The Centre of Attention homepage the centre of attention

in A-N (Artists Newsletter, November 05) in "curated space" edited by Manick Govinda

or back to the library

the Center of Attention interviewed by an (artist newsletter)

AN: The artist-curator is a strange hybrid of selecting and positioning your work and other artists’ work in unusual conceptual and contextual situations. How do you tackle this in your thinking, practice and selection process? And what, in your opinion, is the role/purpose of the artist-curator in the 21st Century?

How does your approach differ from the monographic and group exhibitions of ‘professional’ curators of galleries or museums?

Do you feel that the choices you make in your practice and in curating other artists/work are driven by external forces such as funding criteria, social agendas, audience development? And is this an impediment to artistic creativity?

Self-indulgence or critical rigour? Without the interpretative or validating role of a gallery or museum curator how do you measure quality of work and the works' ability to communicate to an audience?

TCOA: There is nothing strange about the artist-curator: it is not a new concept but a sign that the artist is engaged in what happens around them. The artist-curator does not per se produce unusual situations. In any case we don’t consider ourselves artist-curators. We consider the Centre of Attention’s work to be participatory curating. We are very much involved in the choice, commissioning, presentation of the work and drawing attention to the performative aspects of all these processes...

An example would be, in Paris, January 2005: ‘Nicolas Schöffer – a found exhibition’ presents the real unmediated space of the artist’s studio, where we, as curators, limit ourselves to defining it as the exhibition, drawing people through the terrain of art and visual culture to the site as un-fabricated, as an endeavour and as a site of contestation... A process very much opposed to the curator’s fabrications of facsimile exhibitions.

‘Gonzo’ curation is about taking risks and we put ourselves very much in the firing line. We stand by our choices and hope something is revealed about us, as human beings, and our curating methods... we are performing curation.

For example, in ‘On Demand’ (London, August-September 2005), participants were asked to select the artist’s work they wanted to see and then we brought it to their homes.

As gonzo curators we do not go forth hiding behind the artists.

Variety in the art world landscape is what we desire. There are no rules. We need more unique, original, hot curators from all backgrounds, and with all sorts of ideas. This will keep the scene a little less earnest, less parsimonious, less didactic, less closed and conformist. We need more courage, creativity and confidence...

Framing possibilities and celebrating individualism and freedom from orthodoxy are challenges that keep us inspired, entertained, interested and alert... We want to re-evaluate the past, discover new trends and give oxygen to the significant but over-looked for whatever reason (for example, our curation of Ken Friedman’s Fluxus concert, April 2004, London).

Artists are fracturing into tribes but these tribes are not necessarily original or innovative and can be defensive and retrograde (nostalgic). In a Matthew Arnold sense, we want the best that each tribe has to offer.

The Centre of Attention is a search engine for fresh, original, vital, beautiful, true, intelligent and amusing, tragic and comedic work. Sometimes literally: In ‘the Centre of Attention Search Engine‘ (San Francisco, March-April 2003) the exhibition launched with an empty gallery space, with artists bringing in work to be discussed with us before being accepted or rejected for the show, and the curators scouring the city with a view to finding the most interesting work. The show was a performance where visitors could see the making of the exhibition; they could come back daily to check the progress; could follow the curator’s visits, make suggestions. The end of the show paradoxically marked the completion of the process.

In the 21st century we are merely the performing monkey to the organ-grinding of the artists.

On one level the Centre of Attention’s approach doesn’t differ from professional (as in ‘salaried’) curators of galleries or museums. Like the institutions, we produce solo and group shows, some of which travel internationally. Like them we produce a magazine, administer a prize, hold events and screenings, and try to define and label current trends in contemporary art. Unlike them, we have never been state-sponsored and do not depend on (though would not reject) the welfare funding given to artists, curators, artist-curators and institutions and we are not as driven by external forces such as funding criteria, social agendas, audience development or market forces, as they are. We have no budget, no academic, political or moral agenda; we have no time and no will to over self-justify.

But we emulate the institution and thereby generate a surreal expectation shortfall. What can you do without money, space and resources seen as indispensable to the big space? Can the pageant of art history and its inexorable forward movement be deformed by an individual artist or curator?

Should only wealth accruing sections of society dictate what is the most interesting in art production and endeavour?

The traditional alternative space or artist-led exhibition can be equally unappealing to us with its inbuilt flaw of compromise, its naïve idealism and its conventionally avant-garde antechamber function. We want to maintain a quality control and are not keen to reward commitment, integrity or delusion for its own sake.

The Centre of Attention has no desire to be literal, didactic or provide examples for our limited political beliefs or narrow social agendas.

As gonzo curators we often fall back on asking ourselves these questions and discussing with those willing to listen: Do we want it? Do we want to be part of it? What do I think about it and that? What do I feel about that and it? And why do I think and feel that and it about it and that? And why hasn’t it, that, that and it, been done before or since; and if it has and was, why is it different now or not?

Critical rigour is a minority self indulgence... and as such we celebrate it!

We do not interpret and we do not validate.

Interpret? That’s for the future but have a go by all means.

Validate? We can do without it and take our chance. Museums confer status not validation. This supposed validating quality is not upheld by their past track record.

Communicate? It is a big assumption that the work should communicate anything.

We create the exhibition and let it un-spool as it will, creating its own audience.

To predict the future you must change the past and thus we participate, through our enquiry into the phenomenon of art production, presentation, consumption and heritage-ization.

The Centre of Attention is curated by Pierre Coinde and Gary O’Dwyer. The Centre’s experimental approach stems from an ongoing enquiry into the phenomenon of art production, presentation, consumption and heritage-isation.