Navel-gazing curated by Brooke Babington and Melissa Loughnan was a unique curatorial project that took place at Utopian Slumps, outside of its usual exhibition program, in January 2010.

Navel-gazing explored the urge to self-reflect in contemporary artistic practice, featuring works that turn inward to examine the conditions of their own existence within the gallery and the wider world. Acknowledging reflexivity (for better or worse) as something of a definitive condition for the contemporary subject, such works surface as manifestations of an art world in the throes of self-analysis.

The exhibition offered a reading of this tendency that posits it as at once a form of auto-institutional critique and, more radically, as a reformulation of the ‘art for art’s sake’ ethos of historical formalism. The perceived gulf between these two stances was reconsidered through the work of the eight artists in this exhibition.

Navel-gazing was a Utopian Slumps Second Round (USSR) project. USSR, a non-profit subsidiary of Utopian Slumps, addresses an aspect of this critical reflexivity at a structural level: the difficulties of interrogating while accommodating the given institutionalised art system. Whether this sat uncomfortably at odds with or at ease within the exhibition’s critical framework is a problem ripe for interrogation.

This project was enabled by the NAVA Curator Mentorship Initiative.