Sunday 26 August 2012

Journal | Once more with feeling

Shamelessly, I'll jump on the bandwagon here with Kent and Rachelle's posts on the 'liberal' use of the word "curate" recently. Much like how markers like "indie" and "artisanal" seem to be thrown around these days for 'intelligent marketing', there's this fear now that "curate" might just suffer the same fate of becoming the buzzword (unless it already has?) Can we afford to be nonchalant about this and who cares about curating? I suppose we do.

I'll go back to Kent's brilliant point here:

From the keepers of a collection, whose job was to care for the collection, the role and definition of the curator has expanded greatly to what it is today. Contemporary curating presents new context or experiences to approach existing conditions or perspective (emphasis mine)

Most of us would be familiar with the etymology of the word "curate" pointing to the rather curious verb of "care" - which, as Kent pointed out, used to refer to the caring for a collection of objects. What has changed or evolved is this notion of caring; what do we care for? how should we care?

And it is precisely these two questions posed by curating today that we ought to come back to this rather flippant use of the word "curate" today. Of course, we can always argue for it on the basis of 'poetic license' as such with the liberal use of the word - as I suspect those guilty of it would. Yet, we need to and ought to be aware of how the word is being thrown around, and for what purposes. In short, we need to care about the concept of curatorship here. While others may be comfortable using the word liberally in a non-reflexive manner, I doubt that those of us with an investment in the concept of curatorship can. That is to say that one of the ways in which we can care for the use of the word here is to constantly be reflexive about it and to critique others about their (flippant) use of the word here - even to the extent of unpacking their agendas: What is the context and conditions in which they are pushing the word "curate" in our faces? Why? To what end?

If we can concede that every curatorial gesture is also a kind of ideological force, I would venture to say that every liberal iteration of the word "curate" today is also guilty of reifying certain ideas about curatorship and we ought to be on our guard against that. This is for me perhaps one of the roles of curatorship - which is to care for the concept of curating itself. To take poetic license with the word is one thing (and an excusable one at that), but to remain nonchalant about the ideological context(s) within which such utterance of "curate", to let it pass without a care, so to speak, is perhaps akin to (intellectual) suicide for those of us with an investment in curatorship.

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