A lot of what this show represented for me was opening ourselves up to the possibility of failure, or at least the continual renegotiation of what the manifestation of this project would look like. That becomes inevitable when you center a show around relationships instead of individuals, conversations instead of themes.
I see this as an experiment about authorship and collaboration, and testing the boundaries between their mutual exclusivity. For me, the most interesting moments of the conversations leading up to this exhibition, or maybe in fact, the conversations that became this exhibition, were those that touched on the organizational format of the project, and by extension, explored themes of community formation and organized control. Max and I wrote a series of questions that each meeting was organized around, and posed them to the artists. After that though, there were questions of boundaries—were Michael, Max, and I moderators or participants? Curators or facilitators? Were we to be artists as well? More than that, while the scope of the initial project touted a utopian vision of artists who had free reign to design their own pipedreams, the artists had to negotiate whether collaboration necessarily meant consensus. Was this show to be one unified effort that conscientiously muted individual styles to create an aesthetics for the group? Was it to be individual work made under the influence of these conversations? What was this work about?
In that sense, the center of the show is a conspicuous void—there is not a unified message or theme that becomes immediate legible to audiences, but instead an opportunity to share in on this group dynamic, to continue to puzzle through these concerns. The meetings themselves become more than a point of reference, they become a physical relic, reiterated through the space over and over. Rather than ceaselessly self-referential, the central role of the artifacts of the meeting – the table in Alabama Song, the doodles left behind, the audio recordings, the webs of references and associations that developed into a shared cosmology—continue to restage a set of circumstances that the viewer herself becomes a part of.
The inclusion of transcripts, and this catalogue, produces an interesting corollary. I think the show will stand on its own—in the sense that the work is geared towards creating an experience of viewing. However, the text of these conversations, the insights into the world behind and before the exhibition creates and continues to create new valences. They are overlays you can place, however temporarily, onto individual works or the exhibition as a whole.
This show sits between an attempt at transparency, and that which still manages to not be communicated. Between a question of authorship and a question of who gets the last word on art. Between a hypothesis and the results of an experiment. And, especially if we think about it in those terms, it is far from a closed issue. The anatomy of a group show is something to be further poked and prodded.
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.