Interview with Duncan Forbes, Curator of SITUATIONS at Fotomuseum Winterthur

Fotomuseum Winterthur launches its new exhibition programme titled SITUATIONS. This innovative platform offers a unique perspective on photographic culture in the digital age. Promoting itself as a new exhibition format, SITUATIONS challenges the boundaries of artistic interaction in the physical realm through an integration of the real with the virtual. Numbered consecutively, each project or SITUATION may take the form of photographic imagery, a film, a text, an on-line interview, a screenshot, a photo-book presentation, a projection, a Skype lecture or a performance, and is tethered by a series of curatorial tags and key clusters. We speak to director and co-curator of SITUATIONS Dr. Duncan Forbes about this apt and timely project which assesses our understanding of the photographic in a global and technological context.

A: SITUATIONS tracks the rapid development of photographic culture today. How does it enable audiences to engage with this subject matter?
DF: We plan to stage around 25 SITUATIONS a year, with both a physical and on-line presence. The programme is organised according to a series of curatorial clusters and each SITUATION is classified by a system of tags, allowing visitors subsequently to curate selections of SITUATIONS for themselves. We hope in this way to create a dynamic new format, accessible to a global audience, that also has a creative on-line afterlife.

A: The project promotes itself as a new exhibition format. Can you describe the structure and purpose of SITUATIONS?
DF: A key ambition is to create a format that combines physical and virtual forums without merely putting exhibitions on-line. So we will be staging interventions here in Winterthur which might include screenings, performances, book presentations, Skype-interviews etc., as well as the presentation of photography across various different formats and platforms. These will be supported with on-line content, but not simply repeated. A core purpose is to emphasise the way in which photography now moves across a wide range of platforms and media. The distinction between the still and moving image is also becoming increasingly blurred.

A: Modern technology greatly affects the way we live our day-to-day lives. In your opinion, how is this reflected in the artwork being created by younger generations?
DF: The traditional boundaries between different photographic media are breaking down, if they haven’t already been entirely erased. Increasingly we find ourselves speaking of ‘the photographic’, rather than ‘photography’, and ‘photographic media’, rather than ‘the medium’. The medium of photography is exposed to be a myth. It’s possible to theorise these questions, but for many artists today the fluidity of photographic media is entirely ordinary.

A: SITUATIONS draws on a vast range of work by emerging and established artists, such as Ryan Trecartin and Alec Soth. What dialogues do you hope to establish through such a diverse programme?
DF: The programme is diverse, but it is also organised intellectually through curatorial clusters, so we hope that dialogues are set up between the various projects in each cluster and also, eventually, between the various clusters themselves. The tagging system will then allow new, and hopefully surprising, dialogues to emerge as the SITUATIONS programme grows and develops. In a sense this programme also echoes the diversity of our media lives today.

A: How does this exhibition connect with the Fotomuseum Winterthur’s overall aims and goals?
DF: Historically, the Fotomuseum has a strong commitment to the discourse of photography (e.g. with our blog, still searching) and with SITUATIONS we want to continue to push at the limits of that discourse. And of course we also want to probe at the intersection between discourse and practice in relation to an expanding conception of the photographic. Another ambition is constantly to rethink the nature of the photography museum today, rather – as other museums are doing – settle into too static and settled an embrace of the medium.

SITUATIONS, until 10 July, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Grüzenstrasse 44, 8400 Winterthur, Switzerland.

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1. Alec Soth, Sue. Sierra Sky Oark. Fresno, California, 2002, from Songbook. Copyright of Alec Soth/Mack Books.