Q3 on Nov - exhibition
"Thank you for the question from E. To (sorry if I am getting your name wrong). I take the liberty in responding to English because you wrote in English.
It's not clear which exhibition (the one curated by Anthony Leung Po-shan or the other one curated by Sara Wong) you are referring to, about the "explanatory notes" being tedious. You said in the last part, "The creators create and leave each item to the viewers, listeners, readers, to interpret. I, as a visitor, don't appreciate the background theories - I am not an A level student after all." It seems to me more likely you may be referring to the one curated by Leung, but since I am not sure, let me respond in a more general way.
I hear you - a little frustrated perhaps but also making a solid claim about how the art should speak for itself. I think you are asking many questions in one and some of them are may be more dear to you than others. May I take the liberty to respond with these imperfect guesses, and hopefully, we could keep this conversation going so that where I am wrong could be corrected.
Let me first share a memorable experience I had in St Louis (US), visiting the Pulitzer Art Foundation in 2014: there was no writing accompanying the exhibits in the venue at all. No caption, no text. There is a catalogue but it's not obvious that one has to take it before or after visiting the works. When I curated for the first time, in 2006, I also thought a lot about the role of texts and language sitting next to a sound installation, and also more broadly, how the experience of the art works may be affected by my choice of how to include texts, which, to me, is both visual, physical, sonic and discursive. It could be about the clashing of material realities of the work and the interpretations (and yes, I consider texts from outside of an art work, written by the curator or others, 'interpretations' on many levels). I was and still am concerned how these realities may compete and whether the art has space to speak its own language.
This concerns with perhaps one of the many questions I think you are asking: one particular way of including text in an exhibition, alongside a piece of work and not of the artist's making, may be to explain what it is. And for some, this may 'disenchant' and explain the art work away. Text offers information and does carry the function of guiding the viewer's/ listener's way into the work. I wonder, would you say that no information in the form of text is better?
The second question perhaps could be, how much text, and how is it presented. Should the captions carry them, or a catalogue, and how much in the catalogue? etc. This is still about text not of the artist's making, or it's not part of the artwork.
The third question could be, what if words as printed texts are the determining materiality of an artist's endeavour? I am not sure what you mean when you said 'background theories'...perhaps it's one way of reading texts that are presented as theories belonging to a realm of knowledge with the academia as source and guardian, that you seem to suggest artworks don't belong, or that they always already go beyond? I am just guessing, but my take on this would be, does knowledge come only from the academia, and should theories be banned from exhibitions? Regarding theories as 'background' - again, I am not sure which exhibition you are referring to, but if we imagine a general case where the artist in collaboration with the curator want to present theories that inform their work/ curation, in what way(s) are they background and not foreground, as the bare necessities and determining reality of the works in situ? I wonder what you think, and would love to know more.
The fourth question concerns habits of mind. I am very curious - as always - about how individuals come into an exhibition - do they turn left or right first? do they look up or down? do they bring something (like expectations on a topic, or their moods, etc.) into the venue, or do they empty themselves out first? do they look for something, or do they wait to be found (by the art, for instance)? There are many other ways of describing these processes. Is this something happening in your encounter with this particular exhibition - the experience of being challenged, or talked down upon, or other experiences? Is there something more you may like to find out regarding what is actually happening in the encounter?
The fifth question could be the relation between theories (as discourse, thinking in language and a particular kind of reasoning) and art. I don't think theories are necessarily 'knowledge' or 'pure knowledge' and I think there is a lot of thinking in art, and knowledge of various kinds, though I would prioritise thinking over knowing in understanding how artists work. If 'theory' is a view, a contemplation, a speculation (https://www.etymonline.com/word/theory#etymonline_v_10734), what day you think happens when they are juxtaposed alongside art in its particular (eg. a specific work)?
Lastly, your question makes me think of the contribution art can make to public well-being. Our subjective experiences are unique and there're particular things we want. Artists in particular situations may be committed to more than the affirmation of themselves - every artist is different, but in the case where it seems the artist (with the support of the curator and other circumstances in some cases) has more to communicate beyond what he/ she makes in the studio, the question of how to do so is always open. Artists also have needs as other human beings do. They can only flourish if they have room to address these needs. If texts/ words/ language/ theories/ discourse are part of these, would you find it acceptable?
In a show still running in Taikwun, called Our Everyday, Our Borders, Japanese artist Shitamichi presents a work that is heavily text-based. It's not 'theory' from the academic, but there is a lot of abstraction that theorising does too. I wonder what you think of it. Here's a review I did on it, for your interest: https://www.cobosocial.com/dossiers/our-everyday-our-borders/
I should not make this too long. I am very keen on knowing more about what you've been thinking about. Please get in touch if you care for coffee or tea, over more chat on art - which is definitely what makes life meaningful for me. And (please don't ask me why :) this conversation reminds me of this book that continues to inspire me: Art's Philosophical Work, by Andrew Benjamin.
thank you again for your question."