Curating Play, Part I

October 14, 2010

In my first post, I said that YouTube Play offered a unique opportunity for the museum to investigate the shifting sands of our visual culture. I want to follow up on that idea by talking about how the museum might take up the curatorial challenge presented by Play.

Let’s start with the theoretical: YouTube and the museum represent different strategies for negotiating public and private space. The museum is programmatic, narrative, and reified—historically, the museum has been a venue for public edification by its authorial assembling and interpretation of precious and rare objects.

Conversely, YouTube puts much of that authority in the hands of its users, and favors real-time, associative thought over any unifying educational strategy. (Knowledge on YouTube is gained in a much more piecemeal fashion). This is not to say that YouTube does not provide a means for reflection. For example, users can create and share pages of their favorite videos. This ability to select and juxtapose clips is characteristic of Internet browsing and of user-generated culture in general, and downright libratory in contrast to the codified viewing practices of conventional cinema, television, and museums.

This has led to the increasingly prevalent idea that making such selections is analogous to curating, and raises the question of what exactly constitutes curating. As online commentators at New Curator and Tomorrow Museum have pointed out, “selecting” is not the same as “curating.” Curation connotes, as Tom Morton says, an authorial stance. It is about interpreting the items selected, and how their grouping results in a meaning different—or even greater—than their individual meaning. Play offers the opportunity to rethink curation in terms of online moving image material. Sites such as Steve Dietz’s Y Productions, Triple Canopy, and John Powers’s Star Wars Modern are already demonstrating the intuitive elasticity and enormous potential of online curation.

Curating also concerns preservation, a particularly vexing issue with respect to a platform like YouTube, where a deluge of new videos arrives daily, and where the formats used by both producers and consumers are constantly changing.

Another issue is education. While museums are increasingly concerned with enhancing the “experience” of their visitors, art institutions needn’t stop providing an educational service to its public. Play presents a great opportunity to historicize and contextualize this new material within the rich history of the moving image. Short films, after all, were the first moving images. Early cinema was exhibited in a variety of different ways, usually by an individual who could—like today’s YouTube users—determine a program’s running order, add or subtract sound (music or commentary), and even edit pieces together.

1.Joanne McNeil
October 14, 2010 8:01 AM
Thank you for the link to my essay, "The Editor and the Curator." I am giving a talk on "curation" and the Web at the New Museum Nov 18

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