Lebenskünstler

Brief notes on librarian as designer.

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/21/2017

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The shift: Library science -> Information Science only tells part of the story. Science is an inadequate model, as is information.

The dominant paradigm:  Information -> Knowledge is incomplete.

Librarians must be attentive to meaning, not just information/knowledge.

Epistemology -> Semiotics but ultimately the core of librarianship is experience design. 

Aesthetics then, becomes a core concern and the librarian’s new pedagogical model should be design school, specifically social design. [1]

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[1] A case could be made for curatorial studies,  and although insights from the field would surely aid librarianship, it lacks some fundamental skill sets of design.

 

 

“…like libraries, without the party atmosphere.” – Why I hate museums

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/26/2013

Opinion: Why I hate museums – James Durston

[Fun to read this in light of this piece wistful about good old fashioned museum experience and this one defending the new “participatory” experience. But I do take issue with condemning the exhibition displaying an “old brick, an old piece of rock, some hair and a napkin.” Sounds pretty great.]

Graveyards for stuff. Tombs for inanimate things.

Their cavernous rooms and deep corridors reverberate with the soft, dead sounds of tourists shuffling and employees yawning.

They’re like libraries, without the party atmosphere.

I’ve always hated museums.

Yet twice or three times a year, I somehow find myself within one, shuffling from glass case to glass case, reading the little inscriptions, peering closely at the details, doing what any “good traveler” does.

Two hours later I walk out bored, hungry and far less glad to be on vacation than when I went in.

The main thing you learn in museums, it seems, is how not to run a museum.

Worst of all, there’s a climate of snobbery surrounding this whole industry.

Confess that rather than stare glumly at an old beer chalice on a plinth you’d prefer to drink happily from a shiny new one in a pub, and you risk being outed as an ignoramus.

Well, I’m outing myself. I’m a museo-phobe.

They provide an umbilical link between our planet and our history to the future.

But inside these crypts of curatorship, the connection to humankind falls short.

Last year I visited Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art — a landmark at least as celebrated, if not more so, for its architecture than its contents, and no wonder.

After the 200th glass case containing an old bowl — or was it a plate, or perhaps it was some more cutlery, who knows, who cares — I decided the photo opportunity across the sea was the best thing about the place.

Where’s the “muse” in all these museums? Where’s the theater?

Fair enough, I don’t question the wider benefits of museums, economic or otherwise.

But the collect-and-cage policy that defines the visible exhibits, much of which is not even visible most of the time, is anathema to an engaging experience.

This smacks of the most smugly provocative modern art, which insists that anything the curate deigns to put inside the building inevitably becomes “interesting.”

Where’s the relevance? Why, in places designed to celebrate life and all its variety, is there such a lack of vitality?

My trip two years ago to Hong Kong’s Science Museum convinced me that if there were a World Championship for Most Dreary Things To Do On Vacation, museums would be disqualified for going over the top.

But where’s the equivalent for adults? Why should over-16-year-olds, who still make up the significant majority of museum-goers, be subjected to stiff, dry, academia-laced presentations as if fun were a dirty word?

Where’s your joy gone, museums?

“smartly dressed and supposedly knowledgeable” – Professional curators, who needs ’em?

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/23/2013

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What happened to the expert curator? – Daniel Blight

A space has now opened up – both physically and online – where anyone can give curating a go. If you are part of culture, then you are qualified to contribute to the arrangement of its artefacts. The practice of curating now occupies museums, public and commercial galleries, project spaces and, of course, the internet.

Within these contexts, the act of arranging objects, images or sounds into an order that may or may not have meaning has proliferated throughout the creative and cultural industries. The curator is now a producer: you might curate your Flickr feed, your mates playing records at a bar or festival or an exhibition in your own apartment – a trend showcased by the Serpentine Gallery’s co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist, a master orator of what he calls a “global dialogue… in space and time”.

While the practice of curating within cultural institutions may have changed, the elitism and sense of privileged access remains – abundantly. Even now, you can walk into a museum or gallery and be overwhelmed with the feeling of being in a place where meaning is inaccessible to the layperson, other than through spaces specifically created for audience participation.



What, then, if we’re looking in the wrong place for qualified, ground-breaking curators? Perhaps they are no longer in museums, galleries or cultural institutions, but instead in front of a screen – sociable and connected.
Curating in the age of the internet is the act of responding to social and technological developments: their usability, instability and the various networks of communication in which they are presented online.

In this, we return to the movement from expert to amateur. The sheer quantity of material being collected and curated on the internet, and indeed the rate at which this activity can represent culture and form social networks, is staggering. Institutionalised curators are, along with the institutions themselves, being left woefully behind.

In fact, their attempt to keep up may soon become their authorial downfall: people are creating meaning themselves – online, inside, outside and in rings around the snail-paced bureaucracy that has come to characterise most cultural institutions.

Whatever our response to this, one thing is abundantly clear – we cannot do it by bandwagoning internet art, nor will it be helped along bythe ostentatious character of the curator in itself. The cultural institution, tied in the UK to the wider governmental logic of the Department for Media, Culture and Sport, may need to shift its priorities structurally and ideologically. In times where money is harder to come by and people’s access and thirst for knowledge is more readily satisfied via the internet, curators need to play a much more transparent and far less haughty game if they are to stay ahead.

Who counts, or should count, as a “meaning maker?” – The problem with “cultural production.” – One side of of a facebook conversation on art and culture

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/12/2012

An addendum to this post is now here.

[The following is my end of a multi-participant and mutli-themed conversation. I did not include the names or comments of others (save for a few unattributed quotations) as I did not ask for their permission. The content is essentially unedited.]

*** – The language I prefer to use in describing what you call “antiquated infrastructure” is more in line with Sholette (and Baudrillard). Perhaps art is an exploded star (maybe in the 60s) and like astronomical ones, what we are seeing now is just the last light to reach us from that “long gone” event…

“the madness of making things matter” is a really lovely phrase although I wonder a bit about who you see engaged in such a thing. As you probably know I am quite skeptical about folks that utilize the label “cultural producers” being engaged much in making things matter. Or rather to whom and for whom does it matter?

I feel like despite your half-hearted attempt to leave art behind (at least as you hint at in the comments here), you still want to reserve a place for some sort of special individual (or collective). Someone who stands out as a “meaning maker” or “cultural producer,” thus merely shifting the dynastic reigns to a newly labelled vanguard.

Oh ***, I know you don’t care one whit what my “point” is, but I appreciate you pretending to. It is true that a certain kind of skepticism is my disposition, and that skepticism generally finds its manifestation at (perceived) claims of specialness, elitism, etc. I support radically democratic culture making (pretty sure you do too) and thus find the term ‘cultural producers’ a bit weird. Who is *not* a cultural producer? Who *doesn’t* “make meaning?” I guess radical inclusivity is my point and thus the idea that critics (radical or otherwise) should be writing about activist art true enough, but why do we keep limiting ourselves to the most obvious forms of meaning making, and while obvious, also the least accessible to vast segments of the population?

So again when you say:
“That is why I use the phrase “cultural producers” only as a way to imply forms of culture making outside the tight constraints of an art infrastructure.”

I have to wonder why, given your curatorial history, it seems you want to look outside the art *infrastructure*, but not outside *art* (or activism when you stretch a bit). It gives the distinct impression that “cultural producer” is just a euphemism for smart art/activist types, but does not appear to include car customizers, church knitting circles and the like. I mean if we’re really looking at culture, not *intellectual* culture, not *urban* culture, not *activist* culture, etc. Why does everything done in the name of cultural production feel so constrained?

There is indeed an “entire other universe” being ignored (but not necessarily the one you speak of) and my “point” is to be vigilant in calling that out.

I am certainly not against being interested in one thing over another either. The reason I spout off (aside from having no life) on these issues periodically is that there is a HUGE disconnect in the art world between what people say they support and what they *actually* support. I mean your **** show didn’t cast a wide net (at least from where I sit). It explored a well worn groove, an interesting one, but very few surprises (of course I’m also guilty of considering the title too literally – wanting something beyond its aim, hoping to have seen an exhibition of people living creatively, whose lives explore the art of living more than the art of living (as art)). Time and again, curators claim to be interested in everyday life, the ordinary, cultural production, etc. – yet whenever they put an event together art/activist types are almost all they include (unless one of the artist/activist types brings in some non-art person). So if the statement were everyday life – as interpreted by artist intellectuals, or cultural production as generated by artist intellectuals or others they deem interesting, or *** – as practiced by art/activist types, then it would at least be honest…

So, what *do* I want?

…more grandmothers, more South Dakotans, more gearheads, more fan fiction writers, more karaoke queens, more street performers, more Sunday painters, more NASCAR fans, more tailgating, more collectors (of barf bags, not art), more gardeners (not “radical” ones), more lipdub dreamers, more Civil War re-enactors, more whirlygig makers, more surfers, more conservatives, more stand-up comics, more DJs (not Spooky!!!!), more roadside Americana, more people who have never been to college, more fiddlers, more people who have never left their hometown, more taxidermists, more people who don’t give a shit about art aside from liking pretty pictures, more of all the crazy, delightful people making (and doing things) that mean something, more folks engaged in, as you put it, “the madness of making things matter.”

Not only would critics of art from other disciplines be interesting so too would artists. One of the reasons I gave up on undergraduate art education was that everybody was busy making stuff without any foundation to drive it – except art. They were all living in an art school bubble (not unlike a Fox News bubble). Making art completely within the framework of art and only questioning it within its own terms.

Sure there were other courses than studio ones, but they were those dumbed down “math for artists” sorts of classes. I would love an art world in which there was no such thing as an undergraduate art degree. Art created from a vantage point of something in the world other than art would be so much healthier and relevant than the inbred mess we have now.

And don’t bother telling me how art education has changed, how people read from urban planning, architecture, etc. The professionalization of art, the specialization, still has a very tight grip. Look at how successful Claire Bishop has been at having people take seriously her efforts to reign in social practice, to bring it back to the fold, to let all the old ideas and frameworks be the starting point – criticality being the greatest bugaboo. Oh how the art world LOVES its criticality! Looking to other academic disiciplines, is fine (as **** suggests) but let’s not confine ourselves to academia.

Surely we can hope for a more interesting and diverse art world than one dependent on academic experts, one that includes pleasure (not “jouissance”), one that thrives in places like Galveston, TX, or Butte, MT, one that thrives outside cities, one that ordinary people (ordinary people are the sort of people that wouldn’t ask “what is an *ordinary* person?”) want to see, one that doesn’t always have to interrogate, deconstruct, critique, or examine, one that is radically inclusive, democratic, local, and in which critics are one, very small part.

Gregory Sholette – Curator’s Disease – Edward Tiryakian – Existential Phenomenology

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/02/2012

On one level, I love Sholette’s book Dark Matter, but at a much deeper level I find it infuriating. While it does hint at a profound re-evaluation of art/politics and at shedding light on “dark matter” it ultimately treats dark matter with curator’s disease…that is it serves as a vague intellectual theme used to illustrate a preordained vision- in this case the rather conventional celebration of the heroic artistic avant garde – rather than as a radical foil to academic triumphalism. Stephen Wright and Alexander Koch are doing much less conventional work addressing so called “dark matter.” Having said that, I’m still thankful the book exists and talks intelligently about some great folks.

Coincidentally, while revisiting Sholette, I discovered this quote from Edward Tiryakian describing existential phenomenology in Stanford Lyman’s A Sociology of the Absurd (1970):

“…[it] seeks to elucidate the existential nature of social structures by uncovering the surface institutional phenomena of the everyday, accepted world; by probing the subterranean, non-institutional social depths concealed from public gaze, by interpreting the dialectic between the institutional and non-institutional.”

Altermodern – Nicolas Bourriaud – Pity the curatorial studies student

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/02/2009


“The whole mélange is served up with the thick buttery sauce of French art theory, and the catalogue essays will give anyone except a curatorial studies MA student a crise de foie.” – Ben Lewis on Bourriaud’s Altermodern at The Tate

An update. Stewart Home has a way with words:
“The art itself doesn’t really matter, it is there to illustrate a thesis. The thesis doesn’t matter either since it exists to facilitate Bourriaud’s career; and Bourriaud certainly doesn’t matter because he is simply yet another dim-witted cultural bureaucrat thrown up by the institution of art.”

More here: Bourriaud’s ‘Altermodern’, an eclectic mix of bullshit & bad taste