by Ayca OkayNov 14, 2022
The etymology of the psychological term 'trauma' can be traced back to the Greek word 'wound.' The clinical sensitivity attached to both—traumatic events and wounds—has over the decades established new ways of mediation, such as creative practices to draw the community’s attention, at large. The heightened perseverance to look at the repercussion of trauma without a hierarchical order of preference is an emotive task pursued by many in the field of arts. Guided by the same spirit, the project The New Survivors by Chinese art curator Wang Shuman, which received the 2022 Jimei x Arles Curatorial Award for Photography and Moving Image, encapsulates a nuanced understanding of trauma. The Jimei x Arles Curatorial Award for Photography and Moving Image, was co-launched by the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, China and CHANEL in 2021, as an effort to support young Chinese art curators and researchers, working with mediums such as photography and moving image art.
When selecting a winner, the jury members—Cao Dan, Christoph Wiesner, Gu Zheng, He Jing, He Yining, Lisa Springer, Lu Mingjun, RongRong—were looking for a curatorial framework put forth by a young mind, expanding the definition of photography as well as what constitutes the term—contemporary. After three intensive rounds of discussion and deliberation, Shuman’s curatorial endeavour The New Survivors received the award.
Her curation that centres on trauma, expounds on the idea that trauma, even when experienced by an individual, is an event that demands a collective human response. The notion of togetherness, is at the core of Shuman’s curatorial exercise The New Survivors, and implores the audience to unpeel the folds of trauma, as a shared experience. Given the kaleidoscopic uneasiness of a disturbing emotion, Shuman opens a platform, dotted with photography, moving images, and video installations, to visibly articulate what defines 'trauma.' In other words, The New Survivors, anchors a possibility of extending a gesture of healing towards a traumatic experience, that is otherwise denied redressal.
To amplify a curatorial thought of this scale is crucial; realising the same, CHANEL and Three Shadows Photography Art Centre decided to offer institutional support to the exhibition's production in Beijing, this year. If it is successful, the exhibition will tour another city in China, and could target a wider range of audience, discloses Shuman. This award will also allow her to participate in an international exchange programme. In addition, she will receive a cash prize of 100,000 RMB, which she will be using for further curatorial research. In an interview with STIR, Shuman gives a glimpse of the participating artists, and what sliver of history she is looking at, as a part of The New Survivors. “Considering the size and the spatial structure of the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing’s space, I have currently chosen seven artists, and eight for the exhibition, who are—Harun Farocki, James T Hong, Jazmín López, Meiro Koizumi, Ana Mendieta, Svay Sareth, and TANG Chao," she says.
This selection also allows one to gauge the spectrum of artists in terms of age, countries and regional associations (where they were born); suggesting that the exhibition does not intend to focus on a specific history or traumatic event.
Shuman explains, “It does not mean that the relevant traumatic history behind these works is insignificant, on the contrary, these histories have a strong sense of telling (the experience) and are pieced together into a multi-layered picture of the traumatic experience; hinting that the traumatic experiences today may no longer draw from a single traumatic experience of a historical phase (e.g., pathologies, disasters, wars), but are more like a heterogeneous trauma. An unexpected shock that began by chance and could not be anticipated, remaining dormant for a long time, in the current human life cycle.”
Speaking on the role of the curator's work in enhancing the experience without compromising on the sensitivity of the subject, Shuman believes that the exhibition layout is of immense importance. Giving an example of the same, the curator walks us through the exhibition floor plan, according to which the visitors will be crammed into a specially designed cramped exhibition hallway, watching sculpture, installation and durational performance artist Svay Sareth numbly walk for six days and nights, with an 80 kg metal sphere on his back, experiencing the otherness that Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist, Slavoj Žižek describes—“we cannot truly connect to the experiences of those who have survived the most horrific acts of violence, as most of them are destroyed inside and their existence is broken.” Then, the visitors will be brought to Meiro Koizumi’s video room, witnessing another category of survivors, who are haunted by historical nightmares of political violence, and get stuck between the angry nationalists on the left and heavily armed law enforcement officers on the right. In this space, where everyone chooses to close their eyes out of fear and feel the shame of having survived, inadvertently, they become a unit of togetherness.
As a concluding note, Shuman mentions that the main takeaway, after watching the exhibition The New Survivor (to be displayed in early Summer 2023), is—“A few days back, I read an interview (in the) paper, and the curator being interviewed said something that struck a chord in me: 'curating, in fact, is a radical concept of action, we need to be radical to open things up. Indeed, it is difficult to live on the edge of a cliff all the time, especially in current China, but you can go to the edge of a cliff, one at a time. The exhibition is a temporary site on the edge of a cliff, so have you made the site radical enough to go far enough?’ The curators need to use the temporary nature of the exhibition site in a dialectical and positive way, to plunge into a real site. Therefore, I am looking forward to witnessing the exhibition, and how it can be transformed into a realistic influence after being visited,” enunciates Shuman.