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at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna


Sören Grammel
Permanent Speculation

The contents of my curatorial work result from my exploration of art and the contact with its producers. I think that visualizing the direct encounter with artists and their work as the main starting-point of curatorial practice offers a possibility to unravel its endeavors from mere art scene activities and the reproduction of politico-cultural economies.

However, my work is also influenced by the movies I see, by what I read in books and newspapers, by what music conveys to me, by what I experience when walking through the city, and by what attracts my attention on TV. This is why I not only try to get into direct contact with artists, but also with people active in other fields of practice and their work. For me, curatorial practice is based on permanently relating these different coordinates and qualities of experience and fascination to each other. It strives to produce constellations and perspectives which I regard as relevant for a number of cultural issues.

Apart from the concrete things and subjects it explores, curatorial practice is always interested in playing with their potential. My understanding of the word “potential” encompasses those forms and meanings that works or objects may take on beyond their canonical appearance we presently have in mind. The contours of projects designed and realized along the lines of such an understanding of curatorial practice entail a continuous interplay between the drawing of outlines and their blurring. Curatorial form is nothing total. It is not committed to “the thesis of the identity of thoughts and object” (as Theodor Adorno stated in regard to the form of the essay [1]), but rather operates with the awareness that truth is something artificial and temporary. Exhibitions are imaginary sites, short-time gatherings of disparate actors and ideas. They are forms that emphasize the synthetic nature of all concepts. Curatorial practice deliberately creates unstable constellations contradicting the notion of truth as something accomplished. Therefore, it is no practice in the sense of enlightenment as a service or an interface between cultural production and the consumers of its results. It is a mediating activity rather since it continuously emphasizes the impossibility of the unmediated. Curatorial work offers no aha experiences. Participation as something prefabricated is the pipe dream of politics and entertainment. Because of their material and immaterial productions, others, however, may be offered a field of action, a lab situation for experimental thinking by the situations curatorial work produces. Curatorial practice plays with intellectual designs and contexts – between appropriation and disintegration – in which its projects may involve their users. Neither more nor less.

By means of exhibitions or other formats like publications or societal activities curators realize special moments in which the processes described above can be shared, tested, and experienced with others by working, publishing, and communicating. Curatorial subjectivity deliberately allows itself to be seized and changed by other dynamics. Its projects are frequently based on the definition of several conditions thanks to which certain practices may become apparent within their framework. At the same time, these practices’ dynamics changes both the framework and the initially established conditions themselves. Examining the performative nature of culture, Irit Rogoff describes the emergence of meaning as something “that takes place as events unfold” [2]. Curatorial experiments allow to leave the exact meaning of something open until the possibility of perspectives that have not been visible before begins to materialize.

Particularly preparing an exhibition is always a process of social exchange above all – of an exchange between people and what they know, their skills, possibilities, backgrounds, and ideas. This is why I think that especially the exhibition format is favorable to a curatorial practice as outlined above, because it offers the paradox of a simultaneous variety of different, often opposite or contradictory chronologies in a way no other format does. Programmatically playing with breaking up a project into manifold dynamic fragments under different aspects is what constitutes the specific character of the curatorial authorship of exhibitions for me.

In my opinion, curatorial work, if productive, is not engaged in visualizing preconceived ideas or established positions – in reproducing already existing relationships. For me, it always comprises that aspect of an exploration rather which adjusts its questions to its own functions, limits, and contexts by transcending, outmaneuvering, or ignoring them. This may bring about many surprising things, such as new forms of dealing with and relating to the production of contents, critical definitions of what we call “knowledge” or “the production of knowledge,” arriving at an interesting attitude toward a certain artistic position in the preparation of an exhibition, or creating sufficient space to view something different from how the mechanisms of the exhibition industry suggest. For me, curatorial practice implies this approach oriented toward change and the abandonment of fixed meanings – an approach that leaves meanings open, allows permanent speculation, and, by inventing new movements and operations, relativizes, complements, and changes the institutional rules and boundaries within which it maneuvers.

[1] Theodor W. Adorno, Der Essay als Form.
[2] Irit Rogoff, Smuggling – An Embodied Criticality.

As a curator Sören Grammel (born in 1971) has been responsible for numerous exhibitions in contemporary art spaces, which he prepared alone or with others, among them “Telling Histories” (2003) and “Total motiviert” (2003) at the Kunstverein München, the “Videonale 9” in Bonn (2001), “Raus hier! Eine Ausstellung und Konferenz zum Thema Weggehen” (2002) for Germinations Europe in Białystok (Poland), the research project “We invite all” as a contribution to “Whatever happened to social democracy” (2005) at the Rooseum in Malmö, or the shows “Eine Munition unter anderen” (2000) and “Kino der Dekonstruktion” (1999–2000) at the Frankfurter Kunstverein. In 2005, he published the theoretical book “Ausstellungsautorschaft,” Frankfurt am Main. He taught at the Kunsthochschule Kassel (lecture series “Working as a curator”) and held seminars at the Umeå Academy of Fine Arts and the Kunstakademie München. Since 2005, he has held the post of Artistic Director of the Grazer Kunstverein; the exhibitions there include “Eine Person allein in einem Raum mit Coca-Cola-farbenen Wänden,” “Idealismusstudio,” “Never for money, always for love,” “Es ist schwer, das Reale zu berühren,” or “traurig sicher, im Training.” The show “Die Blaue Blume” was listed among the best themed shows of 2007 by the magazine frieze. His website offers a complete catalogue of the exhibitions curated by him and his publications.

Translation: Wolfgang Astelbauer