Review - Brian Rusted's 'Performing Visual Discourse'

Books are on the shelves, clothes in the closest, paintings and sketches stored in a spare bedroom. Such domestic and occupational traces belie the fact that Ted and Janet Schintz left this homestead in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies over thirty years ago. / There is no research method or theory that adequately explains why I wanted to hike through the December bush, sixty miles from the edge of the city to see this place. Curating a small exhibition of work by these artists required only that the ‘works’ be selected. Curating is a textual enterprise. (Rusted 2006, 116)

Rusted (2006) opens his remarkable account of curating a cowboy art show in the thick of it. He describes his visit to the former home of the late Ted and Janet Schintz, two visual artists he was tasked with curating an art exhibition about. Rusted shares that the visit helped him to consider art as an embodied, relational practice that is not simply about texts or objects. That said, he also describes the visit as a digression – not a part of his official work as a curator. His official work involves selecting and displaying works for the show – not lounging in the Schintz’s living room. Curating, he makes clear, is a “textual enterprise” (116). From endless emails to countless reports, Rusted details how his work involves countless text-based institutional processes, day in and day out. He shapes the production and circulation of art one email at a time. Taking an institutional ethnographic approach, Rusted focuses on one aspect of his work as a curator – finding and borrowing art from public art institutions. He brings into view the situated practices and relations involved in releasing art from cages and vaults and bringing it into a public gallery. He makes visible how, in and through particular textual interactions, he produces his own legitimacy and produces the legitimacy of the art institution he represents.

Rusted (2006) uses institutional ethnography (IE) to explicate the institutional processes involved in his work as a curator. He does not theorize curating apart from the particularities of his own experience, nor does he abstract the production and circulation of art from his everyday work. He does not begin his study with theories about curating looking to test them. For example, he does not try to ascertain whether or not curating is a governing practice, a fine arts practice, or an activist practice – nor is he hung up on where curators fall on some abstract institutional hierarchy. Do they dominate the art world, reign supreme or work as gatekeepers of the institution? Instead, starting from his own standpoint, and with his own experiences and struggles, Rusted explicates the everyday, embodied work of curating, while explicating the workings of Canada’s art world. He uses IE to explore the contemporary organization of knowledge within people’s everyday, social relations (Campbell, 2001).

Check out his article here

And forgive me for posting a 12-year-late "review" that's really more of an appreciative summary.

Oh, and the image above is from Rebecca Reynold's incredible 'Chroma Code' show at the Star X Gallery in Peterborough, Ontario.