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To whom do exhibitions belong?

July 18, 2021

There are more and more art exhibitions which use topics of horizontality, commons, decoloniality, care etc. in their concept. Usually it is realized by curators who won the competition for leading this or that project because of this and that important topic. And it is legitimate, urgent and necessary to deal with these pressing issues.  

But what does it mean in reality? 

Of course there are some examples when these declarations do not become just words – usually it happens on low and mid-scale projects when artists together with curators, institutional team and all workers are working together for and with their immediate and distant communities.  

The construction of the most large scale international shows remains non-transparent even for the participants, who have no idea who is exhibiting in the next room, what kind of events and mediation for their work is planned – especially now during Covid restrictions more and more shows are opening without artists, and sometimes even without curators. 

Such a situation has happened in Moss (Norway) at the Momentum Biennale, which claims to be “The House of Commons.” The curator Théo-Mario Coppola was fired by the institution just 6 days  before the opening and we, the participants of the show, have very little and confusing information about what has been happening there. We have no idea about the curator’s contract with the institution, what their lawyers are talking about, what has happened with the curator’s assistant, how was the selection process realised, how the budget was spent (and what was the budget) and no clue about “the nuances of curatorial authorship”. And now we all are bombarded by phone calls, messages, emails from the side of the biennale and the curator who demands solidarity, to take sides but unfortunately, they do not make the situation  more clear. 

We, the collective Chto Delat, have some experience of dealing with political tensions inside projects of different scales, and usually we try to politicise the situation and take risks because we know where we are and what we stand for. We definitely accept the critique that too often we have to (for different reasons) participate in exhibitions in which we simply follow some production protocols and do not politicise the process of exhibition making – they (the institution) delegate a curator to commission our work and pay for it. In the end, it is just another “good show” which allows us to survive and do some work which we consider important for us and to share it with the public. We still believe that the public needs art and it is important for society. 

We take our own responsibility for the lack of attention given to the process of commoning and its practical application to the process of making such an exhibition under this exact title. “The House of Commons” could become a truly common space, but we, the artists, have failed to take over the process of the exhibition making and make it political, horizontal and common from within. We have failed to launch an exchange between artists, workers, the curatorial team, and the institution. We did not demand that this process be shared on the level of decision making and mutual care. So, we are very sorry about our neglect and readily share this fault with all conflictual parties – at this moment the exhibition does not “belong to us.” 

From the very beginning, we have demanded in our private letter to biennale Momentum to reinstall the position of the curator Théo-Mario Coppola and provide him with a chance to “commonize” the project together with participating artists and the community of Moss. We keep on hoping that this is still possible if both sides stop manipulating artists and make their position open not just in terms what has happened but also what they plan to do with this show (open until the end of September) and how they are committed to realise its mission statement – which in our opinion could be the only way to reinstall the missing “the integrity of the project.” 

These urgent and unrealised processes have little to do with the ongoing fight (in the case of Momentum) about who owns copyright over the show and who made technical mistakes – did not deliver text in time, or did not properly adjust the measures of the art piece to the existing exhibition space. 

Chto Delat

PS. We must express our deep gratitude to the curator Théo-Mario who has trusted our complicated production and has commissioned our new piece and to the production team of Momentum for their highly professional and careful work of installing our piece.   

Our film “About the footprints, what we hide in the pockets and other shadows of hope. The film in seven portraits” was realized by Chto Delat in collaboration with The Piraeus Open School for Migrants (Participants: Aidim Joymal, Aicha Elouarma, Mua A.Mungu, Madalina Manaila, Osman Mohammed Ahmed, Μohammad Jumanne Kisesa, Umer Muhammad). The shadow theater was realized in collaboration with Stathis Markopoulos

The film is realised under creative common licence and it can be watched on Framer Framed’s website who, together with State of Concept (Athens) are producers of this work.

Read more in the Art Newspaper:

Momentum biennial in Norway fires curator weeks before opening, prompting artists to withdraw work in solidarity

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