It's good to be an artist again...

Per Hüttner

I have been working professionally as an artist since 1993. During this time I have put together, curated and arranged well over a hundred exhibitions and projects. Many of these were realised within the framework of the Galleries Konstakuten in Stockholm and The Hood Gallery in Los Angeles, both of which I (co-)founded and ran as an integrated part of my artistic practice. Working with these projects I have rarely called myself a curator, but often an artist-curator. Even though my practice has not changed greatly I have decided to simply call myself an artist. The objective of this text is to clarify this change and how I see artistic production and my own activities relates to the paradigm of curation. I want to make it clear that my activities within the curatorial paradigm never interfered, conflicted, overlapped or posed a threat to the work of professional curators. But rather what I do remains a parallel resource to their practice and remains clearly within the boundaries of an artist's activities.

This might come across as being defensive. But it is quite the opposite. The goal of my artistic practice is and has always been to redefine what the role of the artist could or should be in our day and age. The driving force behind this research comes from experiencing that the role of the artist, as it is formulated today, has become a liability and prevents us from realising our full potential. As an outcome of that contemporary art does not fulfil its latent possibilities. Changing the role of the artist is a gargantuan task, since it is a social, cultural, political as well as an economic venture. But evidently and luckily I am far away from alone in this and I have the rest of my professional life to engage in this process. In Spinozian terms one could say that an important part of my practice is to imagine what the artist and exhibition could be in the future and through this research I find my own freedom.

A series of collaborations in the early nineties constituted my first active endeavours in trying to influence the role of the artist. I worked with architects, choreographers, composers, musicians, medical scientists, curators and other artists. The collaborative aspect remains central to my practice, but has branched out to involving many different implicit and explicit forms of collaborations. The nature of this aspect of my work is stuff for another article. For the time being it suffices to say that being an experienced collaborator made arranging exhibitions and other projects in contemporary art both natural and from a practical point of view relatively easy.

My interest in curation sprung from a realisation that some professional curators were doing projects that were closer to my ideas and ideals and that they were more creative, more interesting than what most artists' work. Similarly the work of many artist-curators were of equal interest to me, but from a different perspective. Common for these projects was that they offered new challenges both for the artists, audiences and curators. In most instances the new approaches to exhibition-making also created previously unseen forms for collaboration.

For instance, I was intrigued and impressed by how Danish curator Tone O. Nielsen collaborated with artists to create her exhibitions. The boundaries between the two practices became almost eradicated which opened new possibilities for everyone involved. Similarly the artists running Locus+ in Newcastle-upon-Tyne created new venues and forms for art to be created, presented and experienced and almost exclusively outside of galleries and museums. Influenced by these examples and many other, my practice gravitated towards something that could be called a curatorial aspect within artistic production.

But what is this good for? Isn't this whole discussion about art making and curation me just splitting hairs? The answer to both questions is one and the same and can be found in how I regard what artists and curators do. Artists are engaged in a process of constant re-negotiation of how we can represent and question our experiences in our lives. We try to imagine something that does not quite exist and we do so by any means necessary in order to propose what the future could or should look like. We do so to stay in a dialogue with the changing world around us and to retain the interest of the audience whose attentions span rightly gets shorter by the day. Curators on the other hand are rephrasing and questioning how artists work can be seen and how the work can meet its audiences in the best of ways and they create new challenges for artists and audiences. They do so to ensure that the work is accessible and that it is mirrored and enhanced by other artists' work and the questions they pose to their visitors. One practice cannot exist without the other. Artists and curators are like siamese twins and when this process works well we enrich each other's work and practice. But the working methods also changes with time and context. Sometimes we are forced to meddle in each other's practices, but that is purely for pragmatic reasons. I am sometimes obliged to curate other artists work into my projects, but I do so in order to question what the role of the artist is and to develop what an artist could or should be. I do not do so primarily to raise issues about curation.

The processes of developing projects are often long and complex. When you collaborate with a large number of people it is often a question of an ongoing negotiations and discussions where the answers and solutions materialise as you go along. A perfect example of this is I am a Curator*, which I showed at Chisenhale Gallery in London in 2003 and which was almost two years in the making. The object of the project was to let members of the public be the curator at the gallery for one day. They had work by 57 artists from 17 countries to choose from and they were guided and assisted by three volunteers in putting together and mounting their exhibition each individual day. In the end 35 exhibitions were realised during six weeks. So depending on how you count I collaborated with 80–250 people to execute a solo show that was commissioned by the gallery.

Similarly in 2001 I developed a project called 3 in 1 in collaboration with Gavin Wade and Goshka Macuga. The premise was that each of us formulated a concept for an artwork that we were going to make for the exhibition. We then went on to realize them, but each of us also made work based on the concepts of the other two artists. In the end the exhibition was made up of nine artworks based on three concepts.

My exhibition Repetitive Time at Göteborgs konstmuseum in Sweden in 2006 started like a traditional photographic show with seven framed large scale images in a cool installation. I invited Stéphanie Nava and Gavin Wade to make wall paintings that contradicted, paraphrased and commented on my photographic work. The exhibition was thus in constant change as the two artists added painted elements according to a clearly calculated program.

All three of the above projects share many parallel approaches and raise similar issues. They question the role of the artist and what it is that constitutes an artwork and how it can be interpreted differently. For instance in I am a Curator I did not produce any physical work, yet the project remained my solo show. It thus suggested that the essence in the artwork lies in the idea. This was contradicted by 3 in 1 where it was physically manifested in the space that ideas and concepts can be greatly reinterpreted by different artists. In Repetitive Time the layering and interaction of three strata of images along with the ongoing change of the space allowed me to question why we take such a conservative stance towards exhibition-making. All three projects explicitly change the processes whereby the artist and the audience interact with the artwork. They offer a truly relativist approaches to what art is and explicitly make visible that the meaning of artwork remain in flux depending on what context it is presented in and by whom it is experienced by.

All three projects have raised a lot of discussion and media attention. Sadly enough these discussions have focused on defining whether the exhibitions were good or bad, successful or a failure. To me this is of little importance. All four judgements are one and the same. What is essential on the other hand is whether the proposition is of interest and how it can lead us to change exhibition-making and how we perceive art and how we present art to the audience. However there is a minority of truly engaged people in the art world and art press who has seen and acknowledged this and it is very encouraging to see that they get more numerous by the day.

These three experiences within the realm of exhibition-making along with dozens of other, similar experiments all feed back into my process of image-making and therein lies the beauty and importance of it all. All these projects raise the same questions and topics. Through my images the essence of what I am doing as an artist can be presented within the conventional format of photography. It is here that the above discussed questions and dialogues can be rephrased to meet a larger audience and be reinterpreted as art continues its never ending metamorphosis. Again, it could be an expression of my conservative stance that I still believe in art objects. I think there are great things to be said for artworks, that are not object based. But it leaves the problem of posterity and that in itself is an interesting discussion, but I remain in constant dialogue with art objects from art history. So, why shouldn't I allow future generations to do the same with mine?

An earlier version of this text was published for the catalogue for The Yugoslav Biennial of Young Artists 2004, Vrsac, Serbia & Montenegro