Curatorial Concept Mapping: “Researching as a Curator” Workshop

This academic year, I have taken on the role of Visiting Lecturer at many universities across the UK. At the moment, I spend most of my time at the University of Lincoln teaching the MA Contemporary Curatorial Practice course and at the University of Wolverhampton teaching the MA Fine Art course.

During my February teaching day at Lincoln earlier this week, I facilitated a one-hour ‘Curatorial Concept Mapping’ workshop looking at the process of “Researching as a Curator”. It implemented a recently learned visual tool (through my CPD, ‘Supervising Undergraduate Research’ course) – “concept mapping” – from which to develop curatorial project ideas and themes. Ellen Petraits from RISD, USA, has put together a really helpful Powerpoint presentation explaining concept mapping (that can be seen here).

As a curator, it is very easy to think about curatorial concepts only in relation to your personal experiences and preoccupations of and with the world…where you can sometimes find it hard to open up to new ideas, tangents and fields of enquiry. ‘Curatorial Concept Mapping’ aims to work as a tool to help you to think, plan and work differently beyond your normal methodologies.

By Ellen Petraits at RISD
By Ellen Petraits at RISD
By Ellen Petraits at RISD
By Ellen Petraits at RISD
By Ellen Petraits at RISD
By Ellen Petraits at RISD

To start the workshop, I asked the students, who were particularly dynamic that day, to divide into pairs/groups and to choose a headline, phrase, sentence, word or image…something that held resonance with them…from one of the newspapers provided. I’d taken the most recent copies of the i newspaper, the Daily Mail (a newspaper I hate to buy yet their journalism is worth comically discussing) and The Guardian to the session…trying to cover a broad media base. Each chose a very different topic – “School-run mothers ‘are harder to control than hissing feral cats'” (from the Daily Mail obviously), “known unknown”, and a picture of a corgi dog in the Queen’s crown.

Framed round this chosen concept, now the centre of their ‘Curatorial Concept Map’, I asked the students to write seven themes – education, philosophy, commercial/value, cultural/culture, society/societal, economic/economy and political. From this, they were then asked to think about and write down words, ideas, themes, thoughts, subjects that linked their chosen concept to each of the seven themes…as shown below. This started to expand their field of enquiry, moving away from their personal associations to the concept. It was really interesting hearing many of their insights that prevailed from diminishing numbers of corgi dogs as owners don’t want to be associated with the Queen, to high art vs low art value, to what is art?, to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, where many conversations seemed to always come back to mass-media, the power of media and the playground/funfair that is media…ultimately, how the world is understood and translated. Isn’t that what curatorial practice is all about? Translating the world around us?

Curatorial concept mapping workshop 12

Curatorial concept mapping workshop 13

Curatorial concept mapping workshop 14

This exercise enabled the students to think about curatorial concepts from different standpoints, standpoints that you might not always consider…a way of thinking about the curatorial concept in relation to past and current issues happening in the here and now in the wider world, whilst linking to personal histories, relationships and knowledge.

Each group came up with very different ideas and lines of exploration. From this ‘Curatorial Concept Mapping’ workshop, the next step was to take an area of the concept map from the centre curatorial concept to the outer, third tier ideas to further expand upon…how could this curatorial concept be curated as a project? Who would be involved to make it happen? How would you communicate your concept to audiences?

The students seemed to respond well to the one-hour session (I must get more feedback from them), referencing back to it later in the day when I was having 1:1 tutorials with them discussing their current curatorial projects and proposals. It was good to hear how they were thinking about it’s future application to their creative practice. It’s the opening of their group curated exhibition TEMPUS FUGIT at SYSON, Nottingham, in about ten days…I’ll no doubt share it with you here. Until then, start concept mapping…it might make you think and visualise differently.

Curatorial concept mapping workshop 1

Curatorial concept mapping workshop 2

Curatorial concept mapping workshop 3

Curatorial concept mapping workshop 4

Curatorial concept mapping workshop 4

Curatorial concept mapping workshop 5

Curatorial concept mapping workshop 6

Curatorial concept mapping workshop 8

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