Saturday, 22 July 2017

Exhibition in a Box Proposal

Exhibition in a Box is a collaborative project centred on the notion of travel, difference and the testing of artistic and cultural boundaries. The limitation of form and space necessitated by the physical restrictions of the specially designed box permit a rethinking of the relationship between form and content. Participating artists are required to embrace processes of replication and reproduction, working to re-consider the physical dimensions of the work whilst retaining an element of authenticity in respect of the drivers of divergent practices.

In coming to terms with what appears an artificially imposed restriction, the exhibiting artists will provide a shifting commentary on the historical function of boxes within practice, where the box has been put to work for the purpose of entertainment, ideological critique, aesthetic refinement, as a challenge to the free-market system of exchange and as evidence of a need for spectacle and division.

The box, as a container and vehicle for the storage and transportation of objects, has in a broad sense been symbolic of civilisation’s tendency to separate and protect, and more specifically of the desire to preserve that which is useful and precious from the natural and decaying order of things. From the ancient library of Alexandria to Renaissance cabinets of curiosities (the precursors to modern museums), boxing artefacts and objects of artistic and religious significance has paralleled the creation and development of the objects themselves, with an object’s aura becoming in effect extended through confinement and travel.

That which the box contains becomes evidence both of the journey taken and of the value placed on that journey and its possible outcomes. In short, and in terms of the exhibition of material artworks and artefacts, the box acts to foreground and legitimate the notion of cultural exchange, supporting an idea of rooted, localised meaning in an age of pluralism, globalisation and an apparent dissolution of differences. In representing an artist, a place, an intention or practice, the art object in transit stands for the conditions of its making, which through cultural displacement foregrounds difference as it attains specificity.

Exhibitions are by their nature temporary, and many complete extended tours. However, in highlighting the importance of the box out of which the exhibits spring, Exhibition in a Box draws from the history of the travelling show: from European carnivals and circuses to Victorian and Edwardian Variety and Music Hall entertainers. Such public performances rested in large part on the means and methods of transit. The efficient boxing of props, instruments and costumes not only facilitated a smooth transition from one performance/location to the next but also allowed performers to secure an interconnected web of venues and locations to move on to, which in turn legitimated and extended the reach of their art form.

Within twentieth century artistic practice the box has served a variety of purposes. In Box in a Valise (c.1935-41), Marcel Duchamp replicated the contents of his life’s work in miniature, offering a portable museum as a work in itself, though one whose replicated form critiqued the idea of authenticity. With it, Duchamp extended Dada’s distain for order through an ironic commentary on the myth of completeness (and of the canon) offered by the processes of cataloguing and the re-presentation of a body of work.

In the 1960s George Maciunis developed Duchamp’s idea, gathering objects, readymades, memorabilia and other material artefacts from fellow artist-collaborators, including Yoko Ono and Christo, and assembling Fluxus boxes and Flux-kits. In producing intermedia objects Fluxus sought to dissolve modernist boundaries between high art and kitsch, to fracture the idea of completeness and to challenge the privileging of media-specificity, which in turn supported systems of commodification and exchange. The box humorously took the form of an item purchased; yet more accurately referenced a gift or present. To the Fluxus project as a whole, and in the spirit of Walter Benjamin, reproduction offered, if briefly, a form of escape from the immobilising limitation of the market and the capitalist ideologies that were seen to underpin it.

American sculptor Donald Judd developed the box as a symbol/object of completeness. The sheer accessibility of the box, its structural rigour and familiarity appeared as a bulwark against complexity, artifice and learned and extraneous artistic devices that Minimalist artists grew to despise. The box served, in its emptiness, as an end point for formalist development, utilising formalist restriction to both negate and transcend it. The hope of such a distillation was, perhaps contradictorily, to blur distinctions between art and life in an attempt to erect a democratic edifice built of a non-hierarchical relationship between object and subject. Though Judd’s work travelled, the sheer uncompromising clarity of the forms negated the need for content (or for that matter, dialogue) in the traditional sense. Judd’s boxes are neither full nor empty, filled or emptied—they simply are and were.

Amongst contemporary practitioners, Damien Hirst can be seen, to some extent, to have returned the box to its early devotional function as a container of exotica, relics or religious icons. Hirst’s vitrines, whilst providing a visual reference to Minimalist boxes, in fact continue a lineage of separation and spectacle dating back to the Middle Ages. Here, the box silences its contents in the hope of replicating the Byzantine altarpiece, whose heavy wooden framework limited the possibility of contamination from the world outside when engaged in acts of pious contemplation.

Today, the box is as ubiquitous as ever; yet its role has become less clear against the backdrop of a host of cultural, aesthetic and ideological presuppositions. At its most reduced the box acts as a mere solution to the transportation of goods, at a speed determined by the technological norms of the day. Yet this provides evidence of a continued desire for art works to travel, perhaps in order to take their localised meanings elsewhere or to test themselves in alien climates and return changed. The supporting systems of exchange remain.

Tom Palin, 2015

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