If not art, then what?

The duck rabbit.

Valletta 2018 Curatorial School


The Duck / Rabbit

I think the Duck / Rabbit could be crowned the mascot of this year’s Valletta 2018 Curatorial School. Sebastian Cichocki, chief curator at the currently nomadic Museum of Modern Art Warsaw was the one who introduced the character on Monday during his lecture on Curating Art Beyond Art.

Cichocki explained his curatorial practice as ‘catching duck/rabbits’. Fragile creatures that need particular habitats to thrive. Practices that have a high co-efficient of art (as described by Stephen Wright in Toward a Lexicon of Usership), but cannot be recognised as art because they have ‘escaped’, they have taken the cape they are identified through, off.


Perhaps, even today, we do not deal with art. We might have overlooked the moment when it transformed itself into something else, something which we cannot yet name. It is certain however, that what we deal with offers greater possibilities.

Jerzy Ludwiński – Life in Postartistic Times, 1971


Cichocki described art as the stickly liquid between different disciplines. “Art is absorbing different fragments of reality”, he explained, “the whole world becomes a museum”.


Limits of the exhibition

This was very much picked up by Mick Wilson, Head of the Valand Academy of Art at the University of Gothenburg, during his lecture about Exhibition/ Non-Exhibition. The lecture explored the dialogue between exhibitionary and extra-exhibitionary modes and what it might mean to conduct research through an artistic process with the curator as a fellow traveller, a collaborator. Wilson referenced Robert Barry’s piece “During the exhibition the gallery will be closed”, a statement against the urgency of production that puts the refusal to show itself as the exhibition. What are the limits of exhibition and how does its centrality limit the transformative agency of art that Cichocki talked about earlier?

Speaking a day later, Bassam El Baroni, a curator and writer based in Alexandria who tutors at the Dutch Art Institute, picked the same topic up, mentioning the limiting capacity of exhibitions, a factor that can stop art reaching wide audiences.


Neo-liberalism and the myth of the self

During his lecture about curating from theory to art and vice versa, El Baroni explored the curator’s role within neoliberal systems, using Foucault’s analysis of Neoliberalism as the state being under supervision of the market rather than the opposite as liberalism originally proposed. The individual is therefore seen as a permanent and multiple enterprise, an entrepreneur for himself who produces his own satisfaction, thus removing the need for state safety nets. In Travis Holloway’s words, “how to depart from the prevailing neoliberal culture of self-entrepreneurship in order to live a meaningful political life with others?” The curatorial can be seen as any public exercise undertaken to research the possibilities, inhibitors and methodologies of achieving such a political life.

I was fascinated by El Baroni’s introduction to Thomas Metzinger’s work. Author of the voluminous ‘Being No One” and the more accessible “The Ego Tunnel”, Metzinger bridges philosophy and neuroscience to propose the absence of the self. “We become conscious whenever our brains successfully pursue the ingenious strategy of a unified and dynamic inner portrait of reality”, a model so perfect that we recognise it as real. Self-consciousness is in itself simply a model in the brain.


Art as a way of providing space and time for people

Both Fulya Erdemici, curator of Cappadox in Turkey and Maren Richter, curator of Valletta 2018’s visual art exhibition The Island is What the Sea Surrounds, brought forward ideas of art as a possibility of care for communities, a means of connection and a playing field for dealing with issues relevant to people.

Illustrating her experiences in curating the unfamiliar during Cappadox, Erdemici highlighted the challenges of making meaningful connections when landing in a new place. She spoke about her slow but steady learning process that made the most of the “few good men and women in each city”, the more accessible ones who were then the gateway to understanding and connection with the rest. I was fascinated with the beautiful results of collaborations with locals that made the most out of and highlighted local knowledge and traditions by presenting them using artistic processes.

Richter focused on the aesthetics of populist movements such as the Occupy movement that mobilised masses to express dissatisfaction by bringing cultural techniques and intellectual capacities together. Togetherness is used as a space to be with each other, to learn from one another, making the most of the critical mass. Within these contexts, artistic practices and methods can be put to the service of communities and movements, creating new possibilities of engagement, expression and communication. Art can be a way of exploring situations and experiences that are too vast to understand, creating moments within which we can figure something out. Moments of sharing and communication that are shared resources rather than academically proven methods.

Which of course brings us full circle back to duck / rabbit spotting in events such as the recent women’s marches and in works such as Standing Man in Istanbul, merging the boundaries between art and not art, just as the boundaries between literally everything in the world are dissolving, creating a soup within which absolute realities are obsolete. A soup that requires collaboration and cross-pollination to navigate through, a field that perhaps the duck / rabbits feel at home within.



This was my second edition of the Valletta 2018 Curatorial School that I first attended in 2016. The experience opened the doors to many things I had been craving but could not quite define before last year. As a newcomer to the arts scene I did not come equipped with a mental database of landmark works to reference (though the database is now growing) or a built-in art-speak generator (which I am happy about the absence of). Despite this, my curiosity, enthusiasm and excitement have been fed with an endless amount of inspiration, further readings and so many crossovers with things I have been thinking about, researching and questioning during the past months.

This year’s edition, again expertly curated by Prof Raphael Vella, was titled Researching Curatorial Practices and brought excellent morning lectures by Sebastian Cichocki, Alfredo Cramerotti, Nick Wilson, Bassam El Baroni, Fulya Erdemici and Maren Richter. Afternoons were deep dive workshops with one of the curators around a particular theme. We ended with a joint mini exhibition that very much reflected the themes of the week and went well beyond limits of site, materiality and objecthood most often tied to exhibitions. This created a rich, multisite experience that managed to weave together the themes discussed with the backdrop of the rapidly changing Valletta.