A questionnaire for new media curators

A questionnaire for new media curatorsFilip Cenek        15.3.2010

What is the position of video art works in your cultural programme?

As a curator I specialize solely in works with moving images, so that they are essential and exclusive. However, you will not find the “video art” category in my current vocabulary of contemporary art.

Which important presentations of works in new media took place in your gallery under your curatorship. In what year?

Personally I do not own a gallery, nor am I a permanent curator in an institution or an exhibition space. I was in charge, for example, of an exhibition dedicated to contemporary moving images in the Moravian Gallery in Brno entitled “Good News. A Spelling-Book” (Dobré zprávy. Slabikář) in winter 2005, or a recent event in the House of Arts in Zlín under the title “The Object of Animation. Third Sense” (Objekt animace. Třetí smysl) in autumn 2009. I prepare quite frequently thematic DVD series for festivals or one-off presentations, e.g. the “Black Whitener” (Černý zmizík) for the Moravian Gallery in Brno at the end of the last year. Every year I curate the film and art section of the New New! Festival where, after the previous year’s series of black-and-white 35mm feature films by renowned Austrian film-makers from the circle of the SixPack Film distribution company (Kubelka, Tscherkassky, Pfaffenbichler, Fruhauf and others) – I concentrated this year (with the help of Rado Zrubec) on a younger generation of visual artists around the Galeria ze dos Bois in Lisbon and we also moved from the Fléda film-projection theatre into a gallery in the House of the Lords of Kunštát under the Brno House of Arts.

What was your personal involvement?

Generally I am also one of the exhibitors, but I almost always design (myself or with co-curators or the authors themselves) the installation, which I consider to be a determining factor in how the exhibition is approached by the visitors. I also like to be directly involved in the graphic design of all the outputs for an exhibition; it helps me clear my own intellectual and sensual corridor for the exhibition.

Which (Czech and foreign) presentations of this kind do you personally consider important?

If we are talking about the same thing, i.e. moving images, then among Czech festivals it is the Festival of Film Animation in Olomouc (PAF); the recent engagement of Martin Blažíček assuming the role of the dramaturgist of NoD in the Prague Roxy was exceptional, it involved a number of interesting evening impromptu sessions and small-scale festivals dedicated to live image and sound; I also believe that the New New! Festival in Brno makes sense. Student works are clearly and systematically presented at the Fresh Film Fest in Karlovy Vary. Personally, I really like thematic evenings showing one author within an acceptable period of time. Every year I find quite a few evenings like that for myself at home and abroad. At present large events tend to be imbalanced at the programming level and exasperating for the spectators (perhaps owing to the worsening situation in festival funding and the pretentious notion of “growth” whether in the number of shows or visitors…: faking success may be a pre-condition of the dubiously set-up, inconsistent system of grants funding cultural activities in this country).

How often do you incorporate new media as works of art into your exhibition dramaturgy and do you use them for promotional purposes?

A new medium is what makes it possible for an image to stand on the vector from “the world outside” to the man closer to “the world outside”? In the context of our discussion of images: That the images that the medium mediates resemble the mundane world as we know it? A sharp-focused photograph of a chair is a chair in a new medium while a chair made in heavy strokes of paint in an oil-painting is a chair in a traditional, old medium? Or is film and photography an old medium for you and you mean only digital media when you say “new”? Or does new media refer today only to complex installations, amalgamations of often overlying media of which as a whole it is hard to say anything specific (from a single aspect)? Do you think that a (new) medium (i.e. “carrier”) need not essentially “carry” anything and that the medium itself can (hypothetically) be a “work”? And that it would be possible to make in advance a programming decision that it will be in addition (for all viewers) a work of art?

Do you think that the place and manner of presentation is significant for a video art viewer? How do you work with space in this context?

I must admit that I have a problem to respond to a question which operates with terms that I have abandoned (“video art”) but I probably know what you mean. Naturally it is important for the viewer (which is not related to the fact whether they themselves consider it important). The expectation of a collective experience in the immersive darkness of the film theatre is completely different from the expectation you have when flittingly passing along moving images in the lonely spaces of a gallery, etc. The manner of presentation is at least what underpins the work although it does not directly create it, when it is not its intermediate. So, I work with space consciously and intuitively, based on my own experience with the perception of a moving image. I usually do not work with space in boilerplates, or presets, so that I do not even know how to describe in universal language how I treat a specific place. The answer to the second part of your question may be the word “specifically”.

What were the visitor numbers at the festivals showing works in new media compared to the others? Do you have hard numbers available from an attendance survey?

I have some numbers but in these days of fake diluted surveys and statistic spinning they are useless if not accompanied by the concrete method of the calculation of that concrete number. Some of the exhibitions were a compulsory visit for schools, others reminded children of their TV bedtime cartoons and they visited them spontaneously in great numbers. From experience I know that, for an exhibition, the medium used is not a constant that would play a substantial role among the other variables in the equation for the prediction of success with the spectators.

Note: Unfortunately I am not capable of giving more precise answers, as I have no idea whether, for example, when you say a “presentation” you mean a gallery exhibition or a festival; some questions (whether relating to exhibitions of moving images or block projections in a film theatre or elsewhere) trigger up more general and controversial questions of the type: Where is a new media work created? Are you able, at the perception level (e.g. in a film theatre), to really tell when a thing became a new medium. (Created in a computer? If the computer was the last medium which gave you the audio-visual information about what is displayed? Or shall we rather talk about it in a way that “things” outside a medium in which they were created no longer exist; and their presentation is indelibly the “thing”?) … These can be discussed even in the form of a questionnaire, but it is necessary that your approach to the key terms in the questions is also explained so that I would discuss the same in the answers.