Curator-in-ResidenceComing to Encounter

Gallery TPW R&D, Toronto, 2012-13

Commissioned by curator Kim Simon as part of Gallery TPW’s 18 months of programming under the title and rubric of “R&D” (or research and development), this yearlong series of discursive programs examined the aesthetic strategies employed by artists and photographers to prepare viewers for an encounter with difficult knowledge. Titled “Coming to Encounter,” the curatorial residency emerged out of several years’ worth of conversations about photography and difficult knowledge that have taken place in and around Gallery TPW, and proposed an experimental approach to finding contexts and frameworks where this discussion could be elaborated and tested in public.

“Coming to Encounter” proposed that the framing devices used by artists to present traumatic events—especially those that trouble an easy viewing experience—serve an important pedagogical function. Photo-based practices provide forceful viewing experiences because they seem to offer the viewer a direct encounter with others. Yet our readings of photographs are highly contingent and change depending on the context in which we view an image, at times prompting feelings of empathy and identification, at others discomfort and rage. Positing discursive events as another set of framing devices, “Coming to Encounter” questioned how we make sense of our affective responses to images, suggesting this knowledge is always latent and necessarily incomplete.

Inspired by pedagogy theorist Deborah Britzman’s writing about difficult knowledge—the concept that learning from representations of social trauma is a psychically difficult task because it forces us to question our very sense of self—“Coming to Encounter” looked at works by a variety of contemporary artists, documentarians and photojournalists to initiate a dialogue about what it means to be affected by our encounters with images. Comprised of a panel discussion about unshowable images, an online blog, regular meetings of No Looking After the Internet, and an exhibition of Jason Lazarus’s Too Hard to Keep project, “Coming to Encounter” aimed to prolong the viewer’s encounter with images, experimenting with different modes of presentation and extended temporalities for interpretation. For this reason, the series took place in the discursive spaces around the traditional gallery exhibition, emphasizing the diverse contexts in which the photographic encounter occurs.