Alexandra Kleiman’s Digital Flux opens Saturday, July 31 at 7 Dunham Place #4N in Williamsburg. The independent curator discusses her active curation and everybody’s favorite topic, Facebook.
It’s no coincidence that computer screens are getting more reflective. The distance between self and information—if the separation even exists anymore—is running towards a quick dissolve. The screen is both a reflecting pool and windshield on which we are becoming master curators of ourselves.
Alexandra Kleiman addresses these issues in Digital Flux, a group show she has curated opening Saturday, July 31. It’s the first show in her exhibition series Active Curation produced by the MAKESHIFT collective. Alexandra and I discuss the Flux and how that is affecting curating and everything else for this generation.
Richard Goldstein: How would you describe your curating?
Alexandra Kleiman: I think what shapes my curatorial practice most is that it’s incredibly dynamic and responsive to a number of different stimuli: the type of artists and their didactics/aesthetics, the type of audiences with different learning styles and ways of engaging, the type of medium obviously, the lack of any types, the art market, types of music, physical spaces, digital structures, etc. In order to be a good curator, generally, you have to be quite flexible and responsive, and in order to curate interestingly and engagingly you have to be multifariously aware, impressionable and analytical.
Growing up, I loved art. The more I studied art, the more I realized that what I liked about it was everything that wouldn’t ever be in a textbook. I started working at the Metropolitan Museum in the Education Department—Education being the link between art and viewer response and Curatorial being the link between textbook and wall—and I realized that by helping viewers understand how to engage in certain ways with art I could skip the textbook phase for practical purposes and help people to be their own teachers and feel comfortable coming to the interpretation they will. This philosophy is really the foundation of my curatorial practice and this method of looking is especially crucial with contemporary art, which is why I prefer to work with it over more historical art. Not that historical art is a free-interpretation-lost-cause, it’s just that with contemporary art I feel more readily able to interpret because I haven’t already scoured and internalized other interpretations. On the other hand, being in some ways a student of art history, I feel like it’s my responsibility to think about the art of my time and work with it in ways that will make it more accessible, but not impedingly or imposingly pedagogic.
RG: How do you work with the artists?
AK: Basically, I ask artists to respond to a concept with art. This is actually quite basic and intrinsic, and in many ways a return to the roots of the concept of art itself. So, I’m taking words (the concept) and helping them be put back in the realm of the nonverbal (art). I think that by using this curatorial process I can help people to experience art more freely, and that’s also why I have my shows in residential settings rather than commercial ones, where people tend to feel subject to limited art-viewing and processing practices and modes of thought.
RG: What prompted this show for you? Where/when did it start to take form?
AK: I’ve been thinking a lot, recently, about the socialization of my generation and it occured to me that not only is Facebook a noun and verb that we use incessantly, but we are also actually becoming Facebook in a number of ways. To me, Facebook is the amalgamation of the self-portrait, the mirror, the camera, and the other. It allows you to depict yourself, look at yourself, decide what you are, change what you are, and present that as you see fit to a multiplying mass of others of these. And, naturally, you’ll make yourself look as good as possible from your own perspective, so this whole process is inherently ameliorative, at least in a subjective way. I think that this can be a really positive thing if you’re thoughtful about what’s happening and what you’re doing, but that’s definitely not always the case. Anyways, for better or for worse, I’ve noticed people morphing into products of these malleable identities and defining themselves by the facts and facets that Facebook allows them to present. We function as multiplicities and we embrace multiplicity. I realized that I viscerally felt this happening before I could articulate what I thought was going on. Some realization triggers a chemical response which translates to thought, and in the world we live in, thought often has to translate to words. I think a lot is lost in the lexical gap.
RG: Can you describe Digital Flux?
AK: Digital Flux, the show’s concept, came to be after realizing in words what is happening to people of my generation from using Facebook. I knew that the artists I asked to be in the show have developed thoughts on the effects of digital media, as well, and I wanted to harness these. Active Curation, the ongoing curatorial process or series of shows, came to be after realizing how I find it best to capture our nonverbal responses to things in the world, such as my interpretation of Facebook flux.
Digital Flux is the substantive interaction between humans and technology. The effects that I’m concerned with in the show are the effects that technologies have on humans after these technologies have been created by humans. It’s kind of funny that way.
RG: How do you see those traits developing in the future? Would you say this is a kind of humanizing of technology?
AK: I think that the effects of internalizing Facebook will certainly manifest more over time. I think that the concept of the individual identity will become increasingly more fluid, varied and fleeting. I think that people will feel more comfortable stepping into new roles, both personally and professionally. I think that aesthetic tastes will continue to change more and more rapidly. One thing that I’m personally unsure of is whether the need to self-label in terms of gender, sexual preference, and other less consequential matters such as hometown, will become more or less important and have greater or fewer implications as applying and changing those labels becomes easier. I feel as though I’ve seen signs of both.
I would say that this is more of a technologizing of humans than it is a humanizing of technology, although I think that you could definitely argue that Mark Zuckerberg is an expert humanizer of technology, which makes the opposite possible.
RG: Since the ways in which we communicate have become so reliant on the web, our experience of so much information is a highly mediated one. What do you think the after effects of such digital mediation are on our experience of the “actual” objects, like paintings, sculpture, etc.? How does the digital affect our return to the objects, the gallery, or the museum?
AK: At the Met I give tours to camp groups, and the more teenaged groups always seek facts, whereas the younger campers prefer just to make observations. My interpretation of this phenomenon is that once technology becomes a big part of one’s life, especially academically, one becomes quite eager to get information as quickly as possible, and one is used to and comfortable being exposed to masses of information. It’s really pretty logical; it feels like you’re wasting time getting facts from a babbling human being when you can sift through an exponentially greater, and nearly limitless, amount of information in a fraction of the time, online. The majority of adult viewers that I observe in the museum look at the placards before the piece which is why I don’t put any factual information on the walls or objects that I curate—to help people just look and think independently.
Being used to engaging with certain technologies has made us fact-oriented and impatient, or at least aware of the time we dedicate to finding something, looking for something, or thinking about something. We also have become incredibly trusting of others’ interpretations, or are often even unaware of the fact that we’re relying on these. Of course you could say that we wouldn’t get anywhere if we didn’t rely on resources created by others, and that seems very valid, but I think it’s good to be aware of what, exactly, you’re using. I think that our various digital outlets and devices have made us all quite goal-oriented as well, which can be really helpful, but we should try to remember that it’s okay just to Google aimlessly and read slowly as well. The effects seem to be both beneficial and detrimental.
RG: Tell me about your partnering with the laptop initiative.
AK: My decision to donate a large percentage of the proceeds of the show to One Laptop per Child was a pretty straightforward one; I think it’s important to help others when you can and I also think it’s pretty important to crawl out of the intellectual bubble you build for yourself and look at the world. I think that many views on Digital Flux can be quite critical and negative. We also have to remember the mind-blowing opportunities it gives us and platforms it offers us, so I felt that it was important to underscore and affirm that by giving others the opportunity to have that experience, and in doing so, reflecting on the fact that we’re only able to do this show because of the opportunities we’ve been so fortunate to have.