Everybody's a Curator: A response to mainstream usage of the term and its impact on the field



Following the Chicago Tribune's article "Everybody's a Curator" by Christopher Borelli, a lively discussion ensued on APT's Facebook page. We asked APT curator Aura Seikkula to explore the issue a bit further, given her interest in online media and its impact on contemporary art and artists. Aura is an independent curator and researcher based in Stockholm. She is currently a doctoral candidate in cultural policy at the University of Jyväskylä.


APT: What did you think of the article in general? Has curation gone mainstream or commercial?

AS: As the article suggests, curating as become a ubiquitous, quintessentially 21st century act. However, I do not think curating is solely about the narrative act of “framing ideas, telling stories — showing the edge that exists between the thing curated and the rest of us." In addition to the efforts of selecting, organizing and sequencing, within a space – online or offline – curating is a process of supporting and enabling the artistic process resulting in an artwork.


How has everyday, online 'curation' impacted you as a professional curator?

Firstly, I don’t mind the attempts to broaden the idea of a curator to apply to various other fields and practices. However, in this case it should not alter nor neglect the actual connotations of the profession. In the references introduced in the Chicago Tribune’s article, curating is narrowly considered as selecting and displaying elements, imagery, where as the actual profession of a curator has a twofold responsibility, towards the artist and artwork as well we towards the audience, sometimes even towards the institution.

As Sarah Higgins, Bard College in New York notes, the curatorial profession started as very art-object driven, but the range of curatorial practices have became more discursive. Thus, curator participates in the process of the artwork by enabling its creation, exposing it through efforts of display and discourse to audiences and practices of viewing.

Secondly, online curating obviously offers new tools to work and share processes, which means that for example me living in Stockholm and working on a project in Athens with a collective in London has made the whole process so much more fluent. Setting up meetings is now only a matter of adjusting to time zones. It also offers alternatives and opportunities to involve the audience and other practitioners to these processes and projects.


How has it changed and shifted public perception of your job, if at all?

I changed my profession from an institutional curator to an independent curator five years ago. During only this time the online aspects of the profession have increased and changed.

Also the actual public perception to the profession has changed through the available access to the information concerning projects, exhibitions, events and publications as well as the opening of process to these projects has broadened with social media, of course. Every museum wants attract more and new audiences by offering participation through these efforts. However, I think institutions are still struggling in engaging their audiences in more participatory way. Offering access to information is not yet discursive nor participatory.

So through these efforts there is more understanding to the work of a curator even though the idea seems very narrow, to be considered exactly what the Chicago Tribune article suggest, as an act of selecting and displaying.


Is this for the better or worse in your opinions?

I am all for opening up processes and involving audiences and individuals to the act of working with art, absolutely.


And what does this mean for the next generation of curators who are growing up way more technologically integrated than any of us can imagine?

Researching, finding and sharing information enables and facilitates for collective working.

In my current PhD research I am looking into the open source software movement or peer-to-peer production movement as a relevant reference to the processes of art. These development examples give an interesting reference to the needed attempts to dismantle the hierarchical structures within the artworld establishment.

The increase for individual and cooperative not-for-profit production of information and culture is extremely a valid and needed alternative to the hierarchical art world establishment.

In short, peer production refers to production systems that depend on decentralized individual action, rather than hierarchically assigned working processes (most characteristic initiative being Wikipedia).

I believe user generated content can have relevance in exhibition making, outside the more pedagogical, institutional structures. Here the possibilities offered through the practices of online curating come in play.Within an institutional context this means that structuring the rights to access, use, and control of resources need to be renegotiated.

In this reference what is needed is a shared goal, transparency, and the ability of participants to identify each other’s actions and counteract them.


What about curating art online, is that similar or different from what you both do offline. Aside from the obvious right (physical design of the space for user experience, physical collection of artwork... physical interaction with artwork)...

My main online initiatives have happened in relation to physical projects. This means that the online element has aimed to give some sort of an addition or perspective to a physically reachable project.

Additionally I have done one full online project, which I would say was pretty advanced, actually already in 2005. This was a referendum project, called Public Opinion, for the Finnish citizens with 800 participants. so it was pretty advanced.

Curating online thus has the potential to a completely new, even random, audiences. This is actually very exciting as it removes a lot of art contextual expectations to the project.


To catch up with Aura and her current projects, visit her curatorial profile page here.