Curationist in Conversation: BOMIN JEON & SHANA LUTKER
Meet two more contributors who help make Curationist a reality:
What brought you to Curationist? What is your engagement with it?
Hi, my name is Bomin Jeon. I am a digital archivist at MHz, and I am also an artist and organizer based in Baltimore. I studied sculpture at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), which is where I met Virginia Poundstone, Curationist’s Content Curation Director, and found out about the project. I am also an organizing member of Press Press, an independent publishing initiative. As a digital archivist, I mainly focus on populating the database, so I work with all the databases that are available to us and funnel digital objects into the Curationist platform. I also plan out and build collections based on my personal interest and the research that I want to do.
I am Shana Lutker. I am an advising editor to Curationist. I am an artist based in Los Angeles and also the executive director of the Project X Foundation for Art and Criticism, which is a non-profit publisher of the art journal X-TRA. I came to Curationist through Virginia, who is a friend and peer. She knew of some of the work that I do as an editor, content organizer, publisher, and visual artist. With that in mind, she thought that my perspective would be useful in helping to organize and develop Curationist.
Would you say there’s a difference between “just Googling” something to find an answer and truly understanding a topic?
BJ – I think of Googling as a very preliminary research tool. It’s a quick way to get information, images, and content, but most of the time you don’t necessarily know whether information is credited to the right people, or where it actually comes from, depending on where it is circulated online; that is one thing that is kind of tricky for me. One of the coolest things about the Internet is that it allows you to vastly share things, but it is hard to track where all the original work comes from, so you can’t just say, “I Googled something, and now I understand the subject.” Google’s kind of like the first page of a book, the table of contents, or kind of like Wikipedia: it’s where I go to see an outline of what I should be looking for, and the next step would be doing deeper research.
SL – Of course, I Google things all the time, but when you Google, you get the most basic, or most advertised response on top. More and more you can’t necessarily trust what comes to the top of any search as the best source. I think there is a need, a desperate need, for reliable content, and for us to really think deeply about what that means.
Going beyond just Googling something, what would you say it takes to fully understand a topic?
BJ – What I usually do is go through the references and resources of Wikipedia, which connects back to the original articles or original writings. That is one way of finding more information.
SL – In my work, I also do a lot of research and develop archives on different subjects. I’ve taken the position that it is impossible to fully know everything about anything. Whether you are using the Internet or not, there is this inevitable gulf between experience and knowledge of the researcher and the subject. But that said, of course there are ways to try one’s best to do responsible research, deep research, and expansive research. As Bomin said, you need to start somewhere. There are tools like Google and Wikipedia that quickly give you an outline for where to begin, but Wikipedia is often a very cursory and sometimes totally faulty outline to follow. Sometimes, it doesn’t have even a small percentage of what you might need to know about a subject, and obviously it doesn’t contain every subject. There are lots of things, important people, artists, and contributors, that still don’t have Wikipedia pages.
Was there a time when someone’s introduction to a subject, or unique perspective, made you more interested in it?
BJ – One example would be finding a new interest in architecture from learning about urban theory and sociology behind it. When it was explained to me that all of these trends in architecture are not just based on the experimental designs, and people wanting to try something new, but that they can also be explained by psychology, ideology, and the politics of the time. Having the broader context tied back to other things that I am interested in made me feel more drawn to architecture, in looking at it from a different perspective, and even wanting to know more.
SL – I’m trying to think of a single example; one of the great things about being human is that we come into contact with intriguing new ideas all the time. I think the key to your question is that we need perspectives, unique perspectives, in order to bring us into a subject. If you listen to NPR, every one and a half minutes there is something new.
The Internet is a global phenomenon, and yet much of the content is from a global north (aka global minority) perspective. Why do you think it’s important to include different perspectives?
BJ – The first thing I can think of is because it’s not an accurate representation of all knowledge. There is clearly an imbalance of what the “global north perspective” reflects of the world. One big thing we all talk about as digital archivists, is how to really decentralize information and this canon that we are used to, which usually means western art history or western history in general. In the U.S. that is taught as the history. Obviously, history is everywhere. The U.S. isn’t even the biggest country in the world. Just having the perspective and awareness that because of my locality, this is the information that is given to me, but if I was born on a completely different side of the planet, my perspective would be so different, which is beneficial. When people reflect on the fact that all the information they know is not all the information out there, I think that’s important. I think it’s important for people to have those moments of realization and checking themselves, and those moments can help people become more curious about other perspectives.
SL – It’s true. I grew up in the United States, and the way we are taught history informs that perspective, and I mean history in the broadest sense, including history of art and culture. It shapes what we think of as possible. If you are in a geographic location that is outside of this global minority that thinks that it’s the majority, you also get the sense that you are not included in a culture’s idea of what is influential, what is important, or what has shaped its history, even if that’s not true. There were always ships sailing from here to there and from there to here, and that’s how our culture has been enmeshed with others, but if we disregard that we shut out other people and lose sight of that enmeshing that is the core to cultural progression. To give a personal example: Today, I was interviewing someone for an internship with the X-TRA, and he was talking about how he came to feel he could participate in the conversation around contemporary art. He was not born in the United States, English was not his first language, and it took him a long time to understand that he could have a place in the conversation around contemporary art. What opened it up to him was an article about an L.A.-based artist named Rafa Esparza. The work was in Spanish, shown in Los Angeles, and not translated. The interviewee was not a Spanish-speaker, but the fact that this artist’s work could be covered in a critical art journal showed him that it was a place for different conversations and narratives, outside of the global north or global minority. We open up to new perspectives by example. In expanding coverage, diversifying perspectives, more people enter the conversation, and that makes for a fuller, more enriching dialog.
We have access to an almost incomprehensible number of cultural works. Do you think there’s still value in providing context and commentary alongside this content?
BJ – Yes, I think so. As a team, we are raising questions about the content we are importing: What comes to museums? How does it get there? Are they digital reproductions of artifacts or artworks? We talk a lot about how many artifacts are actually stolen, and don’t belong to the country that the museum is in, and that there is no explanation as to how the artwork got there. The works’ note who owns them, or who’s collection they’re from, but really there is no description of how the artwork ended up there. I think it’s important for Curationist to have that room for dialogue, where people can contribute to the narrative that is already out there. For example, if there is an object from Korea that was collected by a French museum, as a Korean person who’s discovering this artwork, I want there to be a kind of acknowledgment, I want more context on the art’s history. I think it’s important to provide those histories, and to also give opportunities to other people to contribute to the conversation, not leaving it up to only the people who have “ownership” of the objects. There has to be nuanced dialogue about the things we see that are normalized; we see information on where the objects are collected and showcased, but oftentimes it is omitting a lot of history that we should try to learn about.
SL – I really like Bomin’s example of when information on the provenance of a Korean artwork just mentions a museum in France. How does that help anyone? Context is important, especially as there is so much rampant appropriation. There’s good appropriation and bad appropriation, the nuance needed to make that distinction requires context.
What subject is next on your list to research and/or curate?
BJ – Most of the research I do is for my job at MHz, and one thing I appreciate about this project is that it is driven by my personal interest, which is really cool. When Virginia brought on archivists, she really made sure we understood that we are doing this work because of our special interests and backgrounds. We are from different countries and different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. I have the opportunity to put content into the platform that I want to be represented; for instance, content from my culture, Korean culture. That’s a motivator for me to keep researching and populating. I am personally really interested in Koreans who were born and raised in Korea and do political work and what their connections are to Korean Americans here. A lot of that activity is actually based in L.A. because there is a huge Korean population there. While I was importing a lot of images, I discovered a bunch of images of one of the Korean-independence fighters who fought against imperialism back in the day to liberate the peninsula. His son was born in L.A. and became one of the first Korean American actors to be nominated for the Oscars, which I find fascinating. I did not know about that at all, about his descendants in America. Things like that are really interesting and are motivating my research.
SL – I just finished a bunch of things, and I’m figuring out what’s next. On the art side, I’m in the middle of an ongoing project exploring the history of the Surrealists and the other art movements, artists, and political movements that they intersected and overlapped. There is an artist and dancer named Valeska Gert, a German actress and performer who intersected with the Surrealists early in her career, in the mid1920s, when she was invited to perform “surrealist dances.” Her life and work is my next subject of research.
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