Text published in the book FESTIM HóSPEDE, Ensaio Curatorial, edited by Hóspede, Porto (Portugal), 2012.
[en] The Political & Social [and Immaterial] potential of Curating
The evolution of the curator's practice has created the means for him/her to incite, speak and to be listened to. As a consequence, we have seen an increasing number of curators utilizing their newfound power for political purposes, aiming to change social structures. Political exhibitions are not a new phenomenon, what seems to be new is the way of expressing these political concerns through curatorial methods. Most
exhibitions on politics express those concerns throughout their content and thematic, however curators are now activating a different art‘s political potential through curatorial form, structure and new media.
Curating was normally associated with the task of giving form to exhibitions containing artworks, all based on arts’ production and display. Nowadays we can appreciate a new emphasis and extension of this practice – a development of the curatorial field – as the term seems to request, processual and discursive projects, containing no objects at all, depending of the kind of spaces and display, going from the internal to the external, the individual to the collective, the real to the cybernetic space.
From my point of view, it is interesting the idea of how curating can be seen as a social practice. Looking back we can appreciate different approaches to this matter referring to the curatorial practice in our current societies: in 1996 Nicolas Bourriaud proposed the concept of Relational Aesthetics in order to identify the common artistic practices that were evident in the exhibition Traffic (CAPC Musée d'Art Contemporain de
Bordeaux, France, 1996). He claimed that the relationships between people, communities, individuals, groups, interactivity and social networks should be the common area of the artist’s work.
The following year (1997) curators Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hou Hanru launched an open-ended exhibition called Cities on the Move (Travelling exhibition around Asia, 1997). They proposed a model in which the
exhibition would be reinvented in each different location. Their aim was to face the dramatic changes in urban development by combining architectural methods for the exhibition design comprising collaborations between artists and architects. Hou Hanru also described the exhibition space of the 2002 Gwanju Biennale as a “platform for initiating new ideas and developing critical social relations”.
In this way, perceiving the curatorial practice as a way to erode or to inspire the autonomous marked-based art institution (exhibitions, biennales) in order to become part of an alliance of networks or organizations, I would argue that the curator should collaborate with the artist to create a space to talk within the "gallery" beyond authorial method of curating.
The place of the curator is a powerful and sometimes very influential practice. Throughout history, exhibitions have had considerations in all kinds of social and political discourses. But unfortunately many curators end up producing stereotyped shows. For me, one of the problems with the curatorial practice is that many curators think of themselves as professionals in a very limited way, instead of being engaged in
a collaborative, fruitful and problematic relationship with the artists, exhibition-making and the audience.
Coming back to the social and political potential of curating, the discourse on the political significance of art is still trapped in a debate over whether or not it can make a distinctive difference in the overall context of the society. Artists are motivated by the belief that personal involvement at a micro level would encourage global change. To me, curators could promote, in a structural and educational level, the process of linking art practices to the political and social issues. I see curatorial practices as a tool to give political potential to art practices, inscribing them into public discourses and to the public domain. An exhibition – including those in alternative spaces – has the potential to influence, transform and change culture. Curators should have the responsibility to engage with the critical issues of our time, dealing with the cultural landscape, reflecting the reality through an exhibition, as a mirror of our culture.
I would like to propose a reflection regarding the following questions: Can curating make a change? And if so: how? Is it in the power of the curator to “change the world” and people’s mind? Are the curatorial strategies more effective tools for causing political change than the object-based exhibition?
Finally, under a political and social way I understand curating as including the space of Internet and expanding the object from processes to dynamic network systems. Like that, we can speak of a new way of curatorial practice, more widely distributed between several agents, including technological networks and software, and engaged with social and technological developments. The question is to considerer how the
practice itself has been transformed by distributed networks. Regarding this, there are many questions we can pose: How do curators respond to new forms of self-organizing systems, databases, programming, code, net.art, software and the generative media within the wider cultural system? In this way I understand the models of practice that use information technologies not simply on the level of the medium or as a tool, but as an integral and political part of the curatorial process. Finally I would suggest, following Joasia Krysa(1), the idea of a “software curating”, a practice that is partially automated, dynamic, collaborative, and redistributed in terms of power relations and curatorial control. This “software curating” would suggest an engagement with instructions (the program/or act of programming), and the writing of these instructions but also the other processes upon which the program to run includes wider context system of art.
So how can one work from this in-between position, negotiating political and aesthetic considerations?
Connected as aesthetics are to politics, these categories are obviously not synonymous, and often conflict one another. However, this gap is also what gives the field of exhibition-making its dynamics as well as its problems. We should acknowledge that we are all working politically in some way, even with different politics.
Olga Sureda Guasch