Researcher Blog by TC McCormack: The Immense Ventriloquism
About the author
TC McCormack is Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Sheffield Institute of Arts (SIA) and in C3RI’s Art & Design Research Centre (ADRC). TC’s practice-led research takes a multi-disciplinary approach using video, photography, collage, text and curatorial practice. His research incorporates subjects as diverse as the contradictions of modernist heritage; aesthetics of cultural memory and the possibility of language to delineate the relational affinities of forms.
TC McCormack‘s most recent exhibition, The Immense Ventriloquism, ran at nationalmuseum in Berlin throughout December 2017. The Immense Ventriloquism featured work by TC McCormack along with items he curated from eight other artists. In this post, TC reflects on the build up to the show and gives an insight into the novel curatorial approach he employed.
The Immense Ventriloquism
Although this exhibition largely featured work by me, I will focus on a structure that presented work by eight artists. Their art objects were arranged on a low wide platform, and animated patterns were projected onto this assemblage. This hybrid platform isn’t so easy to define as it’s neither a discrete art object nor is it a purely curated collection of art works. It manages to be both.
The platform featured work by: Matthew Burbidge, Ingo Gerken, Sonja Burbidge, Marie von Heyl, Wolf von Kries, Michael Schultze, Lea Torp Nielsen & Oliver Zwink. These artist’s, bar one, are based in Berlin. I’ve followed their careers with real interest, a few I’ve worked with in different capacities, but I was delighted they all agreed to participate.
I should say more about the animated patterns, as they are integral to this structure. In the lead up to the exhibition I designed a series of patterns using digital software.
They all share a similar purpose: to alter and disorientate a viewer’s ability to read the formal qualities of an art object. Each pattern activates and acts upon assembled art objects in different ways. Some fragment the surface qualities and others use geometric colour to dissolve the sculptural forms. It was essential to consider the conditions this projected pattern set when curating the collection of art objects. I was questioning if the form, material and surface qualities could stand up to being placed within the projection space.
When I first made contact with the artists, mostly via email, I wasn’t at all certain that they would trust my proposal. I was asking them to take part in quite an unconventional form of curation. I knew it was vital to explain my aims for the exhibition, the thinking behind this recalcitrant curation, my intentions for their work, and to try and help them imagine their work within an assemblage structure. 
The correspondence was quite different with each artist. With some we went into great detail on the nature of this curation proposition, or we discussed particular and/or combinations of art objects; a few wanted to know how the projection could affect an art work, etc. This communication was a necessary investment of time and it was incredibly valuable. It made me question and account for everything in advance of the install. I spoke with Raaf van der Sman at nationalmuseum, who from the beginning coolly facilitated the whole project. I also discussed the curatorial structure with Matthew Burbidge, for as well as being an artist, his experience as a curator in Berlin was invaluable.
Berlin studio visits
On arrival in Berlin I made straight for nationalmuseum. In those initial few days I mainly focused on setting up and situating the video and audio technology, which always takes much more time that you wish it would. On day three I was able to get out. I travelled about Berlin to visit the studios of five of the featured artists. One of the artists, Oliver Zwink, generously drove around the studios with me, and even though we set off early, we still hadn’t left the last studio at 10pm.
Seeing an artist’s work within the context of their studio, instantly delivers insight to their creative sensibility. You can get some awareness of the material relations at play, and can just make more connections within their practice.
It’s also interesting to see differences between each studio. Wolf’s studio was an open plan live-work apartment with panoramic views over the city … which is quite fitting for his practice; whereas Michael’s space was an Aladdin’s cave of sculptural gestures and materials. Marie’s studio had a cool considered aesthetic, order reigned here. It helped that in the weeks before these meetings, each artist and I had started a process of selecting their work, so we had narrowed down the options in advance.
There is an accumulated effect. When you visit artist’s studios back-to-back you get a better understanding of how different art objects will coexist and relate, and how an assembled collection can coalesce. These studio visits were the most heightened experience of the install period. I enjoyed the exchanges with the artists, we quickly developed a kind of shorthand understanding. Looking back, I now see how many decisions were made in what was a relatively short timescale. The preparation we all did, of course played a part in this.
Installing The Immense Ventriloquism
How the install progressed over the following days is a bit of a blur. Once all the art objects were brought together in the gallery space, unboxed and unwrapped, the process of installing was relatively painless: it seemed to just flow. The platform was soon resolved and the assembled art works coexisted without any real resistance, it did require rearrangements.
A few artists had lent more than one piece, and this proved invaluable, as having an slightly expanded collection made for a better selection and arrangement on the platform. Ingo Gerken was the only artist who needed to come in to install his piece, as part of his work needed to be suspend from the ceiling and drop down to an exact spot a few millimetres above an image-object that lay upon the platform.
 One of the patterns was originally used to cloak the physical form of prototype automobiles; by negating the auto-focus technology in digital cameras. I redesigned this pattern.
 To call this form of curation recalcitrant, is not meant as a challenge to the art object’s agency, but rather the aim is to elevate the assemblage’s agency. This is a recognition of the actant conditions and accumulative affect of the assemblage platform.
Image credits: TC McCormack, 2017.
Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SHU, C3RI or the C3RI Impact Blog.