Anna Bitkina: "How Curators Think (?). Part IV"

Anna's 20 minute presentation for CONSTANT CRAVING ~ PERFORMING UNDER CONDITIONS - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, June 2018 was entitled

On conditions. Hello, Friend!

Respondents: Maria Lind, Sven Lütticken, Bassam El Baroni

In her own words:

“Part IV will conclude the series of presentations that Anna Bitkina curated through two years of her studies at DAI. The final episode is an attempt to curate her current research on impact of ICT on processes of political power, systems of control, capitalization of human behavior and health. In her presentation she’ll touch upon such problematics like social media platforms with their inherent algorithmic control over users’ behaviour and sociality, and the subjectivation and commodification of individual selves as well as digital labour and its exploitation.”

Anna Bitkina’s performance started with a drastically changed room. Pillars are piled up on top of each other and are now two meters high. Perched on top is the wooden court stand, also from Yota Ioannado’s exhibition these Graduation Acts take place in, or in this case; make use of. The room is quite dark and the openness of the space has made way for a more foreboding feel. Anna starts her presentation with a short introduction and begins by stating that the performance is an attempt to curate her thesis, which carries the title “Curating in an age of anxiety, control and possibilities”, as an attempt to show how to curate your writing.

She further explains that contemporary curating relates to modern technologies in its fragmentary or “woolly” workings: borrowing from other disciplines to justify itself. Anna sees promise in this: a promise to articulate constructive propositions. And so she starts her presentation by showing us a short clip from the TV show Mr Robot, with its protagonist explaining the conspiracy of the 1% most powerful men. This is closely followed by a voice coming from another point in the room, fellow student Wilfred relates from a page: the marketable companies of today such as Google and Twitter sprouted from government spent money and military ambitions. Other students follow, all placed differently in the room, amongst the audience, voices propping up and following each other closely, all referencing the, perhaps “woolly”, nature of modern technology; embedded in military architecture, sprung from centralized monetizing efforts. As we hear these viewpoints on the modern technologies we surround ourselves with, algorithms crouching in, Anna is walking through the room, projecting an image of a surveillance camera, on the walls, on objects, on bodies. Tis is followed by a clip of the TV show Black Mirror, famous for its bleak portrayals of the influence of media culture on (future) lives. Fellow student Ciaran is standing on top of the pillars, towering over the audience, with a flashlight, seemingly searching (or finding?) through the audience.

The performance ends with David Bowie’s Heroes blaring, and Anna handing out a document listing her sources in this performance and a word of thanks to her fellow students and collaborators.

Sven Lütticken
Noting that he unfortunately missed Anna's first three Kitchen performances, meaning this part IV is the first he is witnessing, Sven remarks that the performance seems to deal with the shift from curation as a specific practice embedded in contemporary art to curation as a generic practice, in the social media dominated world. He references the project Navigation Beyond Vision, by the Farocki Institute in collaboration with HKW: how do navigational paradigms in virtual and offline environments increasingly inform the politics of the image. He poses that the main question in this would be: who is navigating? It is ofcourse increasingly questionable that we (the users) are navigating, but are actually dots that are being navigated, to which he adds that we should also question this image of the heroic navigator with its imperial and colonial connotations. He found the David Bowie track an interesting choice; with its angsty late seventies west Berlin imagery and the sensibility heroic subjectivity but without any real sense of a project. He ends with that the question still remains unanswered; what would it mean to curate one's writings?

Maria Lind:
Following up on Sven's remarks, Maria comments that performance deals with the broad topic of the activity of curating under modern conditions. And in this she urges Anna, also as a curator herself, to explore it further and to be specific: specific in terms of her position in the concept of contemporary curating, questioning what the contemporary as a signifier means in relation to curating. With this performance, Anna has opened up a set of questions that wait to be explored further.

Bassam El Baroni:
Bassam opens by defining the attempt of a portrayal of a methodology; the methodology that forces itself on us through the advent of social media and technologies. The fragmentary notion in contemporary curating, as explained by Jean-Peal Martinon, was in this performance taken to be as method to work with snippets, bits, fragments of information hurled at us from different directions, combining conspiracy theories, different types of images, different media, but also different affects. He concludes this line of thinking with that the performance was an honest agency to deal with the contemporary context of curating. However, he questions the idea of freedom in this: what does it mean to be free from structures, instititions or rules? And is that possible? The Heroes track moved towards the idea of some kind utopianism to build a constructive relationship to contemporary contexts, which struggles with Anna's groundedness in realism which could be interesting to unpack further.