The curator and curation in the digital age

Curation originally comes from the word ‘Curare’ in Latin, to take care of, and hence the curator used to be seen as the custodian of a collection; the guardian.

As mentioned by Daniel C. Blight in What happened to the expert curator? back in the 18th century, curators were seen as a “figure of intellectual authority, most likely men, smartly dressed […] and packaged in a certain kind of patronising, supercilious world order”; at times even of ostentatious and haughty character (reference).

With the rise of the Internet, Blight argues that anyone can give curating a go. Peter Ride backs up Blight in the idea that the rise of the internet had caused a “shift from expert to amateur, from having gatekeepers to public participation” (reference). An example of a digital curator is Brad Troemel, who curates on the internet both individually and collectively. Troemel believes that “curating is now linguistically deluded beyond the point of return to an artistic context”. Although I inevitably agree with Ride’s acknowledgement that there has been a potent shift from the expert curator to the amateur, I don’t support Troemen in that curating is being deluded linguistically. Undergoing a similar transition is Hacking. With a wider range of definitions and uses of the word, for me it will always originally link to technological and computer-related action of trespassing, breaking-through and innovative creation.

In the 20th century, according to Blight, artists were the first to notice that their ideas didn’t always bring into line with those of the curator (reference) and this was one of the main reasons that served as a catalyst for the increase of the artist taking on the role of the curator. Even though the concept of an artist curating its own work can be traced back to the 1940s, it is many now that have decided to “occupy the grey area between production and reception, poetics and critique” in taking charge of their own curation, including Goshka Macuga, Pierre Leguillon and Dora Garcia (reference).

Whether the internet and artists as curators are the downfall of of the traditional authorial curator figure, or you believe in Blights declaration that “If you are part of a culture, then you are qualified to the arrangement of its artefacts” one thing is for sure, similarly to the practice of photography, there will always be a distinction between the professional with expertise and talent, and the endeavouring amateur.

L.R

 

Exhibiting The Other

How “other” cultures and values are represented in exhibitions.

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The Wellcome Collection is a private collection and exhibition space aimed at the general public. As explained in their website, it explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936) was a pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector. Set up only in 2007 the collection consists of a wide range of objects in several privately-owned spaces. The photograph above depicts in an amusing way Sir Henry’s interest in indigenous cultures and thus I will try to explain my experience at the Wellcome Collection while reflecting on a current curatorial topics of the representation of ‘the Other’ and Sensory Museology.

In an Introduction to sensory Museology by David Howes, Howes explains how the first museums of the seventeenth century and eighteenth centuries were hands-on site in which visitors expected and were permitted to handle artifacts (p.260). Ironically today, as Helen Rees Leahy explains in Museum Bodies: “Learning how to stand at the ‘correct’ distance from an art work, walking at a pace that is neither too fast nor too slow, and knowing what to ‘feel’ (without touching, of course) are corporeal techniques that must be mastered as a museum visitor to display a requisite degree of cultural competence (Howes, 260).

And yet as a frequent museum visitor I still find it very hard to keep my hands in my pockets as I take wonder in the texture of what’s being displayed. It is because of this I find very interesting any attempt at making a sensory gymnasium of a gallery or museum (Howes, 265).

IMG_0380At the Wellcome Collection I couldn’t help it but excitingly open the drawers which display some of the artefacts at the Medicine Man exhibition. Sandra Dudley says in her article Surprise and Proprioceptivity that storage drawers transform sight from a distance sense into a proximity sense (Howes, 261). I agree with the fact that it makes for a more dynamic engagement even if the object remains untouched; a more interactive form of display which I hope, will only increment with the help of technology to a more multisensory experience at museums and galleries.

I agree with Dudley that a more sensory experience at museums and galleries is also happening thanks to the technologization of aesthetics. During my visit to the Wellcome, there was also an exhibition called States of Mind on the second floor. This exhibition was a follow up on a previous installation they had that consisted of a space filled with colored midst (Ann Veronica Janssens: yellowbluepink). States of Mind: Tracing the edges of consciousness explored different perspectives of artists, psychologists, philosophers etc. on the understanding of consciousness. In this exhibit the thing that struck me the most was Vladimir Nobakov’s Alphabet in Colour interpreted by an American illustrator Jean Holabird in 2005. The label explained hoe research shows that similar letter-colour synesthesia can be learned through training, demonstrating the flexibility of the brain. Next to the display of the illustrations there was a screen in which the visitor could simulate synesthesia by playing a letter-colour memory game. It was a tactile as well as visual experience enhanced and possible by technology.

In Collecting ourselves by J.Clifford, Clifford expands on how exotic objects have been contextualised and given value in the west addressing notions about ‘us’ and ‘the other’.

Clifford explains that the grouping and collecting of exotic artefacts are impacted by the context of the collector and is tied up with “nationalist politics, restrictive law, the past and the future”. He clearly acknowledges that collecting is a way of making the worlds one’s own (Clifford,259). In reflecting about the exhibit ‘Medicine Man’ it is important to understand Clifford’s view that a fixation on a single object of a collection is negatively marked as a fetishism of the collector (p.260) and he later encourages the reader to look at objects of non-western origin as such in order to avoid discrimination in presenting them as object to inform or enlighten but rather as a personal way to gather the world around us.

Clifford mentions that it is the inventors of anthropology and modern art that have appropriated exotic thing facts and meanings and this is what causes discriminations made when displaying artefacts. Clifford alludes Susan Stewart when explaining that some exhibitions are to: “create the illusion of adequate representation of a world by first cutting objects out of a specific context (whether cultural, historical or intersubjective) and making them ‘stand for’ abstract wholes (Clifford,260). By this Stewart means that a single object is displayed as representative of an entire culture.

Clifford refers to the modern art-culture system of classification to objects from non-western sources collected in two mayor categories: as (scientific) cultural artefacts or as (aesthetic) works of art. Modern ethnographic museums, art museums or private art collections (like the welcome gallery) use a different way of classification which tends to display objects by similar function or from similar cultural groups. An object can be displayed with dissimilar objects and explained as part of a ritual or institutional complex. In ‘Medicine Man’ some objects are gathered by type and others by broad cross-cultural themes.

It was only at the end of the 20th century that objects in an ethnographic museum shifted from being a curiosity to being a source of information and telling the story of human development (Clifford, p264). An example of this is the operating tools displayed at the ‘Medicine Man’ exhibit where you could observe the development of the tools throughout time and cultures. Although there are some painting in the room I don’t believe that the objects on display at the ‘Medicine Man’ exhibit are meant to be interpreted as fine art but more as historical evidence or even some as sacred objects related to medicinal rituals. Perhaps at one point (when collected by Sir Henry they were a representation of race and ethnicity too) but because the Wellcome Collection is a modern display space I don’t believe that was the intention. ‘Medicine Now’ in contrast is more about fine art inspired by science and therefore the objects on display lend themselves to more of a subjective fine art interpretation by the visitor.

Overall, after our group discussion at the reading room it became obvious to me that because of the Wellcome Collection being privately owned exhibition space there was a larger budget for things like design and public areas. I believe that although at one point in time the artefacts in display might have been a representation of the power struggle between minorities and majorities and the idea of ‘otherness’, it is currently being displayed in such a modern way that to me it is a historical recollection of medicines development through time with the inclusion of artefacts from different cultures.

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Here you can see some drawing in an exploration of the space during the visit:

L.R

Private Collections-Collecting Practices & the Curator Independent visits

https://archive.org/stream/gri_33125007514793#page/n92/mode/1up

The Seti Sarcophagus At Sir John Soane’s Museum

“Our relationship to the accumulation of objects is as profound and as significant as our relationships to each other, to language, and to time and space, and as complex.”- Susan Pearce.

In contrast to our visit of the British Museum I decided to visit the Sir John Soane’s Museum in 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. Sir John Soane (1753 – 1837) was an architect and his house (as answered by one of the friendly staff) was indeed been untouched since his death 180 years ago. (link) The object on display that I found most interesting was ‘the Seti Sarcophagus’ which he bought after the British Museum rejected it as they thought it wasn’t worth what the archeologist who found it in Egypt asked for it. This links back to the visit to the British Museum as Sir John Soane’s Museum was vastly different. Located in a house environment with carpeted floors, drawing rooms and a basement the experience was much more interesting for me as I wasn’t aware that museums existed that presented the collection of a single man (the collector). No photographs were allowed to be taken but my favourite place of the house was the breath-taking double-space filled with statues and stone object with the small dome glass ceiling.

The definition of a collection by the Oxford Dictionaries is: ‘The action or process of collecting someone or something’. In The Urge to collect by Susan Pearce, Pearce uses a series of definitions by others to give a better understanding of what a collection is. Pearce believes that ‘Different people will take different things into their hearts and minds’ (1992). The first description of collecting is by Durost who argues that a collection is determined by the nature of the value assigned to it (1932). This value can be intrinsic (assigned value by use, purpose served or aesthetics) in which case it is not seen by Durost as a collection or representational (related to an idea, series, part of a whole) in which case it is (Durost, 1932).

This definition became more abstract in the 80s when Alsop explained that the objects had to belong to a particular category the collector fancies; a collection is what the collector believes it to be (1982). Aristides in 1988 described a collection as an organised obsession and believed that collecting had the possibility of completion. Pearce gives an example when disagreeing with Aristides that working tools although organised and completed as a set is not considered a collection. I agree with Pearce in that not everything that comes as a group and is organised is necessarily considered a collection or you would be able to say for instance that a toothbrush and toothpaste is a collection.

In the 1990s Belk has a similar point of view as Durost in that the object of a collection need to be part of a series or class; the need for the objects to be interrelated and have a connection with each other. Belk defies Aristides opinion by saying that collecting is ‘a prolonged activity through time’. I stand more on the opinion of Belk given that most collections can always be expanded and many could be considered never-ending.

Pearce herself explains that that it is a moment of realisation on the collector that makes a collection what it is making peoples awareness of objects being a collection the primary definition of one. She gives the example of a woman that sees some old dresses and suddenly she realises that they are all from Carnaby street and could then wish to expand on them as a collection. For Pearce: ‘A collection is not a collection until someone thinks of it in those terms’. She strengthens this argument by highlighting that the motive of the collector is important and that motives are something that can change. I agree with her stand as I feel the same way about conceptual art (also commencing in the 60s).

Pearce goes on to debating the difference between hoarding and collecting and describes hoarding as the heaping of material without any classification and with the use of a utilitarian excuse. I can also agree with this as I don’t imagine the contents of the Sir John Soane’s museum as a man hoarding objects but as a collection of a mans interest and curiosity for the world. In class we discussed that although other animals might hoard, there is no other animal that collects and perhaps its this ability of collecting through the assigning of meaning that makes us human.

L.R

Nations on Display –  British Museum Visit PT.2

For a more detailed post on the findings of our visit click here. Or visit the previous blog post.

When discussing the overall visit experience as a group, we talked about the representation of global history within a confined space like the British Museum. We discussed in summary the findings of the other groups who had explored other galleries and the anxiety you get when visiting such a large museum in not wanting to miss out on specific rooms and objects. We reached the conclusion that this was one of the reasons the museum wanted to take the experience outside the physicality of the building itself by making the broadcast ‘The History of the world in 100 objects’. (link to the broadcast website) We then went on to relate the following reading my Carol Duncan to our visit.

In ‘Art museums and the ritual of citizenship’, Carol Duncan suggests that when a museum admits a new body of work they are making an important statement (1994, p.279). Duncan believes that the content of such museum reflects the political values and heritage of a nation: “The recognized […] periods of western history –Greece and Rome, The Renaissance, nineteenth-century Europe –become the inheritance which legitimizes the present” (1994, p.279). Some examples Duncan gives include the Louvre Palace in Paris and the Renwick Building in Washington D.C. By the end of the nineteenth Century, Duncan states that almost every western nation had a national museum or gallery.

Duncan further explains that an art museum in a Third World country can serve as a reassurance to the west on weather this country or not is a safe bet for economic or military aid and investment. The reason for this resumes to an educated public and can result in a new political ally. On the other hand, Duncan presents the idea that a Museum of Contemporary Art like the once opened in Teheran in 1977 was a façade of modernity, and according to Robert Hobbs (the chief curator of the Teheran museum), the museum was perceived as a propaganda instrument by the Iranian Royal Family.

Duncan goes on to explain that her essay consists on what political meanings museums produce about our own culture and how they produce them, but she does this by raising awareness on the controversy of how western museums represent other cultures and weather they are misinterpreting or re-inventing foreign cultures through the works displayed in the ‘typical capital or big-city’ public art museums.

When looking at examples like that of all the Greek possessions in display at the British museum and the global controversy this caused, I do agree with Duncan in that the contents of a large museum come with political purposes. I can not find another explanation other than that of presenting a nation’s power through the conquering of other lands artefacts. If you go to Athens for example, you will find plates that indicate that specific ruins are in display at the British Museum and I find this a bit disturbing (as it feels like they don’t belong in a museum on a different country). However, we must understand the context of the development of archeology laws over time, where in earlier days when you were allowed to take your findings with you out of the country of origin versus now when there are laws in place that restrict you from doing so. Having said this as a visitor to the British Museum it is a pleasure (if you don’t have the chance to travel) to experience these objects in display first hand which leads me to think about the purpose of a public museum in educating its population.

In conclusion I think that although Duncan might have had a point to make today, about the behavioural ritual of a visitor in a Museum, it was not as important (partly because of curatorial development and growth over the past decades) back when in the day when museums such as the British Museum were open. There were not as many questions asked in relation to the objective and fair representation of nations in Museums as there is now a days and hence the emergence of debates discussed like that that of the essay of Duncan.

L.R

Nations on Display –  British Museum Visit PT.1

As part of ‘Exhibition Studies’ we visited the British Museum with the aim of exploring how national museums create narratives about both the collections on display and national identity more generally.

When we arrived at the B.M. we split into group to explore the different galleries. We went to room 33: China, South Asia and Southeast Asia. In this blog post I will discuss our visit in relation to Carol Duncan’s reading on Art museums and the ritual of citizenship.

The physical layout of the gallery was shaped like a long rectangle. In the center of the gallery where the main entrance stood was a circle double space, from which you could see the lower floor, where there was a small café. Some of the characteristics of the room that stood out consisted of: two columns (with the same style as the ones standing on the outside of the museum: Greek-like) on either side of the entrance door, square columns on each side of the corridor, high ceilings, stand-alone glass cabinets (about 2m tall making it comfortable eye height for the visitors) and wooden built-in cabinets (on the wings of the gallery behind the square columns).    

 The experience of moving through the space (intended flow of visitors) was a very casual one. You could either choose to go left or right when you entered the gallery. There was no specific order but unintentionally I found myself doing zig-zags from the center to the wings not wanting to miss anything out. People stood around looking at the glass cabinets and benches, donated by friends of the museum were positioned in the middle of either side for visitors to take a rest.

 The impact of environmental factors such as lighting, colour, temperature, gave a warm first impression. The lights were yellow, and not very bright as there were big windows allowing natural light in. The wall-paper was gold, the stone statues/ presented artefact were kept to the ends of the room, the bigger objects/statues were kept in the center of the room and the smaller objects to the sides in the wooden vitrines. Overall the colours of the room worked well with those of the objects being presented (wood, bronze, and earth tones). I think these elements were purposefully though out to be warm to counteract with the coldness transmitted by the magnitude and big size of the gallery itself.

 The conceptual framework and themes used to organize the works was that everything was organized by region as the name of the gallery indicates. On one side you had objects from South Asia like Nepal or India. The middle of the gallery was dedicated to Southeast Asia and the other end to objects from China. Within each of these areas the objects were mostly grouped by functionality and the purpose they met like for example all the jewelry together. The organization by region allowed the visitor to have a positive understanding between the contrasts and similarities of the different countries being presented. Organising by region also lent itself to a blur and merging of areas, avoiding any sudden changes from one side of the gallery to the other. I don’t personally believe there would be a better way of organizing the material being displayed do to the vast range (extent) of what was being shown.

 The curatorial constrains of Gallery 33 included, the scale and materials of some of the sculptures being displayed as the marble and stone works were presented in a separate room to one end of the gallery making it isolated from the rest of the content; the built in cabinets can’t be modernized, moved or altered for specific works and therefore limit what can be displayed in them. The amount of works of a specific region are limited to the amount of size in the room for that region (ie. South Asia) as you can’t have object of per-say India going into the China area.  Finally, the big circle double space in the center of the gallery as you walk in takes up a lot of space that could be used for display purposes, even though I imagine its there so natural light reaches the lower floor.

The most important object on display at the gallery was a group of ceramics with detailed glaze in very good conditioned that once belonged to a high member of society. The work was called ‘Group of Sancai’ glazed with a total of three colours tomb figures from north China –Tang dynasty from the early 8th century. If we hadn’t had a map to look at which was the most important object on display, we wouldn’t have been able to tell as it didn’t specifically stand out from the rest of the objects in the way it was displayed. Looking at the gallery in relation to the the museum as a whole, room 33 felt very isolated with its own individual building only linked to the main one like a separate limb.

 When discussing the overall visit experience as a group, we talked about the representation of global history within a confined space like the British Museum. We discussed in summary the findings of the other groups who had explored other galleries and the anxiety you get when visiting such a large museum in not wanting to miss out on specific rooms and objects. We reached the conclusion that this was one of the reasons the museum wanted to take the experience outside the physicality of the building itself by making the broadcast ‘The History of the world in 100 objects’. We then went on to relate the following reading my Carol Duncan to our visit.

L.R

Who and what defines what we see and value as art in the 21st century?

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 16.00.21In the first of this year’s BBC Reith Lectures at the Tate Modern, Grayson Perry gave a series of lectures called Playing to the Gallery, Democracy Has Bad Taste. By giving these lectures, Perry aimed to answer some of those obvious questions that he thinks that a lot of people who aren’t members of the art world ask when they go into a gallery and they’re slightly bemused or angered by the work and help them by giving them the tools to understand and appreciate art (p.2). With these lectures, Perry wants to evoke his belief that anybody can enjoy art and anybody can have a life in the arts (p.3).

Perry describes the art world as having been fairly inward-looking in the sense that it operated as a closed circle. This circle he describes consists of the artist, the dealer and the collector. But who and what defines what we see and the value of art in the 21st century?

According to Grayson Perry many of the current methods of judging art and the criteria used to do so are conflicting and problematic. The reason for this is that today, financial value, popularity, art historical significance or aesthetic sophistication are some of the things that define what we see in galleries and museums (p.4).

I agree with Perry that there isn’t an empirical way of judging quality in art (p.6). I found very surprising that, while the quality of the artworks is obviously considered when setting up a show it is often the case that the artworks are priced by size; in a secondary market like an auction, not necessarily.

When looking at who is behind what we see and the value of art, Perry believes it’s artists, teachers, dealers, collectors, critics, curators, the media, even the public perhaps who forms the consensus of what is good art (p.7).

Perry alludes Sir Alan Bowness who was the previous director of the Tate Gallery in that peers, serious critics and collectors, dealers and the public are the four stages to the rise of a successful artists. Without taking away importance from Bowness view, Perry thinks other characters take part in what he calls the Chorus of Validation: the collector, art dealers (have an impact on the reputation of the artist and where their work is placed), the public (museum visitors are a way of measuring the quality of the artist’s work), the curator (to which Perry gives a lot of importance as he thinks they “have probably become the most powerful giver-outers of Brownie points in the art world” (p8.).

In the Q&A Perry further explains that for art to end up in a gallery like the Tate Modern: “It’s been through a series of juries, unofficial juries at private views and sales and fairs around the world, and nods and winks and a kind of consensus gradually forms because there aren’t many people in the art world who have the confidence of a totally kind of fresh good eye” (p.12). Perry wraps it all up by saying that “In the end it’s if enough of the right people think it’s good and that’s all there is to it” (p.11).

To listen to the audio click here

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L.R

EXHIBITION STUDIES-Introductory Blog post

Think about yourself as a design professional-in-the-making. Imagine you are to be included in a future exhibition of influential designers.  Choose an object to represent you in this exhibition.

I have chosen a cyan spray can to represent me in The Exhibition of Influential Designers; the title: ’94 Bali-Green’. Coincidentally 1994 is the year I was born. The can is also from Spain even though I ironically bought it at an art shop in Shoreditch when I first moved to London and wasn’t aware of this at the time. Matt paint, low pressure and high coverage are a metaphor of my future practice. I will hopefully be a polyvalent modern graphic designer who can apply her skills across different situations and sectors.

The spray can is also flammable, which I see as a reflection of human emotional variability. Other qualities that the can has in common with how I like to imagine myself and my career as a designer in the future are: the fact that the can is recyclable (and hence is not of great harm to the environment) and its CFC free. For those who don’t know what this means CFC stands for Chloro-Fluoro-Carbons used in some spray cans to force the contents out of them. CFC gases are used because they are not poisonous or flammable but extremely damage the Ozone layer. Back to my practice as a designer I’d rather be one that is at times flammable and doesn’t damage the earth, so it all narrows down to practicing safe and environmentally friendly (perhaps one day even sustainable) design.

If I haven’t mentioned this in one of my previous posts, design matters to me because I think it is important to facilitate the interaction between technology and people. I also think design is important because we now have the ability of thinking beyond practicality and applying aesthetics for greater purposes like maps, books, and everything user experience design encompasses. I can not mention a specific person that inspires me as a designer as I am in awe of anyone who has made it alive more than a total of 5 years old.

L.R