OCA SW October meeting with Michele Whiting.

Professional practice and curation.


What started off as a great disappointment when Polly Harvey had to cancel leading our October meeting, turned out a major advantage to me in particular.  Fortunately, Polly gave me a month’s warning so I could find a replacement.


We had missed Michele Whiting’s talk on professional practice and curating in May so I approached her again to see if she was available to take us and she was.  Her talk was very opportune for me because in my SYP, a major part of it is organizing my own end of course exhibition.


Our student numbers attending our SW meetings all year have been twice what they were last year and this was no exception. We had 17 signed up,  then 3 pulled out but another 3 turned up at the venue so we had a record number and what a party it was!  There was almost more cake than there were people in the hall and the atmosphere reflected a hall full of people ready to party.  Alex, a new member to the group was no shrinking violet: she had questions for everyone and ideas for any situation!


The projector arrived and was compatible with the laptop and worked so we were off, a little later than scheduled but we made up the time by helping ourselves to coffee and cake throughout the day rather than waiting for set times.


Michele spoke constantly about the ‘artist-curator’, a concept I had not thought about but which, as the day progressed, made more and more sense.


A quote I have subsequently found by one of the artist-curators Michele spoke about , Hans Ulrich Obrist seemed very apt here:


“I think great artists always change what we expect from art. And then there is the famous “étonnez-moi”. In the conversation with Cocteau and Diaghilev and the Ballets russes which was a great moment where art met theatre, and there was this famous explanation, and they said “étonnez-moi!” [“Astonish me!”].”[19]   Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist Artfacts, November 27, 2007

Justification of the artist-curator concept is that curation is just another expressive medium, for which the artist curates shows in which they exhibit their art and that of other artists.

Michele mentioned the important contributions which Hans Ulrich Obrist, Mark Wallinger, Ekaterina Dyogot and Matthew Higgs have made to the a-c concept taking it further.

Obrist seems to have the energy of a tornado which, at 50, seems to have a self-generating capacity known by those who feel they have so much to give that they need to get everything done NOW!


Delegating others to do things allows him to do more – he engages people to transcribe interviews from midnight to 6 am  & he then compiles these interviews into books which serve as a record of our times and cultures.  I have ordered 2 books suggested by Michele, one on curating by Obrist & the second “Artrage! The story of the Britart revolution “ by Elizabeth Fullerton.  Not having lived here in the 1960 – 1980’ when all the artistic and social revolutions were brewing in the cultural cauldron, I have that massive cultural lacuna that everybody here was exposed to & I feel it every time conversations on that period start.


Back to our meeting: Damien Hurst’s ‘Freeze’ of July 1988 seems to have marked the Britart revolution in which highlights the a-c’s influence in translating and mediating artwork, from production space into public space & exhibiting it in the best light possible, is felt most strongly.  The a-c brings objects, artefacts, artworks together through a knowing, non-verbal (relational) dialogue.


This dialogue:

  • brings material knowledge to the expression of displaying
  • Creates new narrative through collation
  • Can consider what an exhibition can be.



We can assume that an exhibition:

  • is a space of conversation – a dialogic space;
  • can question, point towards, elucidate & illuminate
  • can be a medium in & of itself: it can tell stories, deliver ideas, concepts and concerns.


Michele suggests that, at assessment as in your curation, you metaphorically take your assessors by the hand to show them your work, telling them a story of your artwork, reflecting also on the provenance, the back story of your work.


In showing people the artwork, it is important to give the viewers something to read, to look at & to think about and thereby making them want to come back.


It was a very full and fulfilling day in which we had fun as we worked in groups of 4 or 5 students to artist- curate our own shows in which we had to consider how we could accommodate the random art we had brought in:

  • What were the common denominators?
  • What spaces were we exploring in which to exhibit them? Would we want to link it to an existing show?
  • Where we would show it and why;
  • How we would show it & why.
  • How would visitors be led around it to see it?
  • We considered our audience and how we would reach it, who would be contacted, when and how.

We shared our findings at the end of the session and we questioned why things had been organised the way they had been.

By tlunch time, we had tackled curation but had run out of time to tackle professional practice so we had to leave it to a future meeting.

What a privilege it was to have been part of all that!!

The afternoon was spent looking at the work of those present.  I had taken two of my gigantic fault line prints: one showed the fault line as a photo, the other was the drawn outline of the fault line.  The general consensus was that I should either paint my work on the wall or project it onto the wall as huge.  Against the latter is the consideration that I might be seen as exploiting my position as curator to publicise my work over that of others.  For it is that it will bring a completely different element for people to read about, look at and think about.  So I might do it to reinforce the main concern of the artist-curator.


2 thoughts on “OCA SW October meeting with Michele Whiting.

  1. What a useful day it was for you as well as all the other rewards.

    How huge is huge and how many walls are available? If the rest of the exhibitors agree then I don’t really see how it could be seen as you exploiting your work over the others.


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