What does “Curatorial” mean?

Stephanie Seungmin Kim
3 min readMay 7, 2019

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The word ‘curate’ seems to be used everywhere. I have been using the ‘curatorial’ as an adjective as in; ‘Iskai art is a curatorial research centre’ or I am writing my ‘curatorial statement’ to define the objectives of curated shows. However, the word curatorial has been undergone various changes and I myself had to define it for me a couple of times.

To curate is an action of organising the way art is displayed, mediated and cared for. Jean-Paul Martinon and Irit Rogoff write “the distinction between ‘curating’, and ‘the curatorial’ means to emphasise a shift from a staging of the event, to curate, to the actual event itself: its enactment, dramatisation and performance’ (1)

Everyone’s curatorial will be different — and to define — I have written a simple analogy. This analogy was to define a special curator’s film I have made. It has become a combination of documentary, fiction, autobiographical and auto-ethnographical accounts; all assembled to create a theoretical visual essay.

a curator meets Dame Margaret Drabble in “Fragments”

Some might say this film evokes an experience of ‘curatorial’ — and certainly, because I have been making exhibitions for the past fifteen years and, I needed a medium that could include grassroots observations surrounding these artists’ works — this comment could be complementary.

In short, it is not only an extended field of my exhibition-making practice, choosing a black box instead of a white cube, or a theatre instead of a gallery space, but also enacting and performing to mediate art and understand artists’ agencies to be read by the public.

So if one asks why my film is curatorial, I would present this analogy.

Seahyun Lee painting in “Fragments” film

There is an island in this sea less travelled, and it’s called des Artistes. A captain of a ship who grew up nearby has been going back and forth and around this island for years. She becomes familiar with the certain geography of the island: where to anchor safely when a particular colony of birds arrive and so on. She feels this island is quite central the region with a number of reasons: the cold and warm current meets around this time, and creates certain plankton, attracting these birds and so on.

However, she thinks in order to really understand the island, one needs to go underwater. Together with engineers and sailors, she builds a submarine that fits the journey she wants. She consults with geologists who advise her about the strata of the island from their own memories of seeing similar geography. In fact, she does not just scuba dive from the shore because she wanted to eventually share the findings to a bigger public. Would I present a nano tank that shows the organism underneath, she thinks and shakes off the idea. After all, she was not interested in portraying the world in an exact diorama, but it was the journey that she wanted to convey. The island was a part of a bigger world she knew of, not the Galapagos either where David Attenborough had been with his powerful team. It has been visible from the shore where she grew up, and she knew the lighthouse man from her sailing days. The knowhows were not from books only (although she looked up past sailors’ memoir and divers’ fish charts) but through her sailing experiences.

But since it is impossible to re-present the submarine trip as a whole, she thinks creatively…perhaps by using sound effects; she might create an immersive atmosphere? She is lost in her thoughts about how to present the diverse photographs, videos and her observations.

had to be the yellow submarine

Rogoff, Jean-Paul Martinon and Irit. 2013. ‘Preface.’ in Jean-Paul Martinon (ed.), The Curatorial: Philosophy of Curating, p. xi

Stephanie Seungmin Kim

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