Zach Hoffman, Associate Curator/PRC Spring 2013 Intern
Unconventional Inventions: Innovative, Unusual, and Alternative Approaches to Photography, previously on display at Endicott College’s Carol Grillo Gallery in the Walter J Manninen Center for the Arts as a Photographic Resource Center satellite exhibit, showcases artists working outside the mainstream who integrate creativity with ingenuity to push the boundaries of the photographic medium. After almost four months of dedication and hard work as the Associate Curator, I am pleased to share with you the struggles and successes I encountered as I worked to make this “unconventional” exhibition a reality.
As a graduate student at The Art Institute of Boston, I frequently hear the word “curate” in class and recently had the chance to “theoretically” curate a show titled Transcendental Perspectives, focused on artists using Google Maps in their art. At the end of the fall 2012 semester, I was approached by the staff of the PRC to help with a satellite exhibition at Endicott College. The show was to be called Unconventional Inventions and include artists working in non-traditional methods. With my personal work rooted in the unusual and alternative, I jumped at the opportunity to help with any show that is labeled “unconventional.”
When I was first asked to help I wasn’t aware of how much control I would eventually have. My assumption was that I would just assist with processing submissions and later install the show. When the word “curate” was thrown into the mix I became exhilarated and nervous at the same time. Through meeting local curators in school, just hearing the word made my heart skip a beat. I instantly accepted the challenge. I choose the word challenge because this was something I had only experienced theoretically and I knew would coax me out of my comfort zone.
The first and most important part of a juried show is making sure artists know to submit. This was the part I was familiar with and felt comfortable doing. I created a flyer and a call for entries and sent it out to anyone and everyone affiliated with the PRC. Most would find this kind of work boring, but I knew the more people I could reach the better the pool of submissions would be. I became driven to make every aspect of this show something worth seeing.
As submissions rolled in, I became familiar with the work of over 100 artists, most of which I had never seen before. It was inspiring as an artist to see so much potential in the photographic medium. The work ranged from tintype images on rusted tin cans to stitched encaustic images on recycled doors to kinetic photo/video assemblages. After seeing half the submissions, I was glad I didn’t have to select only seven artists out of so much talent. That decision was up to the jurors.
The jury consisted of three local photography professionals: Christopher James, Director of MFA Program in Photography and Chair of the Photography Department at The Art Institute of Boston; Francine Weiss, PRC Curator & Loupe Editor; and Howard Yezerski, director and owner of Howard Yezerski Gallery. They connected via conference call to discuss the selections, which is usually done behind closed doors. I was fortunate enough to join the conversation and really experience “the jury.” As a student I have always been on the opposite end of a jury and actual procedure is something rarely discussed in school.
Relieved I did not have to choose, the jurors landed on their final selections: David Emitt Adams, Jessica Burko, Christoph Engel, Donna Hamil Talman, Angelina Kidd, Liz Lee, and Andrew Neumann. After this point it was my responsibility to review each of the artists’ submissions again and select the work to be included in the show. This may sound simple but there are many things to consider when conceptualizing a show.
As I selected the work I made sure to keep in mind the description in the call for work, the actual space it would be in, and my own interpretation of “unconventional.” As an artist also working outside of the conventional, I immediately connected with almost every piece I reviewed. I knew the exposure to this kind of work was not only important for the general public but it began to inspire the creation of my own unconventional inventions.
Each of the artists brought to the table a different approach to photography and each embodied a different part of the term “unconventional.” I was inspired by all the artists selected, but in my own work I utilize electronics and photography to express myself and when I saw the work of Andrew Neumann I was instantly mesmerized. His work combines still images with kinetic video, shattering the conventional way to look at a photograph and blurs the boundary of photography and video.
The day of installation created some interesting challenges and although the wire hanging system at Endicott College made the actual installation simple, deciding the arrangement tested my curatorial abilities. It is difficult visualizing the size and presence of work from a digital image, but with experimentation and trials, the Endicott staff and myself finalized the installation and awaited the opening reception.
I could not have been happier with the night of the reception. Simply watching people interact and respond to the work was the most rewarding part of the experience. It was wonderful meeting some of the artists and being validated by all on a job well done. I just want to end by saying none of this would have been possible without the talented artists I had the pleasure of working with as well as the PRC for providing me with this incredible opportunity and experience.