A Quick Follow up to Cultures of Curation

If you missed the panel discussion earlier this afternoon at the University of North Dakota’s Arts and Culture Conference, you missed an stimulating conversation about curation in the media, art world and film. As I said in an earlier blog post, curation has come to be a particular important concept in the late-20th/early-21st century cultural lexicon.

The panels were relatively conservative in their reading of curation and privileged the curator as a kind of arbiter of creativity. When asked whether curation could occur without a curator, the panel was largely dismissive. (And, yes, it was my question, and I have a blog, so I can respond to my own question here. It’s completely solipsistic, I know, but it’s hardly my fault that the panel stimulated me to have a conversation with myself.) My idea of curation sans curator was not that curation would occur without any agency, but rather the highly distributed models of agency present on the web challenge our traditional, frankly elitist, notions of the curator as culture-maker.

In some ways, the editorial work present at a site like Wikipedia or the crowd-sourced curation present at a site like Reddit demonstrates how effective decentralized models of curation can be. Interestingly, Jennifer Preston, a social media reporter for the New York Times, mentioned how the front page of the Times was among the most intensively curated spaces in media. When asked about curation without a curator, though, she responded by suggesting that this would give rise to massive collections of YouTube clips of people filming the news coverage of on their televisions. She overlooked that the crowd-sourced site Reddit claims to being “the front page of the internet”. 

I also thought about the assemblage of ancient objects present in collections today. The modern curatorial intervention comes only after centuries of human curation. The use of objects in various ancient context, trade routes, modern geopolitics, colonialism, and the unequal distribution of wealth conspired to make available a collection of objects for the modern curator. This clearly does not fit a narrow definition of curation as a reasoned, generative act, but it is reminds us that our current genius is always contextualized by the “invisible hand” of centuries of individual decisions, value judgements, and markets combined with natural, political, and social vagaries that have nothing properly to do with objects, but nevertheless shape their fates. 

Be sure to check out the final day of the conference tomorrow:

Thursday, Oct. 24:

  • David Pagel, Visiting Artist Lecture, 11 a.m.,Witmer 114, UND campus.
  • Kerri Miller – Visiting Artist Lecture, 3:30 p.m., River Valley Room, Memorial Union.
  • Closing reception, 7 p.m., at the “Cultures of Curation” Exhibition at 3rd Street Gallery in downtown Grand Forks.

One Comment

  1. In the latest American Antiquity, Sarah Herr discusses changing concepts of curation among the Western Apache. In the pre-reservation period, curation of sites and artifacts meant reuse, and she references one person who called sites “early convenience stores” where you could walk around and find that arrowhead or scraper you needed. Likewise there site were occupied, old ceramics ground up for temper in new ceramics, and so on. In the reservation period, however, curation has shifted strongly to avoidance of these sites (especially burials), or use for ritual activity only.

    Reply

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