Homeless doesn’t mean hopeless creating authentic representation through co-curation
Ahkit, Tosh (Ash)
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This research attempts to understand the individual experience of homelessness and belonging through the curation and production of an exhibition titled Sit with me, tell me something... As a researcher with previous experience of homelessness I bring my insider position and insights from past projects with members of the homeless community to extend investigation into the ways in which co-curation and collaboration through art can empower a group to have agency, as well as to communicate and engender an understanding of complex social issues to an art audience. What the general public sees (through the rhetoric presented in social and mainstream media) often directs how marginal societies are represented to this public. As a result of the media being dominating by the visual, art has lost its criticality (Rosler, 2010). Influenced by the writings of Jacques Rancière and Albert Camus, I believe that at our current point in history, contemporary art and design practice must embrace the social and our protests should, wherever possible, be concerned with the local. Art offers an opportunity to challenge perceptions and gives agency to minority voices that have the potential to democratise dominant structures. I will be drawing predominantly on continental literature as a way of conceptualising the unique in-between-space that people with experience of homelessness occupy. I will then attempt to apply relevant concepts to the way that my collaborators and I curate the ensuing exhibition titled Sit with me tell me something... It is in challenging the 'either or...' positions concerning the right to public space as places of expression that I position my own practice. Sit with me tell me something... has been designed for the foyer space between AUT ST PAUL St Galleries One and Two. The site was chosen because it represents the spatial boundaries between 'public' and 'private' space; a threshold over which the general public gains admission to the academic institution. It symbolises a key concern of this research - an attempt to better understand how public space is defined based on private/personal experiences of belonging. Art galleries, specifically University galleries, can act as sites of convergence as they are both within an institution and open to the public, with a mandate to act as 'critic and conscience of society' (Education Act 1989, s 162). A university gallery that shows only two-dimensional images is only presenting the audience with a narrow representation of the art made accessible by the institution. Alternatives to traditional picture displays such as those reviewed in this project are intended to help inform the design approach for the exhibition Sit with me tell me something... My methodology is informed by a narrative-based, socially-engaged curatorial practice. Applied to collaboration, this denotes a process of negotiation that has developed over time in order to establish our collective narrative. Through regular meetings and discussions with the collaborators our relationship has evolved from one in which I have been positioned as 'facilitator', to one where we are all contributing to a creative partnershipwhich focuses on processes of understanding in order to build a common narrative. Through this research the expectation on my practice has moved beyond what I think art can symbolise, into a constant questioning of what and how art can represent social issues – specifically through the process of collaboration . In this project, art (expressed as a social practice) can be viewed as an active protest against the way knowledge can become institutionalised and therefore inaccessible. Sit with me, tell me something has been co-curated by four people, where the most pressing message to communicate has been “homeless doesn’t mean hopeless”.