Transmission in Motion


21 February 2024
15:00 - 17:00
Muntstraat 2A, 3512EV Utrecht (Grote Zaal)

”Inquiring and Caring with the Act of Commissioning” – Trine Friis Sørensen (UU)


What does it mean to commission? I found myself pondering this question some years back when I – in the context of a research project on The Danish Radio Archive – commissioned two contemporary artists to engage with the archive and produce artworks in relation to it. This practice-based research design made the act of commissioning my mode of inquiry into the archive and elicited not only a questioning of what commissioning means, but also what it does and how it frames knowledge production

In my presentation, I first set out to articulate and activate the concept of commissioning drawing on my situated enactment of it in relation to an archive. I will unpack the workings of the commission and propose that the act of commissioning responds to a need and hinges on the presumption that the commissioned artwork can satisfy this need. Underpinning my argument is Jacques Derrida’s notion of the archive and the work of interpretation that this inheritance persistently demands.  

To better grasp how the act of commissioning doubles as a mode of inquiry, I model it on Bruno Latour’s assembly or thing. In doing so, the archive becomes the matter of concern around which the commission gathers a number of relevant interlocutors. These include the artists of course, but the commission also brings together numerous other participants whether real (archivists, academics, technicians, consultants etc.) or just virtually there in the form of their writings. Initially in the hands of the critic, the care and caution required to construct and conduct such an inquiry now fall upon the curator.  

Wrapping up my presentation, I want to propose two notions of care that the conceptualization of the commission and its mode of inquiry give rise to. On the one hand, drawing on Latour and Maaike Bleeker, the notion of ‘relational care’ that describes the response-able work that underpins and drives curatorial processes. And on the other hand, care as an aspirational research attitude drawing on Michel Foucault, who in a 1980-interview reinvigorated the obsolete etymological association between curiosity and care.

Trine Friis Sørensen is Assistant Professor of Media and Arts Curation at the Department of Media and Culture Studies at Utrecht University. She teaches in the Master’s programme Arts and Society and the Research Master’s programme Media, Art and Performance Studies, and she is the coordinator of the talk series Meet the Makers. Her research pays attention to the entanglement of objects, people, spaces, concepts and institutions in curatorial contexts, and she is often part of such constellations herself through practice-based, curatorial research designs. Currently, her research considers the institutional and curatorial consequences of contemporary art institutions becoming increasingly multi- and interdisciplinary. Trine obtained her PhD from University of Copenhagen (2015), and her ensuing postdoctoral research took place in the context of Aarhus University and Kunsthal Aarhus (DK). During this time, she also headed the study programme MA in Curating. 


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This session is part of the Transmission in Motion seminar (2023-2024): “Matters of Concern”. To stay updated with more seminar sessions, please subscribe to our newsletter.