Today is the first day to see Futurographies, a multi-media exhibition dedicated to exploring the relationship between the United States, Cambodia, and France. The exhibit is a culmination of ten months of research in New York and ethnographic fieldwork in Paris and Phnom Penh. Featuring a multitude of perspectives and stories, told through art, photography, music, historical documents, and the spoken word, Futurographies reflects on the shared histories of these three countries while imagining their futures.
Insights sat down with MA Design Studies students and co-curators Quizayra Gonzalez and Laura Belik to talk about their process in bringing Futurographies to life.
How did you both become involved in this project?
Laura Belik: We both took a class with Radhika, one of the faculty directors of the project, and by the end of the semester in the class she mentioned that she was doing this workshop with two other faculty members, and they were looking for students to apply, and we both applied together with other people and they selected six students and, here we are!
Quizayra Gonzalez: Yeah! The project involves students from NSSR and Lang as well. And there were originally six students, but one of the students, she’s doing her PhD so she was unable to continue with the entire process.
What was the driving force or goal behind the project? What was the main idea or theme that you wanted to address?
LB: I think that we took several steps that we took towards the process. So, the workshop is an ethnographic curatorial workshop. The end goal was to create this exhibit, which is going to open this week. But, the whole process was to take a more ethnographic approach and perspective to curation. During the first semester that we were working on this, we would have conversations that would work towards a more theoretical and discussion-based project.
QG: Yeah, I think that the goal of the workshop was to bring all of these disciplines together. We have students that are in anthropology, design studies, visual media, and cultural studies. And the question was, how do you get all of these disciplines together to create an exhibition? And how do you bring ethnography and curatorial studies together? And what would that look like? So, in this case, it was about the links between the US, Cambodia, and France. And through this process, what do we learn from it? What are the links? How are these countries connected? And through a lot of research and fieldwork in Paris and Phnom Penh, we started to get all this data, so to speak, of these countries. And all these stories. We got to speak to artists, and musicians, and scholars, and then really start creating a picture of these three spaces. And then from there, we started figuring out, what is this exhibition going to be about? And what is that we want to say about that?
The exhibition essay states that Futurographies was brought together by a combination of “ethnographic and curatorial methodologies” – what exactly did this entail? I would love to know a little bit more about your process.
LB: So the end goal of the project was to curate and debut an exhibition, and it could have been about anything. We ended up doing a more art-related exhibition in some sort of a way, though we started in a much more theoretical base, because that’s what we had been discussing for a longer period of time. So our exhibition is, for example, based on a timeline and a series of documents. And that combined with the artwork creates a more interdisciplinary space. But the ethnographical approach is what gave us the theoretical base to start taking a curatorial approach.
QG: I like to see it as, we all engaged in research and ethnography, and instead of writing an essay describing our findings, we created an exhibition.
LB: That was a real challenge for us, too, because part of the group was very theory-based and to not have the outcome of the research be an essay but actually be a visual thing that had to engage with a public, and not just through reading, it was a hard task.
QG: And for us, coming from design backgrounds, we may think more visually and to bring together both visual thinkers and people who think more theoretically was challenging at times but it was also really exciting because these two things produced the show. It’s not just, let’s put something on the wall, it’s let’s make people think.
LB: Let’s put the discussion on the wall.
How did you solicit and choose the work that is featured in the exhibit?
QG: A lot of it came from the fieldwork that we did in Paris and Phnom Penh.
LB: We got to know a bunch of the artists working there personally, and also we had been researching for ten months, so we encountered artists all over and we liked a bunch of pieces that we thought would go along really well with the discussion we were trying to make, so we basically reached out to some artists that were of our interest, and we either asked for specific works or we asked for them to show us what they had been doing.
QG: We also were fortunate enough to connect with Cambodian artists that were here in different residencies in the United States. So we were able to go to their studios and see some of the work that they were producing. And then also we researched, like Laura said, we asked people that we didn’t know, young artists that are up-and-coming and that also fit within our theme of re-imagining the future and reflecting on the past.
LB: We also tried to have a variety of different kinds of works. So not only are we working with artwork per-say, but also video clips and historical footage that we found online, and even architecture. So we met a lot of people through the process. There is an architectural approach to it, there is a musical approach to it, a documental, and then are paintings, sculptures, photographs.
QG: I think that an important thing that we wanted to show is that all of these pieces talk to each other. And then, there is a timeline moving around, and there will be documents that also speak to the works, and from that, we hope that discussions can spark, reflections can happen from seeing a historical document next a piece that maybe was created in response to an event that happened fifty years ago.
Did you encounter any challenges while researching or putting together this exhibit? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?
LB: Yeah, we encountered a ton of challenges. I think everything was kind of a learning process for us because this exhibition is in a scale that none of us had worked in before, so we were working with different approaches to putting it together. You have to think about everything from catering for the opening to reaching out to all the artists to raising money to what the material of the timeline is going to be. So we had to deal with design issues, budgeting issues, practical issues in general.
QG: And also, there were six different voices that had to be heard throughout the process. So the question was, how do you take all of these ideas, that were all good ideas, and how do you bring them together into one statement? And I think that, for me, that was the biggest challenge, because if you don’t have that statement, then you don’t have anything else. So what was cool was that, for the most part, we all worked very well together.
LB: It took a little while for us to get to the exact point of what we wanted to say with the exhibition. And then once we figured that out, it flowed better, because then it was more of a checklist, rather than a conceptual process.
QG: And then there’s a lot of other variables, too, because the show is going to travel. So in April the show will be in Parsons Paris, and then we’re in talks to see when it’s going to be in Phnom Penh. So it’s going to evolve from there as well, and we’re still putting all of those details together.
LB: That’s going to be an ongoing process, once we finish the exhibition, we’re going to continue on working to bring together the countries.
QG: So it’s a great opportunity, because not many students get to work at this scale.
What was the most rewarding aspect of working on this exhibit?
LB: It was a great learning process, for sure. And the outcome being shown in public is really rewarding, too. So people can actually see what you’ve been working so hard on.
QG: I agree. I think with the installation, we’re already reaping the rewards of ten months of intense learning. Because, we had to figure out and research the history of the relationships between Cambodia, France, and the United States. So with all of that, instead of writing a paper, which is rewarding too, but like Laura says, we created something public, something that other people can see and engage with.
What future does Futurographies imagine? Is there a singular one or are there multiple visions?
QG: I think for us, it was really important not to imagine one future. I think that what we saw from our research was that, a lot of times, futures are posed or hijacked or are taken away, so for us, we don’t necessarily want to say, this is the future that we imagine. We want to present different alternatives and reflections and re-imaginings of the future and the past, and how those two are in dialogue with each other.
LB: That’s also why we decided to name the exhibition Futurographies in plural, and not in the singular tense.
Futurographies is on view in the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center and will be up until January 10, 2016.
This exhibition is the outcome of an intensive interdisciplinary workshop “Cambodia-U.S.-France: Intersecting Ethnographic and Curatorial Methodologies” led by faculty directors Jaskiran Dhillon, Radhika Subramaniam, and Miriam Ticktin since January 2015. The student curators, from Parsons, Lang and NSSR, come from backgrounds in Design, Liberal Arts, and Anthropology.
Laura Belik, Parsons School of Design ‘16
Quizayra Gonzalez, Parsons School of Design ‘16
Elise Gerspach, New School for Social Research ‘15
Andrea Gil, Eugene Lang College ‘15
Veija Kusama-Morris, Eugene Lang College ‘16
We would also like to thank Christina Kim, NSSR, for her early contributions to our workshop and exhibition concept.
Written by Ana Miljak