Monday, December 6, 2010

Nato Thompson: Curating The New Geography

Nato Thompson is the Chief Curator at Creative Time.

Since January 2007, Nato has organized major projects for Creative Time such as Democracy in America: The National Campaign (2008), Paul ChanÂ’s acclaimed Waiting for Godot in New Orleans (2007) and Mike NelsonÂ’s A Psychic Vacuum. Previous to Creative Time, he worked as Curator at MASS MoCA where he completed numerous large-scale exhibitions such as The Interventionists: Art in the Social Sphere (2004), a survey of political art of the 1990s with a catalogue distributed by MIT Press. His writings have appeared in numerous publications including BookForum, Art Journal, tema celeste, Parkett, Cabinet and The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest.

Creative Time strives to commission, produce and present the most important, ground-breaking, challenging and exceptional art of our times; art that infiltrates the public realm and engages millions of people in New York City and across the globe. We are guided by a passionate belief in the power of art to create inspiring personal experiences as well as foster social progress. We are thrilled when art breaks into the public realm in surprising ways, reaching people beyond traditional limitations of class, age, race and education. Above all, we privilege artists¹ ideas.

-Creative Time

In an interview by Rhizome Nato was interviewed about his role in the "Experimental Geography" exhibit.

The term "Experimental Geography" was coined by artist Trevor Paglen in 2002 and has become an umbrella term for a diverse and quickly multiplying range of art practices. Fittingly, Experimental Geography was selected as the title for a new exhibition, curated by Nato Thompson, that explores "the distinctions between geographical study and artistic experience of the earth, as well as the juncture where the two realms collide (and possibly make a new field altogether)." The traveling show, supported by the organization Independent Curators International, features an international group of artists, all of whom have made important strides in this new field. I interviewed Nato Thompson over email about the show. -- Lauren Cornell

LC: Your recent show "Experimental Geography" seems to me like an informal survey of artists working with mapping. It includes artists/ collectives that have been engaged with alternate cartographies for a long time, as well as new approaches. Certainly, it captures the energy and activity in this area. My first question for you is- why do you think there is so much work being done with "experimental geography" now?

NT: Actually, it isn't only artists working with cartography although there is plenty of that. The exhibition is more about a broad sense of geography ranging from the geologic to the urban, from the didactic to the poetic. I agree we live in a bizarre but compelling cartography zeitgeist. Maps seem to be everywhere! Chicago just had a festival of maps and museums all over the city have cartographic exhibitions. This project is certainly related but I am hoping to push the category beyond visualizing of information and space. Artist Yin Xiuzhen produces these sewn cities that emerge from a suitcase. Artist Ilana Halperin boils milk in the steam of a hot spring. There are more, but the idea is that the field of experimental geography (a phrase coined by one of the artists in the exhibition, Trevor Paglen) is more about the interpretation of space in a variety of forms.

Ilana Halperin, Boiling Milk (Solfataras), 2000

In terms of why the field itself seems to be growing (in particular cartography), I would hazard to say that inter-disciplinary practices are still finding their feet. Artistic production, as it wades its way through a variety of disciplines, is best at discovering new forms for conveying ideas or impulses. Not only in the field of two-dimensional imagery but also in walking tours, sound art, video installation, lectures. The ability to play with a form allows those that produce knowledge to bring information to a viewer in a more compelling manner, and also to interrogate the possibility that ambiguity is a productive intellectual tool. Ambiguity (that favorite tool of art) often feels antithetical to a practice of empiricism, but in fields where the post-modern turn has truly sunk in its teeth (like geography), ambiguity becomes a productive tool for engaging a variety of perspectives. Because geography has taken on the broad understanding that the world creates us, and we (people) create the world, it has been more susceptible to complicated forms of knowledge presentation.


In an article entitled International Geographic: Interview with Nato Thompson, Nato was interviewed by the Art21 Blog.

Daniel Quiles: How did the idea for the Experimental Geography exhibition come about?

Nato Tompson: ...Looking around the contemporary art world today, we find numerous practices interested in experimental methods for understanding space itself—from the important work of the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Culver City, California, to the experimental walking tours ofFrancis Alÿs in Mexico City, to poetic interpretations confounding body and place such as with artist Ilana Halperin. The practices are out there and it felt as though the often used lens of art history was simply clunky in interpreting this work. So the exhibition is an opportunity to construct a new lens from an emerging form.

DQ: Many of the practices featured in Experimental Geography owe a clear debt to theSituationists, the radical pan-European group that explored artistic and political interventions in the city throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. In what ways would you say that they break with the Situationists? One convention that strikes me as somewhat un-Situationist is the guided tour that is utilized by groups such as the Center for Land Use Interpretation and e-Xplo. If the dériveprovides an open-ended discovery of capitalism’s effects on the wandering urban subject, the guided tour hints at something far less spontaneous, however poetic its readings of the city may be.

NT: You are absolutely correct that the Situationists are highly influential in numerous of the practices discussed. It is an interesting question to see where the breaks can be located. I must first say that there is so much of what I like to think of as Situationist-lite work out there. Lots ofpsychogeographic practices, which consist of tagging on billboards and uninteresting walking tours or pointless interventions in space, are in line with the practices put forth by the Situationists. Of course, they typically lack a reasonable class analysis and ultimately use the Situationists as a sort of fad to draw upon.

But enough with being a hater; the question you ask is much more interesting. What are the breaks? I would like to think that there is a healthy skepticism of avant-garde movements now. More and more, the type of declarative bombastic language so espoused by the post-’68 radical communities just do not appeal to activists today. They sound like white men leading the charge and well, many folks have productively moved past that. I think that is why people get confused about where the leaders are today. People are skeptical of leaders. I guess we are inherently more anarchist today (which the Situationists liked in theory but were too snide to question their own male power). I also think there is a healthy pragmatism working today. I never felt like the Situationists were really trying to build alternatives so much as they were in love with some of their poetic revolutionary language.

-Art21 Blog

You can read some other writings by Nato on The Huffington Post, like the articleIncreasing Public Space with Ice Cream, Karaoke and Magic.

Below you can watch a video of Nato Thopmson's Day Two Opening Remarks at the Creative Time Summit: Revolutions In Public Practice.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.