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Monday 09/15

VOICE: A Series of Speculations

Cover Image:

Mladen Stilinović, An Artist who Cannot Speak English is no Artist, 1994–96. Flag

The R&D VOICE Season launched in spring 2014 and has since presented a number of speculations around this thematic across the Education Department’s multiple platforms, including exhibitions, performances, screenings, artist residencies, online publications, an after-school program for teens, and family day activities. Six Degrees, a site for research that feeds into and comes out of New Museum programming, has commissioned and collected a series of texts by artists, curators, and writers that investigate related lines of inquiry such as affective declaration, political speech, the destabilization of language, communication as agency, and cultural translation.

First in this series was R&D Season Fellow Kaegan Spark’s essay “Vocal Folds,” which articulates several threads of research related to her work on VOICE programming, while parsing the negotiation between agency and articulation in manifestations of voice. In addition, Six Degrees will publish a number of essays related to the thematic in September through December. In September, the first to be included will be NaturallySpeaking by artist and writer Tyler Coburn. This contribution will take the form of an experimental essay and was first commissioned and published in You Are Here: Art After the Internet (Cornerhouse Books, 2014). Coburn’s work often makes visible contemporary omniscient technologies and their effects on labor, communication, and language. In this piece, he interpolates the training script of a popular speech recognition software, with various accounts of how technology has shaped human speech over time.

For the next essay in the R&D VOICE series, “The Paradox of Non-Participation,” art historian and curator Lauren van Haaften-Schick examines the long history of artists’ boycotts and strikes as speech acts in October. This timely investigation comes as recent events in Gaza have spurred renewed discussion of the impact of artistic and cultural boycotts—via the BDS movement—on broader economic and political systems. Van Haaften-Schick examines withdrawal’s viability as a tactic through case studies of historic refusals and recent incidents, including the withdrawal of the Yams Collective (HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN?) from the 2014 Whitney Biennial and Chto Delat’s departure from Manifesta 10 (2014), among lesser-known efforts. Presupposing agency in the act of negation, she argues that there is power in invisibility, based in the refusal to endorse an exhibition or to supply one’s time and labor.

Following that, in December critic and curator Azar Mahmoudian will contribute an essay that looks at the proliferation of curatorial initiatives that feature the presentation of “Iranian art” for international audiences. Mahmoudian examines an array of exhibitions that have been produced under a national label since the early 2000s, with an emphasis on “roots” and “origins,” and a claim to primarily tell their audiences something about the society wherein such art is produced. Addressing how circumstances that affect modes of circulation, accessibility, and visibility of artworks have had a profound effect on the production of contemporary art in Iran, she offers a critique of this curatorial methodology and regionalization as a structure of visibility within the current system of art circulation.

Six Degrees will publish a number of texts developing out of the Temporary Center for Translation, a site currently open in the New Museum’s Resource Center. Based in the theories and practices of translation, the Center presents artworks and documents that make visible the continuous interplay between systems of meaning, contexts, and individual authors that underlies any event of translation. Also serving as an active space for translation of select artistic and philosophical texts throughout its duration, the Center aims to facilitate access to and discussion of cultural theory and contemporary art criticism, while at the same time questioning the tenets of transparency and openness. To foster wider access to these materials, Six Degrees will publish a collection of translated texts and essays related to the projects on display starting in October.

In December, the last to be included will be “The Suspended Space of the Seminar,” a forthcoming essay by Six Degrees Editor and Education Associate Taraneh Fazeli who, as a participant in and facilitator of the inaugural New Museum Seminars, aggregates materials and objects of study related to the course. Investigating the program’s structure through a personal account that draws upon several texts read together by the group, Fazeli describes the seminar group’s desire for the political as having manifest in the development of a particular affective space. She proposes that the way of being together that emerged in this coextensive space arose from a shared desire for a livable and intimate intellectual community in response to broader societal conditions; as Fazeli argues, this was just as important as the course of study the group generated regarding the organizing VOICE thematic.

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