The End of Curating
don’t call it off-space!, Verlag fur moderne Kunst, Vienna, 2017
“I have no doubt about one thing, however, if we do not travel toward each other, we will eradicate each other”   Vilem Flusser, Nomads

But we are not just people. We are animals, plants and microbes too. Our ‘world of habit’ has for too long proposed a we that represses ecology, locating non-human others beyond the pale of home. But this habit, this abode, ‘is becoming uninhabitable’.1 Its walls, as Flusser proposed, are perforated – bearing news/gifts/threats from beyond. What news? Waking dreams: A knocking at the door, for want of its own home; a breach in the firewall and a listener on the phone. There are termites in the floorboards and cockroaches in the cupboards. Insurgency. They are coming for us. They are already here. It also approaches: the oceans’ rising hunger for land, from Manhattan to the Maldives. It has already happened, the Larsen C ice-shelf afloat in the Weddell Sea.2 A plague of jellyfish in the Mediterranean, stinging bathers’ toes; a leaking reactor, seeding global tides. In academic philosophy, the (meta)physical ‘great outdoors, the absolute outside’ invading the Cartesian hearth.3 Compounding the overturning of habit which Flusser associated with the ‘telematic’ age, we find it impossible to ignore the undermining of habitats – a refugee crisis and a sixth mass extinction.4

Art’s habitual residence?—the home of the muses. The curator’s habitual task, until the 1960s?—‘hanging and placing’ work on walls.5 Today, the aesthetico-political shibboleth of a “big, beautiful wall” only bolsters Szeeman’s demand that we abandon this task.6 Further—new muses are born daily. There are also homeless muses, others that live in garbage heaps, and some on the bottom of the ocean, swimming with fishes. Some live in oil rigs, others in the junkspace complex of ‘escalator, air conditioner, sprinkler, fire shutter [and] hot air curtain’.7 Still more are to be found roaming the non-places of supermodernity – highway interchanges and airports...8 Some in clouds; others, forests. Today’s muses can look like anything, be anywhere. However, as we have come to learn – qua sins of 19th Century ethnological display – they may not survive relocation to a gallery in spirit. As such, if we are to handle them, we must go wandering.

It behooves curators to develop exhibitions that address society and ecology as connected. As part of this activity, to re-present others and ‘outsides’ in conjunction with more habitually central concerns. We must fashion a new imaginary for our times – not just one that reflects our excesses and/or anxieties, but one that speaks to our greatest opportunities, despite current challenges. Varying one’s platform is important. Radically new contexts allow you to handle materials using fresh parameters. Sometimes, these contexts endow the exhibitionary gesture with powers that it would never have in a museum or gallery. How can burying an exhibition on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean – for instance – open up the question of that realm’s legal, narrative and ecological identity? How can the format of such an exhibition work to safeguard that site – and its animal communities – in practice, even as it comments on the status of the art object in financial society? Such were questions ventured in Treasure of Lima: A Buried Exhibition.9

The expanded field imposes itself upon the curator. This is because we are living through a Fourth Industrial Revolution and an ecological crisis that is altering every facet of life, from economics and politics, right down to biology. Because culture and nature are increasingly blurred we require a new regime of interdisciplinary exhibition making. Moreover, curating requires a new regime of inter-site specificity – one capable of addressing the novel distortions of geography, and sovereignty, attending the hegemony of planetary-scale computation and multi-layered infrastructure:10Beyond the individual museum, or gallery, we need to approach any given cultural project as the actualization of a network in which institutions are mere nodes, rather than central figures. Truly revolutionary projects stich together different constituencies, material and economic organs, into new bodies – creating hybrid organisms that leverage more than their individual parts. The ‘nomad’ curator’s challenge is to develop projects that operate both within and beyond the artworld – to create exhibitions that manifest hybrids and change the space around them.

The outside is coming for us, and that is because we have already come for it – though we have, for too long, suppressed this realization. Now we must take stock. We must examine whether our cult(ture) is viable outside the green-zones. We must leave, from time to time, the walled-cities, to better understand them. As with ancient castaway narratives, we must decide what to carry with us and what to jettison. Too much of what passes for a ‘way out’ of the 21st century conflagration is merely the re-inscription of existing, problematic, structures onto new sites. Just as a higher wall doesn’t abolish the enemy, dreams of evacuation do not always amount to global political, economic or ecological reform. We must imagine curating at the end of the world, in places that don’t need art, in order to understand that neither art nor ourselves are what we thought we were. Moreover, to discover that the end of the world is not what we once thought it was. That, at any rate, is my hope: that this is not really the end of the world at all.

Notes
1. Vilem Flusser, The Freedom of the Migrant: Objections to Nationalism, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2003, p.39.
2. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/07/antarctica-sea-level-rise-climate-change/
3. Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2012, p.7.
4. See https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/10/earths-sixth-mass-extinction-event-already-underway-scientists-warn - accessed 2/08/2017
5. Harald Szeeman quoted in Carolee Thea, Foci: Interviews with Ten International Curators, Apex Art Curatorial Program, New York, 2001, p. 17.
6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/03/21/trumps-big-beautiful-wall-will-require-him-to-take-big-swaths-of-other-peoples-land/?utm_term=.5826ce7b252e
7. Rem Koolhaas & Hal Foster, Junkspace / Running Room, Notting Hill Editions, London, 2016.
8. Marc Auge, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, Verso, London, 2009.
9. See http://nadimsamman.com/a-buried-exhibition
10. Benjamin Bratton, The Stack, MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 2015.