Monday 4 August 2014


by Samantha Yap

The title references a line in Lee Weng Choy’s essay for Amanda Heng’s monograph. It is a line that has much resonance with me.

“Art is about looking for clarity while entertaining uncertainty.”

So begins my journey.


I feel like a tiny spark of light in a constellation of something much bigger than myself.

I started this journey with the intention to demystify the role(s) of a curator and the meaning of curating. I brought with me the ideals of a sixteen-year old, with preconceived notions of what a curator is and what a curator does.

To borrow from film –

 “I thought I understood it, that I could grasp it, but I didn't, not really. Only the smudgeness of it; the pink-slippered, all-containered, semi-precious eagerness of it. I didn't realize it would sometimes be more than whole, that the wholeness was a rather luxurious idea…”

The quote is from Like Crazy (2011) and as those of you who are familiar with the movie would know, this poetic, wonderfully vague but similarly succinct line was mentioned in the context of romance and love. In my case, I saw “it” as my relationship with art and eventually also, my relationship with curating, something I have consistently viewed as my future ambition and my final destination.

And now, only a month later, I am witnessing these young naive ideals being given proper nourishment and taking real tangible form. 

There is no straight end or definite conclusion to this demystifying.  Even now and in the following months to come, I continue to find all sorts of answers to the boggling question of, “What is a curator?”.

It surprised me because I never imagined that this was what I needed. I could get a strait-laced answer and structure everything based on that one answer alone. It would have been concrete enough. But instead, with my experience here so far, I have been given breadth and multiplicity. A plurality of things. A buffet that gives me the chance to mould my own preferences and create a starting point.

And so, I shall start by looking back at this past month with Curating Lab, bringing to fore the salient parts that I consider formative to my own eventual “coming of age” tale, vis-à-vis curating/being a curator.

Tracing the history of the word ‘curator’ back to its Latin origin actually gave me some form of insight into the responsibilities of a curator. The Latin word curae means ‘to take care of’. This resonated with my own initial ideas of a curator as the custodian of a museum’s collection or someone who facilitated the work of artist. 

In a reading that was given to us prior to the Curatorial Intensive, one of the points I found particularly interesting was the train of thought that characterized Boris Groys’s idea of what curating was. He believed that curating was curing – that an artwork was vulnerable and frail on its own and it required the guidance of a curator and the accompanying exhibition to achieve visibility, to present itself.

As radical as the personification of an artwork to a bedridden patient initially seemed to me, some parts of my own presumptions about a curator actually mirrored that line of thought.

To me, curators spoke exclusively in the language of exhibitions, charting the passage of time from one opening to another. Their responsibility was to the artist and the vehicle to fulfill that promise was the exhibition.

But, just one day into the Curatorial Intensive, I found my thinking shifting quite significantly. I began to realize that not all curatorial work existed within an institutional framework. Not all curatorial work is solely confined to exhibition making. That realization came about during the sharing session by Max and Marianna of Latitudes whose wide scope of projects only featured a small percentage of exhibitions. 

I started seeing how diverse the role of a curator was, a curator who in our contemporary age, dovetailed as many other things too (writers, project manager, administrative extraordinaire, master emailer, etcetera). In the job of the curator, as with many other things in the art world, singularity does not quite exist. I also recognized how crucial it was to be able to write well as a curator and from that point on, I’ve always felt starved for words. (The Asia Art Archive proved a fruitful meal)

@LTTDS | ParaSite’s 10 Million Years of Yearning. Sex in Hong Kong

But of course, there was no escaping the exhibition. Exhibition making was still one part of the full spectrum of the list of things a curator was expected to do.  With Heman and the rest of the Curating Lab team, we dissected exhibitions and picked apart details. I relived my own love for this medium of expression through my experience of ParaSite’s exhibition, 10 Million Rooms of Yearning. Sex in Hong Kong. At the same time, I also saw the tediousness of the entire process of zooming in and zooming out, from details to big picture, deliberating between painted walls or the ubiquitous white cube space.

I got a better sense of the responsibilities that embedded themselves deviously within the process of exhibition making. To quote Boris Groys again, “the best curating is nil-curating, non-curating”. How do you make your own intentionally made decisions appear subtle and invisible? How do curators present an exhibition– a presentation of artworks arranged deliberately in a vacuum of space and time– without taking too heavy-handed an approach and without infringing on the sensibilities of each artwork? To quote the winning essay that got me into Curating Lab (how cocky I am), “knowledge is about knowing as much as it is about not knowing”.  When I am drowning with questions like that, I know that I’ve made progress.

@nusmuseum | Spring Workshop on our second last day in Hong Kong

With Spring Workshop, I found a space that really resonated with me. A place of quietude, a place to breathe and a place to think, especially in the stuffy, concrete maze of Hong Kong. The artists in residence have no obligation to create a final body of work. The pressure of creating something concrete was absent which left room for research, experimentation and failures (that they do not have to worry or account for) – this to me was the most important aspect of all. My experience with Spring ignited a desire in me to replicate the same thing here in Singapore. I will eagerly wait for time to determine if money will eventually line my pockets.

@seleneysh | Expressing my enthusiasm and agreeing with Mustafa’s words.

As of now, I am so glad that places such as NUS Museum’s prep room and CCA’s own Artist in Residency programme (that is more research-based than project-based) exists. We all need to allow ourselves to fail.

A final thought– having heard from both artists and curators, it has made me curious about the dynamics inherent in this relationship they share. What kind of structures are there, is there even a structure at all? As someone who is only just beginning her curatorial journey, I find myself taken by the possibilities of how a curator could and would establish his/her own sense of direction and identity that is separate from an artist, but still in tandem with it? How do we negotiate that degree of dependency that comes with a contemporary curator’s job of facilitating living artists?

I suppose, this is the sort of loaded question that grows bigger as it eventually unravels itself. 

But, I don’t seek for an answer. I seek for answers.


Heng, A. (2011). Let's See: Amanda Heng and the Performance of Looking in Art. Amanda Heng: Speak To Me, Walk With Me. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum.

Groys, B. (2008). On the Curatorship. Art Power. London: MIT Press.

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