“The Facility” Exhibition Questions the Process of Creating Art

May 14, 2019
Vistors at the “The Facility” exhibition in Ramallah. Photo by Adele Jarrar.

“The Facility” is the most recent of A. M. Qattan Foundation’s exhibitions. It is curated by Yazid Anani and assisted by Abdul-Rahman Shabaneh as well as Mujahed Khallaf. According to the exhibition’s announcement, the exhibition aims at creating an interactive space where the artist and the ‘audience’ can interact. The exhibition breaks the classical binary relationship existing between the finalised artwork and the audience by presenting a holistic view of the process of making art; in which the artist, the studio, the creative process, the artwork, and the experience of the audience all come side by side in one place. In addition, it questions the idea of providing artists, especially young ones, with working spaces and studios.*

Design and spatial intervention

The space is divided into three “blocks”, each housing five to six studio rooms inhabiting artists. The opening did not preview any finalized works. Instead, visitors were invited to mingle with artists, curator(s) and other visitors. This allowed them to involve themselves in the process of artwork production while visiting the artists in their ‘studios’ on the artists’ own terms. The space was built and divided using plywood pallets. The curatorial team also provided the space with a common kitchen area and a huge table for eating and having discussions. Going again to the matter of opening an exhibition without artworks. According to the curatorial committee, final artworks themselves are not important nor the level of the participants or how well-fit are their artistic tendencies and authorships. What is shown is the ‘making’ not the ‘made’. It is a large social sculpture exhibited. This ‘easy-going’ curation as well gave opportunity to young artists to participate without any restrictions or filtering according to their original concepts or pitching.

Through this arrangement, the final artworks were made to be less important nor the level of the participants or how well-fit are their artistic tendencies or authorship. What is shown is the ‘making’ process not the ‘made’ products of art. The entire exhibition is merely a large social sculpture . This ‘laid-back’ curation gave an opportunity to young artists to participate without restrictions or filtration according to their original concepts or pitching.

A self-conscious curation

On the walls of the exhibition you can find huge graphite sketches of trees. A background soundtrack of bird sounds fills the space of the exhibition. On the same walls, images of real trees are projected on the wall over the sketched ones. This overlap hints that this social space, which includes ‘real’ artists working on ‘real’ artworks, is not a ‘real’ social space like the one found outside the white cube. Those hints questions the ‘realism’ of the exhibition itself. The exhibition could perhaps be a representation or an imitation of reality. It could be seen as a heterotopic space, where another reality/real social relations which are scattered in reality/real space are paradoxically condensed eclectically in another place (which is the white cube). The different hints also remind visitors to be actively engaged in the process of making art, rather than passively watching artists in their studios.

Moreover, four video-art works of avant-garde American-Ukrainian filmmaker Maya Deren are being displayed on four screens mounted on a wooden wall. The main elements of Deren’s works are movement, choreography, and performance. In this exhibition, her videos are shown and placed vis-a-vis the aforementioned artists’. This juxtaposition, along with the deliberate dismissal of the finalized artwork implies that the individual art-making process is, in reality, a collective performance . In addition, such an arrangement helps determine whether the artists are ‘really’ working on their art the way they privately do in their studios or whether they are imitating the process of making in a sort of a mass performance that is the exhibition.

A first step to: less alienated public and less fetishized artwork

In Marxist thought, fetishism of commodity simply means perceiving commodity in its final state, and merely being subjectively conscious of its ‘use-value’ and the relations between commodities themselves rather than the social relations between labourers and the time consumed in labour. Hence, a kind of alienation exists between all elements of this equation: producers, social relations of production, products, and consumers. ‘High-end’ artists are not exempted from the alienation from ‘the final product (in this case, the artwork), moreover many artists today commission their artwork production to others. Further, in conventional modern curated exhibitions, ‘social’ relationships are only constructed based on curated final artworks (commodities) rather than on social relationships between artists and art production process.This raises a question: does the value of a commodity or an artwork derive from the human (artistic) labour that was put into its producing it or because artwork is intrinsically valuable? However, the answer to this critical dilemma is besides the scope of this exhibition; because it banishes it all. The exhibition is not concerned with the product (artworks) and rather focuses on ‘social relationships’ mainly between human beings who make objects. This, in turn, lessens the fetishisation of artwork, and alienation of the public. All of notions were present in the opening day, which showcased a forest of mixed bees-humming sounds in which a recording of it can be experienced as a stand-alone sound art of this social sculpture. All people present there were connecting, talking, discussing, laughing, mingling, and exchanging thoughts between each other and the artists. This mellow, merry-go-round atmosphere is rarely seen in other traditional art venues.   

A site for an alternative future: connecting “The Facility” with other global experiments

This unique experiment can bring meaningful and interesting discussions about art in the future. Those discussions might help reframe the ways in which we produce contemporary art. In addition, this residency-exhibition could be a great opportunity for young artists to form new collectives that produce art in unconventional ways.This opportunity might be the seed for new unconventional exhibitions and ways of producing art at both levels: the artistic and the institutional. We might even witness a rise in projects that focus on making art-studios accessible all over Palestine. We hope for the best.

In this type of ‘experimental- curatorial’ exhibition, at least locally, only curatorial power determines if this ‘social setting’ or art-making process can constitute an exhibition. So, to what extent does this power control the atmosphere? It is important to distinguish between the artistic tendency to include an activity within an artwork as a performance artwork and the curatorial power to designate something as artistic or social sculpture through its inclusion in the white cube. Hence, the way artists view themselves and their artwork in this exhibition is far removed from the curator’s power to transform their ‘labour’ into a performance. Both parties have different interests. A radical example of this is what happened in the 28th Sao Paolo Biennale. The original idea was to create a biennale that is voided of artworks (that changed later). The biennale displayed many “voided’’ spaces for social interaction in the pavilion. The 28th Biennale – “In Living Contact” carried out a radical proposal by keeping the second floor of the pavilion completely empty; an Open Plan: a metaphor of the conceptual crisis experienced by traditional biennial systems faced by the institutions that organize them.”

The curatorial statement claimed that those will constitute spaces for social and artistic dialogues and interventions. However, during the opening of the biennale, a collective of 40 graffiti artists nicknamed “PiXacao: Arte Ataque Protesto” decided to utilize this chance and ‘intervene’ by protesting art dictatorship and commodification of graffiti art by spraying sentences such as “This is what art is” and “under dictatorship”.While one might assume that such a stunt would mesh perfectly with the original idea of the biennale; the act was not taken lightly. The group was actually arrested and fined. This clearly exemplifies curatorial power vis-à-vis artist authorship. This raises the question: what would happen if the dialogue between the 17 artists themselves and the public led them to the radical idea of dismantling the entire exhibition, moving it elsewhere, or simply removing it? Would the voided white cube still constitute an exhibition? With visitors still meandering between its spaces, what could be an unexpected turn of ‘the process’ of making art? Can the void still be “curated”? Recording and documenting this unique experience and how it turns out will definitely lead to an important discussion. So let’s wait and see.

 

* The exhibition opening took place on Saturday 23rd of March at the gallery of the new A. M. Qattan Foundation at Al- Tireh Neighborhood in Ramallah and is ongoing till the end of May. It includes the participation of 17 artists : Alaa Al- Baba, Anwar Fannoun, Aya Nairoukh, Dima Irshaid, Doaa Abu Shughaybeh, Esmat Zayed, Haneen Nazzal, Haya kaabneh, Majd Masri, Majdi Abu Gharbeieh, Muhannad Al- Azzah, Namir Qassim, Nibras Barghouthi, Nisreen Barghouthi, Rawan Abu-Ghosh, Safaa Shuqair, and Zekra Musleh.