Curationist in Conversation: KIMI HANAUER & MAYUR TEKCHANDANEY
Meet two more contributors who help make Curationist a reality:
What brought you to Curationist? What is your engagement with it?
Kimi Hanauer – I was a student of Virginia’s when I was in college. She was my sculpture teacher, and we did a lot of crazy projects in her class. We stayed in touch and I would say, “Hi” when I was in New York. She hit me up a few months ago, to ask if I wanted to be involved with Curationist. I found it really cool and I trust Virginia, so I said yes. So far, I have been doing digital archiving, which involves collecting different images and content to put into the archive. I have also enjoyed working on Our Approach – a principles document of what guides our archiving processes, and what Curationist will take on in the bigger picture.
Mayur Tekchandaney – I came to the site through Virginia as well. I went to college with her, so I wasn’t her student, but we were in the same class together at Parsons. I was a kid from India and didn’t know much about what an art education was – I was just trying my hand at something. Virginia had a really open view of what was possible. She went off to do fine art and I went off to do design. A few months back, she got in touch with me saying she was a part of Curationist. She had seen some of the stuff I was doing because I connected with her on social media again after 20 years of not meeting. She said something like, “You are doing some interesting things. Here is what I am doing at Curationist. Would you like to be a part of it?” I saw Curationist and I was quite curious about the mission. I trust Virginia’s taste and respect her as an artist, so I said, this sounds like fun, and came on board.
Since then, I have been connecting her with other artists that I know over here whose work I like. I reach out to them and then connect them to Virginia, so more people can come on board in some way and contribute. A couple of those artists now are going to add some of their work in features I’m co-writing with them. They will add Creative Commons (CC) licensing to their works too. In addition, I’m also writing some posts of my own, where I add my own work, which conceptually works with the idea of having pieces of art that can be modified or shared in some way. I have taken some things I found in the CC Search, added some context and another layer to them, then shared them back in an open source way, so other people can add to it and add to the conversation.
Would you say there’s a difference between “just Googling” something to find an answer and truly understanding a topic?
KH – I would say yes. I recently went to this oral history workshop where I learned about the facilitator’s process that includes gathering a lot of different personal perspectives from a certain time period about a certain topic. Everyone has biases and speaks from their own lived experiences and histories. That’s why gathering a lot of different perspectives around a certain event or time period might give a fuller, more complex picture. Once you get all those different perspectives into one archive, they start to shed light on one another and include those personal nuances that don’t usually exist at first glance. It is really different from how we are used to searching stuff online. We often get very surface responses from Wikipedia, or from the list you get on a Google search; actually, it is difficult to avoid biases in how those things are organized too.
MT – I would agree with that. For me, Google is still the gateway to get to things as a starting point, from there you build other sources that you go to. You have to bring a level of skepticism to everything you see on the first page of search returns. Googling is only the beginning, then something becomes interesting. What I normally do is look at the people involved in the content, or look at some of the things that the contributor puts out and then research further, go deeper, from there.
In some contexts, my perspective is a little different. In India, we don’t have that much physical access to things that we can go to offline; there aren’t as many museums, galleries or art and culture events. In India, skepticism or the awareness of bias is just a force of habit – it’s already there when you write something. We are just used to knowing you have to look for different perspectives. We do not easily trust whatever is put up in front of us. That might be more of an Indian thing.
When was a time when someone’s introduction to a subject or unique perspective made you more interested in it?
MT – There is a podcast called Designed That Way, by Kawal Oberoi that features graphic designers from India. In one episode, Mira F Malhotra, a young illustrator, was talking about some of the indigenous illustration styles from different parts of India. I had previously thought the illustrations were interesting because of their aesthetic appeal, but I had never looked into why they looked a certain way. Just to give you an idea of the drawing style, it had a simplistic style and the images were sort of literally drawn, so if there was an image of an airplane, there wasn’t much emphasis given on perspective or scale. It was just about representing things that they saw around them. What this other designer brought to my attention was that these illustrators are more crafts people than artists. They are not drawing for the sake of understanding their world, but they are drawing to decorate something, or document something. They are more interested in the concept of an object, as opposed to what the object looks like. So, for example, when they draw a table, they are not worried about perspective. They are more interested in the fact that a table has four legs. If I had to describe it in words, I would say it would be an object with four legs, so when I draw it, I am not concerned with perspective. I am more concerned with showing four legs and a slab on top of it. I had never thought of why those drawings were that way. I always just appreciated the aesthetic value of it or the fact that these people were untrained, but to think of this context and perspective, I appreciated it that much more.
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?
KH – The Internet is such a big aspect of life in a lot of ways. Issues around access to technology and the web are actually questions of equity. On a really basic level, there is a huge lack of access to the web, and thus necessary information, news, work opportunity, connection, and more. And then thinking structurally, there is a lot of writing and research around how algorithms perpetuate forms of prejudice we see dominating the other systems and structures we live by. The book, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble is a good reference point for this.
MT – It kind of goes back to what Kimi was saying about bias and the need to reduce those. It’s not really about intent. The people who are putting this stuff out there, they might have the best intent, but they might not have all the information. If they get a little more information from the source of the art or the subject, you just get a little more authentic viewpoints. It’s not about finding some sort of truth or being ultimately, or the most, authentic because bias will be in anyone’s perspective, but it’s about reducing that bias by adding and iterating on information, so it becomes a little more authentic and a little less biased.
KH – In that sense, it’s kind of about adding complexity to things that would otherwise be oversimplified because there is maybe only one reference that exists in a certain space.
MT – I agree. Everything is complex. Simplifying helps make something more consumable, but the trade off is that you lose what might be relevant to other people.
We have access to an almost incomprehensible number of cultural works. Do you think there’s still a value to providing context and commentary alongside this content?
KH – I think so. This reminds me of one of the conversations that we had at one of the team meetings. We talked about what information we share about cultural works. One of the things we were talking about is what to do when there is an object that exists in a certain museum collection that was actually stolen or has other ethical questions around it. Why is that context necessary? We talked about how we want to show the entire history of that object. How has it moved? Why did it move? Who moved it? What were the circumstances of moving that thing? Researching and including complex information around the context and background of an object, has the potential to reveal the conditions, structures, and positions that exist in the fields we participate in. This practice feels just as important as sharing cultural material.
MT – It tells you why you should care, maybe. Just adding to that, it helps make it more accessible to more people. The utility of art is one thing – just to have and collect and to put it up – but the wider goal is to have those conversations. To have spaces to have those conversations and use the art as a starting point to understand different people’s views. Without the context and without other people adding more commentary to it, it’s just the artist’s intent and whatever we have been told by art historians. How can we expand on that and understand the true, or at least a more full, meaning? Is this a great piece of art because it was done at this time, and that this person did it, and this is the meaning of it? I think it can be broader because there is something more fundamental that maybe the artist doesn’t even understand. As an artist, eventually when you have to write something about what you made, you write something, but you can’t really capture what you were trying to do because you are just trying to express something that’s on your mind. It’s not a linear process, so the commentary for me becomes that much more important. People can bring their own values and they can agree, disagree, and add to the conversation. The utility might be something to appreciate but also as a medium to have discourse, to understand what’s going on; I think that’s a more important median for art, and context and commentary would help that. I don’t think it would take away from that.
What subject is next on your list to research and/or curate?
KH – Some things that are on my list include looking at Semitic languages like Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic. I’m also interested in the history of American citizenship and movements of migration.
MT – Two subjects, one is about increasing access to art. How do we take the mediums and subjects of fine art to a broader audience? How to bring down barriers to art. So I will be looking at what I call gateway or bridge artists, and some people and companies/brands that are doing that in India. And the other one is protest art. All over the world there is some dissonance at the current political discourse and the population in general. In America, Great Britain, Turkey, Brazil, Chile, Lebanon, India, people are out in the streets and there are artists creating work to give the protestors a language, a narrative, to what they are feeling or to their discontent. In India, designers are proactively encouraging people to share their work, even making the open files of their artwork available for adaptation. I think both these themes tie into the Creative Commons and Curationist mission of finding what role art plays in a post neo-liberal, capitalist, truth world.
Curationist is one website with multiple views.