Cathy Byrd: This is Fresh Art International. I’m Cathy Byrd.
In 2019, we visited art schools and universities in the United States and Canada to begin recording voices of the future. In 2020, we present the first episodes in our Student Edition—conversations about creativity with emerging makers and producers. Given opportunities to explore and experiment, students are discovering how they can shape the world they live in. What issues and ideas spark their creative impulse?
Today we take you to Toronto. We’re here to meet a group of graduate students at the Ontario College of Art and Design University, also known as OCAD. For the Intro to Curatorial Practices course, their goal is to research, develop, and activate an exhibition in the digital realm. In the first weeks of the semester, students are defining their roles and designing their strategy. Professor Andrea Fatona sets the stage for our conversation.
Andrea Fatona: Tonight’s topic will look at the ways in which curatorial practice can be extended outside of the space of the physical structure, but also really thinking about the ways in which the notion of the educational turn and the curatorial turn will allow us to not only imagine, but to produce new curatorial forms that are transformative in the world.
CB: The students are gathered here to learn something very specific with you as first- and second-year graduate students.
AF: This is an introductory course to criticism and curatorial practice at OCAD University. It’s a studio course, meaning that in the context of the course, students are engaging with both scholarly material, but more importantly, actually producing and making exhibitions. By the end of this course, our students should be able to not only present physical exhibitions, but also to present exhibitions in other formats such as an online format. This course is also meant to be one in which students can push their knowledge and push the exhibition-making process, as well as the exhibition-making form.
CB: Among assigned readings for the course, there’s a paper by curator Marialaura Ghidini about the field of curating on the web. Ghidini’s writing sparks a dialogue about the range of forms this project could take.
Alex: I’m Alex, a first year master’s student in Criticism and Curatorial Practice. I have a background in graphic design. [Ghidini’s paper] really gave us a chronicle of how people have curated on the web. Questions that it brought up for me are a little bit more related to the tangible aspects, like how long do you buy your domain for? How long do you update the code? People were making websites before and we’ve kind of gone through the blog era and now we’re in the platform era. So if you are to make a website, how does it connect to other platforms? Because if it does not, it will not get traffic. So how do you navigate all those things in the history of the Web?
Jackie: My name’s Jackie. I’m a second year graduate student in Strategic Foresight and Innovation. What are the ways in which we are able to use the word “curatorial” and use the curatorial practice in an accessible way? I think especially because “kids these days” are on the platform so much, they are inherently practicing curation. So it becomes less of a barrier, less of an inaccessible “ivory tower” practice and more of an everyday thing.
CB: Any other thoughts about what platforms you think that you would need to interface with for this project?
Alex: I totally agree with Jackie that most people in our generation are a little bit more used to curating themselves, especially because you can delete a post. There are tools to lay out all your posts before you post them. I think people are really starting to teach themselves a lot more visual literacy that isn’t being taught in schools. But as far as platforms go, it’s a really interesting topic because the whole exhibit could just be an Instagram account, right? It could just be a Twitter feed. It could be a website, and then those [platforms] are used to promote it. It could be like Medium, or Blogspot. There are a lot of ways to go about it.
CB: Students consider some of the challenges and opportunities.
Jenna: My name is Jenna. I’m in terms of what our priority is, I think that right now we are talking a lot about the aesthetics of the website. We’re thinking a lot about what kind of social media we want to bring into our website: if we want to work on social media, if we want to work on an independent website. What will give us the most traction with our audience?
CB: Tell me what the subject of the exhibition will be.
Delilah: My name is Delilah. We’ve decided to talk about intimacy on the Internet, however that might be interpreted by the artists. Writing a definition is something that we’re talking about, which is interesting because it will be interpreted by artists of all sorts of mediums. But of course, writing this from what we’re asking is going to pose a bit of a challenge for everybody.
Sam: My name is Sam. Right now, we’re discussing which artists to bring into the exhibition and how we’re going to do that. We’re talking about different ways of doing a call for entry—whether we want to do a call for entry and an invitational aspect, or only invitational. Right now, we are focused on that [idea]: more on the call for entry, [which is] open spectrum. I think it’s really exciting when you open it up because you don’t know what you’re going to get.
CB: What do you consider your strengths that you bring to this project?
Sam: I’m interested in outreach. I do some of my own visual art and graphic design. So if we’re trying to promote—posters, Instagram, that kind of thing—I can see myself kind of ending up in a collaborative group that’s more about the promotional material. I’m a good hashtagger. I don’t have too much Instagram clout, but still I’m kind of interested in that [aspect]. But I also would like to learn more about just how to make a cohesive web page. I can see myself dabbling in different groups because it seems like a really good opportunity to just expand your skillset a little bit.
Delilah: I think that I can act as a good facilitator. But I think it also is a new way of looking at [the exhibition], given that this is an online platform, just in conversations that we might have with the artists or about the direction that the work might take.
Jenna: I’ve curated a lot in brick-and-mortar spaces and I’ve not really tapped into the online platform as an exhibition space. So I’m interested in learning and seeing that develop from a digital platform rather than where you’re in a space, you’re physically looking at work, you’re putting it on the wall. Here, you don’t have that. I think it’s a really interesting way of looking at curation differently.
CB: They talk about achieving project milestones. Do you have thoughts about how you are going to find people who want to talk about intimacy on the Internet?
Cassandra: Right now we’re looking into how we want the digital space to actually be and how we want the artwork to reside within the space. So we’re wondering if we should start with the space and then look for artists and artworks that will fill the space, or should we have a call and create the space to fit the artwork?
Marilyn: We were thinking about ways to also critique or infiltrate different spaces. When we’re looking at things like the white cube, we’re maybe not necessarily doing a white cube sort of website. We’re looking at ways to critique the institution, but also from within it.
Alexander: Yeah, seeing the Internet space and how it functions in proxy to the artworks—is it a destination site where works will exist or is it works that exist physically and are engaged with on a digital plane in which we’re physically on the other side of that plane? What’s that sort of phenomenological relationship? Can artists in this exhibition do both—can they be works that are created specifically for and by the Internet? Or is there a physical relationship to this viewing experience that we’re otherwise not necessarily able to access through our geographic proximity to the work?
Cassandra: Because the theme of the exhibit has to do with the digital and with intimacy, we want to create a space where intimacy can unfold. This is a very ambitious exhibition. So what can we achieve?
Stefania: I feel like a new subject will come out of what the artists think we’re trying to get them to do for this show. Once we see the art that is being presented to us, I feel like it’ll be easier to figure out how we’re going to tackle the idea of the virtual exhibition.
CB: How do you envision a public event or programs?
Cassandra: I think it would be nice to have some sort of gathering to kind of make physical what we’re trying to do with this exhibit.
Stefania: I personally want to represent the Latin American community because that’s part of who I am. There’s always that need for me to show something that relates to my own culture. But also I feel like technology and social media is actually the space that my entire culture, at least the people from my country, use to feel connected to each other, not so far away.
Alexander: I would consider the exhibition as already public facing. I also think that the digital asset of the exhibition offers buy-in from folks in other communities that can’t come to Toronto. I myself am from a rural northeastern community, a little farm town, and so I’ve been using Instagram as a way to gain proximity to cultural artistic spaces in urban settings. I feel like because it’s digital, we have the entire world. I would love to see rural artists who can’t otherwise show works in Toronto. That to me is way more interesting.
CB: Students voice the potential for creating a virtual community.
Rebecca: I’m Rebecca and I work collectively usually, but in sculpture and large-scale installation. So it’s a bit different because it’s more like physical labor rather than intellectual labor, which is what I’m finding out curating consists of. I think that the communities that exist online are just ripe for mining. I think a lot of really important conversations are happening internationally online, especially just because it’s so easy to talk to people in Japan from my living room. It’s gotten so international, it’d be nice to tap into that.
Priscilla: Hi, I’m Priscilla. I usually curate with a bunch of artists, so this is not very different. But this time it’s a bunch of curators, plus the Internet, so it’s easy to connect. With our new project, I think that we can branch out to a lot of places, not just one place in the world.
Nina: I’m Nina. I have spent the last few years working as an educational programmer for different arts organizations in Toronto. A lot of my work in that has been solo. I’ve been doing most of the researching and the educational outreach to other arts organizations or to schools to write educational programming for teachers and to disseminate among their students. I’m really interested in how we can use Internet curating as a platform to open that up to more people and to expand the idea of what educational programming could look like—to not have it just be this one-to-one relationship between me as a gallery administrator and the teacher, and for them to then give that information to their students. I think it can be a lot more than that. So I’m interested in seeing what this project will turn into.
CB: Do you have any other thoughts about the challenge of working with this many people?
Nina: Well, we were actually just having a conversation before coming in here. We were trying to figure out how as a group to visualize a non-physical space. I think that’s going to be a challenge. We want to think about how to create a unique space that’s on the Internet, but we don’t know how that will actually translate into being perceived as a space. That’s a big part of the conversation right now.
Rebecca: And Priscilla is the only one who’s tech savvy in our group. She’s kind of outlining the limitations that we have timewise, because creating a space online, we really want to engage with 1990s Internet culture and New Age Internet culture and make sure our space is reflective of the current Internet and the history of it.
Priscilla: Because I’m the only one that is computer literate! It’s really hard to be that way because not a lot of people know how our Internet works or how coding works. So being the only one able to do that, it’s just going to be posing limitations on myself, and what we can do to actually make this space actually how we want it to be.
Nina: I think a lot of it also depends on the artists who we’re curating for. And we just don’t know who they’re going to be yet. The shape of the project is going to change drastically based on who we include in the project and how their work interact with the other artists.
CB: This is the Fresh Art International Podcast. I’m Cathy Byrd. We were privileged to meet graduate students at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in September 2019. They introduced us to the beginnings of an online exhibition platform they would create for the Intro to Curatorial Practices Course. Within a few months of our encounter, the students forged an interdisciplinary curatorial collective. In December 2019, they launched the exhibition titled connection_ found. Online now, works by seven artists illustrate the quirks of navigating intimacy on the web. “OCAD University—Curating in the Digital Realm” is one of our 2020 Student Edition episodes.