Tag Archives: art

Google Art Project vs the Delirious Museum

31 May
Now you see it, now you don’t. Henri Rousseau and friend on Google Art Project

Now you see it, now you don’t. Henri Rousseau and friend on Google Art Project

Google Art Project uses ‘Street View’ technology, but the street ends where the museum begins. Step over the threshold from Millbank into Tate Britain and you leave the world of pedestrians and traffic behind, entering an eerie and deserted gallery space devoid of fellow visitors or even staff, where crude arrows take you from silent room to silent room. You are invited to respond by conducting a series of imaginary art heists to assemble your own fantasy art collection.

It’s a cliché that modernism privileges visuality, but start exploring the MoMA with Art Project and there are some paintings you literally cannot see; works that due to the exploitability of their image rights elsewhere have been rendered fat with pixels like innocent faces in a cop-stop-action show on Channel 5. They exist, and occupy their rightful space in the museum, that you can be sure of; you are merely not allowed to look at them.

It shouldn’t really be a surprise that this particular vision of the museum as a visually portable feast of pick’n’mix delights is more than eighty years old. In 1930 Frederick Kiesler imagined it like this:

The Telemuseum. Just as operas are now transmitted over the air, so picture galleries will be. From the Louvre to you, from the Prado to you, from everywhere to you. You will enjoy the prerogative of selecting pictures that are compatible with your mood or that meet the demands of any special occasion. Through the dials of your Teleset you will share in the ownership of the world’s greatest art treasures.

This dream of the Telemuseum is realised perfectly by Google Art Project: a device that negates the distance between the remote user and the museum and removes in the process everything but the flat, visual surface of gallery space. Modern painting, historically obsessed with the visual field, canonically displayed in the Modern museum, is teleported to the viewer to experience it in visual purity.

Kiesler’s fantasy is quoted (p59) in Calum Storrie’s The Delirious Museum, a book with a very different approach to the idea of the museum. Storrie begins with the contention that ‘museums should be a continuation of the street’ and that a museum should not only form an accessible part of the city, but also form a continuation of the city itself. In twelve chapters leading from the Louvre to Las Vegas, Storrie develops a history and theory of the ‘delirious museum’ that takes in theft of the Mona Lisa by an Italian nationalist; Benjamin’s Arcades; Marcel Duchamp’s museum-in-a-suitcase; Shwitters’ adventures in personal mythology and museology; Chris Burden’s Samson (a work in which a museum entrance turnstile ratchets timbers outwards, warping and potentially destroying the fabric of the museum itself); Daniel Libeskind’s totemic, increasingly self-referential architecture; and ends (nearly) with the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a Culver City storefront outfit that is at once both oddball Wunderkammer and critique of the idea of memory. This is an underground history of museums that, if you like, runs parallel to the second half of Karsten Schubert’s The Curator’s Egg.

The Delirious Museum is, in art and architecture, all that attempts to broach the classical facades of institutions of art and antiquity and inject something of lived life back into the museological space. Some of these sallies are nakedly political, like the Situationist assault on the spectacle; others are merely concerned with the artistic; once or twice we cross the dreary river of ‘institutional critique’, the gallery’s attempt to reify theory; and three chapters on museum architecture serve only to convince that the yolk of a museum remains infinitely more interesting than the shell. Impossible to realise, the Delirious Museum (like Malraux’s ‘Museum without walls’) is something that can only exist in a book; but it’s a guidebook that also offers us an idea of what we should be demanding from museums.

Storrie goes nowhere near the digital: his delirium remains grounded in the spatial and personal experience of the museum environment. But these tendencies to critique, and more importantly to the expansion of the museum into everyday life are not without their online manifestations. It’s true that net.art remains the great unrealised promise of the internet setting art free, a promise that over-sponsored pixel-pretty shows like Decode fail to redeem. But when with even modest technological means at their disposal museums are capable of opening up photographic archives to the public, teaching science through games, making curatorial processes transparent through blogs and asking the public to contribute to exhibitions years before they open, it seems odd that Google Art Project should feel so like a CD-ROM, the kind of representation of a gallery that those of us who work with museums online for a living had abandoned before the first dotcom bubble even burst. Why has the world’s leading technology company delivered us a ‘virtual museum’ that belongs to the 1930s?

The museum of pieces of people

12 Apr
Artwork by Todt at Mütter Museum, Philadelphia

Artwork by Todt at Mütter Museum, Philadelphia

The distinction between two different types of space couldn’t be clearer. You pass from a dark, wood-lined space where objects sit safely behind glass, into a brightly-lit gallery with china-white walls and three-dimensional artworks that could easily (if unforgivably) be touched. One space is redolent of age and obscurity; the other is of the moment. It’s hard to understand how the two spaces can exist in the same institution, let alone be directly adjacent.

What’s on the walls, however, is much more intimately related. The dark space is the object galleries of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, a display originally attached to a surgical college, rather like London’s Hunterian, where anatomical knowledge is channelled through the by-products of the surgeon’s knife, dried and bottled, and where the monstrous is illustrative. The skeleton of a giant, a colon that held forty pounds; a plaster cast of conjoined twins; swallowed objects retrieved and typologically arranged.

The white space plays host to an exhibition of the ‘whimsical artwork of local artists collective TODT‘. Their whimsical subject is the monster aesthetic of the Mütter itself. A row of plush toys spill their complicated wax guts, the face of one teddy half-transformed by rictus into a vanitas. Featureless plastic heads levitate, tongues penetrating each other. Transparent men harbour brightly-coloured intestinal organs. A sea of flesh is clamped and stabbed by needles. Microscopes are mounted with pistol butts.

So we pass from the dark into the light and we understand what we’re seeing. From the monstrous to the ironic: TODT rework the imagery of medicine, emphasise the eeriness, mock the simplicity of anatomical understanding, highlight the violence inherent in the anatomical eye. They’re artists. This is what they’re here to do.

Then we are supposed to step into the gift shop (where they sell ‘fetus soap’ and multiple cartoon images of conjoined twins) but what if we retraced our steps to the dark place and looked at the monsters again? Having witnessed the artists’ irony in action, are we forced to see irony everywhere, even in the merely tragic? Do we understand bottled babies differently once we’ve seen dolls playing their parts? Has something here been overwhelmed by aesthetic interplay, by the relation of art to object?

This is the subject of investigation.

Berlinische Galeriedasch

25 Oct

There’s really no other way to see a museum than Godard’s way. Sights seen in a three-day dash around Berlin’s museums and galleries:

Dor Guez at Kunst-Werke: a series of videos describing the lives of the Christian Arab population of Al-Lydd. A young woman, Samira, describes how she was asked by her manager at a Jerusalem restaurant where she worked as a waitress to change the name she used on the bill form Samira to Mira, because there had been complaints from people at being served by an Arab

Berlin Medical Historical Museum at the Charité: a display of medical technology detailing its relationship to the national socialist regime (euthanasia, racial hygiene etc). Objects visible from both sides of the display: plainly labelled on one side; the Nazi connection detailed on the other. Proof, at the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, that objects do not tell stories, but that we tell stories with objects.

Käthe Kollwitz Museum: the movement from a middle-class fascination with working class existence, to a genuine solidarity with the  labour movement.

Berlinische Gallerie: an interesting exhibition, Mutations III, that explored the relationship between art and found images online. Rather undermined by a patronising interpretive text that discussed ‘photography’ (the domain of artists) being replaced by ‘images’ (the domain of everyone else).

Kreuzberg Museum: maquettes of the streets of Kreuzberg, with three-dimensional picture viewers on strings to look into the shops and houses; without any German to understand the interpretive text, a strong sense of familiarity with the issues of gentrification and housing dealt with by the display.

Mark Dion at Martin Gropius Bau: an exhibition celebrating 300 years of WeltWissen or world-knowledge in the Berlin Year of Science is rather overshadowed by its centrepiece installation, a series of cubes by Mark Dion containing objects trawled from the collections and archives of Berlin’s science museums and archives. An immediate sense of recognition and similarity to the ‘Things’ exhibition at Wellcome Collection that I’m in the middle of escaping.

East Side Gallery: the twee naïveté of some of the murals is tempered by reflection that these pictures offer honest, unironic hope for improvement in the world and the condition of people. These pictures represent not so much what Berliners hoped for from the reunification of their city (the failed monuments to which you can see all around you) so much as the hope it offered to other Europeans arriving in a newly-opened city.

The challenge in Copenhagen

22 Sep
Biomedicine on display at Copenhagen's Medical Museion

Biomedicine on display at Copenhagen's Medical Museion

15th Biannual Conference of the European Association of Museums for the History of Medical Sciences: ‘Contemporary Medical Science and Technology as a Challenge to Medical Museums.’

For medical museums, whose collections are typically composed of evocative historical objects, developments in contemporary biomedicine offer a twofold challenge to collecting and exhibiting. The first challenge is the nature of contemporary biomedical equipment: large, expensive, and without immediately obvious function (think fMRI scanner). Where a display of surgeons’ tools can be both instructive and chilling, a collection of grey-box scanners and robotic surgical suites is likely to offer both historians and visitors less. The second challenge is more fundamental: medical investigation and treatment now operates beyond the limits of the visible, at the level of genes and proteins, a scale which it is hard to relate to our own bodies and lived experience. Even the beautifully-limned image of an SEMmed protein can’t offer the visceral thrill of corporeal recognition that a pickled heart in a jar does.

That’s the ‘challenge’ that the EAMHMS met in Copenhagen, under the expert and provocative direction of Thomas Söderqvist, director of the Medical Museion, to discuss. Subjects were wide-ranging, from issues in object collection, through applications of new media, to artistic interventions. What follows isn’t a comprehensive overview, but rather a personal narrative and an account of what interested & inspired me (and also partly a simple aide-mémoire) — I haven’t done justice to, or in some cases even mentioned, some fine presentations and papers here. The conference was filmed by Medical Museion staff, and selected presentations should make their way online sometime; check Biomedicine on Display, the MM’s English-language research blog.

The conference happened in the form of a workshop, with long abstracts circulated in advance, and short 8-minute presentations (promptly terminated with the aid of a 50Kr kitchen timer) clustered into themes. Proper understanding and discussion of the presentations depended on participants having read the abstracts in advance, and the majority of attendees were also presenters: there was a definite atmosphere of sharing and learning rather than presentation and absorption.

Thursday’s proceedings began in the rather dramatic (but uncomfortable) environment of the Medical Museion’s operating theatre, built in the 1780s for the building’s function as the Danish Royal Academy of Surgeons (James Edmondson’s Dittrick blog post on the Museum is a good visual tour of the environment). Alas, speakers were presenting not the cavities of executed criminals’ corpses, but mostly powerpoint slides.

Kim Sawchuck opened the proceedings with a discussion of ‘biotourism’, taking in the twentieth century’s fascination with the macro and the micro (one of her slides was a fabulous juxtaposition of two strikingly similar Time magazine covers, one featuring a telescope, the other a microscope), and the Franklin Institute’s walk-through heart. Kerstin Hulter Åsberg, Wendy Atkinson and Robert Martensen then presented plans for new museums and displays in Uppsala, Lyon and at the National Institutes of Health respectively.

My own session, in which I was paired with Ramunas Kondratas, late of the Smithsonian and now establishing a national medical museum in Vilnius, explored the idea of enhancing our understanding with new media. Ramunas presented footage from a project documenting the manufacture of medical instruments, and in particular the manufacturing history of the ultracentrifuge in the United States. It was interesting to see in Ramunas’ footage of a factory at work the role of blue collar workers explaining how instruments are made, rather than expert scientists explaining what they do. In my presentation I proposed that contemporary medicine could be understood through the photos that people take and share of objects, spaces, healthcare-related protests, and their own medical history (a post of my own abstract will follow).

Joanna Ebenstein, of Morbid Anatomy, and Brooklyn’s Observatory, finished up the first day’s proceedings by suggesting that the tradition of the wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities could offer a better path to engagement than education-driven science centres; this sparked some debate about agendas vs mystification, and whether the Wellcome Collection’s ‘Skin’ exhibition could could have any scientific or moral coherence if it ignored the subject of race.

Friday opened in the rather more comfortable surroundings of the Danish Museum of Art and Design (housed, fittingly, in a former hospital). Judy Chelnick of the Smithsonian discussed the challenges of collecting contemporary medical objects when storage space is at a premium: all new acquisitions over a certain size and value have to pass through committee approval. John Durant’s presentation revolved around the relationship between engagement-focused displays and collecting priorities in the biomedical cluster around Boston and MIT, where developmental medical equipment quickly bites the dust in a forward-looking research environment.

Moving from collections to visitors, Stella Mason discussed visitor surveys which reveal that a larger-than-expected number of visitors to medical museums have medical connections, suggesting that we might reach out further to the ‘casual visitor’. Alex Tyrell presented the results of ‘co-curating’ a part of the Science Museum’s new ‘Who Am I?’ galleries with a group of London teenagers. The process involved a lot of questioning of gallery assumptions like the length and seriousness of interpretation labels. There was some scepticism about non-expert curation, and the ability of teenagers to tell us anything new about what we are looking at; nevertheless it seems clear that the exclusive preserve of professional curators over the domain of displays cannot be indefinitely sustained.

A lunchtime tour backstage took us to the undisplayed collections, and a personal impromptu handling of an antique lithoclast, a medical-historical object which evokes precisely that archetypal feeling of medical museums: a physical shudder at the very thought of the procedure embodied in the instrument (penetration of the body’s intimate orifices — without anaesthetic!) combined with gratitude and appreciation for the ongoing development of medicine that spares us such pain.

And then art. Nina Czegledy presented the case for the display of illustrations as objects, irreducible to reproductions, and in particular the illustrations in Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy, carbon dust halftones produced by illustrators Dorothy Chubb and Nancy Joy. These are problematic to display, being neither old enough to be considered properly ‘historical’ illustrations, nor ‘contemporary’ art; nevertheless they powerfully demonstrate the continuing power and utility of medical illustration well into the era of photography.

Lucy Lyons presented drawing in another aspect: as an examination of the unknown, a way of visually understanding objects beyond looking at them, using the humble pencil as an investigative tool. She runs drawing workshops at the Medical Museion with staff and other participants, concentrating not on producing a drawing as an output, but on greater understanding through the practice and process of drawing.

From visible art we moved to invisible worlds and the challenge of images taken at a microscopic level. Henrik Treimo presented the Invisible World exhibition from the
Norwegian Museum for Science, Technology and Medicine, which included not only images taken at tiny resolutions but also the ever-growing machines necessary to create them.

Thomas Söderqvist and Wellcome Collection’s Ken Arnold ended the day with a scattergun presentation of their new Dogme manifesto for STEM museums, borrowing the principal of fidelity from the local Dogme 95 filmmaking movement. Banishing artificial light from displays, never talking down to children and excluding the internet from exhibitions are all items on the manifesto. Importantly, in the context of contemporary biomedicine, the manifesto also recommends working closely with researchers and scientists (presenting research practice rather than disseminating results), while still embracing showbusiness and playfulness (‘the wow of chastity’).

Saturday morning began with a discussion of the problem of foetal display. Sniff Nexo’s presentation highlighted the transparency and invisibility of the female body when we look at the foetus, either in a glass jar or in modern ‘vanity’ ultrasound scanning: we see the baby but not its mother. Suzanne Anker has worked with redisplaying fetal specimens, including in the context of her show The Glass Veil at the Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum der Charité. There was some concern about not only the interpretation, but also the reinterpretation of images of medical specimens (the Hunterian Museum, for instance, doesn’t allow public photography of its specimens).

I then had a couple of epiphanies in quick succession. Nurin Veis’ presentation on telling the story of the cochlear implant (also a story of Australian national pride) raised again the question of black box technology, objects whose purpose and function is obscured in their similarity. But looking at various bits of electronics, circuit board and their containers it seemed obvious that all objects have an aesthetic and style; it’s just often hard to see this in objects that are temporally close to us. Yves Thomas’ presentation on the use of multimedia only seemed to emphasise for me that perhaps we should not be using multimedia as a substitute for objects, but as another means of investigating and explaining them.

Adam Bencard followed up at the other end of the spectrum of the invisible, suggesting that there are subtle but real relationships between our molecular existence and our lived experience; and that indeed a shift in medical emphasis from code-oriented genomics to chemically-oriented proteomics carried a corresponding shift back to our understanding of ourselves as physically constituted, if not quite the same nineteenth century bank of organs (for me personally a new way into bioscience beyond the neo-Calvinism of genetic prescription). He offered examples of scientists who described proteins with highly physical gestures, and the protein-folding game fold.it, a distributed science project that relies on humans to solve spatial problems which computers can’t. He also suggested that flat ontology might offer a key to our understanding of ourselves not as determined by a chain of genes and proteins but as material beings from micro to macro.

Aesthetic theory finally caught up with us on Saturday afternoon. Roger Cooter and Claudia Stein of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine presented a critique of Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg’s exhibition of AIDS posters, arguing that aesthetic values in the presentation of the totality of an ‘art’ exhibition and collection undermined the understanding of political currents and differences at work in the ‘global’ struggle against AIDS. Personally, I found the double-pronged nature of their theoretical assault problematic. Exhibition-making is of course a political process like any other, and stands to be critiqued like any other practice: culture is the global domain of cultural studies. However, if political understanding is needed in the selection and arrangement of material (something I self-consciously tried to achieve in my own institution’s selection of AIDS posters, exposing conflict between patients and drug companies, and tracing connections with the protest tradition of 1968) then the practicalities of exhibition-making have to be addressed, and a retreat into the academic domain of super-critique is not an acceptable substitute.

Artist Karen Ingham presented some of her work, which often relates to existing medical collections and displays. Narrative Remains, a project in collaboration with the Hunterian, gave voice to bottled surgical specimens, placing the narratives between the objects and the viewer in a number of ways, including on display cases, and in a 12-minute moving image work. Ingham stressed the importance of collaboration rather than commission in her work: she does not make pieces that travel from gallery to gallery, but site-specific works related to particular collections.

Thomas Schnalke closed the workshop with a return to the opening suggestion that all our museum games might be at an end. His answer, put into practice at Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum, is artists’ interventions. Using the museum space to display work that makes connections between existing object collections and contemporary biomedicine offers new ways for audiences to make connections with biomedicine and also for artists to work with science and scientists.

A challenge met is not yet a problem solved. Nevertheless, the people who gathered in Copenhagen for three days to address these issues are as creative and perceptive a bunch as any that you could hope to meet it, and the ideas developed there are, for me, excellent frameworks for ongoing thought.

Great Tate?

14 May

Lots to think about in Tate’s Online Stategy. A few things extracted from it, that I think are worthy of contemplation & emulation:

  • We should move on from considering Tate Online as ‘Tate’s fifth gallery’ to making online, quite simply, a dimension of practically everything Tate does, from research and conservation to fundraising and public programmes.
  • Tate will become more porous though a move to the emergence of individuals within Tate expressing their views and engaging directly with audiences
  • The graphic design will be clean and contemporary. There will be few individually designed microsites
  • A single user login will be built across all systems so that users can administer all their site preferences (collection perspectives, email bulletin settings, online course progress, My Collection, ecommerce logins, membership, patrons, shop, comments, forums etc.) and push notifications to email and social media in a single place.
  • The online collection will be moved back to the heart of the website making it the hub around which much of the website radiates.
  • The site will integrate with existing social networks (Facebook, Flickr, YouTube etc.) and partner them on specific projects rather than trying to create a competing social networking website.
  • Each research centre and major project will be provided with a project blog to update their specialist audiences on developments and findings and to invite contributions from third parties. The blog will exist for the period of each project and then be mothballed as a record of the project.
  • Unmediated interaction with online audiences will be new to almost everyone involved and therefore training, new policies and new skills will need to be developed to help Tate staff shape communities.
  • Key to our approach must be a recognition that social media websites are not just a new platform to advertise our activities or promote our brand. We must transparently interact with audiences and, though this is labour intensive, the result will be an engaged audience with whom we have a deep relationship.
  • Consumption of online content has shifted towards users as authors and editors, especially through social media and online publishing platforms (blogs, YouTube, Flickr, etc.). We shall embrace audience creativity and personal ambitions, though new end user licences, empowering them to reuse and remix Tate content.
  • Most of the content on Tate Online is published under restrictive end-user licences. We shall audit these and review what content could be released under a more permissive licence that would enable users to reuse and remix this content as part of their own creative projects or research.
  • User-generated content will be pervasive throughout the website in the form of user comments, discussion threads, crowdsourcing of data and creative online communities, including Tate Kids, Young Tate and Creative Spaces. One of the challenges this raises is how to communicate the authority of Tate’s research and scholarship amongst a myriad of voices and opinions. However, we see this as a problem that can be resolved with design rather than with architecture, and thus user voices and Tate voices will be intermixed.
  • The web will continue to evolve rapidly and Tate must be in a position to take advantage of these changes and move with the times. It is therefore critical that a scalable technical and information architecture is developed that will allow the website to grow and change quickly.

Warning: may contain artificial colours

22 Apr

An interesting comparison:

“There’s a lot of translation that occurs between the data the Hubble collects and the final images that are shared with the public,” Kessler says. Translating raw data into the “pretty pictures” that have become a staple of newspaper front pages requires careful image processing. Astronomers and image specialists strive for realistic representations of the cosmos, yet they make subjective choices regarding contrast, composition and color.

[...]

The interpretation often chosen, Kessler says, is one that suggests buttes, cliffs and erosion. Some look strikingly like pictures from Yellowstone National Park, or paintings of the old West by Albert Bierstadt or Thomas Moran, placing the Hubble images solidly in the romantic landscape tradition.

“Just like Bierstadt’s or Moran’s paintings, the hope here is that the final image will capture the feeling of awe and majesty and wonder about nature,” Kessler says.

Jennifer Carnig discussing the work of Elizabeth Kessler in the University of Chicago Chronicle.

 

The question of pseudo-colouring in biomedicine and its use for science communicative purposes, is a vast and complex subject. If some images are coloured for scientific purposes, and others altered simply for aesthetic reasons, how can a viewer tell the difference? How many people believe viruses are brightly coloured? Are there any colour conventions and what kind of ‘presence’ do pseudocoloured images have that ‘naturally’ coloured specimens don’t? See these examples of HIV imagery. How does the choice of different colours affect their reception?

Discussion of Luke Jerram’s Glass Microbiology project.

 

An attempt at illustration: a flickr gallery of artificial colouring in both astronomical and microbiological images.

 

A big tip of the hat for the first reference to Fiona Romeo, who also had the excellent suggestion of organising a combined exhibition of astronomical and biomedical photography.

Is this curation?

4 Apr

Most spellcheckers I use don’t even recognise the word ‘curation’. But obviously, it’s what a curator does, right? Curators are people who work in museums and galleries and archives and whatnot, but the basic function of their job is to select and arrange the stuff that we consume, from art exhibitions to film nights. But now that there is a) a superfluity of digital objects, from flickr photos to youtube videos and b) we spend much of our time online saving pointing these objects out to each other, we’re all really curators, aren’t we? In a post requesting better tools for people to ‘bundle’ and share ‘atoms’ of social media across a variety of platforms, Robert Scoble lays out the basics of this point of view:

First, who does curation? Bloggers, of course, but blogging is curation for Web 1.0. Look at this post here, I can link to Tweets, and point out good ones, right? That’s curation. Or I can order my links in a particular order. That’s curation. Or I can add my thoughts to those links, just like Techcrunch or VentureBeat do. That’s curation. Or I can do a video like Leo Laporte does and talk about those links. That’s curation. Or I can forward those links to you via email. That’s curation. The editor who sits in a big building at New York Times or your local newspaper that chooses what content you’ll see in your newspaper is a curator. So is the page designer who decides what story is at the top of the page.

Scoble goes on to discuss need to create ‘bundles’ of stuff, which can be shared in a web whatever-point-oh kind of way (ie interoperably and transparently). By the time he gets to telling us that “brands would be able to advertise on bundles”, you realises that he’s talking about something very different from what a museum curator actually does (or perhaps not: is exhibition sponsorship ‘advertising on a bundle’?), and actually rather facile. Nevertheless, he’s articulating a commonly-held, if often tacit, point of view about curation.

If Scoble comes across with the typical arrogance of a tech blogger demanding that his industry produce tools that meet his needs, the reaction of New Curator, You are Not a Curator, is almost an anti-manifesto:

You are, at best, a filter. You may make a name for yourself by excelling at some kind of selection process, but you are not a curator. “Curator” does not mean “I have good taste”. That just makes you some kind of fleshy gauze for the rest of us. The good come to us whilst all the pus and snot that came through your information media streams stay on your side. You are a makeshift step before a more advanced algorithm is invented.

Also, anyone calling themselves a “curator” when it is clear that they are dealing in merchandise should have their thumbs removed. You are not trying to fool us into believing that your job is anything outside marketing, branding and selling. Be proud of what you do without assigning the make-believe title of “curator” to sound more important. You have not reached some cultural apex through the range of shoes you have on offer. You are not a Connoisseur of a Stock-Take.

You Are Not a Curator. Don’t worry, there’s no shame. Just keep repeating it to yourself. You aren’t an editor of a newspaper by just simply choosing what articles to print. You aren’t an army general by simply shouting, “Charge”. So an inflated sense of worth in your Pick ‘n’ Mix does not a curator make.

I have becoming increasingly frustrated by the nonsense being stuck to the term “Curator” because people struggle to find the word for “Someone (Else) to Sort Through This Rubbish”. I still maintain that a curator, a job with actual skills, is starting to be abused by people from industries notorious for abusing definitions. This is why I sometimes despair at my Museopunk group when they start straying into territory that I covered in the Death of the Curator articles and calling it punk. It’s all well and good to get lots of involvement from your visitors/users/patrons/etc. but if you don’t have it based around an honest-to-God curator, do you know what you end up with?

Reality television. Prove me wrong. Very high participation from an audience who get to crowdsource the answers/outcomes/selections to the most base and voyeuristic products of the underculture.

It’s tempting to dismiss this as semantics. Scoble means one thing by the word, New Curator another. Scoble sees advertising as necessary grease in the wheels of new media; NC is snobbish about reality TV. Nevertheless, there is something real in flux here, a genuine decentring and opening up of the practice of selection and presentation, to a nearly bewildering extent. From the raw materials at your disposal you can present the world with endless interesting, artful and carefully-chosen collections of stuff. Some people are very good at it. But that you are, or are not, a ‘curator’, does not automatically follow.

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