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The Map Is Not the TerritorySaralyn Reece Hardy on Thursday, December 15th, 2011 at 12:24 pm
Director, Spencer Museum of Art
Several years ago, I discovered a bookmark displaying a quote from sculptor Constantin Brancusi: “There are no foreigners in art.”
The concept of the foreign seems apt today as we consider artists whose work is intended to address audiences around the world. What would it mean to occupy a world that has no concept of the foreign? What does it mean to be a foreigner in art? Can art of any species create a situation that does not exclude? It is no small challenge to make work that resonates with authentic personal questions and addresses the complex cultural circumstances of our time, and yet remains legible as art.
Engaging with the foreign also helps us to consider place as a form of territory. How can we understand the ways in which the world is overlaid with imaginative and creative locations that cannot be confined to maps?
Such questions encourage us to bring artists from China, Romania, and Korea to the University of Kansas. When we established the International Artist-in-Residence program, we aimed to bring artists from outside the United States to the university and the region in order to interact with students and create new work. Our ambition was to generate new ways of considering our place in increasingly international circumstances, communities, and exchanges.
Residencies were not intended to “teach” in the traditional way. Rather, they were meant to enact creative ideas–to demonstrate an artistic process using our collections as text and the Museum as context. We sought artists whose skills and experience expanded or collided with those found at KU. Our ultimate goal was to create a climate of risk and experimentation by framing the Museum as an open studio.
At that early point, we did not foresee the memorable outcomes that have come to bear. We did not anticipate the Central Court being marked floor to ceiling with social and political commentary. We did not expect the seven-foot-tall falling policeman that would disrupt the department below us, appear in the pages of Art News, and cause visitors to start or cry out. We did not realize how technology could be used to play with the scale of life, to turn written words into mountainous landscapes. Through these experiences, we learned again and again that the map is not the territory.
The Spencer Museum of Art is delighted to be able to offer you another opportunity to engage with these complex issues. We will soon welcome Chinese artist Chen Shaoxiong to our International Artist-in-Residence Program. During his residency in March 2012, he will offer a “training camp for demonstrators,” including KU students and Lawrence community members. Ephemera from the camp will be presented in an exhibition called Prepared. Thus the International Artist-in-Residence Program helps us discover new links to local artists and a new sense of place and territory.
The artists who know our specific territory are the ones within our geographic reach. They can walk or drive to the Museum. They know our collections. Some have grown up with a memory bank packed full of the treasures that we steward. They stroll through on Sundays and frequent our Print Room, and engage with the international artists as well.
In order to create a vibrant place for expressive life, we have invited artists from far and near into the Spencer Museum. We are aiming for dissonance and harmonics, disruption and oasis, elevation and confrontation.
Yet more efforts lie ahead. We still do not ask often enough what it means for an art student at KU to wander into the gallery and see Vasari, Riemenschneider, Wenda Gu or Mimi Smith. We must even ask the uncomfortable—did the former Kansas University students from Wonder Fair actually need a university museum to create the YouTube One-plex? What other spaces can help this sort of exploration occur? How can we at the Spencer push ourselves to form meaningful partnerships with all artists, stretch into new areas, and link these spaces back to our shared purposes?