Unfolding Notes on Curatorial Solidarity

Continued Conversations. . .


Solidarity, something solid. // Taking up physical space. // not empty. // Maybe we could start from the question of why we want to collaborate? Stand in solidarity with each other? // Especially when we cannot be in physical proximity to each other. // Perhaps we want to collaborate because we’re so isolated? // Networks can be a form of solidarity and in some ways, we are performing that process. // I think it is very much about acknowledging the multitude. // There are so many ways to observe the multitude – for today I am thinking about ‘the crowd’. //  In thinking about solidarity and multitudes/crowds, I somehow land on agreement in disagreement, and disagreement in agreements and their places in unions. // Freud argues in ‘Civilization and Its Discontents’ that the crowd is a dangerous mass, without the reflectiveness and sovereignty of the individual human. Goebbels describes two types of crowd – the block and the swarm. The block as a rigorously organised group of people (easy to militarize), and the swarm as a chaotic group, needing to be controlled. Wilhelm Reich has a more emancipatory vision of what a crowd can achieve. Personally, I have had moments of great revelation being part of the crowd, as well as fear. I could go so far to say the same for collective curation. // No island. // The problem is, curating is still seen as a field or a task that revolves around one person performing this action/responsibility alone. // Keeping resources apart from each other. The only weaver of various experiences and its technicalities – the ‘how’ must only emanate from them. // In this way, thinking in terms of solidarity and networks is a first step to breaking these isolations. We spoke about the isolation of the independent curators, for example. // Like there are many art worlds there are many curators, there are also many types of independent curators – some who prefer to remain independent and others who are more open to collective action – or even acknowledge that curation is a collective action. // Curatorial collectives are more and more common, yet they still exist as a single entity – you don’t often see collectives collaborating with collectives. // I wish for more room for curatorial practice that is process based instead of product- or outcome-driven to give the room for independence to collaborate and make process visible. // YES… and room for failure, perhaps, that’s what workshopping can offer, a bit more transparency, exhibitions are always so final and beautiful, it would be nice to see how much mess comes in before that. // I <3 MESSINESS. // And even how much mess comes after that… // Like open studios for curatorial processes. // Also when you speak of failures, that is where solidarity and the collective comes in – a mutual responsibility. // Thinking of the question, I wonder if the ‘solid’ in solidarity runs the danger of being too determined – could it be rhizomatic instead? // I would say it needs to be both. Solid and flexible at the same time, if that makes sense. // Sometimes we put too much emphasis on things remaining forever, falling apart at some point creates the need for new structures. // I agree, however, we might need to preserve the willingness to collaborate and elaborate these new structures. Being open to these changes and dealing with them. That might be what I mean by the solid in solidarity. // I guess solidarity always needs a common ground of sorts from which to build, change, work, collaborate from. // Like a checklist or guidelines? // Mutual understanding? // Shared objectives and values to work with and from. And these are, naturally, changing with every new constellation of curatorial collaboration. // It also requires openness, vulnerability perhaps. // I would add empathy. // Thinking of solidarity in an historical context, it was often used to garner power in order to go against the more powerful and to be heard, to have a voice loud enough to stand in a hierarchical system. Also, it often had one leader at some point – coming back to the one independent curator. . . // I wonder what curators can learn from direct action protests in terms of organising? There is most often a clear intention but decentralized work groups. Maybe curators could be the non-violent version? Within my questions is the assumption that curators are interested in social and material change. Absolutely not always the point of art. // Here we are all writing anonymously. There is something about this disguise that allows for a lessened sense of hierarchy. Something that is perhaps vital for purer solidarity. // Taking this very exercise as an example also makes clear how the shared objective, which in this case is simply writing this text together, brings us together. We all know what we want to achieve and what is expected of us, under which conditions. There is little room, in this very small example of curatorial solidarity, to fail. // But if we were to, we would all be mutually responsible. // It’s both a relief and strangely terrifying to let go and lose control, but definitely a wonderful feeling to give up authorship in the name of exploration and, perhaps, solidarity. // Is there a verb for solidarity? // Soliderising? // Solidarious. // Solidariting and collaborating. // I’ve always liked the verb, confabulating when it comes to museum practice and museums as spaces that bring people together to. . . confabulate. // Not sure if I understand it but I love it. // It makes me think about the collective and doing things together, the workshopping we mentioned earlier. And showing the process. Especially in regard to curatorial practice, showing solidarity could be achieved through the introduction of more transparency. Last week we were commenting on the opaqueness of curating. // Yes, this is confabulating at its finest . . . often exhibitions/museums/spaces where art is seen are viewed as tombs, these quiet spaces that can lack humanity. . . // Almost like galleries and museums are where art goes to die. // . . .and yet there are so many conversations, interactions that lead to their existence. // To me that is the beauty of curatorial practice and it’s sad that it hardly gets seen. // The invisible sculptures around works/practices. These are always the most interesting parts and deserve more space. // Documenta this year had this approach, and I heard it was very difficult to ‘read’ for the public. There were lots of videos of workshops, etc, and people felt lost. // I personally found the messiness/chaos refreshing. // Being able to understand the curatorial process takes some experience and education. I wonder how you could meaningfully convey curatorial conversation and collaboration or if it is a more embodied knowledge that you have to experience through real-time work? // During a curatorial residency, as an informally trained artist with curatorial interests, I was tutored by a curator with a heavy art history background. One focus was to show me how to write short curatorial statements, kind of like elevator pitches that summarise ideas. If it was a class with a marking scheme I would have failed miserably. When I talk I can summarise but when I write I elongate because I need there to be clarity of context. And how do you know if you don’t? So I write more to guide you, to understand where I am writing from, what I am feeling, not just what I am saying because how will you understand it without understanding me in the moment of the writing? He called it circular thoughts. Maybe he meant it negatively but because he didn’t explain it I took it how I felt it and owned it. Maybe this justifies our multitude of thoughts – Our differences in individualities, backgrounds, realities, our anonymity all now validate our solidarity and/or potentials for it. // I am also wondering about the direction of solidarity; is it an internal direction towards the process of curatorial practice or is it towards the audience which I assume would appreciate checkboxes and guidelines more than the inner workings of the collaborative moment? // The collective legitimises and offers a platform for the process to take over the singular while it makes decisions and responsibilities vague. // Haha, well this will be the test of that. // Some things just cannot be summarised in checklists. I think we need to understand that. We, the audiences, whoever. // Checkboxes begin not solid, empty. // Maybe this text is its own messy, overflowing version of a checklist?

Continued Conversations. . . is a self-organised network that brings together curators working in various contexts and across a number of continents. A working group from the network engaged in an anonymised, spontaneous writing exercise as a method to express a collective thought on curatorial solidarity. The varying font colors and styles in the text are an acknowledgement of the different temporalities in which the interventions took place, highlighting the continuous process of the conversation. The group included Clementine Butler-Gallie (Berlin), Sofia Steinvorth (Lisbon), Kwasi Darko (Ghana), Nisha Merit (Johannesburg/Berlin), Lara Koseff (Johannesburg), Florence Devereux (London), and Emmaus Kimani (Nairobi).