Saturday 19 January 2013

essay | untitled

By Tabitha Lee
Information, as a body of knowledge’s and ideas, is synonymous to the ‘internet’ landscape. Its volume and accessibility provides a readymade resource for curators to mine. Appropriating sets of knowledge as a basis for exhibitions in commonplace, often adopted as a predefined strategy. The Internet and its ‘raw materials’, in its organization and contents, can also be readily assimilated into an exhibition. (6 Modules)

A candid account:

I am not good with words. Hence, allow me a moment to mentally break this paragraph down.

Right, so this body of text praises the resources readily available on the internet. The quantity of information really allows one to start with the familiar click, and into a wonderland of curiosity and fascination. I often find myself getting lost in Wikipedia – Often starting with a specific search, I would often find myself linking from that one searched page to another, without a trace of memory what linked me to the latest page. Even in the course of Curating Lab, the tapping of the resources available online has been quite inevitable. In fact, the basic fact-finding was done online! One weblink to another, coupled with our imaginations and other texts the concept grew in structure and form. Steven Johnson clearly puts our experience into words, “Chance favours the connected mind.”

The internet has also allowed us to have easier and quicker access to things we are interested in! I learnt how could be utilized to run a quick search on stored items via their accession numbers. In fact, 
almost everything can be done via the internet. This thought came to mind – how much fun would it be to curate a show via the internet. Imagine booking the venue, liaising with artists, art handlers, gallery sitters etc etc all via email or internet connections, hope for the best, and hope everything turns out perfectly. Just a random thought, but hey! Definitely worth a try.

The internet and its vast readily available resources and knowledge give rise to 2 main issues. First, the debate on the term “curator,” and how its pervasiveness has brought about curators who fight for their rights to stay offline.

Issue 1 | The C-word.

Curators are increasingly using the internet in the multiple phases of exhibiting. Well, that we all know. But what about the way internet brings a new wave of “curators?” The kinds not formally engaged by institutions, or those of academic qualification. These new types of “curators” I am wondering about are those who manage content of interest, and carefully display or make available to public viewing, all with the advent of the internet. Some proudly bestow the C-word upon themselves, while most managers of content often operate simply out of interest, or aren't even aware they curate.

According the dictionary, (y’know, the built-in ones in your Macbooks) a curator is one who a keeper or custodian of a museum or other collection. Doesn't that mean everyone is some sort of curator? To be honest, I hoard the silliest items. From French macaron boxes to stickers from Pasar Malams or our local night markets, used in a variety of ways. I post pictures on Instagram, but before I do, I spend a bit of time to make sure they look presentable, as well as ommiting boring pictures. I repost interesting videos and articles on Facebook that I deem worth sharing with those around me. Does that make me a curator of some sorts as well?

Back to the internet and curating. With the rise of social media/blogging sites like Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest, do we also see a rise in lay-curators who manage and disseminate content of their choice to the world around them? Is this not similar to a hired curator going through the processes of selection, acquisition, and designing to display items in a public arena?

Enough with the rhetorical questions; I have come to learn that the internet has indeed perpetuated the advent of lay-curators. Not that it is something worrying (in my opinion). However, there is the ongoing debate about the term curation, and what it means for a layperson that happens to disseminate materials of interest to be called a curator. Some curators are of the opinion that the term “curator” has been devalued. These curators work hard at their jobs, gunning for the perfect exhibition, while these youngsters sit comfortably at their laptops or with their iphones, reposting somewhat artsy pictures and quotes on Tumblr, or putting their entire life in pictures on Instagram. By definition, these people do cut it as curators. They take the pains to consider if the possessed contents are of any interest (not necessarily to be public interest in certain occasions). These are obvious content curators that make it a practice to find content and share them. Some of these content curators may be of influential status (given the vast fans/followers “liking” or sharing their posts), which only gives them further validation of their chosen content and the impetus to share more content. However, “former actual curator” turn writer, Choire Sicha calls such people “filthy bloggers” or “lowgrade collectors.” While I am quite shocked at his choice of words, it shows one extreme polar end of the debate on the term “curator.”

While Sicha is on one end of the spectrum, there are many people for the looser usage of the term. Many actual curators are turning to the internet to give internet users a feel of their space, and what they can expect in the museum or exhibition. Many museums do up their websites beautifully. Pictures are carefully taken and chosen to best present their galleries. They hope their website visitors enjoy the pictures and virtual tours, in the hopes that they (the visitors) in turn share the links with their friends via online methods. If interested, the layperson/curator then selects a medium of sharing. As such, how can the institutional curator then devalue the notion of the layperson as a curator when they depend on these people to spread their ideas creatively? It is quite impossible to remove the layperson from the notion of curating entirely as the internet has drawn the layman and the curator much closer. Virtually. By removing the curatorship notion from the laypeople simply based on the disapproval of their virtual methods might be shooting oneself in the foot, especially if one’s institution relies heavily on the internet for various purposes (from what I can think off, off the top of my head: to attract visitors, acquire items etc.)

This debate on the issue of the notion “curating” gets a little on my nerves. While some work really hard to earn the title of a curator, the term is also used to describe people in general who find content and share them. However, I feel that this is quite a small issue, and not worth all the name calling/rude language. In my opinion, its because the term is just used due to the lack of any other word to clearly describe the notion of selecting and caring for items in a collection.  Well, that's also proven according to my searches on the thesaurus (on my trusty Macbook and a general search on Hence, I would not be too nitpicky about such terms until a better word can be found.

Issue 2 | The right to stay offline

Here we see another issue brought up with internet playing an increasingly larger role in our lives. With the burgeoning pervasiveness of the internet, and increasing computer literacy, (as touched on above) many museums are pushing to be as tech savvy as they can. The demands of the audience also shift towards desiring more information on museum websites. Many museums seize the opportunity to grab the interests of potential visitors. This might have added an extra burden on the backs of curators – to curate information online for the institution, its website and the general public. Many curators struggle to keep up with the ever-changing waves of technology. Especially those from the older and more technologically conservative generations. I mean, younger curators should have no problem coping with these changes, more so if they are used to using such technology on a daily basis. But what about the older generations - folks who struggle when forming a text message on their under-utilized smartphones, or have Facebook accounts with only their children as their friends – who cannot adapt to these changes quickly? When they applied for their jobs, such seemingly arduous tasks were not on their job description. Hence, their reason for not wanting to use the internet is valid!

I wouldn't say who is right or wrong, but because the internet and all the technology involved are really moving at mind-blowing speeds, our demands shift to suit technology even faster. We all want things fast, be it information, resources or loading speeds. While the internet brings many benefits to the curator in research, it also brings about the common use of the term to describe ordinary people who take care and pride in their sharing of content, only to be met with heavy and perhaps harsh disagreement from certain curators. Many curators are forced to adapt faster than their minds actually can, in order to fulfill institutional demands for visitorship or online presence, often causing unnecessary stress and increased workload. Hence, online content, though seemingly common/ordinary, sees a lot of discourse and clout around it.


No comments:

Post a Comment