I perceive the task of a contemporary curator as the combinatorics of cultural practices. Traditionally, the explicit aim of curatorial work has been ‘to show’, which is why exhibitions transpire as specific displays. I would like to radically broaden this concept and thereby shift the emphasis to production and communication, that is, to the practices inherent in exhibiting. I understand production in its broader sense, as a term that encompasses the theory and practice of art as equal components that mutually generate one another. Moreover, a more broadly defined concept of cultural practice includes, in my opinion, such related fields as architecture, design, fashion, new media, video, film and interior design that are articulated within a socio-political context, which they also influence.
In Roland Barthes’ terms, exhibitions are communicative, ideological situations that are created in order to intentionally convey subject matter by recourse to certain artefacts and the arrangement thereof. Such ‘messages’ cannot be conceived separately from political stances and interests. It makes a difference whether a setting puts recipients in a subordinate, passive role, addresses them as infantile creatures to be entertained, reaches them on an emotional level or engages them in discourse, gives them access to information, disrupts their accustomed visual and intellectual perceptions, or encourages them to articulate themselves. I thus see the production of discourse in exhibitions as open-ended situations that become interesting when certain concerns are addressed, reinterpreted and debated. I nevertheless consider mediation, like all communication processes, to be essentially flawed or limited, and to a certain extent, it never really succeeds. This fundamental disharmony or ‘non-identical’ element of communication, of language and also of art can emerge as a kind of parrhesia in art and can be (subtly) formulated in the theory.
I see as the obvious conclusion that any categorical claim regarding content necessarily always entails a formally extreme, subversive and daring translation that partly succeeds in annulling the pedagogic function of ‘the exhibition’ by questioning and redefining it.
Dorothee Richter (2007)