by Lynn Boland and Amanda Douberley
From its modern inception in the late nineteenth-century, binary concepts have been central to art history. The so-called "father" of the discipline, Heinrich Wölfflin, is most famous for his binary distinctions between the formal characteristics of Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, appropriately accompanied by his innovative double-slide lectures. The plurality of postmodern methodologies—not to mention PowerPoint presentations—have done much to change our ways of looking at objects. But, it would seem that even in the twenty-first-century, if you give a group of art history graduate students two back-to-back exhibitions to curate from a group of MFA studio art students, it almost goes without saying that a binary distinction will separate the two shows. The first of these shows in 2002, Process and Jacket, were divided by perceived emphases on process and finished object, respectively. Subsequent shows, including Fever and Shade in 2005 and last year's Making It Alone and Making It Together, also focused on similar distinctions. While binary oppositions can be valuable conceptual tools, something new seemed needed this year.
Breaking out of the binary model was among the curatorial team's objectives as we began our studio visits, and a solution was quickly suggested to us in the work of Karri Paul, whose paintings on metal are assembled, painted, taken apart, and reassembled to create new compositions. An analogous curatorial framework, whereby different elements are added and subtracted creating new juxtapositions and suggesting different ideas, seemed to offer a solution to our binary dilemma. We chose the title Interchange to reflect this process.
Over the course of our studio visits, we mapped a web of connections across art works we chose for the show. We eventually formalized this set of associations into the six themes described more fully in the following essays. These themes explore history, time, fantasy, representation, process, and disruption through artworks in the media of painting, photography, video, and sculpture.
Each two-week installment of Interchange: An Exhibition in Three Parts examines two themes juxtaposed for their relationship to each other as well as the potential interactions between art works. The themes express single curatorial premises that are intentionally disrupted by points of overlap between the thematic pairings presented. These "hinge" art works underscore the extent to which a single work can contain or allow for diverse, and sometimes contrasting, associations. Despite our best efforts, binaries linger in the pairings and within individual themes, but we have managed to complicate the model a great deal. Oppositions are no longer fixed; they are continually shifting between art works, artists, and curatorial strategies, while changing roles along the way.
Connections between each part of the show are mapped further by the reappearance of individual artworks in different thematic groups. Over the course of the exhibition, some work will be traded out of the gallery, while other art works will remain. Through this process of addition and subtraction, surprising correlations may come to the fore. Why, for example, do half of the artists whose work is positioned as expressing The Burden of History reappear in Ignis Fatuus, a theme addressing fantasy? How does a curatorial context shape the interpretation of a given art work? A speculative project with open-ended results, Interchange: An Exhibition in Three Parts establishes a flexible curatorial framework in order to investigate the ways in which art works evoke multiple meanings.