06. Curator as editor, translator or god? Edited CRUMB discussion list theme

By Beryl Graham & Verina Gfader

Even something as basic and established as an online discussion list can present a slew of decisions concerning control and reception that could be described as editorial or curatorial. To moderate or not to moderate, and how? Digest or individual posts? How to deal with domineering members? How open or directive to be in debate? The CRUMB discussion list1 has been a forum for the discussion of issues for curating new media art since 2001. "Themes of the Month" are introduced by the list owners Beryl Graham, Sarah Cook, and Verina Gfader. All list members can respond to the themes, but each theme also has 'invited respondents'. These formats were arrived at by trial and error, and the general lessons emerging from the experience are generally that themes related to physical events such as conferences tend to work best, that invited respondents who we have already met tend to respond more, and that the more 'behind the scenes' reminding and encouraging that we do, the better the responses are. We try to 'translate' between curators of new media art and contemporary art in general by inviting respondents from very different backgrounds and trying to encourage dialogue2. However, it is not only the vocabulary but the forms of dialogue which sometimes need translating: The theme concerning Open Source in June 2008 for example, showed how at ease with open dialogical forms the young artists and programmers were, whereas more established academics and curators can be more cautious with revealing personal experience. As list owners, we spend a lot of time encouraging participants to contribute examples of personal and practical experience, whereas the default for a discussion list can tend towards the academic and theoretical, due to a preponderance of academics with the time, and the ability to touch type!

One important feature of the CRUMB discussion list is that edited documents of certain themes are available to download. Much heart-searching went into the decision to make an inherently networked form of debate into a linear, heavily edited and corrected narrative. However, as readers and researchers have found these useful and digestible, these alternative forms are made available, and all original posts can still be found archived on the web site. Further to these basic edited formats, we have also been asked to edit discussions into magazine articles or book chapters, which are further edited down, and provided with introductions and summaries which put the discussion into a wider context.3 Our roles as editors in these processes are fairly traditional - we acknowledge our responsibilities for selecting, making digestible, and putting in context. However, editorial roles are almost as variable as curatorial modes, something which has also been discussed on the CRUMB discussion list. In March 2003 these modes included 'curator as producer', in April 2005 they included 'curator as co-producer', and in June 2005 they included 'curator as editor' and 'curator as filter'. For both editorial and curatorial roles however, there is a sliding scale of levels of 'control', from the god-like power of selection and quality judgements, to the workaday, detailed craft and care needed for clarity of communication.

Considering the complexity of this basic mode of curator as editor, the added complexities of collective editing, blogging, and Wikis add even more modes of working that have been also discussed on the List. Taxonomies, folksonomies and collective tagging are of obvious importance here in relation to a shared editorial role, although with an equally obvious tension between dynamism, clarity, and the skills of analysis.4 As Elena Cologni says in the discussion here: "I found myself facing the ongoing dilemma: 'is this time for making and messing or analysing and organising?'" both aspects could be argued to be parts of the curatorial as well as the art process, but for an editor, the analysing and organising part is traditionally the dominant role. If the CRUMB discussion list forms a discursive network of debates, then the CRUMB web site forms a more tightly edited collection of resources, conferences, publications5 and links.

What follows here is a collection of heavily-edited excerpts from the more than 20,000 words of postings on the Theme of the Month February 2008 Writing about the ephemeral... The texts chosen are those that particularly concern the ephemerality of writing itself; mobile position and mobile context; issues of distance and a 'migrational ephemeral' that contradicts the archive; and a refusal of the monological.