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04.22.20 – Visual Studies students produce a manual for art curation during a crisis

Today is the 50th annual Earth Day, and there's good news and bad news. The good news: the earth's ecosystems are absorbing less manmade pollution than usual. The bad news: that's because people around the world are housebound as a result of COVID-19.

At the beginning of the winter 2020 semester, before the COVID-19 lockdown, students in the Daniels Faculty's Critical Curatorial Lab (a Visual Studies course that teaches curatorial and critical practice in visual and media arts) were already preparing for a world-altering crisis. Their group assignment was to create a manual for holding an art exhibition in a world in which life had been disrupted so thoroughly that electricity was no longer available.

Their "blackout" manual is now finished, just in time for a very weird Earth Day.

Download a PDF of the manual and read the class's press release below:

Download the "BLACKOUT" PDF




From the beginning of the winter 2020 semester until the shutdown, students from the Critical Curatorial Lab (Daniels Faculty) were engaged in developing an exhibition format to be deployed in an emergency scenario. Conceived as pre-mediation for a moment when patterns of life are radically disrupted, their aim was to examine the affordance of art during a power blackout. Running throughout this thought experiment, radically reduced energy dependence and its possible culture was at issue. Addressing social relations, spectacle, and consumption, the project outcome was conceived as an emergency kit (exhibition) and instruction manual (catalogue) to be activated during a future power outage.

In light of COVID-19, only the second part of the project was realized. To mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we are pleased to share this playful manual (featuring student essays, artworks, and archival material) in digital format. While ultimately consuming energy via U of T servers, we offer this document (as polemic) to the time of novel coronavirus. As the shutdown drives a dramatic reduction in energy demand, causing the largest ever drop in recorded CO2 emissions, this sudden change is also bringing instability to electrical grids worldwide. Blackouts may yet be a flow-on effect of this pandemic. However, beyond any outages, we propose the relevance of our speculative method for broader reflections on cultural life during our present crisis: Attempting to exhibit the critical moment in advance is a way to better handle its emergence in real-time. Curatorial pre-mediation is one bulwark against intercession by panic or shock doctrines, when everyday society and culture are up for grabs.

Visiting Professors Dr. Dehlia Hannah and Dr. Nadim Samman
John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, University of Toronto

Curators: Lilian Ho, Kaixin Li, Leona Liu, Jiaxin Mai, Olivia Musselwhite

Artists: Simon Fuh, Talia Goland, Eli Kerr, Seo Eun Kim, Matthew Nish-Lapidus, Yoko Ono