Sunday, February 15, 2009

one amateur's opinion on Curatorial Practice

The week after next, I will be meeting Preston Poe at our weekly seminar. Preston Poe is a video sculptor/sound artist, professor, and director/curator of The Electronic Gallery at Salisbury University. After reading three articles (1, 2, 3) from Steve Dietz, Christiane Paul, and Rudolf Frieling I had this musing on curatorial practice in new media:

Curatorial practice is enormously important at the present time. Ignorance of this form of representation by some of my contemporaries always strikes me as very queer and unfortunate because it is a near impossible practice to avoid. Professionally speaking the requirement of an artist to maintain a web presence is no longer a point of debate. Even as an amateur act: uploading video to a You-Service, writing an entry in a blog, or simply hosting a html page with a documentary image is the act of curation. Thus naivety towards the profession of curation is a political choice of ignorance to the social order of my world.

Derrida discusses the relation of the archivist (please read curator for this opinion) brilliantly unfolds the socio-political history of the archivist in Archive Fever.

"We will not commence with the commencement, if I have your consent, nor even with the archive. But rather with the word *archive* and with the archive of so familiar a word. Arkhé, as you know, names at once the commencement and the commandment. We have here, apparently, two principles in one: the principle according to nature or history, where things commence (physical, historical or ontological principle), but also the principle according to the law, where command, authority, social order are exercised, the place from which order is given (nomological principle)."

Thus the archive is a institution of the authority assembled by the keepers of the pearly gates of culture. The fate of the selected work is sealed; a sort of death of the object by extraction from it's native habitat(see Derrida again).

This is not a claim that (all) curators are malfeasant manipulators hell-bent for leather—indeed if you follow my first point that would condemn me as well—trying to set the record for all eternity. The cultural attitudes toward curatorial practice comes with this unfortunate baggage urging us even more to understand the role of the vocation.

Is it possible to have a critical practice without making a selection, that is to say curate? Steve Dietz points out that it is unavoidable to classify:

"The desire to understand--to ratify what one has seen through naming, classifying, formalizing--is not limited to "professionals," of course. It is human nature."

It is the nature of the beast to rationalize the world. Which is, why at the moment of our euphoria—to eliminate the confines and authorial control of the museum-gallery complex by exploitation of telematic ubiquity—the authority of curation still holds sway. Just one tension formed around curation is the reality of telematics. The system is in fact a database and whether it is used as simply a documentary tool or as a purely aesthetic form(not just a symbolic one), it is a form that can be automated and again begs the legitimacy of the archive/archivist.

Despite some overwhelming neo-Marxist utopian sensations, I believe curatorial practice deserves a large measure of respect. It is crucial to have centers of significance such as the museum, where one can immerse in the very best of humanity and nature even though the collection is an authoritarian act. It is the responsibility of the consumer to validate the collection's merit and start a better example if they possess the wit.

The tensions (perhaps dangers) in curatorial practice of the media arts make it a compelling place of experience. These forms referred to as 'new media, distributed, experimental' are a constant institutional critique because of their nature to live outside the curatorial domain of the traditional archive/classification. The curator is riding a fine line of developing platforms to allow these overwhelmingly temporal and ephemeral works to shine fulfilling the role as Arkhé without becoming the graveyard attendant. Indeed, many of us are riding this line as well.