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Curatorial Practices
Curatorial Designs in the Poetics and Politics of Ethnography Today: Part 2
by Tarek Elhaik and George E. Marcus

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Elhaik cont'd:

Debroiseís methodology was also interesting to me for its affinity with the site-specific installations of contemporary art. He returned to Tetlapayac, the hacienda where Eisenstein had shot Que Viva Mexico in 1931-32, to research the director's Mexican episode. The result is the intriguing experimental film and art project, A Banquet at Tetlapayac, in which contemporary artists and scholars, including art historian Serge Guibault, curator Cuauhtémoc Medina, conceptual artist Andrea Fraser and other key contemporary figures, play the main historical characters involved in the making of Que Viva Mexico!. During the making of Debroiseís project, Tetlapayac, the hacienda that had given birth to a Mexican nationalist film aesthetics, had become the target of a site-specific intervention. Debroiseís project is a watershed because 1/ it is a reflection on Mexican modernity and the Mexican avant-garde, its articulation of cosmopolitan modernist sensibility and 1920s Mexican anthropology, 2/ it is a reflection on the greatest figure of cinematic montage, 3/ it is a montage of contemporary Mexico (Bartraís post-Mexican condition) with nationalist Mexico of the 1920s / 30s, so a montage of past, present and a new future-in-the-making, and finally 4/ it is a montage between experimental documentary film techniques with the procedures of installation, performance arts, relational aesthetics, site-specific art practice.

My curatorial work resulted in the film program Soy Mexico (9) that been touring for two years from Rice Cinema, the Institute of Design in Rome, to the Tangiers Cinematheque. It is designed as a juxtaposition of Debroiseís film with the work of other filmmakers/curators who had done more or less similar site-specific interventions, as for instance Jesse Lernerís experimental piece Magnavoz/Phonograph. In 2005 Lerner set out to turn former Estridentista poet Xavier Icazaí s 1926 essay "Magnavox/Phonograph" into an imaginary experimental film. The Estridentistas were a Dadaist-inspired, avant-garde group of the 1920s and 30s Mexico, known for their exaltation, not of the rural-indigenista iconography found in Eisensteinís Que Viva Mexico, but of technology, radio and other wireless forms of communication. Unlike Eisenstein, the Estridentistas were interested in a modernity saturated with what media historian F. Kittler refers to as ‘phonographs, radios and typewritersí. As in Debroiseís A Banquet in Tetlapayac, Lerner also invited contemporary experimental filmmakers, visual artists and art historians to perform similar connections between the historical avant-garde and the contemporary international visual art scene, including the experimental theater director Juan Jose Gurrola to narrate the poem and art historian Cuauhtémoc Medina to play the character of the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera who figures extensively in Icazaís poem. Magnavoz elegantly adapts Xavier Icaza's Estridentista essay on Mexico's future. Writing in 1926, Icaza fused poetry with polemics in an attempt to make room for another form of mediation of Mexican modernity.

The point of departure for my experiment with form–the installation book emerging from my Remains of Mexico– was to orient my curatorial attention towards such site-specific gestures. The ethnographics of curatorial work requires a heightened sense of attention to the montages one encounters during fieldwork. It transforms ethnography into a process/scene of encounter with montages that eventually exceed the trans-cultural dimension of cosmopolitan modernism. But this outline of curatorial practice is just the first step towards the ecology of the installation-book. My curatorial work is a montage of montage practices and a form of media history. It is a montage of the techno-cultural and ethnographic-surrealist imaginary of the Mexican historical avant-garde. The juxtaposition of Lernerís and Debroiseís experimental works is a strategic montage that underlines the shift of contemporary moving-images in Mexico from the ruptures of the post-revolutionary 1920/30s to the secessions of contemporary visual arts. My aim is to curate the present and the futures of cosmopolitan modernism in the context of ‘the post-Mexican conditioní and its attendant undoing of nationalist figurations of Mexican modernity. I recruit curators/visual artists/historians who deploy contemporary art strategies. The ‘Installation bookí is the juxtaposition of these historiographic gestures, intersections between avant- garde film and contemporary art, and re-readings of cosmopolitan modernisms. Curatorial work is what enables, simultaneously, the ethnographics of the installation-book and the re- making of the cosmopolitan modernist imaginary.

But an installation book is not an art exhibit catalog. It curates these multiple passages across affinities set in motion by a fascination for (and commitment to) cosmopolitan modernism: a re-making of the cross/trans-cultural in the context of carefully designed ethnography and via the temporality of long-term fieldwork. It is auto-ethnographic in the sense that it refines my curatorial practice; it is a montage because I work with professional editors to prepare the film fragments to be screened or to prepare video loops for an upcoming installation; it is collaborative because it co-produces in-betweens made possible by the object and mode of existence we still refer to as ‘cosmopolitan modernism;í and it is a multi-media form of theoretical production that gradually displaces the emblematic figure of fieldwork through curatorial work.

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