curating is care

curating is care—on the conditions of care in practices of critical curating

was my contribution to Anna Schäffler, Friederike Schäfer, Nanne Buurman, AG Networks of Care, nGbK, (Eds.): Networks of Care. Politiken des (Er)haltens und (Ent)sorgens, Berlin, 2022

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curate (v.)

from Latin curatus, past participle of curare “to take care of”; see also: cure (v.); late 14c., “to restore to health or a sound state,” from Old French curer and directly from Latin curare “take care of,” hence, in medical language, “treat medically, cure”). Also: to “be in charge of, manage” a museum, gallery, art exhibit, etc. An earlier verb, curatize (1801) refers to the noun “(church) curate;” late 14c., “spiritual guide, ecclesiastic responsible for the spiritual welfare of those in his charge; parish priest,” from Medieval Latin curatus “one responsible for the care (of souls).1

if curating is care then care by whom, for whom, of what? if curating is care then how?

who takes care and of whom? the institution of the curators? the curators of the artists?
the artists of the institution?
all of the above but vice versa?

who takes care of protecting the time-space in which creation can happen? who takes care of the integrity of the works?

who takes care of the audience?
is to care to comfort or is to care also to challenge? does care show up as abundance?
or is showing less care?
what is the work of the viewer?

if care of the audience and care of the curators, care of the artists and care of the institution do not collapse neatly into each other—should one form of care take precedence over the other? whose care is privileged if care is a limited resource?
who decides?

what is the work of curating? is thinking work, is reading work, is going around listening to your thoughts settle work? how can its value be measured?

in the quantity of formats, of art works,
of visitors,
of twitter mentions,
of reviews?
or by the quality of the relationships a process of curating enabled? how to measure those?

who measures?
the producers? the audience? the institution? the funders?

is a work of curating successful if it leaves its makers depleted?

can criticism be caring?
and is it caring to aim for perfection?

can the work of taking care be made visible? which work and whose?

the work of cleaning the toilets or that of talking through the night until a particular problem has found its solution? the work it takes to take a deep breath when you want to fly off the handle, or the work it takes to get your breath back when another has done so?

which of these kinds of work are we paid for? how are we paid?
is pay care?

how is a fair rate of pay calculated? based on needs,

the respective value assigned to different types of work by the so-called “free market”?

should the work of curating be paid the same as that of the artist, the flyer designer, the person at the ticket counter? is it care to pay everyone differently or to pay them exactly the same?
should someone be paid more if their work is incredibly boring?
should we be paid for the time it takes to replenish our own bodies?
who pays for the babysitter?

should we fight to increase the pay to fit the amount of work invested in an exhibition’s creation? or limit the amount of work we invest to the amount of pay available for it? do we have the courage to leave one wall empty?

what about payment in recognition?
in cultural capital?
in friendship? support?

with the promise of any of the above at some point in the future? with the joy of creation?

is it enough?
how can we be generous with ourselves and each other?

is agreeing to work for free or for little an act of care? is it a privilege? is it a duty? is a work still critical if it is paid for? is a work still critical if it is well paid for?

if i told you i was paid 150 euro before taxes for writing this text, and that it took me 8 hours, would you consider this adequate, too much, too little?
for this amount of pay should my text have been longer, shorter, more comprehensive or less so? would it make a difference if i said that to work on it has been a struggle, but also a pleasure?

should it matter?
how do we sit with the contradictions of the economies and the politics or our practice?

how can we conduct our work and our encounters as a practice of taking care of ourselves and each other? (and if my self-care comes at the expense of that of another—is it still caring? and vice versa?)

do we already know, or do we still have to learn what a work and a work context that cares looks like?

how do we learn together?


Elske Rosenfeld, born 1974 in Halle/S. (GDR), works in different media and formats. Her primary focus and material are the histories of state socialism, its dissidences, and the revolution of 1989/90. The questions of this text are based on experiences of working as an artist and exhibition maker in the political art scenes of Berlin, such as her most recent work as a member of the project “…oder kann das weg? Fallstudien zur Nachwende” at the nGbK/ such as most recently as a member of the nGbK working group “oder kann das weg? Fallstudien zur Nachwende”. The text also builds on the text- image-collage work “Symposium”, created in 2014 with Freja Bäckman.


1 and ne_crossreference#etymonline_v_42912