Curating Contemporary Art (MA)
Starting with the figure of the herbalist or apothecary, this project considers the interconnection of art, medicine and plants via the number five and the quincunx pattern. A quincunx is a set of five objects arranged in such a way that four are at the corners of a square or rectangle and the fifth is at its centre – like the five on a dice. It is embodied in the motif of the lozenge from Thomas Browne’s 1658 text The Garden of Cyrus, in which the number five stands for a sacred geometry of self-similarity in the plant kingdom. This metaphor is used to (re)construct a healing ecosystem of plants and medicine formed of five artists in isolation and five historical medicinal plants from five apothecary histories. Artist Rachel Pimm has collaborated with four other practitioners across disciplines – artist Lilah Fowler, composer HP Parmley, poet Daisy Lafarge, and chef and designer Peiran Gong – on an exploration of medicinal plants, sounds and breathing. The plants are recorded to form choral, poetic, edible, written and visual compositions, which seep into each other. Made to heal, breathe and sing in time with the earth and its seasons, the work employs these histories to decode the link between modern life and nature.
The project, developed in partnership with Team London Bridge, started as a public art commission responding to the local histories of medicinal plants in the London Bridge area. Covid-19 meant radically adapting to new conditions of communication, production and site-specificity. In its current form, the project stands as research, a positive series of exchanges between isolated individuals and a foundation for future work when possibilities emerge. This microsite presents some of the project research and production processes, fragments of the collaborators’ work and short interviews between each of them and us – a group of eight graduating curators from the Royal College of Art. The hope is that one day some of the research will manifest in shared physical space.
The pandemic has placed many in a vulnerable position, especially creative practitioners who work freelance. With exhibitions, events and all kinds of gathering cancelled, this situation puts the urgency of cultural production into question. At the same time, it highlights our need for togetherness and, for many, the irreplaceable position that nature and plants occupy in our lives.
Quincunx is curated by Junyao Chen, Jinghua Fan, Hetian Guo, Chao Liu, Si Shen, Costanza Simonini, Irina Sinenkaya and Jianan Wang as part of the MA Curating Contemporary Art Programme Graduate Projects 2020, Royal College of Art, London, in partnership with Team London Bridge.
Chao Liu is an curator and window display designer. He has a wealth of experience in curating artistic visual concepts, having worked with a range of artists and designers for major luxury branding businesses from both China and Europe. He has worked on several major art crossover projects and exhibitions in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Japan and Italy.
Chao's curatorial practice has focused on the sociality of public art, exploring especially the influence of art intervention on community culture and among local residents. Particularly, his research pays attention to the shifting ground of human existence and experience whereby the power of virtual reality, boosted by its growing accessibility, nurtures novel social experience and reconfigure social cohesion, and thus makes it not only possible but also necessary to imagine and create an experience of physical proximity through interactive experiences in online galleries. As a witness to this particular moment, and as a curator, his research entails a probe into the ways in which curators may we work with the artist to rebuild the virtual community of contemporary art world.
His dissertation, titled ‘A Reflection on Curating Contemporary Art Through Religion’, proposes a curatorial thinking that allows curators to engage the public to the greatest extent through examining the relationship of antagonism and cross-over between Religion and Contemporary Art. It aims to build a more constructive relationship between the two worlds and a broader point of contact for contemporary art and the public, so as to enable a curatorial bricolage that appropriates elements and experiences of religious community building to enhance public engagement of Contemporary Art.
For his graduation project, Chao co-curated an artist-led research project Quincunx, partnered with Team London Bridge. Inspired by the history of apothecary and medicinal plants in London Bridge area, Quincunx utilizes number five, a sacred geometry, as a metaphor to build a temporary community/ecosystem with interdisciplinary artists’ practice to (re)connect the art intervention with geographical features, culture of locality and natural environment.