Between Taiwan and Venice, there’s a distance stretching over nine thousand kilometers. It has been the TFAM exhibition team’s ultimate goal through continuous efforts over one year to bring together the artist Tehching Hsieh, currently living in New York, and the curator Adrian Heathfield, based in London, to work on Taiwan’s exhibition during the Venice Biennale. If I enumerated my work content since I joined the TFAM team in preparation for the exhibition Doing Times for the past seven months, then this report would look messy and trivial. Until the very moment that I take up the pen to put down my thoughts, I never stop reflecting on what I have gained during the process. Some things emerged in my mind naturally like intuition.
The word “curate” indicates to conserve, and the collected paper shreds left from punched cards in the Time Clock Piece presented for the first time in this exhibition serve as a good example for this. It is a new discovery made by the curator Heathfield among items in the inexhaustible archives of Tehching Hsieh, as he started to discuss with Hsieh works to be included in the exhibition. It is evident that Hsieh did not just execute his artistic works mechanically but he also established his archives and collected objects with a mechanical thoroughness and great attention to details—and the exhibiting of these shreds made it all the more obvious and vivid to the audience. Every exhibition is a process to rediscover and reassess artistic creations and this is the raison d’être of exhibition and curatorial practice.
To curate an exhibition is to gain the power to control, and the struggle between the artist and the curator never ends. For this exhibition, I’m almost shocked to know there are still differences of opinions between Tehching Hsieh and Adrian Heathfield, who have a long-term collaborative relationship. Even when they have worked together for over nine years, the artist and the curator still have different things they would like to say, that they would like to convey in their own way, in face of a new exhibition, an exhibition in Venice. Having the privilege to stay close to observe the process of communication, I realize that the artist and the curator need to establish a relation of mutual trust and respect. This might sound like cliché, but in reality do we know many people who can perform it well?
Curating an exhibition is also a job in motion. We may have planned it in great details well in advance, but a perfect exhibition only exists in the mind of the curator or the artist (and it may not be the same version for both). An exhibition is also the endeavor of a whole team, and we must decide when to persevere and to let go. This is an issue that a curator must always confront—a question that we keep asking ourselves in each task that does not have a set formula to follow.
I feel happy to be in the very first curatorial internship program in Taiwan’s participation of Venice Biennale, and I hope I shall not be the only one. But the harsh reality is that the budget for this program is not allotted regularly. This said, it’s clear that there are many things to make efforts for in the art field, and that some people would leave and some other may want to give up. I think they would all ask themselves what art is, and I want to tell them what Tehching Hsieh once said, “Art may be a way of life, some kind of energy or power, that allows you to find a way to exist.”
Shih-yu Hsu| M.A, Visual Arts Administration, New York University
M.S and B.S, Communication Engineering, National Central University