Tuesday 21 August 2012

Journal | reflections on the first session at SAM

Why curate? What is the role of the curator?

The role of a curator, or, more essentially, who a curator is, can only be discussed upon an understanding of what it means to curate. Curating has been described as the acts of
1.       ‘caring’ for the art works in all its aspects,
2.       Communicating the significance of a collection to the public
3.       Filtering or selecting, much like the editor of a book. 

(This is of course a non-exhaustive list which could go on to include logistics of exhibition making, talent scouting, writing, art dealership, etc.)

However that being said, Flores, in his article, reminds us that the concept of curating itself can be culturally specific (in Thailand, for instance, the ‘curator is pantarak, which literally means keeper of things’, and ‘some Thai artists had initially thought the curator to be a broker, an assignment akin to marketing careers and commodities.’).

What it means to curate, and the role of the curator in the messy context of the contemporary is no longer clearly defined. Dealing with the commercial is now seemingly part and parcel of curating, especially if the curator is an independent one, and is thus more vulnerable in a ‘survivalist’ setting. Another factor that shapes the role of the curator is the institution within which he/she works in – exhibitions always have to serve to perform the institutional mandate, something that is perhaps most apparent in state museums. 

So, why curate? For me curating allows for a focused narrative to come through, whether this is a narrative that is personal for the curator, or echoes the institution attached to the exhibition, etc. What is important here, is for the curator to be self-reflexive about his/her practice. 

I have failed to cite decently in this short reflection piece based on our first internship session at SAM last week, but I draw references here to Patrick Flores, Past Periphery: Curation in Southeast Asia and
Robert Storr, Show And Tell. Another book I have found very helpful in understanding curating is titled Who Cares? 16 Essays on Curating in Asia (http://booksactually.com/index/mathpaperpress/d/whocares.html)

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