Everything we want it to be… began as reaction to curatorial models of thematic group exhibitions that highlighted conceptual/aesthetic threads, tying disparate artists together rather than showcasing the artistic merit of the individual artists practice. In an effort to reconsider the group show model, this show asked the both artists and curators to see past the thematic and focus our attention on artist-to-curator relationships, artist-to-artist relationships, and personal experiences participating in/organizing group shows. Our goal was to quickly discuss the matter-of-fact similarities and differences between each of the artists and then spend time exploring the boundaries within group exhibitions that hinder them from representing themselves in a way that truly reflects their individual identities, practices, and artistic goals. What we did not expect was the importance of the inter-personal relationships formed by the artists throughout the exhibition planning process, and how these would alter the way each of them chose to represent themselves in this exhibition. This exhibition doesn’t bring resolve to our original curatorially-focused questions, but instead creates a new set of questions that challenged our notions of organization and collaboration and gave us critical insight to artistic concerns that we could never have predicted.
Early on, we realized that trying to measure the progress throughout the group show meetings was going to become exceedingly difficult. If we were to compile information and data via the transcriptions and translate that document into something credible for our curatorial mission, what would the result look like? What information would be valuable to us when we look back on the documents to try and cobble together a “cheat-sheet” for planning this exhibition and other shows we were planning in the future? The takeaways became increasingly less transparent throughout the meetings. Each meeting had a similar formula: The curators introduced the main topic up for discussion; the artists spoke about the overlying theme of the night; jokes and satirical remarks by everyone involved; a string of loose conversations between the artists about their concerns; jokes and satirical remarks; and a conclusion that prompted us with more questions than when we all arrived to the meeting. And usually, each meeting left off with a new universally agreed upon exhibition proposal by the artists.
“Gabe: There’s six of us, We could also list all of the shows that we’ve come up with in the process of doing this, you know this week and last week, and over the next couple months we’re going to come up with 30 fucking shows. It’s just like a Buzzfeed list of all of these shows.
In hindsight, it’s obvious that we approached this exhibition with impractical strict curatorially-motivated goals and after our initial meetings with the artists, we were being irresponsible with the dialogue we had transcribed. With new extraneous questions being spawned from our propositions, the original goal of extricating dialogue that responded to issues of individual artistic representation fell into the periphery. We were befuddled with how to use the content we had collected. If we were going to learn anything from this exhibition we had to step back from our curatorial roles almost completely. We had to admit that the curators didn’t own the rights to the narrative of this exhibition; the artists do.
It was only later that we realized the dialogue that formed around the questions posed to the artists was less relevant to the curation of the exhibition and more relevant to the formation of a group of friends. Ridiculous answers to questions such as “If a critic had to write a one-to-three-word review of your work, what would you want those three words to be?” (Answer: Shit-Sandwich) became the catalyst for the collaborative works in the show. Intimate dialogue between the group members formed, made everyone feel comfortable, and ultimately became the impromptu subject of the exhibition.
Presented in the exhibition are the physical and visual result of months of exchange, layered and incorporated in various forms of artistic practice that includes both collaboration and individual production. The complexities involved in the group meetings might not be obvious to the uninformed, but still the exhibition’s narrative is strong. Everything we want it to be… is as honest of a representation of each artists’ artistic identity as it could ever be, because in the end the artists made it that way. The works do more than sit next to each other on the walls and floor of the gallery...they are in conversation with one another; continuing the discussion away from the meeting room.
The “cheat sheet” we hoped to acquire during the early stages of production of Everything we want it to be… is nowhere to be found and we can’t look to the transcripts for easy answers that make this show “work.” Our take-aways for future exhibitions aren’t conveniently tallied in data compiled from the artists’ responses to our questions. Instead, when Suplex moves on from this exhibition and begins to organize our next group show, we can look back at the shadow of this exhibition (as well as our other past exhibitions) and remind ourselves to communicate with the artists and respond to their concerns, even if that means we need to take a step back.
This essay is featured in the exhibition catalogue for the upcoming exhibition Everything we want it to be... at all times, opening at Rice University Media Center Gallery on September 11. For more information about the exhibition visit splx.org/suplex-presents-a-group-show.