April 26 – May 30, 2018 at AUB Byblos Bank Art Gallery, Ada Dodge Hall, Beirut
The Horror, The Horror, The Horror:Harald Szeemann and the Archive
This exhibition is not about Harald Szeemann and his 1975 traveling exhibition The Bachelor Machines, nor is it about sexual difference. It is not located here, nor there. Yet it does not aim toward a set of indeterminate, open-ended interpretations, where meaning is subjective or endlessly deferred. Through the connective body of our “archive,” this exhibition aspires to open up a third domain in which the figure of Szeemann is purged.
The horror, the horror, the horror: Harald Szeemann and the Archive comes as the result of an invitation to critically comment on Szeemann’s The Bachelor Machines, an exhibition which first took place at the Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland. Its primary motive is methodological. We, the curators, ask a question that has informed our entire process: is it possible to produce a dialectical argument in curatorial terms?
Initially intended as a critical response to The Bachelor Machines, our show sought to question the myth-producing thematic exhibition as canonized by Szeemann. Such an exhibition is one that appears as a purported organic unity, in which the activities that led to its production are disregarded in favor of a comprehensive and unified narrative woven through the objects on display. In his role as exhibition-maker, Szeemann also established the figure of the independent, and often authoritative, curator as we know it today – a position within the art field which has greatly enhanced the dominance of this type of exhibition.
We aimed for a collaborative, process-oriented approach that would serve to reveal the tensions and disagreements inherent to the exhibition’s production, and highlight the risk of the erasure of differences, which typically accompanies a singular, curator-authored theme. But rather than merely displaying a social network, we resolved to produce a show that was about something. A disjuncture became apparent between the two strands of our thinking: the necessity for a “theme” on the one hand, and our desire to reveal our working process on the other. For the former, we proposed to return to what was overlooked in Szeemann’s premise for his exhibition: the question of sexuality.
In his inclusion of Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass (or The Bride Stripped Bare of Her Bachelors, Even; 1915-1923), Szeemann curiously ignores the upper half of Duchamp’s two- paneled mixed media work that is made up of “the bride” and titles his exhibition after the lower half, which is composed of “the nine malic moulds” or “the bachelor machines.” The curator thus erases the question of sexual difference inscribed in Duchamp’s work. We returned to Duchamp’s The Large Glass in its entirety and reintroduced the psychoanalytic term of sexual difference, which, since the 1970s, has retreated in favor of the more popular term “gender.” We welcomed wide-ranging and contradictory positions from the artists to whom we proposed this “theme,” and strove to expose the clashes of discourses, political tendencies, and personal proclivities in order to consider the possibilities and failures of collaboration as a working method.
The thematic exhibition we were putting forward, however, was corrective in character and remained entrapped within a binary still haunted by Szeemann’s specter. It is here that we returned to the second strand of our thinking and asked ourselves: how can the documentation of our process propose a third route that is not reducible to neither a Szeemannian thematic exhibition, nor its corrective? We did not have access to Szeemann’s enormous archive, but we found ourselves amassing a monstrous body of our own – a Frankenstein! Through the documentation of our process, including email exchanges, audio recordings, and visual material, we carved out a space in our display that evades the thematic exhibition on sexual difference and the aura of Szeemann’s methods. In preparing a show about something – one meant to take a distance from Szeemann and his curatorial practice – we produced an exhibition that is not really about something. Rather, it engages with the very process of exhibition-making by exposing its apparatus.
Through unmasking meta-questions related to the apparatus of exhibition-making, this exhibition is a proposal that only exists negatively, via the confrontation between our curatorial position and the artists’ contributions on one level, and in the clash between a thematic exhibition and the documentation of its process on another. The horror, the horror, the horror attempts to resolve the disjuncture between a unified whole and the process by which it is produced; thus, it acknowledges Szeemann, and his methods, yet it firmly refuses to reproduce his myth.
List of Participants: Ziad Abillama, Haig Aivazian, Lana Barakeh, Karam Ghoussein, Hiba Kalache, Jean-Marc Nahas, Dmitri Sarkisov, Rania Stephan.