Sunday 24 March 2024

The Three Shadows Curator Tour

Three Shadows Photographic Art Centre in Jimei, to give the place its full title, is one of the better art spaces in Xiamen. It is an offshoot of the main gallery in Beijing which is one of China's dedicated photography galleries. They were having an opening and I was invited, somehow, so along I went. Rather than a drinks reception and hobnobbing, as it the London way, an opening here means something far less fun: the curator's tour.

Thirty of so of us shuffled around the space, dutifully stopping in front of the artworks to drink from the fountain of culture. This tour, like practically every other, took place in the afternoon, not evening. These events are timed so that the artists, team and patrons go to dinner afterwards. If there is any fun to be had, it is later at the dinner: you have to earn it by attending the tour in the afternoon.

As we were going around the exhibition I saw one photograph that I recognized as there is a friend of mine Yingmei in it. Not that you'd recognize her in the pile of bodies. This connection brought to mind the fact that artists here are not typically paid for the inclusion of their work in an exhibition, the money goes towards running costs, the space's owners, the exhibition curators and the shipping of artworks. Artists might be invited to the opening, be offered a room for a night or two and can join the opening banquet. For artists selling artifacts this is just about understandable but for performance artists like Yingmei or I, it doesn't work at all. I was, in fact, once invited to give a performance for a British Council sponsored exhibition at Three Shadows but even for a live performance as part of an exhibition with that sort of institutional support, they refused to pay any fee. Needless to say, they didn't get their performance, but I'm sure the curator's tour was wonderful.  

The sound came out of a loudspeaker that was connected to the microphone via bluetooth. Being placed behind the audience the voice was dislocated. This gave the tour a weird touch that everyone tried to pretend was normal. In retrospect, this was the most interesting aspect of the tour and it is something that could be explored further. Just imagine the voice walking off on its own tour, the curator and their voice heading off on opposite tangents.

The basic frame of the curator's tour was educational: it was to help you understand the artworks. It's unidirectional which is to say, there were neither questions nor discussion. When I come to think of it, the tour might have been for the benefit of the curator more than for anyone else. It builds their public profile and shows everyone that they are doing something. 

The final thing to note is that the tour went on far too long. Three Shadows is rather typical in offering these 90 minute tours for openings, but you can see the same thing in art spaces all over China. This tour was an old one from back in 2016 but I went on a curator's tour just the other week in a different art space and it was exactly the same. Sadly the loudspeaker was not behind the audience this time round but it was, otherwise, the same package.

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