JOÃO LAIA AND JOSHUA SIMON IN CONVERSATION in Mousse Magazine #65.
“In this interview Joshua Simon introduces the concept grounding his forthcoming book, addressing issues related to contemporary visual discourses. Simon expands on his conception of the exhibition as a model and event which is able to make social relations tangible and, in the process, becoming a space for political action.”
See more here, and an excerpt below:
JOÃO LAIA: You argue, “Metastability addresses questions of power and organization, meaning and action. It explores a shift from representation to demonstration as it offers the production of knowledge within the curatorial, as a form of political technique.” You also state, “The exhibition can obtain the status of a model regarding a set of relationships that can be demonstrated in it.” In your view, how can an exhibition demonstrate? And what method would you employ to shift from representation to demonstration?
JOSHUA SIMON: A model is not just scale based. Models enable us to examine relations. An architectural maquette would be a small-scale model that can be used for an unrealized site or as a replica of an actual space. It describes a reality that it reconstructs or projects a future. The exhibition is a model in that it is bound by time and space. In this respect, the exhibition is an event. Upon entering an exhibition, we are still in the real world, but we are also in a separate setting that invites us to examine relations in it. The exhibition demonstrates relations, makes them tangible, visible. I use in the book the example set by Brecht’s plays, where things, behaviors, gestures are demonstrated rather than represented. Heiner Müller says, following Brecht: “The plot is a model, not a chronicle.” Today, when the digital offers itself as model and platform, we should ask ourselves, What could the meaning of these terms be in relation to the curatorial? I mean, I used the phrase “the exhibition is a platform” many times. We usually mean by it that the exhibition stages something, provides a setting for a conversation. But in the digital world, platform is the market or an employer, and we should understand the exhibition as platform in relation to this as well. By this I do not mean only the creative dark matter that Gregory Sholette writes about but also an actual intervention of the model and platform in reality. The curatorial is the drive that makes the exhibition a site of such articulation. We are faced today with the question of how to operate within the mesoscopic and should consider the exhibition as a site of political articulation. This is an opportunity for me to actually say a few words about this term metastability and its meaning. This term, which comes from thermodynamics, describes a relation of high energy that is minimized to specific locations of “many-body assemblies.” This high energy is located in the contact points between the elements. These metastable forms are structurally unstable yet somehow balanced systems. We can see the exhibition as a metastable event, containing high-intensity relations between its separate and different elements. By their nature, metastable structures are temporary. With a pile of ice crystals and snow on a steep slope, or a pile of sand grains, very specific conditions are needed to contain their unstable configurations—intense relations that are held by the smallest contact point of each grain. In this sense, the exhibition organizes the conditions that contain the energy of the avalanche without collapsing. Metastability is the syntax, if you will, that holds it together. Minimum points of contact and maximum intensity are the markers of metastability. This is also a way to describe a good exhibition, in a way. The question is, How can metastability lead us out of the x and y paradigm to look at the pile of sand as a whole, so to speak? What I am trying to develop in the book is a proposition that curatorial metastability might provide a site for articulation that demonstrates the operations of the system within which it exists.
JL: How do you envision an exhibition becoming “a site allowing for political articulation”?
JS: For me, this is not a simple critique of curating, but the opposite: a way to find in the practice itself methods for political work. In addition—and this is important to emphasize—I believe that we are also symptoms of the thing we critique. So as someone who has been curating exhibitions for almost two decades, I try to learn from the practice. In addition to what an exhibition can claim, it has its way of deploying the argument in space. In this sense, the syntax demonstrates something about the world. The relations between material presences and concepts, artifacts and meanings, is a relation between the abstract and the concrete. In the Leninist tradition of politics, each move you make in reality is supposed to play on the theoretical level as well, and vice versa. I see a resemblance to curating here, but we simulate similar relations of abstract and concrete in a setting of a model.