On Curation

I’ve been reading so many beautifully worded articles on what defines “curation” for various curators out there.

When I became a curator, I wanted to be helpful to artists. I think of my work as that of a catalyst – and sparring partner.

It’s worth thinking about the etymology of curating. It comes from the Latin word curare, meaning to take care. In Roman times, it meant to take care of the bath houses. In medieval times, it designated the priest who cared for souls. Later, in the 18th century, it meant looking after collections of art and artifacts.

Today, curating as a profession means at least four things. It means to preserve, in the sense of safeguarding the heritage of art. It means to be the selector of new work. It means to connect to art history. And it means displaying or arranging the work. But it’s more than that. Before 1800, few people went to exhibitions. Now hundreds of millions of people visit them every year. It’s a mass medium and a ritual. The curator sets it up so that it becomes an extraordinary experience and not just illustrations or spatialised books.

The above quote is from Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director of the Serpentine Gallery in London. It’s reading things like that that make me really want to be involved in this field. Oddly, I had never before considered venturing into this area of art and design but I think it would be something that I would really enjoy, particularly seeing an exhibition from a different pair of eyes.

From this same article, Hans also said, “the best thing a curator can do is elicit the response, 'I didn’t know you could do that,' from the public. The worst thing is to present a show that is no longer relevant,” which really struck a chord within me. I realised that my project, Curate[d], needed a profound foundation in order to effectively execute my concept. I had high hopes of this project to stir discussions of curation and how it has forgone 'the arts' spectrum.

For example, the average layman has been and is being loosely exposed to the idea of curation, particularly in regard to their personal lives. Social media has transformed into the collection of moments, and has influenced the way in which we display the way we live for others to view, and have an opinion on. According to David Balzer (2015) on the Guardian, “the explosion of social media led to accelerated curatorial ways of thinking. Value had to be performed like never before. Users are hyper-conscious of what they want and choose, performing this for an audience of friends and strangers doing exactly the same thing, often in exactly the same way.” He many times used the words “real curation” and “contemporary curation” which I found incredibly interesting, as though the latter (relating it to social media use) was of a lesser value in status.

While prestige appropriation is certainly a factor behind the broadening usage of the word “curate,” I don’t think it’s the most important one, nor do I think it accounts for the significance it holds for those who consider themselves to be curators outside of an art institution context. Professional curating is a collaborative endeavour, one in which compromise and working within constraints are as critical as personal vision. (Miya Tokumitsu, 2015)

Though I agree to an extent that curating has originated from the art industry, and maintains that distinct link, the mere fact that the way we interact now involves curation is quite wonderful and celebratory for the field.

One of my favourite bloggers, The Jealous Curator, shares contemporary artwork from all over the world. She hosts a digital exhibition across a series of social media platforms which I find quite interesting. The atmosphere within a physical space to that of the web space is totally incomparable, though I see that the motive is the same. The desire to help artists that deserve more recognition, and more so, bridging the communication gap between the artist’s work to the general public.

So yes, curating definitely resonates within the art world. But can everyday life ever escape the possibility of being curated? It’s not my ambition to address the fact that curating everyday-life situations involve “selection and dispersion,” but the decisions that influence the display of the work, and how it enhances the understanding of object(s) available.