I recently had the chance to meet with the curator of an independent arts space to talk about curation and the technical details of exhibition making. The exhibition being shown when we met dealt with the notion of conservation – about Singapore’s ceaseless march towards upgrading, redevelopment, progress, and its subsequent failure to preserve spaces; how such losses are woven into wider sociocultural discourses on the production/instrumentalisation of heritage, national identity, and nostalgia. The show had a heavy emphasis on new media works, involving 3 video works and a VR installation.
Our interactions took the form of a curatorial workshop – he posed me the question of how I would curate the show myself, with a particular focus on reformulating the existing elements of the show to improve the exhibition experience. The main tools in exhibition making are as follows –
- Wall text
- Media equipment (projectors, screens, speakers)
Worksite — Gallery:
First, I went through the exhibition myself, examining the worksite of the gallery space and taking note of these elements.
Visitors would enter the glass doors of the gallery to be confronted by a darkened gallery filled with soil brought over from Bukit Brown cemetery, talismans and gravestones from Bukit Brown peeking out from the dirt. Positioned over these piles of dirt were the video works – an erected screen with projection would greet the visitor on the right, and inscribed on a lit-up section of the wall was an essay – the curator’s notes for the show.
He explained that the essay would frame the entire show from the beginning and reduce the need to light up other sections in the gallery for additional labels, contributing to the atmosphere of the gallery. Text, he said, often served as anchor points for visitors in exhibitions. Having the main text at the beginning encouraged the viewer to circulate the space and revisit works and the text to make full sense of the exhibition.
The next work was a triptych of screens lined against the wall. He pointed out the wiring of the screens, which is an important consideration in exhibitions — how the wiring of components can be tucked away or made as unobtrusive as possible. He also expressed his wish for better installation of sound equipment for this video work, explaining the choice of screens instead of projections (the other two works in the room were already large projections, thus the need to scale down this work).
He also pointed out the horizontality of the work with its tracking camera movements, which encouraged the flow of visitors through the space and gave the exhibition a sense of directional quality.
Objects such as tombstones and talismans were on display with labels. He explained the use of objects being interspersed with artworks as just an interesting point of contrast/interaction, whether materially or conceptually. He talked about the use of spotlights instead of profile-cut, shaped lights, and how distance and position of lights can be played with to light an object well.
The final video work sat above another mound of dirt. Here, a chair was placed for viewers to sit. The curator talked about the chair as a means of allowing the viewer to linger for a longer period of time to appreciate a work, also talking about the silhouette it produces when a visitor sits in front of the large projection. Other considerations, such as painting the wall or fabricating a scrim to the specific aspect ratio of the video work were talked about when installing a projection.
We then sat down to talk about how I would have curated the show instead, given the earlier tools described. After considering everything, I sketched out a new layout within my notes:
The exhibition layout I planned didn’t change so much — I did think of, however, the following changes:
- Sectioning the wall text better so it spatially corroborated with the works on display
- Bringing out artefacts towards the centre of the room and scattering them out more so that not all works are wall-based
- Switching the wall on which the triptych work was presented, such that there was a more immediate visual flow for the audience, bringing the screens down from the wall and placing them with the dirt for a more affective quality. Also, providing chairs such that people could linger with this work more as well.
- Bringing the dirt more towards the centre of the gallery such that visitors would have a more visceral experience of walking through dirt to sit down and view the final video work.
Overall, some of the challenges one faces are:
- Poor sound quality/acoustics in galleries
- Technical limitations — what lights, equipment do you have available?
- Working with artists produces a different outcome each time, must be able to build relationships and adapt