The Incomplete Curator: AKA Fighting the Delineated Field
Liam Gillick, 2016

First published The Curatorial Conundrum: What to Study? What to Research? What to Practice?
Eds. Paul O'Neill, Mick Wilson, Lucy Steeds, Cambridge, MIT Press

The incomplete curator is aware of shifting curatorial scope. They do not see their work as the production of encyclopedic knowledge. They say to themselves “To pretend, I actually do the thing: I have therefore only pretended to pretend.”[1] The incomplete curator is part of a curatorial mass. They know that there are an infinite number of other curators. They look in the mirror and recite the words “To say ‘we’ and mean ‘I’ is one of the most recondite insults.”[2] The incomplete curator is under pressure to prove capable of an academic method. Yet they ignore the shadow of correct technique. With tears in their eyes they shout “The point is not to stay marginal, but to participate in whatever network of marginal zones is spawned from other disciplinary centers and which, together, constitute a multiple displacement of those authorities.”[3] The incomplete curator is fully aware of lingering authority. It is not something to be assumed or accepted. They feed on the statement “The state of exception is not a dictatorship, but a space devoid of law.”[4] Pace and discourse are messed around with—to be slowed down or sped up, or kept at the same speed, is the incomplete curator’s way to remain in permanent conflict with contradictory flow. They fight hard for a resuscitation of the public domain. The incomplete curator attempts to save those that exist as memories and fights for new commons at all times. The incomplete curator sees writing in tension with everything they do; writing in tension with the self, and writing as a contradiction to action. For the incomplete curator “Language is legislation, speech is its code. We do not see the power which is in speech because we forget that all speech is a classification, and that all classifications are oppressive.”[5] The incomplete curator begins with an acknowledgment of the disappointment of art. For them this is something to be accentuated, accepted, and reframed. For the incomplete curator “The depressed person is a radical, sullen atheist.”[6] Incomplete curators see voids as potential. They accept all mental spaces as ones to be used and energized. They sit in empty rooms and reflect on the fact that “In all the circumstances where an individual must learn something without any means of having it explained to him. There is no-one on earth who hasn’t learned something by himself and without a master explicator.”[7] The incomplete curator swallows hard and faces the institution. They even face their institutional neighbors on the other side of the street while sweeping the street free of broken glass. The incomplete curator knows that “What isn’t a good idea is to pull back from our commitments in order to win a broader acceptance. In fact, despite my suggestions that a broader public opening for our work exists, it’s possible that smaller, more focused audiences make more sense. It certainly depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with your work.”[8] The incomplete curator fights the continual reconstruction of the narcissistic institution. At the same time they keep a lid on self-loathing. For the incomplete curator “Sadism… is a massive cultural fact that appeared precisely at the end of the eighteenth century and that constitutes one of the greatest conversions of the occidental imagination... madness of desire, the insane delight of love and death in the limitless presumptions of appetite.”[9] The incomplete curator is amused by discourse in relation to the object of art. For the incomplete curator agrees that “In my opinion, it is only a matter of terminology: on the side of utterance, the apprehension of a painting is discursive, whereas on the side of the content it happens that it ceases to be. The whole point is to define the concrete operators enabling us to go from one to the other.”[10] The incomplete curator is always pushing towards cognitive collapse. They accept that it may not be possible to mediate or explain. They think of documentation and desire and death: “Cameras help to minimize collateral damage, and very often, without a camera a missile cannot fire. Certainly, without a camera a drone can’t function, which means that the very ways in which we wage war are determined in part by how cameras work and whether they work at all.”[11] Incomplete curators suffer alone. They construct subjects that might only exist on paper or in the brain. For the incomplete curator “Every discourse, even a poetic or oracular sentence, carries with it a system of rules for producing analogous things and thus an outline of methodology.”[12] The incomplete curator believes in the group as a supportive antagonist. Bringing together disagreements as part of the construction of potential. The incomplete curator has a good memory and a sense of political purpose. “The days of Seattle involve a corporeal arrangement, a combination of bodies (with their actions and passions) composed of individual and collective singularities (multiplicity of individuals and organizations—Marxists, ecologists, union activists, Trotskyists, media activists, ‘witches,’ Black Bloc, etc., which practice specific corporeal relations of co-functioning); and there is an arrangement of statements, a regime of statements formed from a multitude of statement regimes (the statements of the Marxists are not the same as those of the media activists, the ecologists or the ‘witches,’ etc.) The collective statement arrangements are not expressed solely through language, but also through the technological expression machines (Internet, telephone, television, etc.). Both arrangements are constructed in terms of the current relationships of power and desire.”[13] The incomplete curator makes a big thing of avoiding responsibility. They might only do this right at the moment when the pressure is highest to accept responsibility. For the incomplete curator “The individual mirrors in his individuation the preordained social laws of exploitation, however mediated.”[14] The incomplete curator believes in a phantom public. If it does not exist then it might be necessary to create it. It is something they think about as they recite these words: “A project of radical and plural democracy on the contrary, requires the existence of multiplicity, of plurality and of conflict, and sees in them the raison d’être of politics.”[15] The incomplete curator believes in the education of artists. Something not limited to pointing out to artists all the other artists they do not know, and books that they have not read. For the incomplete curator “… the educational system is the particular apparatus that produces the child, and it does so through a singular political operation: the de-sexualization of the infantile body and the disqualification of its affects.”[16] The incomplete curator smiles at the idea of faith, hope, and charity. While at the same time telling artists about all the artists they do not know about, and all the books they have not read. There is no contradiction here: “What I claim is to live to the full the contradiction of my time, which may well make sarcasm the condition of truth.”[17] The incomplete curator is an agent of compromise. Reveling in an acceptance of the limits of any given structure. For the incomplete curator understands that “All forms of consensus are by necessity based on acts of exclusion.”[18] The incomplete curator works hard toward the end of withering the museum as a cultural ‘state.’ They make use of entryist strategies at any given moment. For them a foundational truth is that “The paradigmatic body of Western control societies is no longer represented by the imprisoned body of the worker, the lunatic, the ill person, but rather by the obese (full of the worlds of the enterprise) or anorectic (rejection of this world) body, which see the bodies of humanity scourged by hunger, violence and thirst on television. The paradigmatic body of our societies is no longer the mute body molded by discipline, but rather it is the bodies and souls marked by the signs, words and images (company logos) that are inscribed in us—similar to the procedure, through which the machine in Kafka’s ‘Penal Colony’ inscribes its commands into the skin of the condemned.”[19] The incomplete curator is not without an aesthetic dimension. The incomplete curator demonstrates a desire to recognize an aesthetic dimension in locations that are not limited to the work or the location of work at any given moment. For the incomplete curator “Artistic subjectivity without content is now the pure force of negation that everywhere and at all times affirms only itself as absolute freedom that mirrors itself in pure self-consciousness.”[20] They know that subculture has been subsumed by research. So as a result they resist the pressure to control spontaneous groupings. They are fully aware that “The struggle between different discourses, different definitions and meanings within ideology is therefore always, at the same time, a struggle within signification: a struggle for possession of the sign which extends to even the most mundane areas of life… safety pins… These ‘humble objects’ can be magically appropriated; ‘stolen’ by subordinate groups and made to carry ‘secret’ meanings…”[21]

Incomplete curators sigh at indifference and corruption. At the same time they are fully supportive of wandering off, and doing something more interesting right at the point that responsibility is highest. For the incomplete curator “Today’s milestone is human madness. Politics is a part of it, particularly in its lethal outbursts. Politics is not, as it was for Hannah Arendt, the field where human freedom is unfurled. The modern world, the world of world war, the Third World, the underground world of death that acts upon us, do not have the civilized splendor of the Greek city-state. The modern political domain is massively, in totalitarian fashion, social, leveling, exhausting. Hence madness is a space of antisocial, apolitical, and paradoxically free individuation.”[22] For in their heart the incomplete curator keeps artistic confrères and consoeurs. It’s not so hard. For they know that “Poets are the only people to whom love is not only a crucial, but an indispensable experience, which entitles them to mistake it for a universal one.”[23]

[1] Jacques Derrida
[2] Theodor Adorno
[3] Judith Butler
[4] Giorgio Agamben
[5] Roland Barthes
[6] Julia Kristeva
[7] Jacques Ranciére
[8] Martha Rosler
[9] Michel Foucault
[10] Felix Guattari
[11] Judith Butler
[12] Jacques Derrida
[13] Maurizio Lazzarato
[14] Theodor Adorno
[15] Chantal Mouffe
[16] Paul B. Preciado
[17] Roland Barthes
[18] Chantal Mouffe
[19] Maurizio Lazzarato
[20] Giorgio Agamben
[21] Dick Hebdige
[22] Julia Kristeva
[23] Hannah Arendt

© Liam Gillick 2024