Review: Every Curator's Handbook - http://pai.sthlm.in/images/Every_Curator's_Handbook.pdf
by Sofia Landström
This compendium offers hands-on professional insights wherein different authors from different points of view share experiences from their professional careers as curators. The reader gets a specific and detailed overview of what a curator’s work might look like beyond theory.
“Every Curator’s Handbook” deals with multiple curatorial issues from collaborations to funding. With first-hand experiences and reflections from past projects, both emerging and established curators narrate the text in an accessible and educational way. It’s notable that the aim of this project is to create a resource that deals with the practical questions within the typical curatorial career, and takes a step back from the usual theoretical issues which are always present in the background of any art-related field. This compendium welcomes emerging voices that expands from the Western point of view to Armenia, Latvia, and Ukraine in addition to the participants from Europe and North America.
This seventy-page publication contains twenty short articles which deal with specific experiences or projects. One of the first articles, written by Haizea Barcenilla discusses how every curatorial project (even if it’s not considered collaborative) is an actual collaboration between the involved participants, from artist to institution. In this text, “The Difficult but Enriching Paths of Collaborative Practice”, she relates hands-on experiences from collaborations that worked out well and those that didn't. Her point of view is that curatorial work today is becoming more and more collaborative. Barcenilla argues that the profession is becoming more open for dialogue, and the possibility of producing something enriching increases dramatically as collaborative work increases. With this text, Barcenilla sets a particular tone for the rest of the compendium: she, as well as the other authors, focuses on curatorial work as a profession and a field rather than explaining what defines a curator or who a curator is.
Overall, in this compilation, the authors all articulate how hard it is to define what a curator is and what the right path is to become one -- there seems to be no right or wrong answer. In the article “In Conversation with Curator Richard Julin” by Anne Klontz, she speaks with the renowned curator Richard Julin, who recounts a traditional story on how to become a curator. Julin explains how he worked as a freelancer in the field of contemporary design in Stockholm and worked his way up in the hierarchy, a common way to get in to the profession. His career story, by describing the conventional way of becoming a curator,opens it up for other articles in the compendium to describe more unconventional ways.
Indeed, what makes this handbook intriguing are the various career choices described in the articles, everything from Richard Julin’s quite traditional career path to more progressive ones. Hilary Jack and Paul Harfleet’s article is one which describes a more progressive and challenging way of how they became noted in the curatorial field. They set up their own artist led space called Apartment in Manchester after they finished their Master's course in Art in 2003. Apartment was a spontaneous initiative, run from a bedroom on the sixth floor. They describe how their urge to set up something provocative and startling made Apartment a well-attended institution on the cultural map, and made them into curators. Even though Jack and Harfleet never considered themselves to be curators, they soon found curating to be a major part of their CVs when the Apartment project closed down in 2009. Since then they have taken part in commissioned curatorial projects, thanks to their previous work in the Manchester apartment -- something they never foresaw when they started in 2003. Essentially their innovative ideas and eagerness to start something made them into curators.
Ultimately, the best reason to read this book is because it tells stories like Jack & Harfleet's, putting curatorial work into a practical context. “Every Curator’s Handbook” does not aim to be a theoretical or research based book., This is a field in constant evolution, and this book provides a wide range of ideas within curatorial practice and creates a bridge between old and new ways of working.
On the whole “Every Curator’s Handbook” gives readers an insider view of international curatorial practice from East to West, and it gives the reader a wider understanding of the many directions in curating. One flaw is that the texts are often quite short, which does not leave enough space to provide answers to the many questions the reader might face. There are many good examples of exhibitions and projects that are hands-on in this book, showing potential for providing many valuable insights for anyone interested in curating, but the texts often only scratch on the surface. What this publication clearly demonstrates is that there are many ways to be a curator today (another reason why it would be impossible to cover everything 70 pages). It might not be a fully comprehensive handbook then, but as a book providing many interesting narratives and examples of real work in the field, it’s perfect.