Black Swans and Exhibitions

Getting towards the end of the course and the end of the year I have started to think about how the problem solving capabilities that we've been armed with apply to my own discipline. I gave a talk about art and complexity and how I think that it isn't necessarily a complex discipline. However, the skills from the course are more likely to be put into use into my other great passion, curatorship.

I believe that art and exhibitions are some of the best community education tools that we have and that it has great potential to mediate between the academic conversations of complex problems and the general public. Examples that I have mentioned include The Refugee Camp in Your City and the Vaka Moana exhibition at the National Museum. I have often felt throughout this course that my studies are trivial next to the lawyers, scientists and engineers. However, I remind myself that I believe that art is integral to human expression and often reveals truths in the world that no other discipline can.

This year I have been lucky enough to be involved in a few exhibition projects and I have begun to go back over them and apply the knowledge from Steve Cork's lecture on scenario planning and Gabrielle Bammer and Mike Smithson's lecture on the unknown and interdisciplinary studies.

The problem of putting together exhibitions would be hard pressed to be defined as a wicked problem, but the experience certainly has to mediate between a series of conflicting interests and unknowns. They do however have the advantage of a deadline which means that is has to come to something in the end.

The process of scenario planning was something that I really put into use for the Cube3 project that I am a co-director of. The project consists of a demountable space made from six 2x1m white panels. The Cube is installed in public spaces and displays art. This year we were accepted to go up to the This Is Not Art festival in Newcastle to display the cube for five days in Civic Park. This meant organising an artist, their artwork, the transport of the cube (big and heavy) to Newcastle, liaising with festival staff and organising funding.

The scenarios that we theorised about included
  • Lack of funding
  • Vandalism
  • Bad weather
  • Theft
  • Electrical failure
  • Earthquake
  • The artwork breaking
  • The artist pulling out
  • The transport failing to come through
  • The cube being tipped by strong winds
  • Injury to staff or the public
As it turns out the event was rampant with problems. The festival agreed to transport the cube for us, only to damage it and crack the surface. There was a communication breakdown between us, the organisers and the artist, which resulted in the artwork not going up the first day. After all those kinks had been ironed out the following three days were filled with near-on torrential rain and the project had to be dismantled.

I don't think we could have avoided the problem of the weather (complex system that it is) but I think that some of the communication problems would have been ironed out by following Gabrielle Bammer's advice about team work and clearly defining what everybody's responsibilities were and eliminating some complications.

I'm still not convinced that the problem is complex but I have found that the ways we have been learning can be applied to many different levels of problem solving.

On another tangent the artwork that we presented ties nicely into some concepts of complexity that we have addressed. Benjamin Foster designed a drawing machine which works on a complex system of iteration. He has reprogrammed a lino-cutting machine to learn to draw like he does. The machine never produces the same drawing twice instead outputting a random sequence of images and words. The drawings that it produces are beautifully human. The above link explains the system much better than I can.