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Curated Session #1: Open files with Dora García

Hunter Braithwaite

Guillaume Désanges and Dora García work on the exhibition. Photo Courtesy PAMM.

Curated by Guillaume Désanges
January 30th, 2014 (from 10:00am to 9:00pm)
(exhibition on view until February 28th 2014)

Here, Guillaume Désanges, who was PAMM’s first Researcher-in-Residence, teamed up with the Barcelona-based Dora García to create a temporary curatorial experiment, “an exhibition, or a diagram for an exhibition, something between the actual show, its catalogue, and its working notes.” At least that’s how the wall text has it.

Conceived and installed on January 30th between the hours of 10:00 am and 9:00 pm, this show reiterates subject matter that Garcia is quite familiar with—the historic relationship between madness and art, freedom and institutionalization. Securing the room is a drawing board (it’s actually aluminum) in which magnets fasten printed-out sheets of paper containing bits of clinical history, literary quotes, and lo-res agitprop. It is very interesting, albeit a bit manic (and panicked), and you could spend the entire day there. In fact, it pains you to break away. The eye joyfully spazzes from Artaud to anti-psychiatry to Joyce (specifically, the schizophrenic nature of Finnegans Wake). It convulses between Kafka and Breton and then to the RAF and Abbie Hoffman—“Steal this Google Doc!”—to Lacan, Sontag, and Beckett. I can’t go on, I’ll go on. Bartleby makes a reluctant appearance.


Performance view. January 30th, 2014.

Above this main board is a projected Powerpoint slide, “The Mad Marginal Chart,” which provides further structure to the notes. Also on view is a single-channel loop of three of Garcia’s earlier films. “Extermination” (2009) features the psychiatrist Erik Thys narrating a story about Nazi purges of the clinically ill. “The Deviant Majority (From Basaglia to Brazil)” (2010) combines different groundbreaking methods of treating mental illness. And “The Joycean Society” (2013) follows a book club devoted to the Irishman’s difficult—some say unreadable—Finnegans Wake. Although this is a gross understatement, their inclusion on the same screen seems to suggest that they offer three paths to dealing with abnormal psychology—violence, alternative thought, and reverence. But regardless of interpretation, they are the only finished works on display.

The space also includes two office tables and several chairs surrounded by extension cords and the projectors necessary for the aforementioned projections. These aren’t art works per se, but they have an uneasy relationship to the rest of the show, which also isn’t art work. Since this collection of artistic and curatorial thought and action is simultaneously exhibition, notes, and catalogue, it fully commits itself to none of the above, appearing as tentative and provisional—a work in progress. While this is a letdown, it’s not uninteresting, as often the most compelling aspects of a given project are its limitations. The curator and the artist did put all of this together over the course of one day. There’s something to be said about that, although I don’t know what. The material is at first thrilling in its appropriation of the banal physical world of the think tank and the corporate office, but the look and feel of scrolling through JSTOR pdf’s quickly gets stale. And the thought patterns on the aluminum, at first so unexpected and subversive, soon reveal themselves to be as trodden as the path back to graduate student housing. Under the subheading of “Destruction,” we find Breton’s idea that the zenith of Surrealism need only involve a crowd and a handgun. Once revolutionary, it is, in our post-Aurora world, sad and sophomoric. Or in the section titled “Absence, Silence, Inaccessibility” exists the meme-ready Sontagism: “Silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech.” To be fair, I adore Sontag, but I knew that already. Too often does this trek of exploration have the feeling of already being explored, both by the artist and the viewer.

This type of exhibition has cropped up a lot recently; it is textual, but in a dust-jacket kind of way. It leaves the viewer feeling like they are in a fantastic book store yet possess no money nor time. Ah, it’s about time I read A Hunger Artist, you say, or yes yes, the Baader-Meinhof Gruppe, it is time I revisit the events of ’77. The exhibition prompts these investigations, but on the viewer’s own time. This logic of displacement also informs the placement of the show within the museum. It isn’t held in a gallery, but in a performance space which doubles as the lower half of PAMM’s grand staircase. As such, it contains a bit of l’esprit de l’escalier—the feeling that something perfect was about to be said.