A Postscript to Creative Destruction
Liz Park, Tim Saltarelli, and Kristina Scepanski
Creative Destruction was an exhibition curated by Denisse Andrade, Liz Park, Tim Saltarelli, and Kristina Scepanski, Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellows of the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program from 2011 to 2012. Held at the Kitchen in New York, May 24–June 16, 2012, it presented the work of Melanie Gilligan, Hans Haacke, Alfredo Jaar, Liz Magic Laser, Raqs Media Collective, Kerri Reid, SUPERFLEX, and Fred Wilson. Over the course of the exhibition, five discursive events explored the term “creative destruction” and looked at three key areas—the realm of public space, cultural production, and economics—that were under critical public re-evaluation in the wake of the global financial crisis. This text provides an overview of the project and the curatorial process, as well as the occasion for continued conversations that have taken place between the curators and a number of artists who took part in the public programs.
Our curatorial process began in September 2011, a few days before a group of protesters started occupying Liberty Plaza in New York. Over the next few months, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) took shape as a movement and its activities not only fed discussions in the media and among the people on the street and in their homes, but also the development of our exhibition concept. Analysis of current events took up a large part of our weekly curatorial meetings, as did theoretical examinations of key critical concepts including ideology, articulation, and appropriation. In particular, we focused on the concept of rearticulation—a term British cultural theorist Stuart Hall elaborates in “Signification, Representation, Ideology: Althusser and the Post-Structuralist Debates.”1 Hall’s theories of signification and representation provided a more nuanced outlook on OWS, along with the chants, signage, leaflets, and other modes of self-expression in circulation that we witnessed. These various forms of communication function in a process that Hall describes as an operation of encoding and decoding, which can be meaningful only within a shared set of codes. Hall proposes that the complex interactions of such signifying practices can be more productively negotiated in terms of articulation rather than as determined responses within a set of systematic and normative rules of society. He defines articulation as a necessary but arbitrary fixing of meaning in a discursive field characterized by a plurality of different social practices.2 This arbitrary fixing of meaning is highly ideological.
OWS provided numerous examples of negotiations that occur when one performs a particular articulation. For instance, the chant “This is what democracy looks like!” is an articulation in a Hallian sense. The nebulous term “this” (often referring to a mass gathering of people and their collective voice), the concept of democracy, and the declaration of its visible manifestation: these parts jointly perform an effective articulation of solidarity. Yet, leaving aside the much larger question of what democracy is or looks like, a gathering of people is not inherently democratic. It was rather the practice of articulating—the process of pinning down these vague terms through collective, physical actions—that gave the chant its power.
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About the Authors
Liz Park is a curator and writer committed to creating discursive spaces and generating forums to engage an audience with discussions of contemporary political and social realities. She received an MA in Art History/Curatorial Studies at the University of British Columbia. In 2011–12, she was Helena Rubinstein Fellow in the Curatorial Program at the Whitney Independent Study Program. She recently received the Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellowship at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania.
Tim Saltarelli is a curator and writer who has organized exhibitions in the United States, Canada, and Europe. In 2011–12, he was Helena Rubinstein Fellow in the Curatorial Program at the Whitney Independent Study Program. Presently, he is a curatorial advisor to the Frame section of the Frieze Art Fair.
Kristina Scepanski received her MA in Art History, German, and English Philology at the University of Cologne in 2009. She has worked for the European Kunsthalle in Cologne, a discursive platform without a physical location, and the Kunstverein in Düsseldorf. In 2011–12, she was Helena Rubinstein Fellow in the Curatorial Program at the Whitney Independent Study Program. Since 2013 she has been Director of Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster.