Jumaat, 14 Mac 2014

The Transformation of Roles: 'Curatist' (Artists as Curators)

By: Faizal Sidik

Faizal Sidik, 'The Transformation of Roles: 'Curatist' (Artists as Curators', )Senikini  #22, Balai Seni Visual Negara, Kuala Lumpur.

(The title of this paper was presented at the 'National Conference of  Studio Practice' organized by the Sultan Idris Teaching University - UPSI on 27 and 28 January 2011 in Colmar Tropicale, Bukit Tinggi, Pahang) 

The main idea of this paper is to study who is ' Curatist'. The term was coined from the combination of word artist and curator. It tried to see practical changes to the functioning of an artist who takes the role of the function as a curator. The birth of the artist as curator not only filling a vacuum of appreciation but also building and opening a new emphasis on creativity definition of artistic creation of the artist. This transformation happens because most of the country's art institutions do not have a program of art history and philosophy of art which specialized in producing art historian therefore causing imbalance in terms of practical and appreciation.

Faizal Sidik,"The Transformation of Roles: Curatist (Artist as Curator)" Asian Museum Curator Conference, Rimbun Dahan Gallery,2009
'Curatist' not only serves as the curator of an exhibition even more than that, the curatorship of  curatist done by taking into account the terms of artistic direction in which the artist as curator to better understand what is to be communicated to the audience, especially in terms of approach and presentation and exhibition design plan designed to achieve the primary purpose of an exhibition built.

In the survey most curator exhibitions in our country have a fine art education background where they also are  artists, exhibitions such as "Towards a Mystical Reality","Appearance and Soul” ,"Appearance of Malaysia","Manifestation of the Soul of Islam","The Art and Imagery" and "First Electronic Arts" are some of the important and successful curatorial exhibition  by assuming the role of the artist as curator in further appreciation of art in the country where their exhibiton are still discussed and debated until today.

 Who is curator and who is 'curatist'? Curator traditionally be defined as a builder, keeper, manager, entrepreneur, guardian and custodians in the institution of art, culture and heritage such as galleries, museums, libraries and archives who are responsible for the collection of institutions. Usually object questioned in terms of curator is the object that can be seen and touched such as works of art, historical artifacts and scientific collections.

Yet the definition is different according to the place and role. In Britain the term is manifest curator in charge of the civil service works contract archaeologist in charge of the cultural resources of the area. In the United States the term used for the chief curator of cultural organizations, and the latest technological developments increased the scope of the role of the curator in the field of curatorship also been the object of academic study and scientific research in major art institutions there. But the title of my presentation is not only focused on the curator alone but the artist as curator directly involved in contemporary art where they act as the person making the selection, builders and interpreter of contemporary art exhibitions where they also serve as a catalog or book publishers as material documentation.

Artist as curator or 'curatist' is not a new idea, it has a long tradition before. In the course of the history of art previously it also were discussed but not seriously. At the end of the 19th century in Europe, particularly in Paris where it  become the arts center, the artists protest the Salon jury  and a conservative institution at the time of the 'Paris Salon' in 1863 and they formed their own group of avant-garde 'Salon des Refuses' or  the rejected works exhibition' to exhibit their art works  outside  from institutions  determination. After thirty years later, in the 20th century in New York, the motion of artist-run-space or arts center which is moved by artist became a worldwide phenomenon.

Artist as curator of the exhibition is not only curator  but they are capable of writing and publishing a good book about art, artists like Joseph Kosuth, Ad Reinhardt, Frank Stella, Donald Judd, Robert Smithson and here are artists like Redza Piyadasa, Suleiman Esa, Syed Ahmad Jamal and Ismail Zain are honored to contribute their literature texts in the exhibition  curating by them before.Their words are still relevant and still prevail and quoted as discourse opener made ​​to strengthen the argument for bringing the audience closer to it .

Curatorial activities of an art exhibition can be said officially began after the establishment of a national art institution,  National Art Gallery in 1958. However, the role and contribution of the artist as curator in the development of Malaysian art may not be realized by us, may also no specific discussion in looking at the border that separates the two roles of institutional curators and artists as curators. Here I put some displacement why this transformation happened and how it works and the effect or impact on the development of the visual arts as a whole. 

Challenging the Limitations of Cultural Institutions 
For those who are directly involved in the arts now have to moved to current trend which is said as contemporary which identify and recognize new models, new approaches and a tendency to make changes to the curatorial practice. The creation of this role can be said to relate to deny or anti history of the institution that wants antimony and customized in mainstream exhibition and creativity. Artists as curators see what was overlooked by the  institutional curators, their purpose of curating the exhibition and writing their own concept of the exhibition is one of the reactions in response to the limitations of art institutions in understanding their requirements which seems to be challenging the limits allowed by the policy maker to comply with the provisions of freedom allowed.

"Regarding the arguments curating as art, or uber-curator as 'author', stems, therefore from the lack of definition regarding the limits of curating, and consequently the troubling of the potentiallly unfettered power of the agency of curation. The reverse of this, the artist as curator, similarly emerges from collapse of any viable distinction betwen the work of artists and the work of curators, whilts the professional and institutional distinction between them remains and in the process of being further professionalized"

 Due to limitations in this expression is prevented the artist as curator find a way that will work well with the mission and vision they want to bring by moving collectivly or opening alternative space or artist-run-spaces driven by the artists in solo and group exhibits their own work or other works with the same theme and direction. Among the spaces normally run by the artist as curator in the country are Rumah YKP, Rumah Air Panas, Lost Gen Space, inspired to deny the existence of museums and art galleries and displays an innovative and experimental art direct to new audiences, it is not only the visual arts but also in music (indie band) which also deny pop music recording company and the theater (home theater of the absurd) against mainstream theater.

Exploration of the New Ways of Seeing
Interesting directing take storytelling to impress audiences, curators are like a film director, or more precisely as exhibition 'director'. At the end of the twentieth century and continuing into the 21st century saw many artist start curating an exhibition denying the role of the curator of the institution. In view of potentials creativity in displaying it has become a current trend in major art events such as the bi-annual art event  (Biennale) and the contemporary art festival (Art Fair) organizers invite artists as an art director or curator full of freedom to curate a show. Reputation created by the artist as curator of the exhibition offering unusual and interesting ideas attract audiences' attention to see their presentation.

The approach of the artist as curator and curator of the institution is quite different in terms of creativity.'Curatist' came up with the idea first before looking for artists that fit his ideas centered on his thought rather than setting ordinary exhibition that originated from an idea in the artist's studio. They are against the conventional approach in mainstream exhibition with as much as possible to explore something that has never been seen by anyone in terms of artistic design in displaying. Visitors who enter the gallery or museum entered into a new world made by curatist. When they entered the gallery the audience are no longer  in regular daily life, they seem to be in another world created by curatist, the world of aesthetic, the world that can not be spoken with words, the world of imigination. That is why when you go into a museum or gallery audience will be offered by the quirky image created by artists.

Conceptual artist John Baldessari was entrusted by the Los Angeles Contemporary Art (LACMA) in displaying the works of surrealist artists in their collection. The exhibition 'Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images' is an exhibition held in 2006 to explore the impact of Belgian painter Rene Magritte (1898-1967) against ganeration of visual artists of post-war America and Europe. The exhibition displayed 68 paintings and drawings from various media by Magritte from 31 contemporary artists such as Richard Artschwager, John Baldessari, Vija Celmins, Robert Gober, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha, and Andy Warhol.

This exhibition saw the difference  and the approach present in pop art which was unnoticed, conceptual and post-modern sensibility referring to the idea and imagination of Magritte. Interestingly this exhibition Baldessari of design was so simple and funny with the new creativity in exhibition performances in a better understanding of visual Magritte clouds he used the cloud subject so dominantly in the surrealist artists on the walls and floor of the gallery as if visitors who were in this space was floating in the air to see the artwork above the clouds and blue sky.

Findings in Construction Exhibition
New findings not only occur in scientific laboratories but also the studios of artists as culture incubator center. Arguably the artist as curator acts as the 'social scientists' who seek the findings of the objects on display. They are the link between the visual world with the meaning of the text and dialogue, it can be considered as a 'bridge' mediating interpretation and appreciation by the artist in the work product or 'production of meaning' in explaining a comment, vision or manifesto.

In Malaysia there are some samples of such exhibition construction that can be role models. Many important exhibitions of art built by artists involved in the exhibition such as research exhibition 'Form and Soul' curated by Syed Ahmad Jamal is  concerned with the study of traditional Malay art. The findings and his exploration is documented.  He curated the show which explore the  visual art exhibitions on artists who have continuity of artistic tradition. Conceptual art exhibition 'Towards a Mystical Reality' collaboration by Suleiman Esa and Redza Piyadasa is and assimilation of Eastern and Western culture in a new perspective of art as a scientific study of the mental, meditative and mystical philosophy found in Asia in relation to the philosophy of Taoism and Zen practice which is leaving the influence and polemics to this day.


Consciously or unsciously most important curated show in this country are those that consist of the artist as curator. Curated show by the  'curatist' has enormous influence on visual art in the country after the exhibition and recommendations in their writings such as Redza Piyadasa, Sulaiman Esa, Syed Ahmad Jamal, Ismail Zain, artist Hasnul Jamal Saidon, Nirajan Rajah and Wong Hoy Cheong. The presence of the new generation such as Nurhanim Khairuddin, Faizal Sidik, Safrizal Shahir, Yap Sau Bin and Fuad Arif noteworthy for their commitment in curatorship.

Curatists are not only educated but also 'gifted'. They are not only able to discuss the influence of the history of art, ideas, concepts, theories of visual aesthetics and philosophy in their art work but also in practical arts in general. 'Contemporary curatist ' not only identify and introduce new approaches in curating but they also serve as a versatile multi-tasking as well as critics and art administrators, a transformational role dualism more cohesive and powerful in the art world system (artists, curators, galleries, collectors) in future.


Judy Rugg, Michele Sedgwick, 2007. ‘Issues In Curating Contemporary Art and Performances’. Intellect Book.

Redza Piyadasa, Sulaiman Esa, 1972. ‘Towards a Mystical Reality: A Documentation of Jointly Initiated Experienced by Redza Piyadasa and Suleiman Esa’. Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Faizal Sidik,’The Transformation of Roles: Curatist’, Senikini #22, Balai Seni Visual Negara, Kuala Lumpur

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