Curatorial and Artistic Research in an Age of Migrations

This research project marks RCA’s contribution to the major four-year European Union funded research project, ‘European Museums in an age of Migrations’ (MeLa) which has being undertaken by the Curating Contemporary Art programme (CCA), along with eight other European partners comprised of universities, museums and research institutes.

The project began as an exploration of curatorial and artistic research into the history of exhibitions concerned with migration, representation and identity. It rapidly identified, however, a more fraught relation between these issues and wider urgent concerns about the current condition of contemporary art in a global context, the role of curating, the impact of the art market on curatorial practices and the museum, and the changing relation of artists to audiences.

Curating is increasingly being discussed as part of the ‘fiction’ of ‘contemporary art’, created by a complicit relation between the art market, corporate sponsorship and private patronage of the arts, through the agency of the museum. The self-contained, self-referential, modernist ‘art object’ of the twentieth-century art museum has never been so radically challenged.

New forms of art, curatorial practice and types of exhibition and project spaces are rapidly emerging that fall outside of the market category of the contemporary, or purposefully reject it – including work with sound, music, dance, radical performance, artistic collectives, urban communities, and documentary forms of art production.

For the art museum whose role is to collect and display contemporary art as part of contemporary culture and future heritage, fundamental challenges are being posed to its way of collecting, archiving and displaying. These challenges are further exacerbated by the impact of globalisation and technological change. If the art museum is to survive the new millennium, it needs to better understand the changing conditions and nature of artistic and curatorial practice both inside and outside the museum and to anticipate the changes needed to engage with and respond to future generations of visitors.

Phase One: Exhibition Histories and Museum Practices 

Following a matrix analysis of the research data gathered through desktop research, an audit and historical review of contemporary art exhibitions in Europe concerned with migration, identity and representation, and workshops and interviews with artists and curators, the following research findings emerged:

  • Representation
  • Exhibition
  • Collection and Object
  • Globalisation
  • Programming
  • Education and Learning
  • Audiences
  • Technology

Phase Two: Collaborative Research Exhibition and Publication:  Transfigurations 

Following the interim findings of Phase One the project recognised the need to remodel itself as a practice-based, ‘problem-solving’ form of collaborative research between artists and curators to address the issues raised in and through practice.

Five artist / curator collaborations were forged in partnership with national museums and galleries in England, Spain, the Netherlands, and France which also drew on further collective professional experience gained in Germany, Portugal, Algeria, the Dutch Caribbean, and across the Middle East. For each collaboration, a particular set of questions were addressed through a joint commission which was fully documented in process and final research material presented in a research exhibition at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) in June 2014 entitled ‘Transfigurations: Curatorial and Artistic Research in an Age of Migrations’.

As part of the research a publication was also produced which carried raw data from each commission to help identify points of tension, opportunity and disconnection between the working assumptions and practices of both artists and curators. A key research objective in this phase was to examine the extent to which change itself is enacted through situated, practice-based methodology as a form of knowledge-exchange. This method has been previously termed ‘post-critical’ by Professor Victoria Walsh in a previous collaborative research project.

The five collaborations were:

  • MACBA in Barcelona with curator Bartomeu Marí and artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan
  • Bétonsalon - Centre for art and research in Paris with curator Mélanie Bouteloup and artist Camille Henrot
  • Whitechapel Gallery in London with curator Sofia Victorino and artist Kader Attia
  • Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam with curators Jelle Bouwhuis / Kerstin Winking and artist Quinsy Gario
  • Royal College of Art in London with curator Paul Goodwin and artist Leo Asemota

For more information visit the MeLa website.