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Curating Contemporary Art (MA)

Romy Lagesse

About - Graduate Project

Breath Variations is a new body of work created by Irish artist Christopher Steenson (b. 1992) for Flat Time House. Using sound, video, and transmission-based methodologies, Breath Variations explored the materiality of time – its permanence and evanescence – and the power that attention has over its transmission and state of matter. By manipulating and extending the sonic dimensions of Flat Time House, Steenson's work for this exhibition investigated the capacity of breath as a ‘least event’ – Latham’s term for the shortest departure from a state of nothingness – to punctuate linearities of time and space.

Breath Variations formed part of the MA Curating Contemporary Art Graduate Projects 2023, Royal College of Art, in partnership with Flat Time House. Curated by: Cindy He, Thomas Cury, Salomé Jacques, Romy Lagesse, Napas Mangklatanakul, Ariana Martin, Liyin Wang and Hyora Yang.

Featured Image: untitled (thesamethesamethesamethesame) (2023), 4', black and white, HD video (transferred to SD), broadcast monitor, 6-channel surround sound. Christopher Steenson, Breath Variations, May 12-14, 2023. Photography by: Ariana Martin.

About - Dissertation

Relating the Retrospective considers the potential of ‘curating relationally’ – specifically in the case of the solo artist retrospective – in widening the scope of how we look back. Using María Puig de la Bellacasa’s text ‘Nothing Comes Without Its World’: Thinking with Care, I analysed how the unique modes of ‘relating’ brought forward by contemporary solo artist retrospectives foster the pluriversality and multiplicity of curatorial formats, ecologies, and epistemologies. I concluded that embedding Puig de la Bellacasa’s ‘moves’ of thinking-with and dissenting-within and engaging with ‘differential’ consciousness is essential to building accountable and inclusive models of the solo artist retrospective and “thick populated worlds” (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2012, p. 200). 

Photograph of Romy Lagesse.

At this point in time, the central threads which have developed within my curatorial practice all lead back to the political and relational potential of curating. I have been especially influenced through my research by the work of María Puig de la Bellacasa, Sasha Engelmann, Fred Wilson, John Cage, and Susan Sontag. Within my dissertation, I have explored the scope which relational curating could provide to solo artist retrospectives and the human and political importance of envisioning such futures. In developing Breath Variations, I have extended ideas of the personal as political both on macroscopic levels and down to the elemental, and further considered the weight of silence and absence within art and curating.

Throughout the past two years, I have been led to examine how various modes of transmission (or interruptions of transmission) impact, alter, and enhance, both what is spoken and what is heard. And further, I have analysed the ways in which we receive, process, and produce knowledge when we are aware of the modes of transmission involved in what we are ‘hearing’ or ‘listening’ to, versus in instances where the role which transmission plays becomes more opaque. My curatorial interests now extend to the nuanced dynamics that arise within the interplay of these clarities and opacities, and I seek to understand the complexities and intricacies which emerge from their intersection. Finally, I believe that my future curatorial explorations will delve into the balances and political roles of entities at all ends of transmissions, between each other, and with transmission itself.