Evolutions of decentralised curatorial practices
[Assumption: Curating = Chaos: non-linear, dynamic systems, that lead to unpredictable events]
What does ‘curating’ mean today? Taking our cue, conceptually speaking, from the chaos theory, a sub-field of mathematics and physics, we examine in this discursive series the practice of curating as a non-linear, chaotic and dynamic system of endless possibilities. Chaos, in this perspective, is welcomed as an experimental space in which geopolitical boundaries, privileges and asymmetries can be collaboratively challenged, and the practice of curating be decentralised, by consciously including the many dimensions of the multiple reference points and diverse knowledge systems of the Global South and the Global North.
Who are the people collaborating on transcultural exhibition projects, and how are the processes of artistic decision-making shaped? Significantly, the chaos theory posits that even the slightest changes in the initial variables of a chaotic experiment trigger a concatenation of events and may ultimately bring about completely different outcomes. How might changes to the initial conditions in a situation throw a spanner in the works of persistently exclusionary systems? How might ‘centres’ and ‘periphery’ be shifted and repositioned, or radically reappraised? How might collective and vital practices of curating be further developed so as to spark transformative movements that transcend disciplines, borders and norms?
ZK/U and Curating in the Urban Sphere of Berlin
ZK/U’s residency programme develops public formats in a process-oriented way so as to actively counter the conventional understanding of top-down curating. Here, it is not a single individual who decides, from a powerful position of authority, on the thematic and artistic composition of an exhibition format; instead, collective planning gives rise to very varied presentation formats and thus test the limits of curating as a self-organised, collaborative, bottom-up project. The boundaries between artistic and curatorial practice become blurred – the players here are artists and curators alike. Curating thus becomes a non-hierarchical and non-linear process in which agency remains mainly with the artists and ‘curatorial authority’ is relinquished. Through its self-reflexive stance, ZK/U seeks to contribute to the grassroots creation of vibrant, dynamic and constantly evolving civic cultures of curating.
PRACTICES & PERSPECTIVES
As key figures in the production of culture and the circulation of knowledge and debates, artists and curators have a huge influence not only on which narratives and (hi)stories get to be told, but also on how they are told, and on who gets to speak.
Curatorial processes seeking to challenge established authorities and entrenched hierarchies should include diverse frames of reference and viewpoints at the very start of a project, because it is by decentralising knowledge (i.e., acknowledging the validity of a broad variety of sources of insight) and making decision-making processes more democratic that ‘power sharing’ and ‘togetherness’ can be put into practice as a solid foundation for collaboration. The key term here is ‘shared narratives’, the point being to foster space for encounters and discussion, and to forge bridges between art and society, between cultural institutions and the city as a whole. Berlin is a frontrunner in this regard, one of the world’s many polyphonic hubs and benchmarks for the negotiation of contemporary global discourse and local debates.
- What are the outlooks for ‘curating’, when it is grasped as a non-linear and decentralising practice, as a non-authoritarian process that embraces multiple perspectives?
- How might cultural practitioners interweave distinct disciplines in the fields of art and curating and engage perspectives from both the North and the South so as to encourage novel, hybrid and queer practices that shape the interstitial spaces of transcultural exchange and encounter? Can such confrontation unfold in a humorous, bold and yet respectful way?
- What role do the migrant perspectives of diaspora communities play in Germany, how do Black, Indigenous and PoC perspectives (BIPOC) contribute to overcoming the Eurocentric outlook, and which counter-narratives and critical voices manage to make themselves heard in curatorial decision-making processes?
- How might experimental, collective, curatorial practices look in the future?
SPACES & CRISIS
‘Same same, but different.’ A crisis triggers great change. Never before in living memory has there been a crisis of such magnitude as the impact of COVID 19. By ruling out breathing in company, the pandemic has the global population holding its breath. It is impossible to say when, or if, the ‘post-pandemic’ era will begin. While, in regions of the Global South, freedom of movement and access to health care are very often thwarted by visa restrictions, political and financial crises, environmental disasters, and war, for many in the Global North, adjusting to curfews and travel restrictions in daily life is a novel experience. Cultural workers are likewise confronted with the two hemispheres’ seriously unequal conditions. In times of crisis, moreover, inequities grow worse, hegemonies are reinforced, and privileges become more blindingly obvious. The reasons for forced migration increase – war did not stop, hunger did not stop, repression and exploitation did not stop. Even if the world is on tenterhooks now, it has not stopped turning – in fact, it turned faster in 2020 than ever before. What contribution can curators and their art projects make to shifting and renegotiating the boundaries of the established centres?
- How does the public’s relationship to urban space change when crises bring the social and cultural life of a city almost to a standstill?
- If curating means coming together, overcoming social boundaries, and creating spaces of debate and encounter, how is the role of cultural workers altered by social distancing, and how would a radical rethink of it look?
- How does the new immobility affect the exchange of artistic knowledge, now that the borders between North and South are locked down tighter than ever?
- How can inequalities and privileges in artistic projects be made more visible?
- What opportunities for negotiation and action might arise from this increase in visibility?
- How could the shifting role of virtual public space make interaction and exchange accessible to all? Which new creative curating tools and technologies can be brought into play, when physical public space is declared off limits in the short or the long term?
- How might curating look in the post-pandemic era? What new spaces of solidarity will be necessary in the future?
DECOLONIALITIES & TRACES
Not a fashion, but a way to refashion reality? Nothing has so radically reshaped Germany’s cultural landscape and curatorial practices in recent years as the discourse on decoloniality. But it was events relating to the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the growing acceptance of racism in broader society that reignited the global Black Lives Matter movement as well as Indigenous solidarity movements, and made the debate on how to deal with visible and invisible traces of colonialism in public space, museums and society more explosive than ever. Not least, this new volatility raises the question of which alternative monuments might yet be created to tell a divided history that has so far gone unheard in Germany, and so make room for subaltern memories. ZK/U accordingly opens its doors to critical curatorial and production practices spanning North and South, practices that unravel the powerful historical entanglements between Germany and the formerly colonised regions of the African continent and beyond, that uncover their traces in the present, shine a light into gaps in collective memories, and collaborate with diverse players in the city in order to test the limits of the creative spaces and opportunities to be found in multiple historiographies and courageous visions of the future.
- How can curators deal with a past that is still present? And what role do fiction and memory play in the creation of a collective future/?
- How might cultural practitioners and curators respond to the problematic persistence of colonial traces in public space, society itself, and institutions in Germany?
- Which alternative monuments could be created, and which role could curators and artists play in this?
- How can new networks between cultural institutions and activist/migrant/grassroots movements be built, so as to carry decoloniality discourse beyond the institutions into every aspect of society?
- Which new stories and counter-narratives could be told here, which memories could be created to lend an ear to the silent/silenced voices of those whom the hegemonic collective memory tends to forget?
- What can we expect in future from the further development and pursuit of contemporary decolonial curatorial practice, and what forms will it take?