During one of Week 5 curating activities, students were voted by peers to be the curators for our Group Exhibition at Falmouth Flexible Online Page - Landings. I was elected as one of the curators along with Simon Fremont and Paul Peach. Our curating duties was limited to naming three themed categories and the main/central theme. Something that at first glance might appear not enormously challenging, at least compared to other things, until you begin to do a bit of research about curating: “Title Fights: How Museums Name Their Shows”, “People think curating just means choosing nice things' – secrets of the museum curators”, “Rare and Strange Encounters of the Curator’s Kind”. If these headlines don’t elicit an initial warning, after some brief sentences it’s even clearer. In ‘Title Fights’, the authors emphasise the volume of thinking and work that go into naming exhibitions. Sometimes, it can take years with an entire realm of PR experts focused on that one important aspect of assisting curators by gathering relevant information to help them make decisions on titles. However, Paul, Simon and I, did not have years – we had a few days, and we did not have a team of executives and assistants. How were we going to filter through our peers work and come up with titles that would be suitable to everyone?
What's in a name? Curating
To curate – in every day, non-specific to photography, language – means to “take charge of something” or organise (i.e. organise an art exhibition or to take charge of a museum). It also means to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, with music or online content. In the context of the photography and the visual arts world, curating, i.e. curating for an art exhibition, requires skills in editing and selecting. When one creates an exhibition for instance, if there is a theme especially, one must carefully select which of the pieces in their collection they wish to display, and may even search the collections of others to see if there are some more fitting pieces. Research, ideas, an artistic mind, and possibly a common theme are required to curate effectively.
Curating for an exhibition with a common theme could be described as almost like building up a brand. There is a sense of uniformity across the pieces, a connection, the common theme that connects them. Or at least there is supposed to be. When putting together an exhibition, this must be kept in mind. Selections should bear in mind any overarching or common theme that the exhibition has.
Photography is not distinct to other visual arts; it is a visual art. One may argue that photography has changed the world, and this is true, but so did painting, architecture, even art movements and concepts such as the renaissance, with it bringing back Greek and Roman ideas back into the spotlight, and mathematical concepts of proportion and more in art. In that sense, photography as an art is not as unique and distinct as one may think. And you may wonder why I mention this in relation to curating and selecting titles, but having a fundamental understanding of photography, how you view it, its history and what was before it can bring a more enlightened process to the final selection of names.
The Chosen Three Stooges
As a three-member team, along with Paul and Simon, we were acutely aware of our colleagues work and made an enormous effort to place ourselves as much as possible in their shoes, as well as our potential viewers, and the curators themselves. Each of us had our process in organising our thoughts, some of us worked better by separating texts and images, i.e., creating excel documents with photographers’ description of their project in words, while viewing their images, others may print submitted images of photographers work and visually group them together while keeping the context of the photographers work in mind. And if you are like me, requiring a bit more to unleash that creative side, you might want to encompass a combination of various methods that places data and images together on one page, it requires a bit more work collecting and layout wise, so don’t use this method if you have a more practical and less timing consuming method that unleash your creative side.
To begin, I collected profile photos of my peers to place along side their images and descriptions of their work, the reason I did this was to psychologically emphasise their presence during the procedure of analysing their work and allocating the name that is most suitable. When I read their descriptions, to have a face next to that description, in a way, highlighted their passion, I could connect the words to a person, a personality and it made the process more intimate. My exhibition profiles were useful in aligning my thoughts, philosophy and creative side.
However, as I proceeded to create individual pages for each photographer, it became more apparent that by singling out each on one page, instead of grouping their differing images, I risked creating a recipe of multiple names for each photographer when they all needed to be under one main theme in addition to fitting into three themed categories. Finding that balance and doing it correctly in a few days was exciting and concerning at the same time. Simon and Paul were equally challenged with their own processes, and over the course of a few days we communicated extensively on WhatsApp and had at least three conferences and several canvas messages sharing information. It was Simon’s excel document that was enormously useful – Simon had copied and paste into a format, all the responses students posted in a forum regarding their practice. Students described in a couple of sentences their work as well as providing two examples of images they will be submitting for the exhibition. Both Paul and I used Simon’s excel document to further enhance our process. Paul shared with us his brilliant grouping method – he printed the images and laid them out on his carpet, stood over them and spent hours moving and shifting, like a puzzle photos that complimented each other.
At the end of our individual processes, we met to discuss our selected names and vote on them, while I would not elaborate on the details, I will say that we worked objectively and passionately to select names that spoke at the heart of our peers work, we wanted to celebrate our collective accomplishments as well as our individual ones and in the end I believe we did a very fine job.
I learnt much more than I had expected during the curating process, the research gathered has broaden my understanding of the other side of the pond, the processes and how to communicate effectively with curators and other experts in the field of producing and publishing my photography. Below are the chosen themes.
Main theme name: Searching for Meaning
Who is Responsible
How We Live
What Defines Us
Dayana Sharon Marconi
KENDZULAK, SUSAN. 2017. "What Does it Take to Be an Art Curator?". The Balance [online]. Available at: https://www.thebalance.com/g00/what-do-art-curators-do-1295684?i10c.referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.ae%2F [accessed 26 June 2017].
LANDI, ANN. 2017. "Title Fights: How Museums Name Their Shows | ARTnews". Artnews.com [online]. Available at: http://www.artnews.com/2013/12/09/how-museums-title-shows/ [accessed 25 June 2017].
MARTIN, DANIEL and LUCY BAMFORD. 2016. "'People think curating just means choosing nice things' – secrets of the museum curators". the Guardian [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/2016/jan/22/museum-curator-job-secrets-culture-arts [accessed 25 June 2017].
PUSHKAL, ANNE. 2017. "RARE AND STRANGE ENCOUNTERS OF THE CURATOR'S KIND". The Ultimate History Project [online]. Available at: http://ultimatehistoryproject.com/what-do-curators-do.html [accessed 1 July 2017].
READ, SHIRLEY. 2014. Exhibiting photography. 2nd edn. New York: Focal Press.
RUGOFF, RALPH. 2016. What makes a great exhibition?. Philadelphia, PA: The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.
STEFAN HEIDENREICH, STEFAN. 2017. "Against Curating - &&& Journal". &&& Journal [online]. Available at: http://tripleampersand.org/against-curating/ [accessed 26 June 2017].