A Long Time Ago: Curatorial Interferences whilst Collaborating on an Installation
These notes were written sometime in early 2000s when working on a collaborative installation work. I collaborated with a Chinese artist-friend. Our collaboration went well but was soured with interferences by the exhibition’s curators that I nearly went mad with anger and frustrations!
I choose not to name my collaborator, the exhibition and the curators.
Note One: Entry Points
I do not know him, the artist-friend, until last November when I rejoined the college for a part-time teaching job. At the time, I was thinking about a proposal for an installation work. It was not progressing very well. I was disturbed by the place. I was disturbed by the shape, atmosphere and space of the place. The place is important. I need to see the place. I need to feel the place. But as always, the place is ahead in time. As I experienced more the attitudes and ways of doing my installations, I found that I cannot easily figure my works before I see and feel the place.
The place is a stage for my works. The stage plays my works in three frames of time: before, during and after the exhibition. It starts when I arrive at the place with the materials. It develops during the exhibition period. It ends when I left with the materials. The place than is remembered.
I abandoned the initial proposal. I was, at the same time, busy adapting to the new working environment. I learned that this artist-friend is also into installation-art, though we haven’t really sit down for discussions yet.
Eventually, another friend and I came to interview a well-known Malaysian artist, art historian and critic. He talked about Southeast Asia and the need to have an identity. We need to be resourceful and ever prepared for challenges. He was talking about a rich and dynamic continent. I played the interview tape to my artist-friend. We talked over it for a while.
One day, the artist-friend brought me a fax from a gallery. Both of us were invited for a joint-exhibition with foreign artists. We thought of collaborating on a project instead of working individually as separate participants.
Working together, as a group or as a community, is always practiced throughout our traditional and contemporary cultures. It was exciting. We were anxious with the results. We were new to each other. There were still a lot to be known, understood and negotiated. We came from different religious, ancestral and cultural backgrounds, but yet today we agreed to work together, side-by-side, experiencing dreams and talks of, hopefully, a promising future. The differences were actually becoming much easier when we reflected our past philosophical, historical and cultural developments.
We are now Malaysians, or in a larger context, we are Southeast Asians.
The proposed work – the design was uncertain. It would have to depend on the place, the location to be exact. It depended on the availability of the proposed and found materials. It also depended on the time given to start making before the exhibition’s opening. The design evolved and developed everyday.
We were thinking about an interior piece. A room. An area in a large gallery. Stairways. Or odd locations. We were to place fax machines…
Note Two: Untitled
Why were the curators kept talking, or rather complaining, about our collaboration? Why were they worried about the partnership, the collaboration? I was older than my artist-friend, and I would be dominating him? My friend would be lost? I began to feel oddities, anxious, by the curators’ concerns.
Obviously we had not really discussed our intention, the shape of the work to become, our hopes, our plans. Anyway, our encounter and the decision to collaborate were still very new then. We knew each other only a few months ago. The decision to collaborate was made about a month ago. Every thing were new and sudden. Like, in the late 19th and early 20th century, when a Chinese immigrant first met a native Malay. The atmosphere must be filled with prejudice and curiosity. But this friend and myself were Malaysians living in early 21st century. Why they were not happy with us, these curators?
Note Three: Ah, Who Cares?
I felt like going to the installation. The day was the third day of the exhibition. I haven’t see the exhibition in full. I absented myself from yesterday’s exhibition talk. I didn’t know about my friend, but when we saw each other yesterday he knew that I was somewhat frustrated. Indeed! I was frustrated. I was angry.
As I ascended the stairways… I wondered what’s globalization means. I wondered what were multimedia, electronic, new media and art meant. We were talking about the opening up and the breaking down of boundaries … oh yes, I was also thinking about neo-colonialism … Every single event, be it personal or collective, could lead onto other new things or interpretations. It’s all depended on one’s own intention, contexts, and experiences.
We’d asked for a microphone, the PA system, weeks ago or at least a month ago. Over the phone, my friend must have mentioned it. We talked about it every time we met the curators. I remembered it was also written, in fact with a small drawing of a microphone and speakers, in our flow of documents to the curators. A microphone and two speakers. I wondered whether the foreigners bought their own G3s and TVs and …
I missed the installation. Felt like going then. I wanted to feel the installation flowed with its audiences.
After a week, the anxieties and frustrations began to disappear. What’s the point of thinking otherwise?