Curating Labor. Gender and Dispossession in the Exhibition Space

Gender, class, and provenance have played a pivotal role in preventing access to the aesthetic sphere. Thus, the research project Curating Labor focuses on exhibition making as a radical practice to address material conditions rooted in the struggle for “bread-and-butter.” Curating Labor studies several underrated exhibition projects in Scandinavia and elsewhere in the 1960s and 1970s (including The Artists’ Situation, UKS, Oslo, 1971; and Work—Don’t Wear Yourself Out!, Oktober, Stockholm, Fotogalleriet, Oslo, & other venues, 1974–78). By examining these feminist curatorial approaches that built spatial constructs, the research tackles how and why questioning labor in the exhibition space can overturn prescriptive societal structures. Artists sometimes take the lead in exhibition making (i.e., curating) to point to otherwise undiscussed positions of power.

Curating Labor claims soft forms of curating for opening up questions on how to transfer these feminist strategies into today’s curatorial practices. It looks into the work of small- and medium-sized institutions in their active knowledge production building. Including collected writings written in the past six years (2016–2021) about the non-conformant body as the site of trauma, the research problematizes curating that at times co-opts representation. While art is produced in more places than one, curating rests on an exceptionality of the arts, leaving diverse practices under the radar. A central claim of the research is that the exhibition space must be reclaimed as an active public space to overthrow mainstream norms. Consequently, a curator should dispute hegemonic tools in the aesthetic sphere to propose new forms of living together. Curating should bear the yet-unknown and yet-to-be-accepted—a fundamental motor of emancipation for a more equitable society.

The Ph.D. dissertation Curating Labor will be published as a book by OnCurating, Zurich.

Dr Antonio Cataldo is a writer and a curator and currently employed as the artistic director of Fotogalleriet Oslo.
Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Dorothee Richter, Prof. Susanne Clausen