This post is a follow up to a previous one in which I rant that I think ‘journalism’ is miss-firing when declaring that the future of news is curation.
I’ve recently finished Steve Rosenbaum’s Curation Nation and was going to begin my lit review of it and rant that he conflates tummeling and conversation into curation. Before I did that I figured that I’d better know what I’m talking about, that is, I better make sure I know what is meant by curation and moreover, what is meant when journalists say (collectively) ‘we should be curators.’ If I’m going to rant, I might as well be right, no?
So I’ve decided to interview some curators (and since I am in Berlin, what better place?); I had the first of these chats last the week before last with Perla Montelongo From the Node Centre for Curatorial Studies. What I learned is that what I think curators do, what journalism translates from the notion of ‘curator’ and what curation is traditionally and in modernity are different things. My rant to Rosenbaum isn’t entirely misplaced, but it’s not entirely right either.
Observationally, this is what ‘journalism’ understands that curation is: an artifactual act; from museums: collecting things and placing them in context, often in physical (juxta)position with one another. In other words, we collect links, we say how they are connected and why they are important.
What I said in my blog post and how I understood curation at the time is that journalists need to be more than curators because curation is just organisation, it’s contextualisation which defeats a certain research and conversatorial aspect of what ‘new media’ (whatever that means) journalism should be, re: social media tools. I believe that what journalists need to be are tummelers, more immersed in the human aspect than leaving the conversation , the nurtured connection with people for the digital stream. Reporting facts by Twitter, datavis and infographics are great but I fear we may become so obsessed with our ‘new toys’ that everything will begin to look like a nail. The danger there is that we lose professional skill sets and worse, we miss the nuances and the real story.
The question I have for curators is this: is the act of putting art or artefacts in a common space, is that act in and of itself, does it constitute conversation?
From my conversation with Perla Montelongo this is what I now understand about curation:
Curation, she says, is to “make a link between the artist and the audience.”
Traditionally, curation has been about collecting things to display, often around a discourse. And conversation is an aspect of curation though in holding gallery talks for the audience.
After a while curators fancied themselves as an educated, elitist class and thus curatorial discourse stressed the role of curator in placing a piece in some kind of context.
But, Perla explained to me, when curators place objects in a gallery they have to be careful not to “force” a meaning on a piece (with respect to how the artist intended meaning). Mis-placing a piece next to another piece may alter the perception of it by the audience, as opposed to the piece simply being what it is.
Modern curation discourse— the kind taught at Node— stresses focus on the creative process and relationship between the curator and the artist. It encourages the curator and artist to work together about how to illuminate the meaning of the piece as it has been felt that curators in the past too often skip asking the artist how the piece should be displayed. Meaning is lost or altered for lack of or because of context.
Perla told me about an exercise that Node does with its curation students: they have the student team up with an artist to create an advert about the artists work. They aren’t allow to show pictures of the work or talk about it as such but rather they must create an advert that conveys the circumstances and influences of the artist’s piece.
She finds with this method, artists create “more interesting products” when they work with the curator to “build the story relationship”. She explained that “artists feel more confident about making something risky” when they work closely with a curator, and the curators “can be more creative” in the way they display the piece because they are more certain that they represent the intent of the artist.
And what about conversation with the audience?
Perla told me when she started as an artist she would just do whatever moved her. But later she came to recognise the importance of trying to see from the audience’s perspective if the message she was trying to convey was accessible, so she began to consider the audience perspective in her creation of her pieces.
She also said that in recent years she has seen more funding available for curators to try innovative ways to communicate with the audience.
She recommend that I follow up by reading the work of Hans Ulrich Obrist and Harald Szeemann.
In journalism, the audience is / has become part of the creational aspect — that is, they are no longer spectators but actively involved in the story? What occurred to me during our discussion is a translation of rolls that looks like this: journalist/documentarienne = curator; audience = artist
A journalist’s roll is ‘the first line of history’, is to reflect back at society what it thinks is happening, how it thinks what is happening. We take a something (event, issue) and try and figure out what’s going on. We are not creating the raw material; people do that, society does that. Could we understand the audience as the creators of the raw material with which we work, in this relationship, is there a way in which the audience is/could be the artist? Our task as journalists then is to work with them to figure out how to display their messages that are the information that they give to us; moreover to continue to work with people as the story continues, once it’s been published online keep up with the comments and nurture further insight.
Journalism always has been going out and talking to people. The mediation of that has changed and maybe the point that follows is that following up becomes easier.
My next conversation with a curator will be this week. I will blog again after that meeting.