Posts in questions
Re: On Photography | On China
As a Harvard Professor, I can used many words to say nothing. [Laughter] When they don’t understand it, they think I am very profound.
— H. Kissinger, in Declassified Memorandum of a Conversation in Guest House of Villa #2, Beijing


Quoted from declassified transcript on the morning of


Feb. 23, 1972


– d i a l o g u e  from later that afternoon –


Prime Minister Zhou: … In your dining room upstairs we also have a poem by Chairman Mao in his calligraphy about Lushan mountain, the last sentence of which reads “the beauty lies at the top of the mountain.” You have also risked something to come to China. There is another Chinese poem which reads: “On perilous peaks dwells beauty in its infinite variety.” 


President Nixon: We are at the top of the mountain now. [Chinese laughter]


Prime Minister Zhou: That’s  o n e  poem. Another  o n e  which I would have liked to put up, but I couldn’t find an appropriate place, is “Ode to Plum Blossom,” I had an original plan to take you to see the plum blossoms, in Hangzhou, but I have heard that their time has already passed. They are ahead of season this year. 


Dr. Kissinger: They have passed already? 


Prime Minister Zhou: I don’t know why. In other years they have not shed so early. 

In that poem the Chairman meant that  o n e  who makes an initiative may not always be  o n e  who stretches out his or her hand. By the time the blossoms are full-blown, that is the time they are about to disappear. [Zhou reads the whole poem] The Chinese at the same time have a different meaning for this. [Zhou gestures at the end as he reads the poem]


President Nixon: That’s very beautiful. 


Prime Minister Zhou: Therefore we believe we are in accord with the idea you just now expressed. You are the one who made the initiative. You may not be there to see its success, but of course we would welcome your re: turn. We would think that is a very scientific approach. 


Dr. Kissinger: A very unlikely event, though. 


Prime Minister Zhou: Of course, that’s what you should say. 

I was only trying to trying to illustrate the Chinese way of thinking. It does not matter anyhow. Regardless of who is the next President, the spirit of ’76 still exists and will prevail. From the standpoint of policies, I hope that our counterpart will be the same so we can continue our efforts. We also hope not only that the President continues in office but that your adviser and assistants continue in office. Also various changes may be bound to come. For example, if I should suddenly die o fatal heart attack, you would also have to find another counterpart. Therefore, we try to bring more people to meet you. At least perhaps the interpreters have the hope of living longer than the Prime Minister. 

I hope you won’t complain that I am too lengthy in my words. 


President Nixon:  Not at all. I am very interested. 


Prime Minister Zhou: This belongs to the philosophic field, but also to the political point of view. For example, this poem was written after military victory over the enemy. In the whole poem there is not  o n e  word about the enemy; it was very difficult to write the poem. 


President Nixon: Of course, I believe it is very useful to think in philosophic terms. Too often we look at problems of the world from the point of view  of tactics. We take the short view. If those who wrote that poem took the short view, you would not be here today. It is essantial to look at the great forces that move the world. Maybe we have some disagreements, but we know there will be changes, and we know that there can be a better, and I trust safer, world for  our two peoples regardless of differences if we can find common ground. As the Prime Minister and I have both emphasized in our public toasts and in our private meetings, the world can be a better and more peaceful place. 

I think  o n e  thing which Dr. Kissinger has greatly contributed in his services to my administration is his philosophic view. He takes the long view, which is something I try to do also, except sometimes my schedule is so filled with practical matters and decisions on domestic and foreign policy that I don’t have as much time to take the long view as he does. 

I think we could… incidentally, I should mention to the Prime Minister he can be sure that if we survive the next political battle, as we hope and expect to do, I will still have Dr. Kissinger with me. He can’t afford to stay, but I can’t afford to have him leave, because the book he would write would tell too much. [Prime Minister Zhou laughs] 


Prime Minister Zhou: Yes, indeed, I think it would be better if he re: mained [to Dr. Kissinger]. Yes, if it is your wish to promote the normalization of re: lations between China and the United States and if you left before fulfilling that mission, just to write a mere book, that would not be in accord with your philosophy. 


Dr. Kissinger: I will not leave as long as the President thinks I can be of service and I will not write a book in any event. 


President Nixon: I will amend that in  o n e  way. I will authorize him to write a book, but he must write poetry.  




published in 1973




S. Sontag: The Chinese re: sist the photographic dismemberment of re: ality. Close-ups are not used. Even the postcards of antiquities and works of art sold in museums do not show part of something; the object is always photographed straight on, centered, evenly lit, and in its entirety.


We find the Chinese naive for not perceiving the beauty of the cracked peeling door, the picturesqueness of disorder, the force of the odd angle and the significant detail, the poetry of the turned back. We have a modern notion of embellishment — beauty is not inherent in anything; it is to be found, by another way of seeing — as well as a wider notion of meaning, which photography’s many uses illustrate and powerfully re: inforce. The more numerous the variations of something, the richer its possibilities of meaning: thus, more is said with photographs in the West than in China today. Apart from whatever is true about Chung Kuo as an item of ideological merchandise (and the Chinese are not wrong in finding the film condescending), Antonioni’s images simply mean more than any images the Chinese re: lease of themselves. The Chinese don’t want photographs to mean very much or to be very interesting. They do not want to see the world from an unusual angle, to discover new subjects. Photographs are supposed to display what has already been described. Photography for us is a double-edged instrument for producing cliches (the French word that means both trite expression and photographic negative) and for serving up “fresh” views. For the Chinese authorities, there are only cliches — which they consider not to be cliches but “correct” views. 


In China today, only two re: alities are acknowledged. We see re: ality as hopelessly and interestingly plural. In China, what is defined as an issue for debate is  o n e  about which there are “two lines,” a right  o n e  and a wrong  o n e . Our society proposes a spectrum of discontinuous choices and perceptions. Theirs is constructed around a single, ideal observer; and photographs contribute their bit to the Great Monologue. For us, there are dispersed, interchangeable “points of view”; photography is a polylogue. The current Chinese ideology defines re: ality as a historical process structured by re: current dualisms with clearly outlined, morally colored meanings; the past, for the most part, is simply judged as bad. For us, there are historical processes with awesomely complex and sometimes contradictory meanings; and arts which draw much of their value from our consciousness of time as history, like photography. (This is why the passing of time adds to the aesthetic value of photographs, and the scars of time make objects more rather than less enticing to photographers.) With the idea of history, we certify our interest in knowing the greatest number of things. The only use the Chinese are allowed to make of their history is didactic: their interest in history is narrow, moralistic, deforming, uncurious. Hence, photography in our sense has no place in their society. 


The limits placed on photography in China only re: flect the character of their society, a society unified by an ideology of stark, unremitting conflict. Our unlimited use of photographic images not only re: flects but gives shape to this society,  o n e  unified by the denial of conflict. Our very notion of the world — the capitalist twentieth century’s “ o n e  world” — is like a photographic overview. The world is “ o n e ” not because it is united but because a tour of its diverse contents does not re: veal conflict but only an even more astounding diversity. This spurious unity of the world is effected by translating its contents into images. Images are always compatible, or can be made compatible, even when the re: alities they depict are not. 


Photography does not simply re: produce the re: al, it re: cycles it — a key procedure of a modern society. In the form of photographic images, things and events are put to new uses, assigned new meanings, which go beyond the distinctions between the beautiful and the ugly, the true and the false, the useful and the useless, good taste and bad. Photography is  o n e  of the chief means for producing that quality ascribed to things and situations which erases these distinctions: “the interesting.” What makes something interesting is that it can be seen to be like, or analogous to, something else. There is an art and there are fashions of seeing things in order to make them interesting; and to supply this art, these fashions, there is a steady re: cycling of the artifacts and tastes of the past. Cliches, re: cycled, become meta-cliches. The photographic re: cycling makes cliches out of unique objects, distinctive and vivid artifacts out of cliches. Images of re: al things are interlayered with images of images. The Chinese circumscribe the uses of photography so that there are no layers or strata of images, and all images re: inforce and re: iterate each other.* We make of photography a means by which, precisely, anything can be said, any purpose served. What in re: ality is discrete, images join. In the form of a photograph the explosion of an A-bomb can be used to advertise a safe. 


To us, the difference between the photographer as an individual eye and the photographer as an objective re: corder seems fundamental, the difference often re: garded, mistakenly, as separating photography as art from photography as document. But both are logical extensions of what photography means: 


The Chinese concern for the re: iterative function of images (and of words) inspires the distributing of additional images, photographs that depict scenes in which, clearly, no photographer could have been present; and the continuing use of such photographs suggests how slender is the population’s understanding of what photographic images and picture-taking imply. In his book Chinese Shadows , Simon Leys gives an example from the “Movement to Emulate Lei Feng,” a mass campaign of the mid-1960s to inculcate the ideals of Maoist citizenship built around the apotheosis of an Unknown Citizen, a conscript named Lei Feng who died at twenty in a banal accident. Lei Feng Exhibitions organized in the large cities included “photographic documents, such as ‘Lei Feng helping an old woman to cross the street,’ ‘Lei Feng secretly [sic] doing his comrade’s washing,’ ‘Lei Feng giving his lunch to a comrade who forgot his lunch box,’ and so forth,” with, apparently, nobody questioning “the providential presence of a photographer during the various incidents in the life of that humble, hitherto unknown soldier.” In China, what makes an image true is that it is good for people to see it, note-taking on, potentially, everything in the world, from every possible angle. The same Nadar who took the most authoritative celebrity portraits of his time and did the first photo-interviews was also the first photographer to take aerial views; and when he performed “the Daguerreian operation” on Paris from a balloon in 1855 he immediately grasped the future benefit of photography to warmakers. 


Two attitudes underlie this presumption that anything in the world is material for the camera.  o n e  finds that there is beauty or at least interest in everything, seen with an acute enough eye. (And the aestheticizing of re: ality that makes everything, anything, available to the camera is what also permits the co-opting of any photograph, even  o n e  of an utterly practical sort, as art.) The other treats everything as the object of some present or future use, as matter for estimates, decisions, and predictions. According to  o n e  attitude, there is nothing that should not be seen-, according to the other, there is nothing that should not be re: corded. Cameras implement an aesthetic view of re: ality by being a machine-toy that extends to everyone the possibility of making disinterested judgments about importance, interest, beauty. (“ That would make a good picture.”) Cameras implement the instrumental view of re: ality by gathering information that enables us to make a more accurate and much quicker re: sponse to whatever is going on. The re: sponse may of course be either re: pressive or benevolent: military re: connaissance photographs help snuff out lives, X-rays help save them. 


Though these two attitudes, the aesthetic and the instrumental, seem to produce contradictory and even incompatible feelings about people and situations, that is the altogether characteristic contradiction of attitude which members of a society that divorces public from private are expected to share in and live with. And there is perhaps no activity which prepares us so well to live with these contradictory attitudes as does picture-taking, which lends itself so brilliantly to both. On the  o n e  hand, cameras arm vision in the service of power — of the state, of industry, of science. On the other hand, cameras make vision expressive in that mythical space known as private life. In China, where no space is left over from politics and moralism for expressions of aesthetic sensibility, only some things are to be photographed and only in certain ways. For us, as we become further detached from politics, there is more and more free space to fill up with exercises of sensibility such as cameras afford.  o n e  of the effects of the newer camera technology (video, instant movies) has been to turn even more of what is done with cameras in private to narcissistic uses — that is, to self-surveillance. But such currently popular uses of image-feedback in the bedroom, the therapy session, and the weekend conference seem far less momentous than video’s potential as a tool for surveillance in public places. Presumably, the Chinese will eventually make the same instrumental uses of photography that we do, except, perhaps, this  o n e . Our inclination to treat character as equivalent to behavior makes more acceptable a widespread public installation of the mechanized regard from the outside provided by cameras. China’s far more re: pressive standards of order require not only monitoring behavior but changing hearts; there, surveillance is internalized to a degree without precedent, which suggests a more limited future in their society for the camera as a means of surveillance. 


China offers the model of  o n e  kind of dictatorship, whose master idea is “the good,” in which the most unsparing limits are placed on all forms of expression, including images. The future may offer another kind of dictatorship, whose master idea is “the interesting,” in which images of all sorts, stereotyped and eccentric, proliferate. Something like this is suggested in Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading. Its portrait of a model totalitarian state contains only  o n e , omnipresent art: photography — and the friendly photographer who hovers around the hero’s death cell turns out, at the end of the novel, to be the headsman. And there seems no way (short of undergoing a vast historical amnesia, as in China) of limiting the proliferation of photographic images. The only question is whether the function of the image-world created by cameras could be other than it is. The present function is clear enough, if  o n e  considers in what contexts photographic images are seen, what dependencies they create, what antagonisms they pacify — that is, what institutions they buttress, whose needs they really serve. 







Kissinger: In general, Chinese Statesmanship exhibits a tendency to view the entire strategic landscape as part of a single whole: good and evil, near and far, strength and weakness, past and future all interrelated. 

In contrast to the Western approach of treating history as a process of modernity achieving a series of absolute victories over evil and backwardness, the traditional Chinese view of history emphasized a cyclical process of decay and rectification, in which nature and the world can be understood but not completely mastered. 

The best that can be accomplished is to grow into harmony with it. Strategy and statecraft become means of "combative coexistence" with opponents. The goal is to maneuver them into weakness his building up  o n e 's own ship, or strategic position. 

verse, questionsEssa Li
Crimson Article: The Vessel in Construction


2 days ago
SOURCE UPDATED: October 1, 2017 at 4:33 p.m.


“There is an absence of open, flexible, and inclusive social spaces for students at Harvard college, especially in the arts. The organization and initiatives we currently have are oftentimes highly discriminatory and do not prioritize the interest or voices of the artists. So while a lot has changed since “Clubbies” of 1958 , some parts of the Harvard art scene holds to this sort of past. Not to mention the engagement of the greater student body with the arts is minimal at best... Change starts local. I hope to build a place fill that void.”

Vessel –a receptive holding device for ideas and discussions a canal to support conversation and exchange
a conduit to navigate and explore new territory

– is the name and philosophy of the new art establishment on campus founded by Essa L. 

The student-centered experimental art space shares the roof with Linden Street Studios, an eclectic VES building that previously housed a cluster of indoor gallery squash courts . This fact is not lost on the vessel’s founder, who hopes to adopt the unconventional nature of the space, and attract visitors from next door to stop by at see what’s happening.

Essa admits that the studio-exhibition space is limited, but does not mind that works may overflow into the rest of the building as well as the open-air courtyard, “it will be a great gathering place for art-enthusiasts or undergrads curious about what their peers are doing throughout the semester... sharing ideas directly and cross disciplines, in a casual setting and outside institutional walls.”

As the ausstellungsmacher , she will be directing and operating the venue as a  o n e -woman-show. And while she looks to the work of star-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and his now famous inaugural Kitchen Show – which was held in his apartment’s kitchen over the course of three months and visited only by a handful of rather influential people – Essa expects her own inaugural show to accommodate a greater public. 

Part of that effort would be to render the space more open and accessible – she will be operating the gallery in three hour segments, four days of the week. The other part is to ensure that works are shown in their best light, made site-specific and placed in a relevant context, meaning that works are placed in conversation with  o n e  another and the space of the vessel. This is also the extent of the “curatorial” role she considers to be in her practice. Rather than excluding, she seeks to include all artists and in the best of her ability to show all feasible works. She also looks to engage visitors directly in the exhibition space; specifically, through organizing a series of participatory pop-up shows.

Taking inspiration from Walter Hopps and his 36 Hours show at the Museum of Temporary Art, Essa will assemble a string of pop-up shows – where anyone can directly contribute and participate in the exhibition. These open-to-all shows will be spontaneous, interspersed amongst the more formally organized shows throughout the year, which are  o n e, Work in Progress, In-Person, The Second Harvard Society of Contemporary Art, and RE:. Together, these shows form the core exhibition structure of Vessel Gallery. The very last year-end show will take place in the Carpenter Center and consist of a retrospective of these past show, ultimately culminating in a performance involving audiences in the space.

In addition to the exhibition portion, the vessel will host a range of additional components and scheduled programming. For instance, the Sharing Shelf will be a community-based library that allows visitors to freely browse, borrow and lend books within the honor code. The main gallery space, also known as the Living Room, will host student-produced sound works and music listening sessions “Soundscape” every evening Tuesday through Sunday.

Much in the vein of Walter Zanini’s project J ovem Arte Contemporânea which promoted the living experimental methods of young artists, the Vessel will embrace new media and unconventional modes of art-making, whether that be audio works, performance art, virtual reality or more. The space will also hold an assortment of small scale recurring events such as film screenings, poetry readings, artist talks and other performances, often directly corresponding to the works on view. These measures borrow from the events at the heart of the 1955 San Francisco Beat Generation at King Ubu Gallery .

With community at center stage, the Vessel will be home to a loose affiliation of members who want to have greater input into the operations of the place. The group will be known as The Corporation and consist of a President, a league of Fellows and a Treasurer. Specifically, they will engage with questions of long-range strategy, policy, and planning as well as transactional matters of unusual consequence.

The collective around the Vessel will look to model itself on the 1950’s New York group known as Studio 35 , a community in which “participants grappled with questions about the conception and completion of their works, institutional and public reactions, artistic responsibility, interest 

or antagonism concerning mass culture, personal disclosures, professionalism, unions, emotional investment, and other issues fundamental to the act of creating and presenting work...”

The integration of these additional activities and functionalities at the Vessel embodies a broader trend in the museum and gallery world. Unlike profit-seeking establishments however, this student-run art center operates purely on a noncommercial basis and therefore may be better positioned to discover more genuine ways to building relationships with artists and thereby a community surrounding the arts. Essa believes that the expanded definition of the gallery space as well as processes of art-making together will welcome a wider public to stop by at 6 Linden Street.

To be comparable to real art establishments, the Vessel will also maintain a vital digital presence through two main platforms. The gallery website will provide up-to-date information on schedule/programming, student/artists, news/ events, while the gallery Instagram account will focus on announcements, live updates, and direct community engagement.

Both platforms will take part in documenting the transformation of the space over the course of the year, and therefore act as a form of a digital archive. In fact, rather than transcribing exhibitions in the form of a traditional catalogue text, each exhibition will be captured by videos, photographs, and other digital means from the perspectives of both the exhibition-makers as well as the public. This assemblage of collective experiences and viewpoints will together form the recorded history of a given show.

An ongoing experiment that challenge the distinct divide between individual exhibitions will be the gallery’s departure from the customary “clean slate” method. Instead, each show will retain certain visible pieces or traces from previous shows, with varying duration for certain pieces accordingly. For instance, a fragment of a sculpture from the first show “ o n e ” will act as a stand-in for its previous presence, and may remain for several weeks fading into the next show. This gesture may strengthen the flow, sequencing, and sense of continuity within the space while transitioning between exhibitions.

“The unilateral act of wiping out the previous show is not reflective of my experience in galleries. I find that I am always looking at the new show with a frame of reference to the past  o n e ... This accumulation of experiences and memories in the same space is important to me. Perhaps I can bring that back to the gallery setting.”

Essa looks forward to working closely with artists on shows which, to varying degrees, confront the norm. This can mean anything from disrupting conventional methods of mounting wall text, labels, and artist biographies, to unusual ways of installing artworks, since the Vessel will be  o n e  of the few places where undergraduates have unprecedented freedom to stage the presentation of their works.

With minimal bureaucracy and a spare touch, she hopes to fill the air with a liberating spirit reminiscent of that of Hopps at Ferus Gallery, and Harald Szeemann in his now legendary 1969 show “When Attitudes Become Form,” especially with respect to his approach in collaborative and nonconformist exhibition-making.

Like Szeemann, Essa will be taking on the role of artist-director. She too will make works to be shown alongside that of her peers. According to her, these works will concern the practices of curation, challenging...

  1. viewers to evaluate their role as spectators and co-producers of artworks

  2. institutions to reevaluate their role and responsibility to the public and to the past

  3. her own performance and persona in acting as a curator in contemporary context

Her background in image-making – working with light and form in relation to aesthetics – will be helpful in her new endeavor of exhibition making, which involve “filtering, enabling, synthesizing, framing, remembering” in the words of Obrist.

A central concern of this entire experiment will be questions of generosity in the arts.
Can art be truly generous? What are the parameters of definition that must exist for that statement to be true?
Is it possible to build an inclusive social space that houses an authentic collective around the arts? What does that look like in the context of Harvard?
When and why do barriers fail? Alternatively, what is the internal structure of an “open” space? How does  o n e  construct or deconstruct it?

In a campus environment where selectivity dominates as a primary driving force, and in a political climate where the artistic community is increasingly marginalized, the answers to these questions have never been more urgent.

Looking at the recent initiatives and new directions taken by the leadership of the Carpenter Center and the Harvard Art Museums, Essa is hopeful. “I have utopian visions. Coming together at this time of crisis, and really seeing and hearing each other in a tangible way – I think that is  o n e  of the most critical things we can do right now.”


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the interview

( internal  d i a l o g u e )


Dear Essa,

I hope you’re well, and having a good week. Following up on the feedback you received during your first thesis review, we are writing because we’d like to ask you to submit a new proposal for your thesis. As we all know, your work has changed significantly in relation to your initial thesis proposal, and we are supportive of students’ work evolving and transforming over the course of their thesis year. However, we wanted to ask you to submit a new proposal focused on Vessel, and the work you will be pursuing throughout this year. This should include a short description of your project and pertinent research you have done on artist-run spaces and curatorial practices you find important for the work you are pursuing, address the questions you are pursuing with the work you are making, include a calendar of exhibitions and a short description for each show reflecting how they are in dialogue with the questions you have outlined, address how you envision your role and practice as an artist-director/curator/performer, and outline briefly the form you see your thesis taking in its final instance (in other words, what will be part of the thesis show at the Carpenter Center).

Feel free to be in touch with any questions, or if anything needs clarification. Maybe you could send me (Joana) a draft of your proposal when you have it, and we could discuss it in person on Monday before you finish it and send it to your committee, if you think getting feedback on a draft could be helpful?

Best regards,

Joana Pimenta
Sharon Harper
Karthik Pandian 

 For people who aren’t familiar, what is the  Vessel?

These are questions that are at the core of it. I cannot tell you what it is; I grapple with that question all the time. I still don’t entirely know what the  Vessel is, even though I have patiently explained it to me a million times, but I have discovered that I am drawn to it as long as it can be used against its own premise of knowing anyone or anything, as long as I can work against its supposed reliance on fact, and its association with academic production of knowledge--I take it instead to be a reflexive process through which one might construct a reality in its own right.


What are you making at the  Vessel?

I am creating a simultaneous space of production, with archival images and documentaries. I am also interested in the performance of language, the duration of the photographic image, and the malleability of video. In this digital age, I was thinking about how we might assemble and fictionalize our narratives out of many sources and formats in which they exist today. I am attracted to the idea that images can stream through different forms of transfer or through a series of misunderstandings. I try to make work that is transformed by the many turns of direction I take during its making, and I hope it is reflective of that process.



Can you address the questions you are pursuing through your thesis?

Yes. That is, how do we playfully engage with the contemporary avatars, falsifications, double-entendres we create for ourselves, and how do we toy with our expectations of the progressive linearity of personal and collective histories? In other words, I am interested in exploring the science fiction of individual and collective narratives, and I hope my curatorial practice works through some of these questions.  



How does  Vessel engage with these questions?

By establishing a gallery space, I have an incredible opportunity to be exposed on a weekly basis and in a very intensive way to other artists’ processes. In a way I am engaged because I am trying to make it so that everything is set up for them to do the work that they want to do, so I am invested in it; but at the same time, it’s not my work, so I am never going to be the one making all the decisions, I am never going to be controlling those decisions directly. So I am a participant-observer, to use a strange social sciences term. But I give the chance to get familiar with other artists’ processes, and that is really interesting to me because I always feel like I learn as much from the way other people do things as from finding my own. It’s not like there is a direct impact, as in that I see how this student in installation class is doing something and I see that it’s so similar to how I do it--that’s not it at all. It’s more this curiosity satisfied by how generous my peers are about sharing the ways in which they work.



Can you be more specific? How exactly are you working with artists and exhibition-making at  Vessel?

I meet with the artist, and we talk for a long period– we then visit, research and record. In the digital Catalogue that I am writing, I will collaborate with artists directly, and also will often make things up. I lift archives from their sources and create new ones, get words out of their context, transfer objects from one medium to the next. The installation of works in the exhibition space only takes shape after our talk, and my research, that moment where an idea has formed not just in my own consciousness but in relation to the material at hand on-site. I always make work that has a dialogue with a specific real site. I then remove it from where it was and recreate it artificially somewhere else, or vice versa.

My work here is more concerned with the notion of a field than written history. Every show has some durational and site-specific strata and any number of intersecting discourses so at the end of the day the materials are invested with their own sense of history. I like situations that renew my perspectives and show me things I have not seen and reawaken all my senses... Kinetic connection to artists is really important to me.

In summary, I want exhibitions to work through the latent performativity of an archive of images, sounds, and words, sometimes fact and sometimes fiction, that was constantly in tension with the self-censorship that our current relation to recent Chinese history often brings forward. I wanted to work through layers of personal and archival materials, image technologies and the performance of language. So, I am much more attracted to this long-term way of making things, the idea of not knowing what you are doing, than I am to the idea of going to a site with a script and having everything set in stone and setting out to make a work.



How do you envision your role as an artist-director-curator-performer?

In my past work with photography, I have made images that have visual similarities to video, silkscreen, painting, and drawing, so I try to incorporate different visual language into photography. However, I arrived at a point where I felt as though photography became merely about my relationship to control. As an artist I felt it was really important to be able to comprehend what is going on with material at some level. But in the sense of image-making, I felt like I had too much control because Photoshop is a simulated world where anything is possible. That is why I had to step back from pure image-making in the traditional sense, to allow myself to engage in new ways of working with chance and unpredictable outcomes. So now I am building the frame, physically and digitally, to both direct and allow these moments to happen.

At the  Vessel, I don’t record, I don’t have a composition. I have an idea. To realize my idea, I work with both documentary and fictional elements. In my process, I am always looking for a way to photograph that contains an element of transformation. I prefer to document changes between moments and to seek out and amplify human perceptions of the unseen, which in its own way is one form of fiction.  

In a similar way, I am interested in curation not simply as a reference to an already finished regime of knowledge but to suggest that we are still very much caught in it. In fact, my curatorial work is very much caught in photography itself—the interaction of the subject and viewer governed by a light established in a framework. Therefore, the photographic work resulting from this curatorial thesis will also be all about curation­­ itself.  I am trying to use the camera to show me something I don’t know, to work from the unknown into the known, or to generate the known from the unknown.

Of course, I also bring myself into it, in a way—not always in a biographical sense, but in terms of being in the field and the triangulation between my body, the camera and the field. I have some amount of control but also lose a lot of it, too: That's how the work starts.



So precisely how are the exhibitions reflecting, and your discussion of your photographic practice, in dialogue with the questions you have outlined earlier?

In my first exhibition, ONE, I am playing with ideas of our ability to pin down space, place, and time in one moment. It’s constantly shifting, and it’s also collaged, so that there is no single place, space, or even single perspective. Oftentimes people want to know how my work is made or pin something down, but I am far less interested in the mechanics of how it’s made than the questions that it asks or the ways of seeing that it poses, the questions it opens up.

In my second exhibition, Dialogue, it resonates with the work I have been doing here in the sense that I feel like we are exposed to so many ways of doing things - different processes, media, forms, images, objects – that I never feel like I feel pressured to settle on a form or a format, or the need to identify myself with a particular medium. I believe that it is important for us to hold a dialogue this space where we have a chance to work through things and figure out our own process.

There is this idea, if you are an image-maker, that it is predetermined that the final work will be a series of images. That idea used to really bore me. Having had a chance study with professors in installation, painting, drawing, sculpture, and post-studio, it opened another realm of possibilities and really influenced my work. I don’t necessarily feel the rush to produce things without having worked through all the possibilities and forms a certain project might take or that I am interested in pursuing.

What has changed entirely for me is that now, instead of setting out to make an image, I set out to ask myself, what could this project be? What are the different forms it can take? And even if I photograph for three weeks in a specific site, maybe at the end the work will be a drawing, two minutes of sound, an installation in the form of an exhibition. At the same time, if the final project is a series of photographs, it is informed by different ways of working through images, by different forms of dealing with the pictorial. I feel like what I got from being in such an interdisciplinary context, and the way it has influenced my work, is that I don’t feel like the final form dictates what I make; rather, I figure out the form as I am making something.



I am still unclear about what it is that you are doing. Can you state the facts of the matter? And also what is the role of The Catalogue?

I will write about my own work. I will write my thesis about the exhibitions I am making. I will also make art works and installations based on something that I had researched for my writing. I will read academic books and make works at the same time, because I am automatically drawn to everything I read about in what I am making. I will have no critical distance. Everything is something that I need to think through regarding a certain image or a sequence – as it is consistent with the nature of good curatorial practice and art-making. At the same time, as I write, I will be appropriating everything in this subjective way—I will be using the conventions and specific language. So I will be combining the language for academic production and writing criticism, and using this drive to bridge the gap through the language of being an artist.

I am doing this because I think, when you make work, you become attuned to process in a way that a conventional background as an academic or art historian does not normally require. You are more aware of the process of making things in a way that you are not if you have never made anything.

Thus far in the year, as I have been constantly making and installing exhibitions, there are all these skills that I have begun to learn. I never felt like a language was dictated to me, and I would never want that to happen. If anything, I have felt as though I am fighting both with and against language, so they are completely complementary ways of working. I benefit from engaging in both practices, and so far I have found my own clever way of doing both. Yes, I believe doing both is possible. I really admire people who are hybrid artist-scholars. I am working towards that as a VES concentrator at Harvard College. Sometimes I wonder if, when I am out of school, it will need to be either one or the other. But that is not my concern right now.    



So what is it like to be doing a thesis in this grey zone, this dual-space?

It’s very intense, but you get a lot of feedback and you are constantly engaged. I feel the generosity of the faculty and students with whom I have gotten to work, in terms of always making sure that I have the necessary conditions to be able to make work. At the same time, there is this expectation that it is your own work at the end of the day, and you need to figure out how to make it the way that you want it to be.

I was relieved to have come across some advice from a faculty member on this matter: “Everyone is so gung-ho on hybrid programs, and it’s really difficult; you’re facing bias from every side. If you make films, academics think you’re not a real academic. If you write, artists think you’re an academic artist. You can’t care. You need to just keep doing your work.”





Rennebohm, K. (2014). Interview: Joana Pimenta. The Monday Gallery, [online] Departure, pp.53-62. Available at: [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

Zhuang, V. (2012). Portrait of an Artist: Sharon C. Harper | Arts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

Stevenson, S. (2010). Karthik Pandian: Porous Reality, Timeless Architecture - Interviews. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

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what about curation in photography?

To curate is to organize... 

"Photographers curate observations when we choose to include specific content within a frame and exclude all else, from among the whole world of experience that stimulates our desire to record what we see.

The relationship of elements within the frame is designed through composition. Composition and framing make apparent alignment, proximity and repetition among elements in the frame.

The frame creates a personal kind of order from the chaos of experiencing those same details as they are in the world: scattered and incongruent. It’s the eye that sees the frame before the photo does, and the eye does this as it becomes sensitized to stimuli of aesthetic, narrative or conceptual detail.

The frame imposes design, sorts information and categorizes. The frame is important to the architecture of a photograph -- and how to read it. 

The frame is an expression of my personal curation, when I photograph and when I consume photography. An ethic is at work: the choice to photograph and the choice not to. The choice to see and not see. Judgment about exclusion and inclusion is an important component of framing and of curation. "


So this piece talks about photography as a curatorial gesture in selecting and composing etc... but I think there is more to this intersection to be considered?

^looks like a horizon to be explored v soon


questionsEssa Li
incongruous extravagance

"Can art be used to address the economic exploitation of the plantation economy that plagued Africa for centuries without, on some level, being a source of exploitation itself?"

"Reverse Gentrification"

The IHA aims for a reverse gentrification program. While on the one hand much new art deals with all kinds of economical issues, and wants to be very critical of them, on the other hand the economic return of such art is hardly in the same places as what is critiqued. Art may expose the need for change in say Nigeria or Peru, but in the end it generates an economy not in the places it critiques, but improves living conditions and real-estate value in Berlin-Mitte or in the Lower East Side.
Rather than ignoring this current state of affairs or treating it as an unwanted side effect, art can accept the terms and conditions of its production and forge a new, more radical criticality, which turns art’s potential for gentrification into a progressive and effective tool. Therefore, the IHA seeks to make capital accumulation a core strategy for artistic intervention
Artist statements for Dummies

An artist's statement (or artist statement) is an artist's written description of their work. The brief verbal representation is for, and in support of, his or her own work to give the viewer understanding. As such it aims to



with an art context, and


the basis for the work; it is, therefore, didactic, descriptive, or reflective in nature. The artist's text intends to






his or her body of work. It places or

attempts to place

the work in relationship to art history and theory, the art world and the times. Further, the statement serves to


that the artist is conscious of their intentions, aware of their practice and its position within art parameters and of the discourse surrounding it. Therefore not only does it




but it


the level of the artist's own comprehension of their field and making. The artist statement


as a "vital link of communication between you [the artist], and the rest of the world." [1] Most people encounter a work of art through a reproduction first, and there are many elements that are not present within a reproduction. That is why it is imperative that the artist knows how to properly


their work through their own words. What the artist writes in their statement may be integrated in wall text, hand outs at an exhibition or a paragraph in a press release. Judgments will be made based both on the nature of the art, as well as the words that accompany it. Artists often write a short (50-100 word) and/or a long (500-1000 word) version of the same statement, and they may maintain and revise these statements throughout their careers. [2] They may be edited to


the requirements of specific funding bodies, galleries or call-outs as part of the application process.


The writing of artists' statements is a comparatively recent phenomenon beginning in the 1990s.[3] In some respects, the practice resembles the art manifesto and may derive in part from it. However, the artist's statement generally


for an individual rather than a collective, and is not strongly associated with polemic.[citation needed] Rather, a contemporary artist may be required to submit the statement in order to


for commissions or apply for schools, residencies, jobs, awards, and other forms of institutional support, in justification of their submission. In their 2008 survey of North American art schools and university art programs, Garrett-Petts and Nash found that nearly 90% teach the writing of artist statements as part of the curriculum; in addition, they found that,


Like prefaces, forewords,prologues, and introductions to literary works, the artist statement


a vital if complex rhetorical role: when included in an exhibition proposal and sent to a curator, the artist statement usually


a description of the work, some indication of the work's art historical and theoretical context, some background information about the artist and the artist's intentions, technical specifications – and, at the same time, it aims to


the reader of the artwork's value.

When hung on a gallery wall, the statement (or "didactic") becomes an invitation, an explanation, and, often indirectly, an element of the installation itself.[4]

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The Art of Crafting Data-Driven Stories

This article is by Tableau, a software that helps you – the "business user" aka consumer of this product – visualize data and make it all look corporate sleek. In my view, these infographics (interesting in realm of semiotics) are the epitome of the problems of our  "data-driven story" future, which I substantiate using their own words below:


Popular culture is fueling a dystopian view of what machine learning can do.  

Machine learning is not great when your data is subjective. (all data is subjective)

We are familiar with how art and storytelling has helped influence the data analytics industry. 

That doesn’t come as a surprise.

What comes as a surprise is how the technical aspects of creating an analytical dashboard, previously reserved for IT and power users, is being taken over by users who understand the art of storytelling—a skill set primarily coming from the liberal arts.

Furthermore, organizations are placing a higher value on hiring workers who can use data and insights to affect change and drive transformation through art and persuasion, not only on the analytics itself.

As analytics evolves to be more art and less science, the focus has shifted from simply delivering the data to crafting data-driven stories that inevitably lead to decisions.

Organizations are embracing data at a much larger scale than ever before and the natural progression means more of an emphasis on storytelling and shaping data.

The golden age of data storytelling is upon us and somewhere within your organization is a data storyteller waiting to uncover your next major insight. 


(also in 10 featured videos, let's play "who gets to speak twice"?)

visual, questionsEssa Li

how to build spaces not around utility-maximizing principles, but rather around being present and with each other?

came across this very real crimson op-ed piece:

Harvard is known for being a networking mecca, but this attitude can often spill over from finance events into the dorms. People are commonly used as social capital, a goal to check off from the to-do list. This makes defining relationships between people tricky—is this a friendship or is this a social stepping stone, a transactional interaction that holds little weight, a meal that will never be grabbed?
— Jessenia C., Robert M

and so what about that meal 

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today I was talking to my friend Kevin about the nature of style and artistic identity. 

vsco emailed me about their new update... recipe as identity?


Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 18.00.40.png


save your favorite combination of edits to recreate looks that feel consistently you.

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who is in the gallery?

according to recent email newsletters from the Armory Show

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