considering this thematic, we were given complete curatorial freedom. ISCP encouraged us to consider alumni of their residency program for the exhibition, and with the wealth of talent in that pool, we ended up including two artists that had been part of the program.
MC: The act of mapping was a recurring theme in early Conceptualism. One remembers Jan Dibbets tracing the locations where his Art & Project bulletin ended up. How does your exhibition rethink mapping in the age of Google Maps?
FS/JW: The impetus behind the whole concept was really this a-ha moment where we noticed how different the experience of travel is today versus just a few short years ago. We both had these recollections of going to buy travel guides before taking a big trip while we were in college and realized that is no longer the norm. You don’t even have to read up before leaving for a trip, let alone purchase a book. Mapping a journey has become this dated action—it’s almost begun to feel stultifying to know where you are going before you get going. Instead, we all rely on software such as Google Maps that provide us with directions in real time. No decisions have to be made until the very second action is to be taken. Nothing is predestined, and everything is mutable. Cartography in the age of Google Maps is less a codification and more a mere suggestion.
MC: Your catalog essay closes with a musing on the role of the artist as an individual who can “help us see.” How do you see this role of the artist in relationship to the way the artist has been talked about as curator, as mediator, even as explorer?
FS/JW: Explorers discover things previously unknown to them and others. Curators sift through, untangle, and disseminate parcels of information; and mediators negotiate conflict. In a sense, all of these roles are aimed at helping people to see something, or some way.
MC: My favorite piece in the show is certainly David Horowitz’s Public Access (2012). [For Public Access, Horowitz intervenes into the public spaces of Wikipedia as well as scenic Californian ocean fronts in order to reveal traditions of documentation, the visual tropes of romanticism and the unspoken laws around “public access/public space.” Horowitz’s installation at ISCP consists of color printouts of the Wikipedia pages in addition to his photographs and an archival table upon which postcards and beach towels are displayed as a faux tourism tableau.] As a resident of Southern California for ten years I was familiar with most of the locations Horowitz featured in his project. Do you have any stories to share about working with him and/or how you were thinking about this piece?
FS/JW: We first became familiar with David’s piece through the exhibition Free at the New Museum, where it was displayed as a book also available through PDF. For New Eyes for New Spaces, we wanted to do highlight the project’s transitory nature by visualizing chronological time in the installation. This also comes out through the time stamps of not only when each page was printed but also when each Wikipedia entry was last edited. We also included postcards from various locations on the trip, exhibited for the first time, and beach towels newly printed with the ocean-scape photographs. Both have a kitsch element to them, “lightening up” in effect, what has been read as a melancholic piece.
MC: While reading your catalogue essay I kept thinking about the notion of presence, what it means to be present in time, in space, and yet at the same time how much power the concept of presence has over most of us even in a post-Derridian era. How do you think the artists in the exhibition are thinking about being present through their work? Is this a topic you discussed or found in your curatorial process?
FS/JW: The concept of presence in both time and space is definitely something we discussed with several of these artists. Indeed the common thread among these artists is the consideration of presence not only in terms of time and space, but also the exploration of a psychological presence or state of inhabiting a world filled with highly mediated situations. Specifically, Coney Island of the Mind, a sound installation collaboration by Anne Callahan, Brendan Dalton, and Jordan Paul (2012), picks up on the complexity of presence by denying the visual representation of a place so prevalent in the popular imagination. Contrasting the exactitude of its title, Shull’s video 38° 42′ 54.87″ N, 103° 30′ 21.23″ W (2011) follows an ambiguous science experiment that turns out to be more akin to an artistic practice. One may take the gesture of launching streams of light into the black night as an existential declaration.
New Eyes For New Spaces is on view at the International Studio and Curatorial Program through June 15th.