Showing Without Telling – Concept


Showing Without Telling

The seminar Showing Without Telling  An Alternative Approach to the Trans-Cultural System of Art? was held in Brissago, Switzerland, Thursday, September 15 – Monday, September 19, 2011.
Burger Collection launched the seminar “Showing Without Telling” about the trans-cultural dynamic in contemporary art. Participants included artists BANI ABIDI (Karachi/Berlin), DAMIEN ROACH (London), and BARTHELEMY TOGUO (Paris/Bandjoun), the critic and writer MANUEL CIRAUQUI (Valencia/New York) as well as the researchers ALEXANDRA CHANG (New York) and STEPHEN CHING-KIU CHAN (Hong Kong).

The research was established as an extension of the Theory/Conversations, and consists of an on-going series of seminars, lectures and workshops at various sites in different regions of the world. The research serves to deepen both the knowledge about the artistic practices represented in the Burger Collection as well as giving a new twist to the discussion of the much talked of but ambiguous terms ‘trans-cultural’, originally coined by Cuban writer Fernando Ortiz and revived mostly in the late 1980s in the discourse about art.

Reaching beyond some of the neo-ethnic takes on art from different regions in the 1990s, but also questioning the more recent inclusion of art in the agenda of geo-political discourse, “Showing Without Telling”, explored how art is conceived of as a specific form of communication between different art regions. It especially tried to convey a complex sense of art that avoids bare applications of information, journalism, or academic knowledge production onto the shifting nature of aesthetic experience. What is it that makes art a specific form of showing without telling?

The seminar also addressed the role of the private collection within the system of contemporary art. The term ‘collection’ nowadays seems to be mainly understood as an organization that acquires, stores and lends works of art. But how can a private collection expand such known tasks and become more broadly enmeshed in the social fabric? What transformations are necessary for the collection to eventually become a social medium engaging with the concerns of civil society?

Numerous ideas were put forward during the seminar that would essentially remodel the customary facets of collecting. By expanding the notion of collecting, the private collection maintains its posture as the public-spirited “art patron”, but also takes on a more operative and proactive standing in the cultural sphere. Some examples of special pursuits brought up were:

– tying various cultural forms such as visual arts, literature, film and popular media to each other subjecting them to cross-analysis (opting for an integrationist view),
– furthering research about more localized cultural concerns within their social environments and,
– acting as a cultural prime mover across the social and aesthetic spectrum in specific sites.

The collection as social medium aims at different levels of understanding by examining its reliable public use. For example, public programs centered on a collection’s holdings, a by now often-applied feature of contemporary collection’s operations, as a measure to establish public use is not entirely convincing. Therefore, what are the alternative measures to be taken? Also, what operations have to be necessarily taken into consideration in terms of a constitution of an authentically public use of a collection? Answering such questions ultimately helps understand the potential—but also the limits—of private collections to engage with diverse audiences as well as with the concerns of civil society.

The seminar took into consideration the recent global network of commu­nication and exchange that keeps influencing and alter­ing the production and reception of contemporary art and gave leeway for the interpretation of the concept of trans-culturality, disputing its meaning, application, relevance and use in the present-day art system. The participants were able to calibrate definitions of the trans-cultural object and to look at the eventual mis-readings and misapplications of the complex term, one that is often overshadowed by, or even equated with, terms such as globalization, internationalism, or multi-culturalism.

The seminar challenged contemporary notions of trans-culturality, and came to a more secure grasp of its properties and subtleties. One apparent problematic is how trans-culturality is dealt with within the art field. Three co-ordinates were charted as essential when mapping a discussion around trans-culturality in artistic practice:

– applying sound historical frames,
– maintaining an integrationist approach to the general cultural field and,
– conceptually focusing on art as communication beyond extra-aesthetic

As to the recently much-used term ‘research’: It is understood as a medium to enhance exchange and knowledge in real-time encounters and localized scenarios, to encourage a critical stance and an attitude of intellectual curiosity backed up by historical contextualization.


Seminar participants:

Bani Abidi (Karachi/Berlin), Stephen Ching-kiu Chan (Hong Kong), Alexandra Chang (New York), Manuel Cirauqui (New York/Valencia), Damien Roach (London), Barthélémy Toguo (Paris/Bandjoun)

Burger Collection team:

Monique Burger (director), Max Burger (co-director), Daniel Kurjaković (curator/head of program), Linda Jensen (curatorial assistant), Sandra Jeker (research assistant), Joanna Lisiak (administrative director), Angelo Romano (documentation), Gaudenz Welti (intern)

Conception of seminar:

Daniel Kurjaković, curator / head of program of the Burger Collection; in collaboration with Linda Jensen, curatorial assistant, and Sandra Jeker, research assistant.