Curator of a residence. Does such role exist and why is it needed?

“Shishim Hill” publishes a series of texts, which provides insight into various components of the processes around an art residence.

Shishim Hill artists-in-residence, Yekaterinburg, 2020 / Photo: Alyona Skala
Shishim Hill artists-in-residence, Yekaterinburg, 2020 / Photo: Alyona Skala

Art residence is a format with many faces that is often described in a rather practical way. There are two extremes, both of which include minimal curator’s involvement. The first extreme: residence is an infrastructural paradise; it has everything necessary for the artists’ stable work. The second extreme: residence is a tool that consistently implements the social value of supporting artists. Neither case seems to treat a curator as a subject of an author’s statement, as a meaningful unit in the artistic process. The first option appears to be an ideal technical-administrative structure; moreover, it seems that issues of cleaning, food supply, transport can be solved by some robot housekeeper. The second option appeals to such fundamental and general principles that it goes beyond any individuality: it is a world, in which any responsibility is distributed between the expert collectivity.

Nevertheless, curators of art residences do exist — even a quick web search proves it. Let’s try to artificially outline the functions of such a professional by presenting each of them as a separate character.

Curator-butler. This character is a little more complex than a robot from fantasies about a smart home, but in essence it is similar: to provide for household and — in a pro version — processual needs of a resident within the physical boundaries of the residence. Like a clichéd English butler from literature and cinema, he clearly knows what and how it should be done, and most importantly, he never says anything superfluous and does not take any unplanned actions.

Curator-keeper. A hero with an increased mobility. Yes, he is still more of a total babysitter, but he is already glad to leave the strictly outlined borders of the territory, to pursue a resident on his caring wings and follow his or her needs. Having a good contact, a curator of this type can be a very effective help to any resident. However, they are still not engaged in the work with content. This role is performed quite well by the elated artist’s assistants — students or professionals at the beginning of their careers.

Curator-visionary. It is a perfect companion to share dreams with. Perhaps, none of his actions bring practical value, but communication with him is easy and inspiring. The flip side may be that it also does not commit to anything. For none of the participants.

Curator-author. Such a curator has a clear, meaningful goal. The residence is his tool for narration. He selects residents, clearly distributes roles and tasks between them. Such a curator is inclined to dictate the topic and focuses rigidly on the result; he pays attention to content, urges to complete what was started and craves predictability in general and the result in particular.

Curator-production manager. Predictably, he works in production-oriented residences. He clearly stands by the goals of the residence — to get something produced, a product, an outcome. For him, an artist is a means of achievement. As scary as it may sound, it often coincides with the artist’s self-identification (perhaps in a specific situation). In case of such unanimity, they both are involved in a life-and-death struggle with time, resistance of material and common sense for the sake of getting work done on time or ready for an important event.

Curator-gallerist. Another type of curator who is focused on receiving a product. For such a curator, an artist equals to the sum of his works. This character differs from the curator of the previous type, because he implies that collaboration with an artist shouldn’t be one-off. Frankly speaking, he wishes to repeat it from time to time. Therefore, the work with this curator is utterly effective, but the scale of activities to save the world is somewhat more modest than that with a production-oriented curator.

Curator-facilitator. He doesn’t pursue his own goals. He believes that artists know what they are doing and are in control of their artistic process. He is similar to a keeper who is equally willing to contribute to any ideas of an artist, but also, he presupposes that all the participants are adults and (to the extent) conscious people. He easily engages in the work with content and process, shares his competencies, skills and network. In case the residence seeks to ensure a continuous change of artists, this type of curator seems most appropriate. He avoids imposing his own focus, although, the artists are highly dependent on his experience, in other words, on how exactly he is ready to help.

Curator-mom. This is such a special type of curator, which exists, perhaps, especially for residences: with him the artists are safe like behind a stone wall. He combines all the best from the types listed above (loosely defined): bed made, dinner ready (butler); tickets bought, appointments booked (keeper); a great future has already been conceived for a project that has not yet been invented (visionary); everything was conceptually justified ahead of time (author) and shared with neighbors (gallerist); all workshops are ready to implement any idea (production manager), and any idea expressed is destined to be meaningful and immersed in the context (facilitator).

Curator-god (or butterfly). He is like mom, only he is never around.

Text: Zhenya Chaika, curator, Shishim Hill artists-in-residence

Translation: Anna Bubel Goldfarb


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