Fillip 14 — Summer 2011

Investing in the Blank
Monika Szewczyk

Part 1. Some Advice

An initial conversation with editor Antonia Hirsch about my contribution to Intangible Economies brought to the fore some unfinished business: having written about “the blank,” that rare phenomenon when a block to meaning-making enters the picture, I realized that my attempt to frame the experience produced certain provocations that could be too easily seen as coquettish unless the project continued. (The reader is advised to refer to the earlier essay “Drawing the Blank,” which appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of the journal F.R. David, published by de Appel Arts Centre in Amsterdam.) In debating possibilities for this new essay, Antonia suggested that “it would be good to discuss the exchange value of the blank.”

My first thought was: “I cannot.” Exchanging the blank for something else, giving it a value (the act that facilitates exchange), putting a proverbial price on it, would defeat the purpose of my attempt to think through this phenomenon of irreducibility, which sets the imagination roaming even as it stops it cold in its tracks. What I can do instead is talk about investment because, like this simultaneous pause and adventure of the mind I just mentioned, investments, speculations, or ventures are not so much about spending (exchanging), but about forecasting, even prophesying, the infinite growth of value—a value that resists definition but that stops growing when it is exchanged for something else, however precious.

The contrarian, or the concrete economist, will interject with a clarification that investment is spending—a purchase of an uncertain future. And, furthermore, it is only when investments yield real returns that we can consider them to be good. I will grant that this is indeed the case, and if what follows comes to resemble a theory of exchange, I will not have wasted my time. But the real aim in positing something as abstract, intangible, and invaluable as “the blank” through concrete figures is to produce an image of the imagination at work.

Part 2. The Selfish Part

What exactly am I talking about when I invoke the blank? For some years now, each time I see a billboard that is painted over and bereft of advertising, I try to photograph it, or at least take some time to consider what it means to face such a thing. Usually, I encounter these vacant surfaces amidst other billboards filled with advertisements—the capitalist world’s most profound assault on public space and on the imagination, the violence of which is perhaps most palpable in regions more recently embracing consumer capi­talism such as the former Eastern bloc, large parts of Asia, and Latin America. Advertisements are there to “stimulate demand,” which is forever underperforming, according to the business sections of most newspapers. They not only make you part with your cash but also circumscribe the freedom of your will, direct your desire, and define your needs and your wants. By employing various strategies including seduction and humour, advertisers attempt to trigger a host of complex emotions such as moral satisfaction, guilt, and even deep disgust to continually mould the mind and shape human relations—through what Guy Debord called spectacle.1 Because these operations rely on stimulations of sensitivity that are continually worn down by use, we become less sensitive. Ironically, some of the most effective advertisements seem to be those that feature human subjects displaying a total lack of desire, whose expressions leave unclear whether they are fulfilled or spent. The only thing that is clear is that they are wearing Gucci or Prada, etc.

A good case in point is Kate Moss: look into her eyes in any number of advertisements and notice the impassive gaze of Manet’s Olympia (1863) or of the barmaid in A Bar at the Folies Bergère (1882). Is this simultaneously fulfilled and unfulfillable human the model subject of capitalism? This seemingly insensitive self has persisted in different guises for decades. As capitalist expansion reached a point of excess prior to the Great Depression, Buster Keaton epitomized the blank stance; my favorite example of this is to be found in the film stills from Go West (1925) where he occupies the frame with a cow—their expressions somehow difficult to distinguish. His deadpan stare opens the door to a reading of the blank face as a form of transcendence.2 And if here the line between human and animal dissolves, elsewhere the barrier between the human and the divine tends towards collapse.

Around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Thomas Ruff teased the blank out of each one of the subjects of his oversized passport photos. His conflation of passport and portrait images proves that in effecting blankness (when we pretend to be cargo) we may cross borders in life and beyond. Indeed, the blank face is not only the stance of the citizen but also the mask of divine transcendence, as exemplified by the Pantocrator motif of the icon painting tradition. All icons condense in Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1913), perhaps the paradigmatic blank of modernity, and the moment when the blank migrates from the portrait to the monochrome.3 And is there not a hint of Suprematism in every blank billboard out there?

While this is perhaps not the place to attempt an elaborate fusion of Sigmund Freud’s and Karl Marx’s theories in support of a general statement on the psycho-economic status of advertising, it is worthwhile to mention that these two men, who compete for the title of modernity’s most paradigm-shifting thinker, share at least one important theme: that of the fetish—this figment of the imagination that marks the investment of wild powers into a thing, a commodity. I propose that, if advertising is there to create commodity fetishes, it may be in the empty billboard, this blank (my fetish?), that the spectacular charm of advertising can be, if not broken, then outdone. It may be that this blank is the place where something other can emerge. I should note (in agreement with Bruno Latour, Michael Taussig, and Anselm Franke) that there is no use in trying to break the spell of the fetish. Much more important—for the cause of emancipation—is the ability to invest in a fetish of one’s own making.4 Faced with a blank, aware of its stark neutrality, we begin to confront our desires—a bit like a writer staring at an empty page.

Part 3: The Self in Parts

If Malevich’s Black Square is the quintessential modernist blank—modernism being that moment of historical consciousness when human emancipation and individual autonomy became unambiguous ideals and when works of art sought to exemplify these conditions in objects—perhaps the quintessential postmodernist blank is Allan McCollum’s series Plaster Surrogates (1982–90).5 In postmodernism, these dearly held ideals of emancipation and autonomy are seen as both an impossible and somehow oppressive ideology. Fragmentation—of the autonomous self or of the perfect art object that was meant to mirror and aid the constitution of the ideal modern subject and a holistic worldview—is foregrounded. Postmodern artworks affect modernism as charade. In McCollum’s work, the black square on white ground (recalling Malevich) morphs into a rectangle that is no longer painted by hand but that is cast in plaster and multiplied, automating the exemplary status of Malevich’s painting through reproduction to a point of absurdity. The aura (that sense of a soul or inner force that makes the fetish) is drained from these works, yet postmodernism’s ironic and humourous air pervades them. The fundamental lack implied in the word “surrogate” applies to the objects as well as to the subjects that confront them. Indeed, if modern art objects were meant to reinforce the integrity of modern subjects, the quintessentially postmodern Plaster Surrogates produce a viewing subject who is as fragmented as he or she is wanting. Nowhere is this made more patently obvious than in Andrea Fraser’s scripted performance May I Help You? (1991), which casts an actor as a staff member of a commercial gallery. This assistant greets actual visitors and by way of a one-way conversation projects a full spectrum of values onto an installation of approximately one hundred of McCollum’s Plaster Surrogates.

In crafting her performance script, Fraser culled the gallery attendant’s lines from disparate sources. Among them are excerpts from a Sotheby’s catalogue featuring writing by Ester Coen on the collection of Lydia Winston Malbin (the pinnacle of fine taste expressed as desire for the pricey as priceless), among other texts on collectors who ascribe something other than a monetary price tag to their precious collections; selections from Pierre Bourdieu’s seminal study Distinction (the proof that aesthetic taste is far from disinterested but rather a sign of social class, which in itself is also a product of lineage rather than controllable achievements), among other sociological studies that take the art world as their subject; Raymond Williams’s essay “Culture Is Ordinary” (an emphatic disagreement with culture’s relegation to a financial elite and to select objects or spaces deemed worthy); and an interview with the artist Allan McCollum himself (a rejection of certain artworks that are patently produced to mystify and exclude him).6 This to note just four of the dozens of fragments that comprise the carefully constructed script, which moves from expressing sentiments of confirmation, pride, and comfort through compensation and refuge, to alienation and indignation in relation to the blank, numb art objects.

It may be worthwhile to consider one such shift of attitude—which in turn underscores the multiple investments in the blank:

The Staff member’s manner is gracious and unconcerned. She is self-assured, authoritative but unthreatening....

“It’s a beautiful show, isn’t it. And this...”

She walks over to one of the Plaster Surrogates. a beautiful piece.”

She pauses for a moment, looking.

“I would say that this work is the apotheosis of abstraction. It’s an abstraction that implies an absolute simplification and reduction within a language of well-balanced purity. It has extraordinary colors and formal intensity. The first time I saw it I fell in love with it....

She moves to another Plaster Surrogate.

The absolute affirmation and sense of fulfillment is soon shattered; further on, the same attendant changes her attitude:

Standing in front of the object she turns to the visitor.

“You know, if you’re not one of those people who affects history—and most of us are not—then how are you supposed to enjoy looking for personal meaning in the souvenirs of that class of people who manipulate history to your exclusion? I think it takes a pretty blind state of euphoric identification to enjoy another’s power to exclude you.”

The above quotations illustrate the two opposing poles of a subjective spectrum, but it should be noted that the almost seamless passage between unmarked quotations, between attitudes, between polarities of class—almost and not entirely, because the stage directions do call for subtle shifts of attitude between seven distinct sections—does not preclude a sense of a fundamentally fragmented self, even if it produces a feeling of a totality that is as scripted and multiple as it is exhaustive and true.

What Fraser shows—and what she in many ways lampoons—is the wide range of subjective projections triggered by one and the same artwork, an artwork that is repeated multiple times to underscore its generic character. There is an implication here that McCollum’s Plaster Surrogates stand for every work of art and, moreover, that all these artworks engender a kind of deep primordial lack, which must be filled with speech.

Because the performance synthesizes several disparate subjective texts into one “helping” word from the gallery assistant, what comes to the fore is a general sense of insufficiency and fragmentation or insufficiency due to fragmentation. The words spilled and the emotions invested in McCollum’s blank surrogates seem to say everything about the speaker’s social position. This confessional performance positions audience members as spectators of their own fragmented consciousnesses (and, by extension, because of the surrogate status of McCollum’s work, any audience in front of any artwork). This comes across as a subjective insufficiency, I think, more than the objective insufficiency of a blank work; even if such works are seen to lose their aura and emerge as the empty ciphers of questionable class distinction, the most disturbing sense is that, in front of any artwork, but perhaps especially in front of the blank ones, our desires are not our own. Of course, the fact that blank works bring to the fore this realization may be seen as their productive force, but must they be seen (as I think they are in Fraser’s performative engagement of McCollum’s surrogates) as forces that disempower us or simply bring to the level of consciousness our already existing disempowerment?

Fraser’s understanding of her practice (as well as the work of several more senior artists associated with the project of institutional critique) as precisely this type of consciousness-raising critical activity is neatly summarized in her essay “From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique.” Here she refutes the pervasive understanding of institutional critique as the critique of outside forces. Taking up the contention, so prevalent in the postmodern condition, that there is no outside of capitalism and that postmodern subjects are condemned to a kind of implication beyond their control, she notes: So if there is no outside for us, it is not because the institution is perfectly closed, or exists as an apparatus in a “totally administered society,” or has grown all-encompassing in size and scope. It is because the institution is inside of us, and we can’t get outside of ourselves. Notably, the “selves” here could be read as applicable to the multiple selves in each of us and to a multitude of persons. Fraser concludes: Finally, it is this self-questioning—more than a thematic like “the institution,” no matter how broadly conceived—that defines institutional critique as a practice.7

Consider that, in the matrix of fragmentation created by Fraser’s performance (which externalizes and splits the subtext of the self) and reinforced by McCollum’s Surrogates (multiplying the singular blank of Malevich), there is still a kind of hegemony at work: while she reconfigures the understanding of institution as an internalized set of controls, and then externalizes this institutionalized self and further splits it in her somewhat schizophrenic script, there remains a sense of entrapment, which is further reinforced by the looping structure of the performance video. The self we see is a kind of late-capitalist, globalized, post-human, post-utopian, schizophrenic, consumerist self—the subject of analysis and, as the title of Fraser’s video suggests, in dire need of help. Even those words that signal this self’s comfort and pride in class distinction tend to flow to avoid the silence of the blank. (And we might note that when she looks up from the pictures and stares straight at us, the actress in the video becomes caught between the blankness of the Surrogates and that invisible yet all pervasive blankness of the camera.) Here, in agreement with Lacanian notions of language, her words demarcate the subject as constituted by a lack in perpetual need of the talking cure. However innovative the use of silence in Lacan, it tends towards this therapeutic speech. However naive it may seem, I’d like to escape this loop.

What about considering the visual silence of the blank as that which allows us to listen to other signals?—radio signals from Mars, for example, to borrow a thought from the poet Jack Spicer by way of a text by the artist Judy Radul.8 If in watching May I Help You? it seems that just about everything in the book(s) can and has been invested in the blank(s) on display, it may be worth noting that the great emphasis of this investment is predicated on a lack felt due to class inferiority that is summarily thrown out the window in the last lines of Fraser’s script (quoted above). The composite self that Fraser displays is a sociological one, one that is characterized primarily by class. It may be that, in so exhaustively circumscribing the blank in the discourse of class, the performance opens the door to another understanding: what is really missing in this confrontation with the Surrogates is a silent contemplation of, and confrontation with, the dumb thingness of the works as such.9 While such a response could perhaps be understood as enacting yet another sociological “type,” a mapped response—which might be called Cagean, pseudomystical, hippy, meditative, Zen-like10—such mapping too quickly circumvents the real potential of a confrontation with a blank. Such a confrontation does not even need to be thought of as a therapeutic situation. Rather, the silence visually inscribed in artworks, things, or images—that quintessential quality of neutrality or escape from the binary tensions that form meaning, in short, their blankness—tends to leave a surplus.11

Part 4: The Difficult Part

Having deconstructed just about everything, how do we continue to invest in blanks, in spaces that do not fill the imagination with ready-made pictures of desire, but with images and values that are of our own construction, constructed by an alien part of ourselves (the one from Mars, say)? How to leave the script behind, or how to write our own script? One option, which I entertained in my earlier text, “Drawing the Blank,” is to create blanks rather than wait for them: to see a blank where there is a bank, for example. This means that one need not wait to encounter images or sites that momentarily block the predetermination of our desires so that we can invent new ones. Rather (learning from such encounters perhaps), we may begin to inject blankness into spaces that are all too fully circumscribed by the logic of capitalism (or a general social logic that capitalizes on our sense of absolute alienation). This productive approach does not understand blankness as lack and yet another opportunity to conduct commerce.

As a solitary exercise, such projection will only get us so far. In conversation, where others are present, and the silence, the space between words exchanged, is always already something of a blank, we might listen and find an opportunity to neutralize the structures that currently define desire. However, this conversation need not always happen in the company of other people. It might occur as an exchange with the self or, more precisely, with another mind within the one we think we know and own—call it the Martian (but, please, do not Google “Scientology” and “inner alien”). Perhaps it is through this type of investment, a kind of capitalization of the blank that uses aspects of the logic of capital against its most numbing effects, that new values can emerge.

The difficult part is, of course, not to stop the essay here, with the (these days) pervasive wide-open door of all theoretical speculation where the indeterminate new and different and alternative to come is voiced but not specified. My editor has (quite rightly) urged me to elaborate on the notion of surplus I dangled at the end of the last section, to put my money where my mouth is (proverbially). This is often the part where words fail and the rest of the page remains blank, where I get to confront my desires, for real does the reader, perhaps.

In “Drawing the Blank,” I offered many examples of blankness in an attempt to put a frame around something rather intangible, to iterate instances where we fall silent, in wait of radical alternatives. In this text, I made it my task to consider what this situation produces, other than a welling up of proscribed desires and greater consciousness of fragmentation and alienation and imaginative dead ends.

What else can be invested in the blank? These days we often hear of a loss of imagination on the part of the Left—as if such an ideological designation were still possible—a kind of collective instance of “drawing a blank” on what it is that “we” want in terms of property, community, governance, the future. But the general sense of this communal stupefaction, which, when fully registered, might bring with it a sense of urgency, is easily lost amidst the visual and aural noise, and so we go on. If more blanks are produced or found, precisely in places where imagination fails—if this collective stupefaction becomes more palpable as such—there might be a chance to exchange the blank for another image of tomorrow. For now, rather than following the logic of debt by borrowing images (from advertising, say) to invest in each blank we find, the opposite operation is needed: Ask not what to invest in the blank—ask what the blank can be invested in! Recognizing the value of this silent surplus will not come in a flash at the end of an essay. It is rather a matter of daily practice.

[Apart from the Above]

When I first began to write this essay, the so-called Arab Spring was beginning to dominate the news. I was very impressed with the ability of the Egyptian protesters to refrain from too quickly defining their demands beyond the singular rejection of the Mubarak regime—their radical negativity produced a gaping hole in the public imagination. The Egyptian example was interpreted in novel ways in subsequent attempts to rethink democracy that are still under way, such as the Occupy movement. Some might argue that the carving out of a power vacuum made way for the capturing of governmental forces by the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood, the much-feared Islamist force. And to be sure, the situation in the Middle East is far from the ideal state of suspension that the revolution projected in early 2011. But the example remains a powerful measure of what is possible. Consequently, my first instinct was to reflect on the notion of the blank in light of the stubbornly indeterminate aims of the people gathering in Tahrir Square. But I waivered, as Antonia Hirsch advised me of the somewhat problematic nature of such reasoning (I had thus far only considered artistic phenomena, and this new angle required more ground, more context).

Since the publication of what you have read above, I have had the chance to discuss this essay twice in some detail. On one occasion I presented the paper in a public discussion moderated by Antonia Hirsch that took place in the context of the NY Art Book Fair (NYABF), which coincided with the inaugural days of the Occupy movement in September 2011. The presentation included an array of projected images, much broader in scope than what I had used in the initial print version.12 I had found an image of Occupiers gathered around a man holding up a sign, photographed from the back, so that his placard appeared blank. This was close to an anchor for my argument, certainly as powerful an emblem of the movement’s potential as the infamous Guy Fawkes mask (which Antonia called up later in her introduction at the Vancouver forum).13 In the course of our illustrated exchange in New York, I presented the image along with some slides of the crowds gathering in Tahrir Square as well as one image of the enigmatic Sphinx at Giza—a reminder that the social force of the blank had been deployed since time immemorial. I wanted to keep things open and highly associative. Here, Antonia defended my desire to speculate. Somewhat predictably perhaps, we received quite a lot of criticism (particularly from an art historian in the audience) for freewheeling with visual materials in the service of a speculative argument. And yet, I, at least, came away convinced that more of this collective mental work was needed rather than less.

For the most part, the crowds gathering at NYABF that September behaved as if nothing was happening in Zuccotti Park. I wonder if perhaps the silence, the seeming indifference of the public to the nascent Occupy movement, derived less from total political disengagement than from the fact that people concluded they were out of their depth—somewhat like I had, in deciding not to mention the Arab Spring in my original essay. Perhaps they awaited a vocabulary with which to process the present—drawing a blank, as they say, in the meantime.

A month later when I presented the essay, along with even more new images, at the Intangible Economies forum in Vancouver, the Occupy movement became a ubiquitous reference during all the discussions, and my speculations on the blank met with much intellectual nourishment from the likes of Clint Burnham, who immediately recognized that I was after the notion of a space kept open and indeterminate—i.e., a truly public space. Yet despite this affirmation, I realize that the problem of choosing examples of what I refer to as “the blank” and of all too loose political conjecture around this phenomenon has not been solved. This represents a kind of inherent contradiction in my argument. To give the blank definition, to give it “a face” of any kind (and for my colleague Juan A. Gaitán, especially perhaps a human face), remains an irresolvable demand.

A chasm opens up between the moment when we proverbially draw a blank (run out of ideas, suspend verbalization, halt the making of meaning) and the moment when we begin to invest in an existing blank or a blank of our own conjecture (deposit certain political desires, say, even if it is for a politics that resists the colonization of desire). To cross this chasm, a kind of leap of faith might be required, or, at least, quite a lot of confidence in the more abstract capacities of the mind. I do think that to build this confidence, concrete figures are required. The images I have used in service of my argument are thus at once things that are clearly framed (as images) and yet contain much resistance to meaning-making and clear interpretation; they are places where the mind can rest, but this rest is not of the stagnant type. It is a place to vacation with remainders, surpluses. In other words, however abstract the thought, the mind grasps it through something tangible. In the case of the blank, art still seems to provide more robust concretization of ideas than the inherently fragile sphere of politics (and its attendant news coverage). But the two are best related as a dialectic rather than a binary. For this reason, I have asked that a new image be inserted in the republication of this essay.14 I am looking for more. La lutte continue ...

  1. Here it may be worthwhile to underline that, for Debord, spectacle is not so much the myriad of advertising images we confront but the human relations and the imaginations produced by this image environment.
  2. A question I am still contemplating is the extent to which the hilarity of Buster Keaton’s blank stare, with its ability to produce convulsions of the diaphragm (Walter Benjamin’s nicely corporal synonym for laughter), is perhaps superior to the more hypnotizing effects of blanks operating in advertising when it comes to enabling the viewing subject to become more self-aware in his or her confrontation with the blank.
  3. It should be noted that in the first Suprematist exhibition, 0, 10: The Last Futurist Exhibition, which took place in 1915 at a gallery in St. Petersburg, Malevich quite deliberately installed Black Square in the upper corner of the exhibition space and thus precisely in the traditional site for the installation of an icon in Russian homes—making the equivalence between icon and monochrome all the more palpable.
  4. Latour’s argument is succinctly summarized in Anslem Franke’s essay “On Blood Flow,” in Valérie Mannaerts, An Exhibition Another Exhibition (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2011), 17. He refers to Bruno Latour’s Sur le culte moderne des dieux faitiches (Paris: La Découverte, 2009) and Michael Taussig’s “Viscerality, Faith and Skepticism,” in Magic and Modernity: Interfaces of Revelation and Concealment, ed. Birgit Meyer and Peter Pels (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).
  5. Beginning in 1982, the American artist (a member of what has come to be known as the Pictures Generation) began to create multiples of picture-like plaster casts that resemble Malevich’s Black Square in that they are composed of black rectilinear centres framed by large white margins, albeit in an oblong format, perhaps bringing them even closer still to those other carriers of blankness—portraits. Much like Malevich (but with more of a reference to the secular space of the gallery than the sacred corner of an Orthodox home), McCollum installs his surrogates in rows so that they replace pictures in a gallery. A generic quality pervades the installations, and the title triggers a projection of other pictures onto Plaster Surrogates.
  6. For an online version of the full script, including bibliographic details, see Andrea Fraser, “May I Help You? A Performance by Andrea Fraser,” Art Lies, accessed April 1, 2011,
  7. See Andrea Fraser, “From a Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique,” Artforum, September 2005. Available online at
  8. American poet Jack Spicer’s notion of the artist as someone who is able to receive “radio signals ‘from Mars’” (importantly, as opposed to the more religious notion of the artist as a vessel for divine inspiration) is explored by Radul in a short text introducing a workshop on the artist’s talk, presented at the symposium “Rotterdam Dialogues: The Artists.” I introduce it here to keep us tuned into possibilities that are strange but not overly pious and to sustain Radul’s argument of the artist as listener and therefore somehow on the side of the audience. See Judy Radul, “About,” in Rotterdam Dialogues: The Critics, The Curators, The Artists, eds. Zoë Gray, Miriam Kathrein, Nicolaus Schafhausen, Monika Szewczyk, and Ariadne Urlus (Rotterdam: Witte de With Publishers, 2010), 168–69.
  9. We might see a section of Fraser’s Official Welcome (2001) as flirting with this option. At one point in this speech, which is collaged from the welcoming addresses given in various art-world contexts that the artist herself performs (while stripping and then getting dressed again), the artist (almost in her birthday suit) steps aside from her podium and announces, “Today, I am an image, an object,” and stares out blankly, remaining still and silent for an uncomfortably long time. Yet, while she offers this unsettling moment of silence, the space is again infused with a mocking air that does not quite enable the audience to entertain something other than the view of a scripted behaviour in the art world reinforced by the rest of the work.
  10. Perhaps the omission of this type of response, with its Buddhist inflection, which holds the door open to a kind of forgetting of the self, is not entertained within Fraser’s approach because there the sociological and Lacanian constitution of a self is all important.
  11. Here, too, a can of worms is opened to a whole field of deliberation, shared in part by Maurice Blanchot and Roland Barthes, who each dwells at length on the notion of neutrality or the neutral and who each relates neutrality to silence, to the space between speech in conversation, to the site beyond language and its necessary binaries. See Roland Barthes, The Neutral, trans. Rosalind Krauss and Dennis Hollier (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005) and Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, ed. and trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
  12. Monika Szewczyk, “Investing in the Blank,” Fillip 14 (Summer 2011).
  13. Interestingly, the image I used has now appeared along the official entry for the Occupy movement on Wikipedia.
  14. See page 233.
About the Author

Monika Szewczyk divides her time between writing, curating, editing, and teaching. She has contributed essays to numerous catalogues as well as journals such as Afterall, A Prior, C Magazine, Camera Austria, Canadian Art, F.R. DAVID, Mousse, and e-flux journal, which has published instalments of her ongoing project, Art of Conversation. Between 2008 and 2012, she was head of publications at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art and a tutor at the Piet Zwart Institute, both in Rotterdam. Previously, Szewczyk was Assistant Curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery and an instructor at Emily Carr University of Art + Design (Vancouver). As of July 2012 she holds the position of Visual Arts Program Curator at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago.

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