The term “globalism” comes heaped with baggage from reactionary pundits and social media malcontents. Usually, these people are maligning the perceived loss of some fanciful national identity that is somehow both preternaturally strong, yet too delicate to survive the global system of trade and cultural exchange of ideas—never mind that these systems have already been in place for centuries.
However, one could argue that the exhibition Notes for Tomorrow at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art provides a more optimistic example of what a globalized future might look like: one in which dozens of cultures from around the world are represented as equal parts of a thoughtful and compelling whole.
“When you approach the outside of the museum from the garden, you see a great big red banner hanging on the outside of our building underneath our sign that’s got Chinese characters written across it,” said Barrick communications specialist Deanne Sole. “There are big vinyl posters on our exterior windows depicting Greek antiquities. … When you come into the lobby and then into the galleries, the room is very open around you. … There is a big black curtain with white lettering on it in Tagalog, and that’s probably the first thing you see when you walk in.”
Notes for Tomorrow is a traveling exhibition from the New York-based Independent Curators International and has been on display at the Barrick since August 30. ICI is an international non-profit dedicated to supporting and educating curators from around the world to encourage cooperation between arts communities. For Notes, 30 curators—alumni of the ICI’s Curatorial Intensive development program—selected 28 pieces from artists in 25 countries to present a multimedia collaboration including video, photography, installations and murals.
“There’s definitely an emphasis on community and diversity,” Sole said. “Not just racial diversity, but also … diversity in the idea that, OK, artists can present their ideas in so many different ways, and here’s a whole bunch of them. I think everything you look at in the show does talk about people as a sort of group understanding of self.”
ICI’s description of Notes for Tomorrow lists some of the larger themes of the exhibition, including the worldwide acceleration in digital collaboration as a response to Covid lockdowns and turning to ancestral spirituality as a grounding mechanism in the face of global strife. In collecting dozens of different cultural “portraits,” Notes for Tomorrow probes the idea of what our global future might look like using the past as touchstones.
“For me, when I look at the show, it’s very much about the idea of us-ness,” Sole said. “So, collectivity and all speaking together, or all thinking together, or all having some direction that we’ve been in and that we could go in in the future. And I think ICI kind of hints at that.”
Leaving it up to interpretation
The Barrick has worked with ICI in the past to host another traveling exhibition called Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. One of the major draws of Notes for Tomorrow from a curatorial perspective—and one that speaks to the theme of technology facilitating pancultural access—is that the entire exhibition can be transferred digitally.
“The process of transporting the show here really was ICI sending us a folder of files and detailed instructions from the various artists as to what we should do with them,” Sole said. “For example, that photograph of the white horse-headed figure on the ICI [press release], that was us receiving a nice file and instructions from the artists that it needed to be printed on matte paper, and it needed to be in a white frame—that was specified. So, a lot of it was going, OK, what does the specific artist want?’”
While the pieces came with detailed instructions on how they should be presented, there is little to no instruction on where they should be presented. One of ICI’s intentions is for each place that hosts the show to present the artwork using the materials and space available. So, while one of the pieces required a square screen for a projection surface, the material, placement, and size of the screen are up to the individual coordinators. (To find an appropriate screen, Sole said the Barrick staff received some help from the University of Nevada Las Vegas theater department.)
“In the case of the big red banner in Chinese, that’s hanging outside the building, that was the artist’s instruction that, ‘OK, print out this banner. I want it in these dimensions and it needs to be outside your building somewhere. Don’t really care where,’” Sole said. “There are actually two banners that are part of that piece, and one of them played a role in the UNLV Art Walk Event that took place on Friday, Nov. 4. We actually had the second on two poles, we had it carried around the grounds, so it was shown outside the building, but in a completely different way.”
The exhibition’s digital format means that Notes for Tomorrow can successfully juxtapose its global subject matter with a hyper-local approach to curation. Because it is also cost-effective for production—in that museums and galleries don’t have to pay to ship or insure the pieces—any country in the world could theoretically host it.
“This was a way to have artists from, say, Hungary, from Columbia, from Zimbabwe, from all of these different places, and to have all of them in our space saying something,” Sole said. “And sort of giving the people who visit our museum a kind of a window into all of those different places.”
Making an impact
Any space meant to cater to an array of cultures and languages necessarily incurs the risk of occasional misunderstanding. Rather than leave their intentions up to interpretation like traditional exhibitions might, the artists and curators of the 28 pieces currently housed at the Barrick (that figure also accounts for a purely online piece and a film that is only played on Saturdays) also include written descriptions explaining the appropriate cultural and political context in which the work was created. Ostensibly, this furthers the ICI’s mission to foster collaboration between geographically isolated artistic communities—and it’s working.
Sole said she is aware of at least a few collaborations between local Las Vegas artists and artists featured in Notes for Tomorrow that were made possible as direct results of the show.
“[One is] probably going to resolve itself into another future exhibition here, between a local black writer, scholar, professor, Erica Vital-Lazare, and one of the artists whose name is Kristina Kay Robinson who’s based in New Orleans,” Sole said. “I don’t want to say too much and kind of pin them down, but what they’re talking about is something really exciting and I’m really looking forward to when we actually see what comes out of this.”
Aside from local collaboration, the Barrick staff have even been able to implement some of the exhibition’s themes in regionally (even personally) important ways—specifically regarding anticolonialism. In choosing a space to stage Hawaiian artist Wayne Kaumualii Westlake’s piece “Huli,” which he created as a protest to U.S. imperialism in the Pacific, the staff intentionally chose a space above a section of floor that once bore the image of UNLV’s mascot wearing a full confederate uniform.
Other pieces also address past and current injustices, such as Filipino art collective Project Omehen’s “The Garden as Chronicle and Strategy of Resistance” which was recently expanded to include news about Ismael Pangadas, an artist and member of the indigenous Lumad people of the Philippines who was arrested for attending a protest in Davao City. Alfred Marasigan, one of the founders of Project Omehen, sent a message to the Barrick explaining:
“He was one of our students in/with Omehen and he conducted for us one of their rituals called the panubadtubad. In the video we are able to blur the faces of his classmates and we included a text that explains a bit how he and his brother are now and what concrete things people can do to help.”
Because the Project Omehen piece is a collection of photos, texts, and videos that have very loose directions about how they should be displayed, the Barrick staff were able to include the updated information about Pangadas’ arrest in a custom-created presentation by staff graphic designer Chloe Bernardo—making the Barrick an active participant in an art project conceived over 7,000 miles away.
Notes for Tomorrow will be on display until Jan. 28. In a contractual obligation from ICI, the physical pieces made from the digital files are to be disposed of after the exhibition ends, giving the entire show a literal lifespan of around five months before it is reincarnated at its next location. However, according to ICI’s calendar of events, Notes for Tomorrow is already running concurrently at institutions in Hawaii and Canada—proof, perhaps, that no matter how one might feel about the impact of our rapidly homogenizing global culture, it’s already here to stay.
Notes for Tomorrow by Independent Curators International will be on view at the Barrick Museum at UNLV through Jan. 28.
This article was funded by a grant from the Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.