Thoughts On: Curation and Selectivity

by Beauchamp Art

Since I have recently applied myself to the role of a curator along with my peer for the Dematerial exhibition, involving eight fellow Fine Art students, I have been taking the time to consider the value and importance of this side of art and presentation. Addition, as to how curation shares similarities to the modern process of constructing a website and writing an essay; forming a series of connection between previous established works. This thinking process has been informed by Lev Manovich’s The Language of the New Media, specifically, The Logic of Selection chapter of The Operation sector of the book; expanding the deconstructions of online structure and direction in comparison to the curator.

“An author puts together an object from elements that she herself did not create. The creative energy of the author goes into the selection and sequencing of elements rather than into original design.” [Manovich, 2001: 130]

Curation, in essence, involves selecting an arrange art pieces, either pre-made of proposed, for an exhibition or event. They may select a theme, or means of categorising works beforehand, relying in archived art pieces, specifically requested items, open submission or otherwise. However, simply put, they select from existing materials, bringing them together to from once cohesive exhibit, much as a in contemporary writing one is reliant on countless filtered resources to establish validity.
“The World Wide Web […] encourages the creation of texts that consist entirely of pointers to other texts that are already on the Web. One does not have to add any original writing it is enough to select from what already exists. […] Anybody can become a creator by simple providing a new menu […] making a new selection from the total corpus available.” [Manovich, 2001: 127]

The mass availability of information makes uninfluenced originality impossible, and undesirable; a completely new concept will have no academic grounding, no secure basis to be expanded upon. The author’s role is to establish connections, to formulate their own web of relationships. Done well, these are found through research and their resources, and are not assigned arbitrarily beforehand, or awkwardly used to tie materials together to attempt to formulate a concrete argument after the argument has been made. Much as one may attempt to squeeze more references into a essay towards the latter half of the drafting process to attempt to justify particularly vague points, or ones that seem particularly insecure in the wider body of text. In other words, crowbarring in quotes to makes something seem more justifiable, rather than using research as the basis for a discussion working towards and informed argument. Filling in the cracks afterwards rather than building a secure and well-grounded discussion from the outset; selectivity after the fact.
In this short text, for example, I have my quotes that are not being integrated, but are being used as support for the argument, more metaphorically and poetically than academically. In modern writing, the tendency may be to draw from various sources through the process of writing – in online terms, creating series of hyperlinks rather than a piece of writing; the Wikipedia essay model. However, here I do not want to create new argument, but discuss existing ones. Much as a curator does not create new art by producing a new exhibition, but draws on a range of themes and ideas to create an environment for different interpretations of existing materials.
The writer, curator, search engine, or collagist alike; all draw from a number of subsidiary sources to form a single outcome, though those outcomes may be multi-faceted.
“Pulling elements from databases and libraries becomes the default; creating them from scratch becomes the exception. The Web acts as a perfect materialization of this logic. It is one gigantic library…” [Manovich, 2001: 130]

The curator acts as a director, and like the director of a film on a poster, may be the main name mentioned in the discussion and promotion a collective exhibition. The curator could be seen as the artist, with the art works as their media. However, perspective may demote the Artist to the role of the artisan, and the curator to the Artist. As the artwork cannot function without an audience, and the curator mediates the relationship between the artwork and the viewers’ experience; it could be argued that they are more that ‘artist’ of the collective body of works than the individual artists are to their own work (though this is not a fair wording of the relationship, it will suffice on this occasion). Much as a writer may quote multiple other authors or individuals, they become the crafter of ‘new’ deriving directly from exciting.

In so many words; the curator’s selectivity parallels the author or essayists referencing system, or website designer’s hyperlink structuring mechanisms; producing a series of associations rather than anything that explicitly attempts to be original in anything but its connectivity.

Manovich, Lev (2001) The Language of the New Media. USA. MIT Press.