Saturday, 8 November 2014

A curated life?

It's Saturday morning. The weekend, and so I've decided that despite the number of emails eagerly awaiting my attention I'm going to take a couple of hours just for me. Usually, I'd spend this morning reading the Saturday newspapers in front of the fireplace with a good, strong cup of coffee. But today I'm indulging in my latest obsession instead, curating my Tumblr blog.

Tumblr is a god send for creative but decidedly non-artistic people like me. So much content to choose from, no need to be able to create it yourself. Just search and ye shall find. Oh, you'll find lots of stuff not suitable for family viewing as well. But in among the pornographic sites are many, many sites dedicated to beautiful images. For a visual junkie, it's a feast, perhaps even an overdose. Time becomes immaterial, to do lists vanish, all that matters is the next amazing image. Fashion, food, places I have visited and others on my 'someday' list, wine, books, music, art, romantic images of couples in love, all the things that constitute a 'good' life. You can find them on Tumblr.

At some point, actually quite early in the visual consumption feast, a desire to save the images for re-consumption later occurs. And so a blog is born. Naming is an issue; not due to lack of imagination, but because someone else got there first, so compromises have to be made. The software isn't exactly user friendly, but through persistence I trick it into doing what I want. And what is it I want? I want not only to horde images I find beautiful, memorable or thought-provoking. I want to display, to organize, to curate them into a whole. I want the mood to shift subtly, the colours to blend and merge, a narrative to emerge. Having satisfied that desire, I try inserting images which mark a sudden shift in direction through colour or subject matter - pointers to the viewer that things are about to change.

And in doing so, I realize that I am anticipating a viewer other than myself.

I am engaging in an act of consumption and production not only for my own pleasure but also for the pleasure of some unnamed other. When I think of that other, I imagine it being my closest girlfriend, who I anticipate would love the same images as I do. She may not have the same Sam Elliott fixation or love of Charles Bukowski's poetry that I do, but she would laugh gently and tell me it's "part of my charm." Beyond that, it gets kind of scary. There's a sense that you can broadcast to the world and yet remain anonymous, should you choose to do so, when you set up your Tumblr account. It's like you're curating an exhibition that will never open its doors to the public. It remains hidden, to be found only by chance or accident.

Why scary? Because curated sites like Tumblr, or the photo albums on your Facebook page, are projective devices. They allow us to say something without using words, to tell others what things really matter to us. Our subjective response to the world around us is on display for others to read and interpret.

This is one of the great changes social media has brought about. No longer are our photo albums, scrapbooks and journals intensely private things. They are now on display, and along with them our thoughts, passions and our curatorial skills. Likes, hearts, reblogs, reposts and even the odd comment tell us how well we are doing. Curating is no longer the prerogative of the highly educated and skilled; anyone can curate. And anyone can comment on the skills of the curator.

This is the argument David Balzar makes in his new book, "Curationism: How curating took over the art world and everything else." (Follow this link for an excerpt).  It's also the topic of Alexandra Molotkow's column in today's Globe and Mail. Both authors raise thought-provoking questions about the nature of consumption in everyday life. Are you 'curating' when you decide what to wear out into the world today? Do you simply place books on a shelf or stuff your clothes into whatever available space there is, or do you curate a display that says something about you and about your relationship to these objects?

Have we all become curators?