The word ‘curator’ is derived from Latin meaning to take care. Curators work in many industries, but what does a curator do for art exhibitions? I talk to Ella Winning (through socially distanced email measures) to find out more about her role as a co-curator in the FIGURATIONS exhibition last year.
The role of curators in the art world can be viewed as a ‘hidden’ as they are often working behind the scenes, this role is, nonetheless, a fundamental component for the creation of exhibitions. The role reflects a multifaceted position within exhibitions that showcases a mix of creative skills through selection, organisation, and interpretation of the art pieces and administrative skills through organisation and management of the exhibition.
FIGURATIONS explores queer representation, agency, and identity through artistic imaginations around a broader notion of ‘body’, reflecting on experiences of being LGBTQI+ in contemporary image culture. The exhibition collated an election of paintings, performances and graphic design works by Chris Daubaras, Elija Grybe, Maria Unger and Oscar Cheung. Ella Winning tells us more about how she got involved, the role of a curator and queer space in art. Ella Winning is currently studying Cultural and Critical Theory: Aesthetics (MA) at University of Brighton. Ella Winning co-curated this exhibition with An Nguyen, who graduated from the University of Brighton’s History of Art and Design BA in 2018, unfortunately An was not available for interview.
Sarah: Could you tell me how you became interested in curating, and how appropriate it is to consider the work of curators to be both creative and administrative?
Ella: I’ve always been interested in curating, mostly from visiting exhibitions and displays growing up; people are so clever and there’s some really interesting and amazing ways of presenting things, and at some point I’d love to try my hand at going all out! As this was my first experience of curating in a gallery setting, and I was surprised at just how administrative it was! While the creative side of things is where my focus lies, negotiating with all the services involved was a real learning experience for me.
S: FIGURATIONS presented many mediums of art, including performance, painting, and graphic design. How did these different forms of art affect your role as a curator?
E: It was really interesting; we knew we wanted a range of media, because of the visual variety, but also to explore the challenges and atmosphere that would result. Curating an exhibition in this way is strange because the pieces all have such individual value and character, but at the same time, they will be displayed together in an exhibition. This made it really interesting in the selection of the pieces; picking them out for their individuality while envisaging how they would look together.
S: How important was creating a queer space for the exhibition of FIGURATIONS?
E: Safe spaces and queer only opportunities such as FIGURATIONS are invaluable and vital – especially considering ongoing hostility and violence against members of the queer community – and we paid attention to purposefully including queer people in the process as much as we could. While the spotlight is firmly on queer artists and creatives, I hoped that a space such as FIGURATIONS would highlight the exhibition should be and needs to be engaged with by everyone; friends, family, passers-by, tourists – not just treated as a separate space for us to do our own thing. It’s hard for a conversation to get anywhere if you’re only talking to those who understand.
S: What role does exclusive queer art spaces have in contesting heteronormativity?
E: Queer spaces are so important for challenging not only heteronormativity but also a cisgenderism that somehow seems to permeate everything society does.
S: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in the art of curation?
E: Absolutely do it! In times like this, when the future of the sector seems uncertain and the government seems hell bent on destroying any sign of creativity, it is more important than ever to try your hand at something. Get a group of friends together and plan an event, talk to local galleries or culture spaces about something you could organise, or even curate a virtual event on your social media (such as a zine or exhibition (Filler Gallery on Instagram is a great example of this, also run by Brighton Uni graduates)).
Many thanks to Ella Winning for her words and time.
Interview by Sarah Tann.