Cornerhouse, Manchester, UK
Self-conscious curatorial impetuses are increasingly at the forefront of exhibition programming, a kind of self-awareness that is brought to new light in ‘Unrealised Potential’, a summer show curated by Mike Chavez-Dawson at Manchester’s Cornerhouse. The entry point for visitors is the collaboration between Chavez-Dawson and artists Sam Ely and Lynn Harris, co-founders of Unrealised Projects (2003–ongoing) – a group who investigate unfulfilled creative ideas. Together they revisit Chavez-Dawson’s own Potential Hits (2003) to present an expansive collection of proposals from a breadth of contemporary artists, writers, musicians and curators. The unproduced ideas are lined up in the first gallery, alongside a set of terms and conditions, whereby visitors are invited to purchase the artist proposals for ‘realisation’. The setting adopts a similar structure to an auction space, where a red sticker is placed on each idea sold, with the purchasing ‘producer’ being offered two years to realize the project, before it returns to the marketplace.
The scope of suggestion on offer stretches between the political and the absurd. For example, Tim Etchells, in What Your Right Hand is For, puts the audience to the task of producing a show that unearths the masturbatory fantasies of some of the world’s most famous visual artists (including Steve McQueen, Jenny Holzer and Chris Ofili). While, Doug Fishbone, in There Once Was a Man from Iraq, proposes that a monumental sculpture of Saddam Hussein be re-erected onto the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square.
By unbuckling the cloistered bounds of artistic production, and offering them freely to members of the public, Dawson and company have managed to espouse critical and, at times, contradictory commentary about the commercialization of the arts. Indeed, the very act of potentially encouraging complete ‘amateurs’ to consider the delivery parameters of such creative output offers audiences an insight into the graft and expertise required to produce a successful creative project, while simultaneously reminding them of the risk involved. On the flip side, by allowing the proposals to exist at random within the open market, the exhibition is at a loose end – perpetually shifting and responding to meet the desires of the public, and as such, exists as an example of democracy in action – whether the results will be interesting, is another matter altogether. Certainly, one can argue that some of these proposals were left ‘unrealised’ for a reason. Yet, what is worthy here is this notion of process: audiences are granted the privilege of witnessing the multifarious facets of an artist’s psyche – spanning a breadth that is both lamentable and sublime.
In the second part, Liam Gillick’s PLANTA DE ANODIZADO (Anodizing Plant, 2010) becomes the first realised project from ‘Unrealised Potential’. Gillick’s original pitch, which suggested that the products and services of the industrial Mexican company LGD LUCK SA be exhibited in a gallery, is here reinterpreted by artists Brian Reed and Len Horsey. The duo have transformed the space into a mock business fair-style pavilion, presenting the products of the aforementioned company, alongside newly produced advertising videos, and kitsch and colourful modular wall paintings. With a nuanced attention to detail, the artists’ interpretation serves as a luscious geographical warp into the economic and social culture of Mexico – a nation where the corporate veneer masks great social inequality. Of course, both Reed and Horsey are practicing artists, and by choosing them to produce the first of these unrealised projects, Chavez-Dawson is encouraging a political imperative – one that informs visitors that the greatest of all producers, are practicing artists themselves.
Although thematically connected, the third and final gallery space exists as an exhibition in and of itself. Here, one is introduced to the first UK display of Strategic Questions (2002–10) by Gavin Wade; with a new commission from Zurich-based artist group RELAX (chiarenza & hauser & co). This work features a cage depository of strategic questions and answers, while also inviting gallery goers to participate in a process of exchange in response to the question: what is wealth? This query is manifested by RELAX, who imaginatively capture ‘waste as wealth’ through their custom produced waste room, where visitors can physically experience time and space slipping away from them.
‘Unrealised Potential’ is pertinently timed, in that it considers the shifting value of creative capital in a milieu where intellectual property is increasingly challenged by the abundance of digital platforms. Moreover, with recent concerns regarding the public funding of the arts in the UK, it is worth considering the role of the producer in the creative process, now more than ever. Still, this exhibition is only the beginning of an exploration, which will continue to evolve and surprise, whether it will pioneer a shift in the modes of artistic production and dissemination is still to be seen.
Omar Kholeif is a writer and film curator.
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