ISSUE 2 Curators’ Living Rooms
Curating Topography

Looking at the current art world, the main locations of art activities are still mainly art museums. In fact, from modern art to contemporary art, so-called “art” has always taken “gaze” as its core, constructed a logical aesthetic framework of “representation” based on authors, works, and viewers, and built an abstract space, usually a museum or a gallery, out of the context of daily life and social context as a field for displaying works of art.

However, there are still many peripheral places around the world lacking art galleries or museums, so do these places have contemporary art? If the answer is no, what exactly caused this result? If the answer is yes, what are the different artistic practices of these local artists’ creations, thoughts, and actions? How does curation deal with this kind of geographical disparity?

This article presents the curatorial practice with “place” as its core from the perspective of “curating topography”. Curating topography appropriates an aesthetic of cognitive mapping as advocated by Fredric Jameson(Jameson 1991), in an attempt to give individual subjectivity by enhancing a new sense of place in a global system, and to reproduce a new model of representation with complex dialectics in order to position oneself more accurately and enhance the ability to understand the world, and then accurately represent the imaginary relationship between the self and the real world. Cognitive mapping is about positioning ourselves and knowing the world, and “place” is also a way to see, to know, and to understand the world.

If we look at the world as being composed of different places, we can see different things. If self-orientation is based on the starting point of cognitive mapping, then “place” is the anchor of self-identity and worldview. Social practice and knowledge production based on curating topography emphasizes “situation knowledge” that focuses on geographic and cultural specificities, rather than universal knowledge. The purpose is to establish an aesthetic concept connected with life and treat the multitude as active participants rather than passive “gazers”, and regard the place as a becoming art field. From the perspective of curating topography, whether or not there is an art museum or gallery, there are fields for presenting art everywhere. The places in curating topography refer to both physical fields and virtual abstract spaces.

Curating Topography

I. Reshaping the Art Field
There are different versions of the starting point of Western modern art, but generally speaking, the reputation of Impressionism as a pioneer of modern art usually does not cause much controversy. Pierre Bourdieu believed that Édouard Manet and the subsequent Impressionists subverted tradition in ethics and aesthetics, and opened up a new era in modern Western advocates the aesthetics of “art autonomy” and “art for art’s sake” (Bourdieu 1993: 238). Prior to this, the artistic field dominated by traditional painting styles, mainly academic and neoclassical, emphasized the readability of content and superb skill (Bourdieu 1993: 239-250). The reason why this academic aesthetic dominated French art at the time was mainly derived from the Roman Prize, established by Emperor Louis XIV in 1666 to encourage young French artists. Winners could be funded by the government to study at the French Academy in Rome. As a result, the aesthetics represented by the Rome Grand Prix became the basic training content of the academy of arts, and the highest mentor behind it was the state, the French government (Bourdieu 1993: 241-242). This complete set of academic aesthetic control over artists was based on a structure of collective conspiracy, forming an art field where nations, artists, people, and judges were interdependent (Bourdieu 1993: 250-253).

The emergence of Manet and Impressionism led to the collapse of the collusive structure of academic representatives, opening up the modern aesthetics of “representation” that emphasized “gaze” as the core and the relatively autonomous development of the art field. The development of the entire process included the internal factors of the art field (self-reflection and criticism within the art circle), external factors of social culture (population growth and the expansion of education led to the emergence of bohemian lifestyles that demand pure art), and their interrelationships (Bourdieu, 1993: 113-115). This new aesthetics and artistic autonomy, although allowing artists to refute and reject external requirements and to follow the principles and norms of the art field itself, thus marking autonomy, has also made the art field more and more closed (Bourdieu, 1993: 266). At the same time, the process of this art field towards autonomy must rely on all art participants to share common aesthetic perceptions, tendencies, and habits and must continue to promote and reproduce through education, visiting art galleries, and other activities. Among them, the aesthetic perception ability includes a decoding process (Bourdieu 1993: 226-227). Therefore, this so-called autonomous art field is actually only open to those who are capable of artistic perception, and excludes those who do not have this ability (Bourdieu 1993: 236-237).

Manet and Impressionism brought innovation, but also led to another kind of closedness. The key lies in the aesthetic logic of “gaze” and “representation”. This logic is both a means of autonomy in the art field and a “wall” causing closedness. Such aesthetic logic is long and tenacious, despite being challenged by a variety of artistic concepts or aesthetic beliefs. To this day, however, it is still pursued without doubt in many places. Many contemporary theorists have challenged such aesthetic logic such as Nicolas Bourriaud, Jacques Rancière, Grant H. Kester, and Claire Bishop. Bourriaud argues that exhibitions can generate a “zones de communication” (arena of exchange), which seems to reject the aesthetic logic of gaze and representation:

The exhibition is the special place where such momentary groupings may occur, governed as they are by differing principles. And depending on the degree of participation required of the onlooker by the artist, along with the nature of the works and the models of sociability proposed and represented, and exhibition will give rise to a specific “arena of exchange”. And this “arena of exchange,” must judged on the basis of aesthetic criteria, in other words, by analyzing the coherence of its form, and then the symbolic value of the “world” it suggests to us, and of the image of human relations reflected by it. Within this social interstice, the artist must assume the symbolic models he shows. All representation (though contemporary art models more than it represents, and fits into the social fabric more than it draws inspiration therefrom) refers to values that can be transposed into the society. As a human activity based on commerce, art is at once the object and the subject of an ethic. And this all the more so because, unlike other activities, its sole function is to be exposed to this commerce. Art is a state of encounter. ( Bourriau, 2002: 17-18)

Marco Casagrade, ‘Oystermen’, “Floating Islands”, curated by Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo,Kinmen, Taiwan, 2013. A public environmental artwork, located on a tidal shore along a tidal road connecting Great Kinmen to the little island towards Xiamen. This area is a oyster habitat, , and the feet of the sculpture are already covered with oysters. Photo by Hsinying Wu.

Bourriaud emphasized that “art is a state of encounter” and a special “arena of exchange”, pushing the “representation” that has been emphasized since modern art developed as such; however, the generation of the “arena of exchange” must be “depending on the degree of participation required of the onlooker by the artist, along with the nature of the works and the models of sociability proposed and represented.” I’m puzzled that in the mind of Bourriaud, the artist is a privileged person who can make demands of the audience. Although this principle seems to guarantee the “artistic autonomy” of the artist as the subject, it ignores the rights of the viewer. Although the “spectator” does not necessarily use pure “gazing” for artistic perception, he/she must obey the rules set by the artist. Therefore, such “relational aesthetics” still inevitably form a closed art field, and those who do not understand its aesthetic principles must not enter.
Although, Bourriaud claimed that Utopia can only exist on “a subjective, daily basis”, and that “The artwork is presented as a social interstice” which makes “life possibilities”, among them, “It seems more pressing to invent possible relations with our neighbors in the present than to bet on happier tomorrows”. If such an utopia is still dominated by artists who have the privilege of setting rules, then what he called “to invent possible relations with our neighbors” is still a relationship of power imbalance.
Bourriaud also put forward his views on how art responds to the problem of “progress”:

These days we are no longer trying to advance by means of conflictual clashes, by way of the invention of new assemblages, possible relations between distinct units, and alliances struck up between different partners. Aesthetic contracts, like social contracts, are abided by for what they are. Nobody nowadays has idea about ushering in the golden age on Earth, and we are readily prepared just to create various forms of modus vivendi permitting fairer social relations, more compact ways of living, and many different combinations of fertile existence. Art, likewise, is no longer seeking to represent Utopias; rather, it is attempting to construct concrete spaces. (Bourriau, 2002: 21)


The “conflictual clashes” were not a method of progress that he agreed with, but through “alliances struck up between different partners”, “abided by for what they are” and “aesthetic contracts, like social contracts.” In such a “progress”, “art is no longer seeking to represent Utopias; rather, it is attempting to construct concrete spaces.” However, my doubt is that Bourriaud’s “alliances” are based on the “aesthetic contracts, like social contracts”. If such a contract still has to go through the “decoding” process, then the alliance between partners is still an unequal relationship. At the same time, he did not understand the relationship between the so-called “construct concrete space” and the real-life space “abided by for what they are”. If such a “space” is still based on an “aesthetic principle” prescribed by the artist, then the space formed by his “relational aesthetics” is still a space that is selective rather than free in and out for everyone.

What is Jacques Rancière’s point view? Since he also rejected the aesthetic logic of “gaze” and “representation”, he proposed the concept of “aesthetic heterotopia”:

What is thus at the heart of the aesthetic ex- perience can be called a “heterotopia.” I use this term independently of the use that Foucault made of it. “Heterotopia” means a certain way of thinking of the “heteron” or the “other”: the other as the effect of a reconfiguration of the distribution of places, identities, and capacities. The conceptualization of the beautiful in Kant’s Analytic constructs a heterotopia, since it subtracts the form of the palace from the various “topoi” within which it is located either as a functional architectural build- ing or a place of power, an exhibition of aristocratic pride, an object of social or moral reprobation, etc. It does not add another topos to all the topoi that were defined by the ethical configuration. Instead it creates a point where all those locations and the oppositions they de- fine are neutralized. In the same way, the description of the little beggars is a heterotopia, a point of rupture of the relation between social characterization and artistic appreciation. The gaze of the joiner through the window also constructs a heterotopia as it produces a disjunction between the eye and the hands, a disruption in the relation between a concrete place in space and a place in the ethical order of the community. What is common to all those forms of aesthetic heterotopia is the determination of a place of the indeterminate, a place anyone can occupy. (Rancière 2020: 20-21)
Although Rancière also emphasized the importance of “aesthetics”, he established “heterotopia” as the core of the aesthetic experience, and used it differently than Michel Foucault did.
Heterotopia represents a particular way of imagining the “heteron” or “other”. Heterotopia creates “a disruption in the relation between a concrete place in space and a place in the ethical order of the community.” It is important to “disrupt” and imagine “a reconfiguration of the distribution of places, identities, and capacities”; and “what is common to all those forms of aesthetic heterotopia is the determination of a place of the indeterminate”, “a place anyone can occupy”. It is precisely because of the positive initiative of “aesthetic heterotopia” that the aesthetic imagination proposed by Rancière opens the closedness of the art field and makes it open to all. In his book The Emancipated Spectator, Rancière proposes the concept of “a theatre without spectators.” He pointed out that theaters involving the behavior of gaze are evil; therefore, we need new theaters where the audience will no longer be the spectators, but will become active participants in a collective performance rather than passive voyeurs. In Rancière’s theory, spectators and representations no longer apply the aesthetic logic of modern art aesthetics. These spectators have been emancipated, become participants, and can also imagine or construct an “aesthetic heterotopia”.
According to the long-term study by Grant H. Kester, the mainstream world is paying more and more attention to the art practice of social engagement. In this type of art, the artist is no longer just staying in the studio for personal artistic creation, but actively and positively provides a temporary spatial framework for participants to cooperate and dialogue in a wide and diverse context. The focus of the art project is to provide a creative space for communication.
However, Bishop criticized Grant H. Kester (using his Conversation Pieces (2004) as an example) and other books that affirm social participatory art such as Suzanne Lacy’s Mapping the Terrain (1995), Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local (1997), and Erik Hagoort’s Good Intention: Judging the Art of Encounter (2005). She claimed that “In each of these examples, the status of the artist’s intentionality (e.g., their humble lack of authorship) is privileged over a discussion of the work’s artistic identity. This line of thinking has led to an ethically charged climate in which participatory and socially engaged art has become largely exempt from art criticism: emphasis is continually shifted away from the disruptive specificity of a given practice and onto a generalised set of ethical precepts” (Bishop 2012: 23) and she concluded that this ethical turn “was initiated by identity politics, emphasizing” respect for the other, recognition of difference, protection of fundamental liberties, and a concern for human rights (Bishop 2012: 25) and the biggest problem in these projects relating to social engagement is “its disavowed relationship to the aesthetic (Bishop 2012: 26). Therefore, she acclaimed Rancière’s claim about aesthetics:
One of Rancière’s key contributions to contemporary debates around art and politics is therefore to reinvent the term ‘aesthetic’ so that it denotes a specific mode of experience, including the very linguistic and theoretical domain in which thought about art takes place. In this logic, all claims to be ‘anti-aesthetic’ or reject art still function within the aesthetic regime. The aesthetic for Rancière therefore signals an ability to think contradiction: the productive contradiction of art’s relationship to social change, which is characterised by the paradox of belief in art’s autonomy and in it being inextricably bound to the promise of a better world to come. While this antinomy is apparent in many avant-garde practices of the last century, it seems particularly pertinent to analysing participatory art and the legitimating narratives it has attracted. In short, the aesthetic doesn’t need to be sacrificed at the altar of social change, because it always already contains this ameliorative promise. (Bishop 2012: 29)
In addition, Bishop cited Jacque Lacan’s ethics of psychoanalysis and agreed with Lacan:
Setting individual jouissance against the application of a universal maxim, Lacan argues that it is more ethical for the subject to act in accordance with his or her (unconscious) desire than to modify his or her behaviour for the eyes of the Big Other (society, family, law, expected norms). Such a focus on individual needs does not denote a foreclosure of the social; on the contrary, individual analysis always takes place against the backdrop of society’s norms and pressures. (Bishop 2012: 39)
If Bishop takes Lacan’s following unconscious desire as the criterion of subjective ethics, then what she calls “Rather than addressing this by collapsing art and ethics together, the task today is to produce a viable international alignment of leftist political movements and a reassertion of art’s inventive forms of negation as valuable in their own right (Bishop 2012: 284) seems to be an impossible task because all forms of “alliances” are bound to form some kind of repression of individual unconscious desires. She concludes in her work:
In using people as a medium, participatory art has always had a double ontological status: it is both an event in the world, and at one remove from it. As such, it has the capacity to communicate on two levels – to participants and to spectators – the paradoxes that are repressed in everyday discourse, and to elicit perverse, disturbing and pleasurable experiences that enlarge our capacity to imagine the world and our relations anew. But to reach the second level requires a mediating third term – an object, image, story, film, even a spectacle – that permits this experience to have a purchase on the public imaginary. Participatory art is not a privileged political medium, nor a ready-made solution to a society of the spectacle, but is as uncertain and precarious as democracy itself; neither are legitimated in advance but need continually to be performed and tested in every specific context. (Bishop 2012: 284)
Perhaps, as Bishop herself said, participatory art “is both an event in the world, and at one remove from it”, as it can convey the contradictions and paradoxes in daily life, and allows us to “enlarge our capacity to imagine the world and our relations anew.” Moreover, it is always indeterminate and “needs continually to be performed and tested in every specific context.”
I believe that Bishop’s so-called “need continually to be performed and tested in every specific context”, in fact, is like other theoretical writings mentioned in this article. All ignore the “specific context” of each different place and culture. As the paradox in the Rancière’s aesthetic theory, “belief in art’s autonomy and in it being inextricably bound to the promise of a better world to come.” The definition of “art” in “art’s autonomy” may also be different in the context of different places. The theoretical writings mentioned above all suffer from the same problems, and they believe that their theories are universal and valid everywhere. However, I believe that all theoretical systems or knowledge frameworks have their specific cultural backgrounds and are not necessarily valid everywhere. Therefore, I respond to Bishop’s so-called participatory art that “needs continually to be performed and tested in every specific context” and with Rancière’s aesthetic theory of “belief in art’s autonomy and in it being inextricably bound to the promise of a better world to come“ with “curating topography”. The key is to use the real “place” as the “specific context.” As for the contradiction between “ethics” and “aesthetics”, I believe that “ethics” is the ultimate good of “the promise of a better world to come”, and “aesthetics” is the insistence on “art’s autonomy”. The cognition and criterion of “a better world to come” and “art’s autonomy” should be based on a specific context. This article uses “place” to represent that specific context.

En-Man Chang, ‘Milky Way’, 2020 Green Island Human Rights Art Festival “If on the margin, draw a coordinate”, curated by Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo. This work is located in the original guard house, and intends to reconnect the split space-time under political governance between Taiwan, Orchid Island and Green Island. Photo by Chi-wei Pan.  2020 Green Island Human Rights Art Festival “If on the margin, draw a coordinate”:  

II. Curating Topography
The “curating topography” I propose here is a curatorial art topography, and its main concepts can be briefly represented by the curating topography graph (Figure 1). The most central part is “beginning points”, which refers to the beginning points of “cognitive mapping”. Curating topography appropriates the aesthetics of cognitive mapping as initiated by Fredric Jameson (Jameson 1991: 54) in an attempt to give individual subjectivity by enhancing a new sense of place under the global system, and to create a new representation with complex representational dialectics in order to locate oneself more accurately and enhance one’s ability to understand the world, and accurately represent the imaginary relationship between the self and reality. These “beginning points” are similar to the “standpoint” and “viewpoint” of traditional landscape painters. It is also the beginning point of contemporary curating topography. From the “beginning points”, curating topography attempts to present a spatial representation with a sense of place and lay a real foundation for the positioning of the subject.
The “sense of place” in the outer circle and the concentric of the “beginning points” is another starting point of curating topography, and it is also one of its goals. Cognitive mapping is about positioning ourselves and knowing the world. Place is also a way to see, know, and understand the world (Cresswell 2004: 11). If we look at the world as a world of places, we can see different things. If “beginning points” are the self-positioning points of cognitive mapping, then “place” is the anchor of identity and worldview. As David Harrey puts it, “Places are sites of collective memories that hold out the prospects for different futures” (Harvey 2009: 178-179). Places, seen as the foundation of resistance politics, activating the environment and society by condensing local characteristics and the revival of collective memory, are important forces operating against the flow and monetization of capitalist commodities. However, Harvey also particularly emphasized the dangers of exclusive nationalism and local fascism. If memories and local concepts belonging to a place are closely connected and difficult to share with outsiders, it will form insurmountable barriers and exclusive nationalism and localism. Perhaps the sense of place expressed in an artistic language can transcend local limitations and gain greater universality due to a shared artistic vocabulary. In addition, the imaginary “place” has strong power because it is separated from reality and the past, faces the future, is driven by a “quasi-utopia” thought and desire, and plays a more important role in politics. Then what is better than art to describe the utopian imagination? In the reality of art under globalization, the biennials and art fairs that are everywhere are the mainstream art trends, which not only become the main operating mechanism of global art’s convergence, but also play an important part of the capitalist transnational economy. Attempting to break through this mechanism that limits artistic energy and kills artistic creativity, perhaps “curating topography” will be a possible way out.
In “curating topography”, the art derived from cognitive mapping and the sense of place represents a certain kind of “landscape” of place, which I call “being landscapes” and “becoming landscapes “. These two types of “landscape” have a causal relationship with “sense of place”. However, landscape is different from place. Landscape in general combines tangible landforms (landforms to be seen or to be represented) and viewpoints (ways of looking). Most of the viewers are outside of the landscape; on the contrary, most of the viewers are in the place. In the “being landscape” and “becoming landscape”, which are also shaped from the “beginning points” of cognitive mapping, the viewer can walk through the landscape inside and outside through imagination and construct a cognitive mapping of a place—“a sense of place. ” In the end, the “being landscape” and “becoming landscape”, which originated from the sense of place, will also become new elements that make up the sense of place and together complete a huge collage of the place. In short, “being landscape” is similar to the ethical description of the place of “ultimate good”; and “becoming landscape” is all kinds of reimagining of the relationship between us and the world based on “art’s autonomy”. The key is to generate what Rancière calls “aesthetic heterotopia.” “Cognitive mapping” is the basic method for artists, curators, etc. and other individuals as participants to clarify the specific context of “place”. “Place” is a real place, and it is also what Foucault calls a “heterotopia.” With the “place” as the design of the “art field”, the “place” can become a “heterotopia” of various natures.
“Landscape” is a complex vocabulary with diverse meanings in different times, regions, and disciplines. In the humanities such as art, physical geography, human geography, architecture, urban studies, anthropology, sociology, and ecology, are not only often-used academic terms, but also keywords that cover the development context of various disciplines. I think that contemporary Polish geographer Mauriusz Czepczynski’s interdisciplinary “landscape” study based on geography has provided a very valuable reference for thinking about contemporary art practice. Mauriusz Czepczynski’s diverse interpretation of landscape encompasses three comprehensive definitions: landscape as form or artistic imagination, landscape as function or territorial complex, and landscape as meaning or communication system (landscape as meaning or system of communication). Landscape has the longest history in the arts. It can be traced back to the early 15th century in European academic history. As an artistic imaginary form of natural beauty and spiritual activity, the development of landscape painting is related to human curiosity and fantasy about nature, to alleviate fear of nature and to produce a belief in harmony with nature through descriptive symbols. Among them, the points of view of the painter or viewer, landscape interpreter, and the subject of their observation (a specific part of the natural land) play a key role. Extending the thinking of the viewpoint can be linked to the question of landscape as meaning and communication system. The landscape not only depicts the appearance of the land, but also shows the specific way in which the land is viewed, and hides the imagination of spatial order and the manipulation of visual illusions. Landscape has become a specific, spatial, and large-scale ideographic system that connects nature and culture; “Landscape can carry many types of communications: an identity, a political statement and a scene for social rituals” (Czepczynski 2008: 15). Landscape as function or territorial complex are often associated with mapping and a sense of place. They cannot only play the characteristics and functions of a place, but also often become a choice for local development used for production, exchange, and consumption, such as protected culture, heritage or landscape resources used for sightseeing. The landscape as a meaning or system of communication presents potential conflicts, chaos, and anxiety in human history because “cultural landscape then can be a synthesis of history and space, of memories and places, connotations and material forms, always changing and re-contexted” (Czepczynski 2008: 15).
According to Tuan Yi-Fu’s research, as we become more aware of space and gradually give it value, the chaotic space begins to become a place from the beginning. He believes that space is a field of movement and openness, and that place is a field of suspension and rest. Space is more suitable as an abstract concept of rational science, and place is suitable for referring to values such as security and belonging (Tuan 2001: 5-6). It makes sense to distinguish such places and spaces. Therefore, we will use the sense of place to describe concepts related to collective memory and belonging, but not the sense of space. However, in space theory, social space or relational space is often confused with the concept of place. Harvey used the “space matrix” to illustrate space theory, and the concepts he invoked mainly presented spatial structure in two dimensions. The first dimension labels the three different properties of space as absolute, relative, and relational, corresponding to three different philosophies of space of Newton, Descartes, Kant, Einstein, and Leibniz. Philosophy, the second dimension, is mainly based on the theory of Henri Lefebvre, based on the classification of space through the spaces of material practices, representations of space, and spaces of representation, corresponding to three spatial concepts: experienced, conceived, and lived. According to the combined analysis of different intersections of this matrix diagram, complex spatial meanings will be derived. Harvey believes that there is no philosophical answer to the concept of space. The key lies in human practice. In addition, compared with the heterotopia of Michel Foucault’s concept of absolute space, Harvey pushed the concept of heterotopia further by using Lefebvre’s concept of relativity and relational space-time, not only embedded in the dialectical concept of the city, even in the myths and memories, morals, ethics, and rights, which are cultural concepts in the abstract space and immaterial realm, are also included in the political battle of heterotopia. In other words, in Harvey’s exposition, the concept of space-time that is truly “critical, autonomous, and emancipatory” is exactly such that it is between reality and imagination, calling for relative and relational space production, and operating dialectically in the actual living space and also acting on the heterotopia of abstract immaterial cultural space.(Harvey 2009: 134-148)

Based on such a space theory, I agree with Harvey that the most difficult thing is to understand how relationality works in order to explore the morals, ethics, and rights of space through free geography, and then to pursue universal justice. In fact, this is also the positive significance of the analysis of space theory for “curating topography”. In addition, “situated knowledge” is an important reference coordinate for finding a starting point for cognitive mapping. Situated knowledge1 aims to focus on geographic and cultural specificity rather than universality. Cognitive mapping focuses on people’s real situations in the context of multiple materials and cultures; therefore, situational knowledge replaces the so-called “objective” knowledge of decontextualization, degenderization, and de-individualization. The key to “curating topography” is to find the “beginning point” of cognitive mapping, to position itself, and to artistically represent the relationship between the self and the world, as well as the real situations of individuals and collectives. It becomes the recognition of place based on the recognition of space., shaping the open sense of place by giving the place a certain collective memory, cultural scenery, and a sense of belonging. This sense of place also serves as a reference point for the connection between the self and the world to develop a map of relational cognitive mapping, and to think about the issues of environment, history, politics, and aesthetics.

1 My main reference of situated knowledge is Donna Haraway “Situated Knowledges: the Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14(3): 597-599 , 1988.

Gieh-wen Lin, ‘Nation Is Not Home’,  2019 Green Island Human Rights Art Festival “Visiting No.15 Liumagou”, curated by Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo. Touching on the complexity and fragmentation of identity, the work is displayed on three round tables at the original site of the commissary. The combination of the tables and the couplet “Full of Friends; Gathering of Guests” at the entrance construct for visitors a diverse space open to imagination. Photo by Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo.  2019 Green Island Human Rights Art Festival “Visiting No.15 Liumagou”:    

I believe that the “beginning point” of cognitive mapping must also be a relational beginning point, like meeting with “others” and “other places”. This “beginning point” is not the main structure of the “mirror stage” described by Lacan in that the child sees himself/herself in the reflection of the mirror, but the meeting with “others” and “other places” the is the beginning of the construction of the relational subject in cognitive mapping. Refining the being landscape and becoming landscape through the imagination and construction of the “sense of place”, and together we can create a place where each individual in the collective can “be at ease in place”. In this place, each encounter can share an effective communication system, mutually agreed values, and a civilized vision of tolerance for cultural differences.
However, for scholars such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and bell hooks, the willingness of Western scholars to learn about other places is questionable:
Furthermore, Spivak and others have questioned the degree to which academics and other ‘experts’ in the west really do want an engagement with people elsewhere, an engagement which would require a decentring of themselves as experts. Bell hooks’s (1990) autobiographical approach tells a similar tale to Spivak in her attempt to be heard from the margins of society. For her, the margins are a site of ‘radical possibility’ (hooks, 1990: 341) which rejects the politics of inside and outside, as ‘to be on the margins is to be part of the whole but outside the main body’. It is a knowledge which she believes offers a unique and important perspective that is not distorted by the prejudices of the centre. However, hooks has felt silenced by Western academics who seek the experience, but not the wisdom, of the other. She argues that ‘I was made “other” there in that space … they did not meet me there in that space. They met me at the center’ (hooks, 1990: 342). (Sharp 2009: 112)
How to meet in a real place, “in that space”, is important for curating topography, which is also a very critical condition for a place to become an art field. Only when they meet in the real place, the map of the place drawn by cognitive mapping will not simply become an imaginary depiction of an abstract space. In real places with real bodies facing each other, it is possible to truly communicate each other’s descriptions and imaginations of the place; furthermore, it is possible to form an equal alliance relationship with each other based on a place as a field of art.

Ding-Yeh Wang, ‘My dear, kiss me and goodbye’, 2020 Green Island Human Rights Art Festival “If on the margin, draw a coordinate”, curated by Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo. This artwork is located by the entrance of the Oasis Villa, in the middle of the Bagua Building. WANG Ding-Yeh has transformed the space, which was originally a place of incarceration that was under surveillance, into one that is lyrical and full of sentiments. Emotive words are shaped with neon light tubes, with the social setting experienced by people when they come to the site redefined during the exhibition period. The artwork wields an unusually gentle gesture that strikes back at the violence of the state machine. Photo by Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo.   2020 Green Island Human Rights Art Festival “If on the margin, draw a coordinate”:  

III. Place: Becoming Art Field
For Bourdieu, the art field is a race and game full of power. Not only does it compete with the political field for the right to define works of art, but artists also compete for the right to speak about art perception and appreciation. The art field is a site of constant negotiation and conflict (Bourdieu 1993: 106-107). However, Bourdieu still reminded us from the standpoint of the oppressed to expose the domination of the oppressed in cultural and artistic fields.
From the perspective of curating topography, the game and competition of power always exist; however, the purpose of cognitive mapping is to expose this real current situation and use it to depict the relationship between the self and the world. That is to say, different power relations will be presented through different relational cognitive mappings. Curating topography is a method of art that emphasizes that everyone is an active participant. This art field conducted by place is open to everyone and highlights the power of place in the real world. This art field tries hard to avoid the harm of dogmatism and collective violence to individual uniqueness (individual differences). If “cognitive mapping” starting from “place” seeks a common situation, that is, “commonality”, then the cognitive mapping based on the individual emphasizes the uniqueness of individual subjects even more. Based on different situational knowledge, thinking about the arguments about environment, history, politics, and aesthetics, in the end, giving individuals the possibility of artistic practice to shape the openness of place. Every individual can create tiny “artistic heterotopia” and “arena of exchange” in this real space and thereby interfere with the original power structure and existing paradigm, and furthermore reconstruct it. In the end, the art practice based on curating topography is devoted to the construction of individualized “aesthetic discourses”, imagine plural “artistic heterotopias”, and weave network-shaped and diverse “arenas of exchange”.
Just like the dialectic utopia discussed by Jean Baudrillard, utopia is a fundamental modification of the existing order. The realized utopia is a new place that will be subject to new criticism and attract newer utopias. Utopia is a stage of theoretical construction and can only exist as part of a dialectical utopia.(Baudrillard 2006: 31-32) Only through a dialectically updated utopia can we articulate new ideals of curating topography, both inside and outside the current system.
Every individual is pursuing a sense of belonging to the place, and from the place where the individual belongs, traces the imagination of the world, thereby establishing a connection with the world. Artists are no exception. As Terry Smith said, artists desire to maintain self in a place that has a clear connection with other places, and at the same time, face the differences that exist around the world to build a common future need. Placemaking is important to everyone because it is the core of identity. (Smith 2019: 198-199)

However, many people have never been able to feel a sense of belonging to any place. They are always outsiders and in a placeless state. Or, there are some places called non-places because of anonymity or lack of meaning in the environment in which we live, such as a highway, airport, or shopping mall. Therefore, curating topography not only pays attention to individual differences, but also a brand-new community discourse. It does not seek the integrity of the place that is still lost, but seeks a brand-new place focusing on the cultural imagination of the invisible subjects/unclassifiable multitude. The key is to regard the place as an open art field, a platform for communication and exchange, and a public space that condenses the imagination of the community, a “critical, liberatory, and emancipatory” (Harvey 2009: 161) concept of time and space, and is also a heterotopia between reality and imagination, calling for the production of the relative and relational space, and both dialectically operating in the actual living space and acting on the abstract immaterial cultural space. In this way, “place” has become a constantly changing art field. In the end, curating topography provides a concrete place as a context “to promise a better future world.”


* The first draft of this article was published in the 32nd issue of “Journal of Taipei Fine Art Museum” as “Place: The Becoming Art Field”, and it is also part of the author’s doctoral dissertation “Curating Topography” which is expected to be completed a year later. “Curating Topography” is a curatorial method that the author has been thinking and practicing in recent years.


Baudrillard, Jean. translated by Stuart Kendall, Utopia Deferred: Writings from Utopie(1967-1978), Semiotext(e), 2006.

Bishop, Clair, Artificial Hell: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, London and New York: Verso, 2012.Bourdieu, Pierre. The field of cultural production: Essays on art and literature. R. Johnson, Ed.Oxford, UK: Polity Press. 1993.

──. The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field. Susan Emanuel trans. Stanford:Stanford University Press, 1996.

Bourriand, Nicolas, translated by Simon Pleasance & Fronza Woods with the Patriciation of Mathien Copeland, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du real, 2002.

Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Blackwell , 2004.
Haraway, Donna. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14(3): 597-599 , 1988.

Harvey, David. Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.
Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, The cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.
Massey, Doreen. Space, Place and Gender. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.
Michel Foucault. “Texts/Contexts of Other Spaces.”Diacritics, 1986.16(1). 22-7.
Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics. Gabriel Rockhill trans. London: Continuum, 2004.
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Sharp, Jonne P. Geographies of Postcolonialism: Spaces of Power and Representation, London:Sage, 2009.
Smith, Terry. Art to Come: Histories of Contemporary Art, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2019.
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1 My main reference of situated knowledge is Donna Haraway &Haraway, Donna. “Situated Knowledges: the Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14(3): 597-599 , 1988.

Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo is an independent curator whose main research areas include urban studies, philosophical construction of space, gender politics, contemporaneity of indigenous art, and situated knowledge. Her current program focuses on curating as a method of social practice, spatial practice, and critical thinking. Curating topography, a curatorial practice method that she has actively used in recent years, uses relative and relational spatial concepts to bring to light different cultural concepts such as myths, legends, history, memories, morals, ethics, desires and rights embedded in the pluralistic dialectic concept of place in order to strengthen political and ethical transformation through the contrast, confrontation, overlap, and juxtaposition in the becoming of place.

Her major curatorial projects include “Di Hwa Sewage Treatment Plant Art Installation: A New Cosmopolitan World”, ”Street Theatre” (awarded as the best curating work and outstanding project by Ministry of Culture, Taipei, 2004-2005), “Pop Pill” (“Shanghai Cool”, Taiwan Section, Doland Museum, Shanghai, 2005), “Border-crossing, A Tale of Two Cities” (Taipei, Shanghai, 2005-2006), “Exorcising Exoticism”(Taipei, 2006), “Poetic Borderline” (“Borderliner”, Taiwan Section, Festival of Contemporary Art Varna, Bulgaria, 2007). She is the co-curator of the related project of 9th Shanghai Biennale “Zhongshan Park Project”(the related project of 9th Shanghai Biennale, Taiwan, China, 2012-2013), “A Revelation from Ponso no Tao”(Orchid Island, Taiwan, 2014),  Taitung Ruin Academy”(Taitung, Taiwan, 2014), “Topography of Mirror Cities” (Taipei, Dhaka, Bangkok, Jakarta, Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur, 2015-2021), “2018 Kuandu Biennale Seven Questions for Asia” (2018-2019), “2019 Green Island Human Rights Art Festival Visiting No.15 Liumagou: Memory, Place and Narrative” and “2020 Green Island Human Rights Art Festival If on the Margin, Draw a Coordinate.”

Issue 10 Exhibition Amnesia
Editorial / Exhibition Amnesia, or, the Apparatus of Speculative Curating Hongjohn Lin
How to Build an Exhibition Archive - A Preliminary Proposal from a Generative Studies Perspective Lin Chi-Ming
Reformulating the Architecture of Exhibitions Miya Yoshida
Orality and Its Amnesia in the Mist of Metalanguage Tai-Sung Chen

Issue 9 Curating Against Forgetting
Editorial / Transgressing Epistemic Boundaries Zian Chen
Icon and Network: Solidarity’s Mediums and a Materialist Internationalism Ho Rui An
Settlers and the Unhomely: The Cinematic Visions of Infrastructure in Eastern Taiwan Zian Chen and Chi-Yu Wu
Memories of Underdevelopment: Revisiting Curatorial Methods and the Asian Context Wan-Yin Chen

Issue 8 Reformatting Documenta with lumbung Formula: documenta fifteen
Editorial / Reformatting documenta with lumbung Formula: documenta fifteen Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Harvesting and a Single Story of Lumbung Putra Hidayatullah
The Politics in the Ramayana / Ramakien in documenta fifteen: Decoding the Power of the Thai Ruling Class Jiandyin
Malaise of Commons: on the Quality of the Relationships in documenta fifteen Hsiang-Pin Wu

Issue 7 The Heterogeneous South
Editorial / The Heterogeneous South Hongjohn Lin
The South - An art of asking and listening Manray Hsu
Uncharted Territory: The Roots of Curatorial Practices in Eastern Indonesia Ayos Purwoaji
South Fever: The South as a Method in Taiwan Contemporary Curating Pei-Yi Lu

Issue 6 The Beginning of Curating
Editorial / The Beginning of Curating Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Are Curators Really Needed? Bùi Kim Đĩnh
The Documents 15 and the Concept of Lumbung ruangrupa
The Three Axes of Curating: Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo

Issue 5 Curatorial Episteme
Editorial / Curatorial Episteme Hongjohn Lin
Epistemic Encounters Henk Slager
The Curatorial Thing Hongjohn Lin
Ethics of Curating Meng-Shi Chen

Issue 4 Curatorial Consciousness in the Times of Post-Nationalism
Editorial / Curatorial Consciousness in the Times of Post-Nationalism Manray Hsu
When Kacalisian Culture Meets the Vertical City: Contemporary Art from Greater Sandimen Manray Hsu
Pathways and Challenges: Art History in the Context of Global Contemporary Art Jau-Lan Guo
Curating Commemoration: Conditions of Political Choreography, a Performance Exhibition in Retrospect Sophie Goltz

Issue 3 Curating Performativity
Editorial / Curating Performativity I-wen Chang
Choreographing Exhibitions: Performative Curatorgraphy in Taiwan I-wen Chang
Living and Working Together in the Now Normal: Visual Arts and Co. at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre Pawit Mahasarinand
The Curatorial as A Praxis of Disobedience Miya Yoshida

Issue 2 Curators' Living Rooms
Editorial / Curators' Living Rooms Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Extended Living Room: Space and Conversation ruangrupa(Ade Darmawan, Mirwan Andan)
Freeing the Weights of the Habitual Raqs Media Collective
Curating Topography Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo

Issue 1 Curatography
Editorial / One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward Hongjohn Lin
What is Curatography? Hongjohn Lin
Les fleurs américaines Yoann Gourmel, Elodie Royer
There are No Blank Slates Eileen Legaspi Ramirez
Issue 10 Exhibition Amnesia

Issue 9 Curating Against Forgetting

Issue 8 Reformatting documenta with lumbung Formula: documenta fifteen

Issue 7 The Heterogeneous South

Issue 6 The Beginning of Curating

Issue 5 Curatorial Episteme

Issue 4 Curatorial Consciousness in the Times of Post-Nationalism

Issue 3 Curating Performativity

Issue 2 Curators' Living Rooms

Issue 1 Curatography