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Final Report Summary - CTE (Curating the Ephemeral: Practices of Engagement and Display in Contemporary Art)

The overarching objectives of Curating the Ephemeral were for Prof. Heathfield to:

1. Acquire extensive knowledge in theories of visual art and art history, alongside experience, grounded skills and international connections in the curatorial practices associated with ephemeral art: strategies for its arrangement, display and engagement with audiences.
2. Research, write and publish a book-length study on the curation of ephemeral art, communicating its diverse international dimensions and analysing its relation to aesthetics, cultural politics and global art markets.
3. Research, plan and realise a series of small events in years 2 and 3 of the project, within major institutional contexts of the research, that explore, test out and manifest through curatorial practice the skills and strategies acquired.
4. Realise direct impacts from the training-through-research for European arts culture through broad dissemination of its findings in talks and knowledge exchange events, and by generating new projects beyond the term of the award with key performance agents.

Work carried out to achieve the project’s objectives:

Throughout the research project Prof. Heathfield conducted sustained reading and writing processes exploring the conceptual contexts of his work on ephemeral art through existing published, archival and online research materials. The intensive research period of the fellowship enabled him to extend his work from its usual foci within aesthetics, philosophy, cultural politics and theory, to examinations of curatorial theory and contemporary art; philosophies of work and labour in global neo-liberal capitalism and their relation to aesthetics; speculative realism and object oriented ontology; philosophical and cultural studies of spirit and soul and their relation to cultural politics and art. These investigations formed the ground of a writing practice that lead to the drafting of ten chapters of a single-authored work. Throughout his time in New York and London he was able to access significant archives, exhibitions, talks and performance events that helped to shape the concerns of the research.

During two years of research in New York and the final year in London, Heathfield worked with key artists and curators internationally on the development of curatorial initiatives, learning from their experience and perspectives and crystallising the specific issues of the research investigation: museological practices and immaterial art, the relations between object-oriented and event-oriented curation, temporalities of performance and of visual display, material and affective economies in art. These collaborations led to the development of one curatorial project in the second year, and three curatorial projects with international institutions realised within the final year of the research, whose life extends beyond the term of the award and whose impact will return to Europe. Each curatorial project made distinct innovations in relation to questions of the practice of curation, its relation to immaterial art and public engagement. A further major European curatorial project was initiated in the final year of the award with a key visual arts institution, to be realised beyond the term of the award, enhancing the impact of this research.

Heathfield also conducted numerous knowledge exchange and outreach events derived from the research: in the USA and UK, Colombia, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Australia, Netherlands, Greece and Norway. These events engaged cultural sector hosts with investments in curatorial practice and discourse, extending and impacting upon a broad European and international audience. The hosts were: Museum Der Moderne, Salzburg; Performa at Judson Memorial Church, New York; Mapa Teatro, Bogota; Haus Der Kunst, Munich, Museum of Modern Art, New York; French Institute Alliance Française, New York; MDT, Stockholm; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Dancehouse, Melbourne; Athens Performance Biennial; Tate Modern, London; Nationaltheatret, Oslo. Knowledge exchange activities derived from the research were also conducted in academic contexts: Columbia University, New York; The Clark, Williamstown; Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf; the University of Roehampton; Amsterdam University of the Arts; and the University of Bristol.

Main Results:

• Writing of a single-authored book, now entitled: Little Nothings: Performance Essays

• Co-curation with Prof. André Lepecki (New York University) of a three-day public event at MoMA and FIAF New York as part of the Crossing the Line Festival, 25th – 27th September 2015: Afterlives: The Persistence of Performance

• Curation of a one-month long chain performance, commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney as part of the Embassy of Spirits at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15th March – 15th April 2016: ghost telephone

• Independent Curation of an exhibition by Janine Antoni, Anna Halprin, Stephen Petronio, taking the form of performances, installation environments, video, and sculptures at Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, 21st April – 31st July 2016: Ally. Editing of a book arising from the exhibition with contributing authors: Carol Becker, Jacquelynn Baas, Richard Move, and Hélène Cixous.

• Co-curation with the freethought collective of the Bergen Assembly, 1st – 30th September 2016, including the Infrastructure exhibition, The Infrastructure Summit, and the co-direction, co-editing and writing of Spirit Labour a forty minute visual essay on immaterial infrastructures, made in collaboration with photographer Hugo Glendinning.

• Initial planning of the curation of Doing Time, an exhibition project to be realised in collaboration with the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, at the 57th Venice Biennale, 2017.

• Publication of six essays and three interviews derived from the research in books and catalogues.

• Realisation of twenty knowledge exchange events (keynotes, talks, workshops) in cultural sector venues and universities internationally.

Cultural Impact:

Curating the Ephemeral generates new ways of thinking about the relations between the material and the immaterial in art, performance and its curation, and forges new forms of creative and curatorial expression. By shifting cultural practices and perceptions, these activities have impact on non-academic beneficiaries such as cultural sector partners (who are both a research subject and a context for practice-as-research realisations), participating artists (in terms of the development of their practice) and the general audiences experiencing the planned outreach events in the project’s partner venues (in terms of their understanding of art’s potential). Heathfield’s curatorial events in the second and third years of the project were each realized in collaboration with cultural sector organizations, sometimes in multiple partnerships. Each event generated considerable public and arts community interest in the project and its concerns, extending the audience for the research internationally.

Afterlives: The Persistence of Performance, realized in collaboration with Lepecki, the Performance and Education Departments at MoMA and the Crossing the Line festival curators at FIAF, created a web of new professional connections between academics, curators and artists. The event’s intensive three-day closed session discussions were particularly valuable in generating new concepts that fed into the creative and curatorial practices of the participants. More broadly these events pressed the discourse on ephemeral art and its relation to visual arts institutions and curatorial practice into dynamic new terrain. Audience numbers at the public seminars and lectures were robust: over 180 people attended the events at FIAF and over 350 people attended at MoMA. Three recordings of the MoMA performance-lectures have now had over 13,000 total youtube views.

In its outreach to dance spectators, Heathfield’s independent curatorial work on the three-month exhibition Ally activated new audiences for the host visual arts institution FWM, and the exhibition generated considerable press attention. For the fourteen-week run of the exhibition, attendance figures were 5,123; while 1,547 people attended thirty-four individual performances throughout the exhibition’s duration. Similarly, Heathfield’s month-long curation of the ghost telephone chain performance at AGNSW as part of the Sydney Biennale, brought performance spectators into a museal context, as well enabling encounters between the work and the considerable daily flows of general museum spectators.

Heathfield’s curatorial and discursive work as part of the freethought collective for the Bergen Assembly 2016 had a sustained community orientation through the collective’s long series of city seminars, which engaged an evolving group of local artists, students and arts practitioners in a diverse set of investigations around material and immaterial infrastructures. 7,695 people attended the month-long Infrastructure exhibition. Heathfield convened The Infrastructure Summit (produced by Eva Rowson), attended by 250 people. Both received extensive and positive art press attention. The curatorial projects in Philadelphia, Sydney and Bergen are each being further developed for European dissemination in museums and galleries in the coming years, and as such they represent the considerable future potential of this creative research on the continent. Finally, the critical focus and curatorial innovation of these projects directly led to the opportunity, development and planning of Heathfield’s future curatorial contribution to the Venice Biennale 2017 (an impact in itself).

In the last year of the project, while based back in Europe, Heathfield conducted numerous knowledge exchange and outreach events whose purpose was to disseminate (and re-question with others) the research findings of the project, creating a greater impact for the research in European arts culture. These events extended beyond the home context of London (where intensive talks and discussion were staged at the University of Roehampton and at Tate Modern), to the European cities of Athens, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and Bristol.

The project does not have an independent website, however numerous materials arising from the research can be found at:

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