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April 26, 2001 Joan Borsa explores contemporary curating



Curator Joan Borsa

Curator Joan Borsa

Photo by Christian Fleury


by Barbara Black

Artists, by nature avant-garde, are everywhere these days — mixing their media, performing their ideas, taking their art into the streets. Curators are keeping up with them, in large part, by striking out on their own.

Joan Borsa has worked across Canada, putting together shows of contemporary art that have been seen at venues as various as the Museum of Civilization and Toronto’s Mercer Union.

Now she is doing her PhD, which includes a thesis that explores independent curatorial practice.

She has put together an international conference to be held this weekend, called In Public: Shifting Curatorial Practice.

The conference brings together curators from many backgrounds — major galleries, artist-run centres, smaller university and public art galleries, as well as independent curators and artist-curators. It’s the independent curating that adds a new dimension to what is already provided by the galleries.

“Independent curating has a strong history in Canada” Borsa said in an interview. “It means being independent of full-time institutional structures, and it leaves the curator more free to pursue the creative and intellectual side of their practice.

“It’s an outgrowth of the 1970s, what we called the parallel or artist-run system, and a lot of people, including curators now working at Canadian museums and galleries, come out of that system.”

Borsa has one MA in art history, another in art education, and has taken women’s studies, cultural studies and studio art; she wrote a thesis on Mexican feminist icon Frida Kahlo. All these interests converge in her work. “I’ve been an independent curator for quite a while, and I’ve also taught across Canada,” she said.

Art has never been more accessible, she continued, and the challenge for the curator is to find appropriate ways to present it. New relationships are being forged among curators, galleries, artists and audiences in which the gallery ceases to be a pristine, awe-inspiring cathedral and becomes more of a social and cultural laboratory.

A look at the speakers at next weekend’s conference gives some of the flavour of this trend.
Dana Claxton, an interdisciplinary artist from Vancouver, will talk about “how aboriginal art collectives have stimulated and developed self-representational curatorial efforts in Canada.” She is herself a Hunkpapa Lakota.

Curator Peter White will talk about a long-term interdisciplinary India-Canada project he is conducting that involves many locations and events, rather than a single exhibition. For example, he and his collaborators displayed Canadian art catalogues, rather than art works, at a book fair in Calcutta.

Anna Harding, of Goldsmiths College, in London, will discuss “Artwork as an Ongoing Event,” specifically, a show at the Whitechapel Art Gallery this year in which language classes, cake baking, tea parties, film screenings, preaching from the Gospel and wearing red shoes all played a part.

Monika Kin Gagnon, who teaches in Concordia’s Communication Studies Department, is well respected for her interdisciplinary work, and wrote a book last year called Other Conundrums: Race, Culture and Canadian Art. She will explore how so-called global culture threatens to re-impose Eurocentrism over the ideas about difference and self-representation that were current in the 1980s and 90s.

Other speakers include Maria Lind (Stockholm), Louise Déry (Montreal), Wayne Baerwaldt (Winnipeg), Sylvie Fortin (Ottawa), Iaroslava Boubnova (Sofia, Bugaria), Bruce Grenville (Vancouver), Mike Blockstein (San Francisco) and Marysia Lewandowska and Neil Cummings (London). The respondents are Barbara Fischer, a well-known curator from Toronto, and Reesa Greenberg, longtime professor of art history at Concordia, now an adjunct professor and museum exhibition consultant.

The conference In Public: Shifting Curatorial Practice will be held April 28 and 29 at SAT, the Société des arts technologiques, 305 St. Catherine St. W. Preregistration is required. For further informtion, contact inpublic@yahoo.com.