With art, design and most artefacts of aesthetic appreciation, the process of curation could be considered an art form itself. Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of London’s Serpentine Galleries, has published books, published broadsheet columns and spoke on the subject many times. Obrist uses personal experiences of curation – in the early beginnings, a debut exhibition held in his kitchen he states, held a repurposed venue for ‘twenty visitors’ he had invited.
Obrist, kindly summarises four key uses and helpful meanings for what curation could stand for. Firstly, the act of preserving or (in his words),‘safeguarding’ artworks. Artefacts of sublime nature mustn’t wain in accessibility as decades pass, moreover; it is of intrinsic value for all to be up healed and maintain visibility. Secondly, the ‘selector of new works’. If you dig deep enough all 60 billion or so of us could be considered artists as we are all mark makers and designers of our own lives. The curator could be considered as a broadly spanning culturally responsive selector of artefacts, but also culture itself. In art, this could mean building a series of artefacts that serve to invite reflective attitudes within society, which may lead to a manifestation of better, more humanity lead aspirations - such as racial and gender equality. In music, you could argue that the punks of the day, were in essence, aesthetic curators – personifying political and tyrannical revolt through their artistic expression, music and style. Curation also connects art history, I feel curation emphasises its innate ability to communicate and illustrate historical movements in humanity. Finally – and what I expect would be a more instinctive reaction of definition – is simply displaying work.
Obrist states, that ‘Before 1800, few people went to exhibitions. Now hundreds of millions of people visit them every year. It's a mass medium and a ritual. The curator sets it up so that it becomes an extraordinary experience and not just illustrations or spatialised books.’
So, as established here, the existential importance of curation is magnified – a speculative reflection may lead to more questions than exposition. Much like the complex legal architecture of our western society, difficulties and inadequacies become evident. I have mentioned such concern of authoritarian tyrannical hierarchies imposing material suffering on people before.
In this instance; a chief concern is that too much responsibility could be placed on a concentrated set of ideological beliefs. Perhaps worse, a systematic abuse of influence could propagate acute misrepresented vision – a sinister result, could be a stifling of mass people lead expression of change for betterment; or, on a lesser scale (but arguably more important), the rigidity of established institutionalised entities may impose magnified importance redundant facets of history/culture and not harmoniously represent the broader spectrum of community.
Of course – I am aware that - this reductionist, melodramatic analysis of curation stinks of my own personal inflection. I am sat (uncomfortably) high upon the fence, casting a looming shadow on both sides of the argument. I am still hanging on to Alan Males definition of illustration practice, as ‘culturally and socially’ sensitive purveyor of communicative image making.
I have long been a beneficiary of curation; my tastes in music, for example, are a culmination of multiple curations – neatly organised sensory delights, now mapped out for accessibility. As always, retrospectively, shortcomings are symptomatic of such practice. I can’t help but feel perhaps the goal-oriented nature of curation in music, for example, lead me forward through the present-day culture and defocused other potential angles of insight, recognition and admiration.
The Folio society founded in 1974 appears to have a fully realised, statement of intent- ‘Folio Society books offer a rich literary experience to readers of all ages. The books we select for publication are timeless – we know they will be enjoyed and appreciated now and in the future’. This abstract from the societies web page expresses clearly a considered a solidified expression of curation. The book can serve as an enormous vessel of expression; they can carry the didactic weight of encompassing religions, political movements and can sow the seeds for seismic shifts in culture. The Folio society carry the metaphorical mantel of cultural and human expression, they perform the valuable task of not only sympathetically curating texts enduringly so, but also adding further value to each carefully selected artefact – collaborating with world-class illustrator’s designs, and artists.
I quite like that.
Yevyatin Zamyatin's seminal sci-fi work of dystopian fiction (1924) images: The Verge, Folio society y.