documentation and curatorial practice as political engagement

Art & Public Policy, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University


DOC 14 dematerialize

A Narrative of Definitions

A. Ellis

Words have been such an issue for me this year. First I didn’t have them, then I couldn’t use them, then I couldn’t rely on them. I’ve taken in and learned the vocabulary of postcolonial theory and activism; I have struggled in putting these words together, learning that theory based in these words is something I have a difficult time constructing; and then the definitions of all these words I had come to understand as a reliable tool to place myself in the conversation of social justice and cultural equity were soon questioned, again, subject to postmodern analyses. In short, I couldn’t keep up with words, and so I’ve taken on a somewhat primitive way of being, best expressing myself through gesture and sound, coming to despise verbal language for the trap it sets.

When I think about the lexicon exercise at the beginning of the semester, writing our definitions of three words — documenting, curating, and political engagement — I realize that I was just entering phase three of my word issue, feeling that I could not rely on my definitions of words to hold a discussion. As specific as I tried to get in my own understanding of the terms, the insecurity over the language I was using was creeping to the surface. Is documenting simply recording something without bias, is curating really being a critical container for history, and is political engagement found on a moving scale, from everyday interventions to federal policy change? In an overwhelming remembrance of my hate for the game of semantics, yes. In my opinion — something I was taught as an English major never to write but now have come to learn that unless you say it you’ll face the onslaught of people “missing the point” — these definitions still hold true to me. I cannot say that they have changed in the essence of what I believe them to mean. However, when I think of the terms together and how they relate to one another — something I don’t think I considered at the beginning of the lexicon exercise — the terms become, and here’s one of those words I’ve come to live in, a rhizomatic structure for me. Like the rose bush flourishing in the corner of a yard sprouting it’s buds halfway across the garden, I find that the words are simply dressed in different clothing (the orthography) and live in different places (the etymology), but are connected by the same root system.

Continue reading “A Narrative of Definitions”


new definitions


Curation is the process of facilitating and creating a meeting ground of ideas, concepts, and artists around place or space ( both physical and otherwise). Thus, curation is placing things in dialogue with each other, and refiguring elements of social, political, aesthetic, and phenomenological into different kinds of conversation. Ideally, curation works outside of power hierarchies and places the audience and the art at an equilibrium to translate the message clearly to the audience members who will then go on to translate the ideas into different forms of dialogue that will spark a reconfiguration of meaning in the art as the work matures.



Documentation is the act of continuing conversations and dialogues of an experience. The actualization of ideas through mediated communication to translate experiences of the personal into experiences of the local and global. Documentation is then a power signal boost of an intuition or moment that invites others to participate. The constructions of documentation capture the world in a decisive perspective of the individual who can then advance ideas and concepts past the limitations of medium.


Political Engagement:

Political engagement is acting according to the understanding that there are power structures, constructs, and systems that are inescapable and inherent in consuming, thinking, and creating art, and by extension living in this world. Political engagement is then an active participation in the decisions made when having a conversation of multiple perspectives.

Lala Rukh Introduction by Natasha Ginwala



Aesthetics of Migration

Thoughts on Relating to Anton’s Kiosks

A. Ellis

A kiosk. Anton’s Kiosks. What if we had Anton’s Kiosks in New York City? If all those little stands that sell overpriced candy bars and gum and newspapers were the containers of urban memory on the same level? Why aren’t they/don’t I consider them to be the containers of urban memory? Or is it that I am just too antisocial, too disinterested, or too busy to be bothered to speak to the person inside — who only accepts cash when all I have is a card? This is why Anton’s Kiosks, considering the purpose they serve in Athens as he explained to the class, are not just for me containers of urban memory, but a container of urban mingling, of recognition and reception. So NYC kiosks aren’t Anton’s Kiosks, but then is there anything I know that is an Anton Kiosk? How do I relate to this project?

It was pointed out to me last week, up here in Westchester, that a small empty structure in a parking lot was once a photomat. A photomat is a kiosk that has slots on the outside where you drop off your film/disposable camera and return the next day to pick up your developed photographs. The encounters, the developments (both literally and rhetorically), of the photomat are how I see these kiosks. These developments are imprints of stories, faces, lovers, emotion — documenting a conversation with a stranger, gaining information, and yet only having to be the receptacle of someone else’s memory … the building becomes a sort of gallery of a collective memory that, when returning to the archives, one may assess what it was like to live in a particular “when” and “where” without having to know exactly the “who.” But I’ve never seen one of these living photomat buildings, or at least, I don’t remember them.

Trying to find a connection between myself and that idea of the living kiosk (one that is in operation), then, is a bit difficult for me. Also, I’ve lived most of my life in non-urban areas. I may be a part of an urban setting now, but I don’t know what it means to participate in  urban memory, which, though we may like to think that memory and losing memory is common to people, I feel the nature of the memory is different based on what is demanded from you by the setting you’re in. It is a different training. So what is Anton playing off of in this concept of urban memory? If he is trying to reach across the settings of memory and go into the emotional ties to memory in order to connect to the larger audience, is it loss? Is he finding his urgency in this project through loss and the attempt to hold on to what is being forgotten (which, in the United States, is more than just the memory of a city, but of how to interact with other people)?

These were a few of the problems I found in relating to his work as an outsider. Though conceptually I understood the project, I could not understand it experientially, which makes me wonder if the kiosks are meant for outsiders at all. Anton transforms the kiosks into gathering places of the people and for the people, but the “people” — am I (using “I” as an umbrella statement), a rural/suburban kid who cannot relate to the idea of the kiosk, find my way into this particular urban memory? How?

I asked Anton what his intention with memory is for the kiosk project — if he meant to document, preserve, or perpetuate memory. His response was that he had no intention. The kiosks would become whatever the people wanted to make of them, and I think this is the root of my issue in wondering how those from “outside” can relate to what Anton is creating. Since I am not there to participate, of course I expect to have everything laid out for me — to be able to take a passive position and have that connection spoon fed to me. I’m from the Google generation of the US! I demand knowledge now! However, that is not how I see this one working. It is because I am not a part of the collective participating in the kiosk that I am an outsider, so I wouldn’t understand the intent of the collective (who may be made up of people from all sorts of places).

Yes, the concept of memory and forgetting is important and compelling, but what is more relatable within this idea of Anton’s Kiosks to me is the fact that the kiosks are whatever the people of the community turn them into. That I can relate to, the essence of crafting something — and community crafting appears in another one of Anton’s works Radio Narrowcast. This is not surprising to me, then, that I see the same thing in his kiosk work. Participating in community crafting is to contribute to a larger spirit that may transcend geographical and experiential boundaries. It should not be forgotten, though, my role in that community. If I am truly an outsider coming in to contribute to the crafting, it is not my place to say what that community wants but to allow myself to build the container of their memory as they would like it.


By Rebecca Kenigsberg

While Anton Kats was describing his work, I could not help but feel a slight connection to it. The idea of lost memory is crucial to the Eastern European Jewish experience, especially my family that came from the general Ukrainian area that he talks about. The erasure of history, suppressing memory, and an attempt to assimilate is one that I know quite well from my family’s history, just one generation ago. The use of kiosk’s as an art piece, to keep the history of cultural and knowledge exchange of the original intent of the kiosk is a fascinating idea.

Memory as a whole is something I personally am fascinated with, what memories do we keep? What memories do we share? What memories do we rewrite in our head? I think it is a very large complex notion and I question the seeming simplicity of the work. For full disclosure, I am a visual person, so to hear the conversation about the piece, without seeing it specifically. Therefore, I find it difficult to reflect or assess the work.

While researching his website, I found that his objective is to question social structures, specifically the private and the public acceptance to art. Knowing his objective, I do think this art piece is a great tactic. But I wonder what the response is. Do people stop and gather to take in what the piece is? Do they notice the piece? Or are they still busy on their phone texting their friend to stop and look up at the piece.

These “past artifacts” represent a different time, a time when communication was public. It was before the 24-hour news cycle, before we had instant access to send a message to somebody, before we could even video-call. He mentioned some people were okay with the disappearing kiosks. I wonder when kiosks will be completely foreign. Teenagers today do not even know what a cassette tape is, or what the origins of “hang up” the phone actually entail. Is this work time and space specific? Does it have a chance to grow outside Athens and I believe Germany?

This year in APP, I am constantly thinking about ethics of our work. I often reflect upon the questionnaires from the beginning of the semester. Israa asked “who or what is being exploited for your art to be made?” This question has not left me since that second class.

What memories are being preserved and perpetuated? Is there a danger to preserving these memories? Who is excluded from this narrative? Pre-World War II was a very different Europe, with many oppressed people, is there a possibility these artifacts can re-victimize?

I believe Anton’s work is wonderful. These are questions I have crafted for myself as an artist, when I attempt to make pieces of work larger than my own narrative. I want to think of intent and affectiveness in my work. I do believe Anton has done a wonderful job thinking these questions through, but of course, the challenge with skype means we do not get to see the pieces in person!

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