I always knew that words would be central to my life, but a teenaged version of myself—clad in black and folded over piles of paper—never would have predicted that I would find myself as a woman working in the arts. When I decided to go to university, my choice to study philosophy was the perfect consequence of listening to too many The Doors albums (and thus reading a lot of Nietzsche), combined with a desire to study science but knowing that I am no good at math. Maybe the logic is hard to follow, but suffice to say that art was not there as a beckon. And yet! After so many years of thinking and writing about what art does, the fall brings with it a return to school at the University of Toronto in the Master of Visual Studies program. As part of the Curatorial Studies stream, I will have the immense privilege of studying with a stellar faculty and some impressive fellow students. I am stoked and skeptical, humble and curious. It’s gonna be tough, but what a privilege to have this time to read and think and talk.
I have no illusions that what I think school will be about, now, will be what it turns out to be, at the end of it all. But at this bright moment at the beginning, here’s what I hope.
Over the past few years, I have noticed that I lack the language to speak about what I would broadly term conceptual writing (a problem with words) and abstraction (a problem with images). I stutter, and because I am constituted through language, this lack corresponds to an inability to make sense. As it stands, the only real tactic I have in response is to open myself to the work. To move through it despite not knowing, but I am convinced that these works want something more, something explicit, from me as their audience. In approaching the MVS program, I am excited to use this as an opportunity to develop some basic conceptual and aesthetic literacies as have been provoked by these encounters.
I want to develop a fluency at detecting or developing these strategies for engagement, and I want to develop a fluency at engaging.
I anticipate that one consequence of this will be that I being with art and artists. In my practice so far, I have often started with ideas, a result, perhaps, of coming to curating by way of philosophy. I have tried not to do the thing where art works are selected as demonstrations of a curatorial thesis. But what I have done, I think, is use artworks as a way to test curatorial hypotheses, which means that ideological propositions have been central to how I approach my work.
Andrea Fraser has diagnosed this need to develop aesthetic fluency thusly: “[there is] an ever widening gap between the material conditions of art and its symbolic systems: between what the vast majority of art works are today (socially and economically) and what artists, curators, critics and art historians say that art works…do and mean.” I want to challenge my impulse to first assign political and philosophical meaning by beginning with form instead, to practice making sense of the things that make up my world, not as instrumentalized nuggets of language, paint, sound or material, but on their own terms, which are always embedded.