Topical Cream sat down with curator Piper Marshall to speak about her exhibition, Descartes’ Daughter, which explores the perceived divide between mind and body, and recently concluded its run at the Swiss Institute.
Topical Cream: Hi Piper, thanks for speaking with Topical Cream. I guess my first question would be when did you first come in contact with something like the mind body divide?
Piper Marshall: My first thought about it came from reading Elizabeth Grosz’s text Refiguring Bodies about the way in which the mind and body are gendered. I thought that it had a resonance with the way in which contemporary art is perceived.
I think the norm is that male is conceptual, and that’s the mind, and the female is bodily. I was thinking a lot about that, and how that kind of divide doesn’t really have traction in the way in which I think about the mind and the body.
I think a lot of curation especially in the US does seem to suffer from a very binary thought process.
Yeah, I went to a screening of a film by Emily Wardill, who’s a British artist and filmmaker. Her piece “The Diamond (Descartes’ Daughter)” seemed to have this direct relationship to the Elizabeth Grosz text. Instead of thinking of just the mind and the body, she thought of technology, and the object.
This creates a third term, you have the mind, the body, and the object, the object somehow creates space that’s conceptual. That’s the space of creation in a way.
I started to think of the art object as something that’s between yourself and the other. So somehow it’s a third term, again trying to think in more than just two terms. It opens up a space of potential. A really good example of it is Rochelle Goldberg’s sculpture.
The exhibition seemed to be a lot about tension. Did you find that at all? Once all the artworks were in place?
I think that’s right.It was trying to be evocative as an emotion or a feeling that you wouldn’t have any control over. The point is to illicit response to these things in space. The sound composition is another example which could be really jarring and would create a loss of control, in a sense.
The exhibition seemed to be a form of activism in a way, without being overwrought. Is that something that was in the back of your mind?
For me it was a feminist show, or a first attempt at that, in the sense that I tried to present unlikely works by these artists. I didn’t present a macho John Chamberlain vertical thrust. I tried to curate something that was far afield from that. I didn’t present the hyper conceptual Hanne Darboven piece, which is completely of the mind and so structured. I tried to present something which bent that a bit.
It was interesting us that a lot of the pieces that you chose..didn’t have any real emotional representation.
Yeah, They’re not unabashedly expressive like a Basquiat would be, or a neo-impressionist. They’re decidedly a product of a highly thought of system in a sense. Maybe that is indicative of how my brain works? It could be highly subjective on one hand. But on the other hand, it also makes room and puts into relief you, as a viewer, and your body in space. Tension arises by presenting works that have concatenation of thought behind them. On just a personal level, I think that’s what I find most appealing because I find those types of works evocative.
Do you feel that there is a space or a need to focus on women’s contribution as curators and art historians in the art world?
We had a talk with Ulrike Muller recently. She said when she was in her studio, was the only time where she felt like she wasn’t considered a woman artist. For me, there’s no reprieve. I feel like I am always a woman curator, or I’m always aware of it.
What do you think about artists’ complete obsession with using lifestyle technology in their work right now?
Claire Bishop wrote this article about how artists are using digital methodologies with antiquated modes of display. Other people have said that artists are more interested in material objects because of the digital. But I would argue that virtual experience is something that we have and we’re preprogrammed to.
As humans we’re biologically disposed to virtual-ity because the mind can go places that the body can’t.
The mind is going off in places where the body can’t follow. I can’t prescribe to young artists to use or not to use iPhones. I think what’s more interesting is how they’re using it, why they’re using it, and what the result is. Virtuality and the way in which we experience language and objects is something that is integral to every type of art making, whether you’re using the iPhone as a framework, or you’re using the canvas.
What’s coming up next for you? What are you curating or writing right now?
I’ve just finished an article that’s a review of an exhibition that was at Real Fine Arts over the summer, La Poussiere De Soleils.
I’m also working a reader’s companion for Descartes’ Daughter.