The Dialogic Connection: a Freelance Curator’s Adventures
By Alexx Shaw
As no one ever really knows what a curator goes through or what they do unless they are a curator, I figure that in this article about my recent show “The Dialogic Connection,” it would be more appropriate to inscribe it as a story rather than a philosophical or theoretical dialogue about why I do what I do.
I was abroad when I received the email from Linda Kunic about possibly curating a show for her. She had won the space at the TreePeople facility in an auction for a blasphemous amount of money, and could only hold the event for one night. The space would be available for us on September 13, and was 2,800 square feet of what I thought would be pure, blank, beautiful walls for me to cover in the artist’s eco-inspired work.
Two days before my first encounter with TreePeople, I was informed that we couldn’t install on the walls because they were made out of recycled fly ash. We brought our builder with us to TreePeople and met with three of their staff where they proceeded to tell us that we could not hang from the walls or the ceiling because of the metal beams and lighting wires intertwined between. They would not allow hanging from trees or on the exterior of the building either, and the lighting on the interior, in its fluorescent, halogen glory could be isolated from room to room, but not separated from each other. The TreePeople staff refused to even discuss changing the light bulbs, stating such nonsense as “the whole building is hooked up to a very intelligent computer system that will reject anything that is not eco-friendly.” The amphitheatre, which was included in Linda’s auction purchase, was thus put off-limits to us because an event was to be held there the day after our exhibition. The grounds, being remodeled and completely dug up and barren were supposedly to be finished by the time the exhibition was held, and after three months was still nowhere close to being completed. The week that the staff originally promised us for installation was moved to one day of installation and one day of de-installation. The $500 catering certificate that also came with the auction purchase turned out to be as useless as a cashmere sweater in summer because it wouldn’t even cover a beverage bar, and our budget got so high that we began having to ask friends for favors: bartending, photography, DJing, etc.
We started discussing alternative ways of installing in which building separate walls and bringing them in would be the easiest and most presentable way. The cost of building five walls out of drywall would be equivalent to purchasing a Louis Vuitton suitcase, so thinner walls out of wood were commissioned. Up next were the press releases and invitations; a week of writing, revising, re-writing, and proof-reading between Linda and me led to one three-quarter of a page brief summation of what The Dialogic Connection was to encompass. The emailing and snail mailing them out to over fifty magazines, newspapers, eco organizations, and websites a month and a half before the show’s opening proved to only be the tip of the iceberg for the re-sending two weeks prior to the opening date of our exhibition, and begging my editors to cover, review, preview, or publish the press release in order to get exposure. The invitations, not only in physical form, but also through Evite, Facebook, and word of mouth had called into help my graphic design abilities, and the delivery of 250 invitations which had to be hand addressed to their recipients left mine and the artist’s hands numb. The title cards, images of the work, press releases, media kit material, and gallery setups were printed multiple times. Two weeks of designing the exhibition catalogues was insignificant because the printing company failed, and the ink began cracking on the folds of the paper. Sent back and reprinted, red ink formed across the front of the grey background and the company refused to print me anymore stating “It must be your design that’s the problem.”
As things began moving smoothly, it was time to choose the work that would be displayed. The difficulty with the space was that it is 2,800 square feet, yet has two entire walls covered in glass that allow for natural lighting. With the barrier of fluorescent lighting and natural lighting, the space for display had to be executed so that Linda’s high-gloss work could actually be seen without a glare coming off the surface. I decided to split the gallery into three rooms, one long room in the back sanctioned for a site-specific installation and a video work of Linda’s process; and the front room cut into two galleries; one for her previous work of “Deforestation and the Land,” and the other for her current work “Things Fall Apart.” Three roof beams directly outside the gallery space were originally to be decorated with six 30” x 40” paintings hanging double sided so that when the viewer was in the gallery, one of the sides could be seen from the windowed wall, and the other when they walked out to the bar area. This limitation of 30” x 40” work left only about twenty more pieces from the series to choose from for the indoors, and the small gallery room for “Deforestation and the Land” allowed for only five works in that series to be displayed. The day of installation showed there to be no outside lighting though it was guaranteed that there would be, so the six works hanging outside were flipped around to hang side by side showing from the interior.
Having to build walls of a certain dimension that would match the permanent walls disabled me from curating based on anything besides lighting restrictions, space restrictions, and aesthetic value. The organization of the galleries was turned into a mathematical equation of what would fit where; how the light would hit the colored versus the black and white images; the movement and flow around the installation and video; and how to get enough distance between the viewer and the wall when there are basically two stacked walls in each gallery.
As installation day approached, Linda, the videographer, the builder, and I scrambled to get things finished. The projection equipment that TreePeople had promised us did not work, leaving the videographer having to make three different copies in different formats of the process video in order to make sure it worked on our $500 a day rented TV screen. It took two SUVs and a moving truck to get the materials to the facility. The walls, each eight feet tall, were guaranteed to fit in the doors to the gallery by the head of construction at TreePeople, yet were shy about five inches, and in order for our builder to take a screw out of the door to get them fully open, fifteen people in the bureaucracy of non-profits had to be called to get permission. What seemed to be a week later after not sleeping for three days; dealing with a TreePeople babysitter who asked us every detail of everything we were doing; lugging five by six/seven feet wooden panels; erecting walls; painting touch ups; making sure the video worked correctly; producing the installation; setting up the bar and food area; installing the works; and trying to override the lighting system which wasn’t working correctly because the building is so new; the exhibition was up.
That night was the opening which does not bear talking about because it’s the major excitement of curating. The next day we de-installed, and now, I sit here with only photographs, this article, and painting “Untitled #1.031” by Linda to remind me of the incredibly strenuous, exhausting, and amazing time I had curating The Dialogic Connection.
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Alexx Shaw is a freelance writer in LA.