Echoing with a Difference––Curating Voices and the Politics of Participation

The thesis Echoing with a Difference––Curating Voices and the Politics of Participation, probes participatory curatorial practices that entail agonistic relations, embodying, voicing and instigating conflicts. Taking the global wave of the post-financial crisis protests in 2011 as an entry point, the thesis critically discusses its impact on participatory artistic and curatorial practices, and the ambivalent manifestations of this impact in collective vocal utterings. Here, the focus lies on my own curatorial projects – The Infiltrators (Tel Aviv, 2014), Preaching to the Choir (Herzliya, 2015), (Un)Commoning Voices and (Non)communal Bodies (Reading, 2019), and Voice Over (Maastricht, 2020) – and how they respond to changes in perceptions of identity and to the silencing of alternative voices.

Focusing on both the potential power as well as the challenges of participation, the thesis reexamines participatory practices that make use of the human voice between the conversational to the antagonistic (Bishop, Kester, Marchart). Building from postcolonial, feminist, and critical theory, I formulate participatory curating and research not as a simple echoing of others but as an interpretation and reverberation with differences, following Spivak who analysed Ovid’s tale arguing that Echo’s repetition marked a difference which disclosed the truth of self-knowledge. This embodied, performative position (Rogoff, Garces, Bala), entangled between the personal and the professional and relating to gender constructs in research and curatorial discourse (Buurman, Richter, Fournier), searches to connect to other bodies and voices to create a collectivity based on situated knowledge (Haraway). Infiltrating the borders between the participatory and the performative as well as between the representational and the political realms, this practice-based research attempts to define what the role of a participatory curator might entail as a conflictual mediator. The thesis therefore serves as a call for curators to embody polyphonic contradictions and to imagine different futurities, through the notion of preenactment (Marchart) – an artistic enactment of a political event that has not yet occurred; to function as a double agent in the liminal sphere between the wish to generate conflicts and the need to maintain their borders.

Dr. Maayan Sheleff is an independent curator and researcher. She curated projects at the KW, Berlin, Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, Reading International, UK, the Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo and Madre Museum, Naples, among others.  She was previously the curator of the Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv and co- curator of the first Tel Aviv- Jaffa Biennial (ARTLV 2009). Her recent publications include (Un)Commoning Voices and (Non)Communcal Bodies (co- editor and writer, OnCurating academic book series, 2021), “Fear and Love in Graz”, in Empty Stages, Crowded Flats. Performativity as Curatorial Strategy, Performing Urgency #4, ed. Florian Malzacher and Joanna Warsza (Berlin: House on Fire, Alexander Verlag and Live Art Development Agency, 2017) and “The Infiltrators – Crossing Borders with Participatory Art”, in Refugees and Cultural Education- Formats and strategies for a new field of practice, ed. Caroline Gritschke and Maren Ziese (Transcript publishing, Germany, 2016).

Find a publication list of Dr Maayan Sheleff here.
Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Dorothee Richter, Prof. Susanne Clausen