The definition of curation says that it is the process of selecting and caring for objects that are to be exhibited in a museum or gallery. However, having experienced now three exhibitions at Artspace as an intern, I can see that selection and caring goes beyond its conventional use of the words. What happens during curation is exclusive to its collection, to the exhibition space. It will never be a consistent process from the setting up of one exhibition to another.
The behind-the-scenes role of the curator is necessary to help establish a consistent and strong theoretical or ideological foundation that ultimately holds up the art works, making the exhibit a whole, rather than just a variety of art works that are showcased independent of one another. The foundation will be solidified not necessarily through complex theory, but more so through the installment of the pieces, through the placing of the art works in a way that they give context to one another in a way that they are taking up the space of the gallery meaningfully.
In November, I was lucky enough to be present at the Artist talk where Couzyn Van Heuvelen and curator Ryan Rice discussed the complications and challenges of transporting a Qamutiik made from soapstone that was part of the exhibit BAIT. BAIT comprised mostly of enlarged representations of fishing lures, aiming to reproduce in his art Inuit knowledge and the relationship of his peoples to food systems. The whole exhibition looked heavy. Van Heuvelen talked about the complications of placing the artefact in the transport truck due to its weight, because although heavy and seemingly sturdy it was prone to scratching and breaking. Next, the artefact could not fit through the doors of Artspace if brought in whole, so the Qamutiik had to be taken apart and put back together once inside the gallery. Seemingly banal, trivial, the transporting of artwork and setting it up within a space can be considered part of this transformation.
This was a group show curated by William Kingfisher. The show comprised of five artists whose works were showcased for different sensorial experiences. Jenn Cole’s piece was auditory. It was meant to portray the changes of the riverbed surrounding the river where salmon migrations took place and that is a community garden. The soundscape was recorded below the surface of the soil. Beyond the melody produced by the rain and by people walking on the soil, was the roaring flow of the river through the dam.
The setting up of this exhibit was my first experience ever in working behind the scenes in the setting up of a show. We set up Gallery 2 so that the visual feature created an environment in which to listen to the soundscape. As we hung branches from the ceiling, we collaborated and interchanged roles in overseeing the placement of the branches and hanging them up. At one point I was asked to propose where to place a branch. My response was unsure. I said, that not being the artist and not fully being able to share a vision due to my unfamiliarity with the environment that she aimed to portray, my choice would be arbitrary. As I pointed towards where I thought that the branches could be placed, we came to consensus through nods and sounds of agreement. It is futile to try to explain why we managed to agree to do so. The nods and agreements, the being in the space and the firsthand experience of the spatial and visual effect of the branches in the places where we decided to position them confirmed that it was not arbitrary, just not verbal.
___a lineage of transgression___
The setting up of the current exhibit, ___a lineage of transgression___ curated by Liz Ikiriko, the experience was completely different. The process of curating an exhibition where most media is digital is very different to the previous two, where the art pieces relied mostly on physical visual means. Digital work is more easily transportable. There is no risk of breaking or scratching, and transporting these files is not a question of mass or size. However, new media can also pose obstacles. In this case, we had to figure out to how convert an mp3 file within an Apple device to be able to transfer the file. The issue was solved after a couple of hours of trial and error. However, the setting up of the devices that are to showcase the media does require physical strain—to set up the projectors and speakers into the space of the galleries, to position the objects from which the media will be projected.
That is why a great part of curating is difficult to put into words, because the task is sensorial—to make sure that which must be seen is visible, that which has sound can be heard. The transference of the work of art from the studio to its place of exhibition is almost like a metamorphosis. Considering that the studio is the mediator between the artist and the work of art, its moving to the place of exhibition would require some sort of transformation. This means that the art process does not finish in the studio. It is continued through its curation.