documentation and curatorial practice as political engagement

Art & Public Policy, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University



Definitions, second set by Tyler

Political engagement – to care intimately for and to respond thoughtfully to the way in which our world is being made. To be willing to place yourself, in some part, or maybe all, on the line for what you believe is just and/or right. To be accountable to the circumstances of our reality in action, knowledge, and awareness. Political engagement is to immerse yourself in the past, present, and future given circumstances of place and time. It is an outward evidence of citizenship. In some contexts, a risk or a privilege. Debatably a choice, arguably a duty. Can be performed in resistance to or in support of an issue, event, policy, or person. Can be performed by anyone in a manifold of ways. To be politically engaged is the very opposite of passivity or apathy. It is to have an activated opinion or point of view. It is to be responsible to the changing of times. To be politically engaged, one must believe change is possible and that individual effort matters to the collective movement and culture.

Curating – telling a particular story through the selection and organization of a particular set of things in order to convey a particular meaning. These things may be language, image, object, content. Curation necessarily propagates a particular subjective position. And in this way it can be a lie. In this way, it is always a devised narrative of a singular point of view. To curate is to promote a certain vision of the world, of how something came to be. To curate is to include somethings and not others. It is a position of power; it is the voice of the editor and the narrator. To curate is to sift through materials and create a relationship between the sediment. To identify (or force) patterns between. To reveal (or force) conversations between. And to propose an interpretation or meaning. They are meaning-makers.

Documentation – to record as evidence something witnessed. It is a form of participation from the outside. Requires distance between a thing observed and the observer. This is to say that documenting is an externalizing practice. It is a process of removing yourself from a reality, in order to then replicate it in a different form (through word, art, a camera, etc). Like curators, documenters are inherently a selective crew. It is to the discretion of the documenter that something is included or excluded. Theoretically, however, documentation would be an unbiased, neutral practice – a true account of what has happened. Documentation is an act of memorialization. It is a preservational tool, often combined with research and study. It is also a tool of historicization, as it marks the transformation of any present moment into past event. Is possible through any form or discipline.


lexicon revisited

by Luisa Martínez


I’m having a difficult time choosing between two forms of documentation I see valid. Not that there’s necessarily a need to choose, they can coexist, but they might seem slightly contradicting.

I believe documenting in the sense of creating an as-unaltered-as-possible record of an event/action/project/etc. is very important in relation to the creation of history, and the way most people process time and truth. I think today it is very urgent to be able to show people what has happened, what has been made, what has been experienced, in the clearest way possible, as a transmitter of stories. This particular form of documentation is also useful in attempting justice within the flawed judicial system we have at our disposal.

Another way of documenting I personally also find very urgent, and which to me also transmits truth, but which might make others uneasy, is translating or interpreting. We are used to it with language, because language is in some ways almost mathematical, we allow ourselves to believe it’s precise, so we are trained to interpret or translate language in a way that’s culturally specific, or neutral. But true translating or interpreting could not happen without the subjective decision making of the individual doing the work (I know googletranslate is getting “close” but it still sounds weird). So, if translating/interpreting language requires subjective decision making, why are we weary of that process in other media? Therefore, documenting can be a process of interpreting stories/people/beliefs through diverse media. In understanding this, we can understand art as a documentation practice. Art creates a record of what surrounds it. Art is truth telling.



As Jack Tchen says in an article I cannot cite at the moment, “curating” has as a latin root the word “curare,” which means “to care”. Today everything is a job, as it has been for many years, but if we step away from capitalist-driven definitions (as I wish to do so for all of my words, for the rest of my life), what other reason could one possibly have to research, try to understand, group, and put in conversation the work, the labor, the love of others, than because one cares. Curating is to care. Curating is to care so deeply about others, that the work of others is the center of your practice. Not because you want to share the stage, but because it breaks your heart that the theme and the work is not being addressed. Curating is genuinely taking on others’ burdens, it is sharing responsibility. Curating is creating space out of ideas.  

Political Engagement

What weight we put on words! Political engagement could be a joke, if we interpret those words within the framework of liberalism. But I will not use others’ sickening definitions, I will make my own, I will defend words. Political engagement is the honest relation between community and individual, between structure and citizen. When I say this I do not think of any form of tired government, I think of people living within a shared infrastructure. Political engagement means to enact one’s human responsibility towards others. Political engagement means understanding that the self does not end at the skin, that I am, only to the extent that we are.


new definitions


Curation is the process of facilitating and creating a meeting ground of ideas, concepts, and artists around place or space ( both physical and otherwise). Thus, curation is placing things in dialogue with each other, and refiguring elements of social, political, aesthetic, and phenomenological into different kinds of conversation. Ideally, curation works outside of power hierarchies and places the audience and the art at an equilibrium to translate the message clearly to the audience members who will then go on to translate the ideas into different forms of dialogue that will spark a reconfiguration of meaning in the art as the work matures.



Documentation is the act of continuing conversations and dialogues of an experience. The actualization of ideas through mediated communication to translate experiences of the personal into experiences of the local and global. Documentation is then a power signal boost of an intuition or moment that invites others to participate. The constructions of documentation capture the world in a decisive perspective of the individual who can then advance ideas and concepts past the limitations of medium.


Political Engagement:

Political engagement is acting according to the understanding that there are power structures, constructs, and systems that are inescapable and inherent in consuming, thinking, and creating art, and by extension living in this world. Political engagement is then an active participation in the decisions made when having a conversation of multiple perspectives.

Art & Humanities Research Council



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Curation//Documentation//Political Engagement


            Curation is collecting, selecting, and looking after ideas, concepts, and physical documentation of the latter. To a larger extent, curation is a process of “caring for,” a caretaker (for lack of a better word). Care, in this instance, holds the distinction of being intellectually invested and emotionally intrigued. Curation then gains the definition of a process of developing an idea intellectually to the point of viscerally.  To some extent, the act of curation is janitorial, up keeping and refining an idea or concept into aestheticization. There is a level of reverence, a reckoning of one’s own non-greatness in dialogue with how one engages with the world and changes the world.  To clarify: curation is not about placing a concept on a pedestal and worshipping so much as it is about gathering up resources to best present the concept or idea. Curation then can capture moments of human existence and place them in one spot for greater (or worse) visibility. It is finding, collecting, and using ideas to successfully create something grander than all individualized pieces of art do alone.



            Documentation is the act of capturing a moment to process and better interact with the world around you. A cameraperson, for example, may capture someone’s hands during a conversation not only to relive a particular movement but to reach past the thin layer of humanness to something more through the use of the camera. An idea is collected in documentation to better construct the thingness of the moment. In the collection of a moment within documentation, there is a willing decision to choose to capture the world a specific way. Documentation is thus the act of creation from a time in life to give a distinct perspective. With documentation comes the classification and annotations of the person annotating it, which enriches the production of perspective.  Documentation is then biased, for the confines of truthfulness to nature is fleeting and avoids the selective properties of documentation. Nevertheless, documentation remains a way for the audience/viewer to obtain information and serves as a record of a moment despite the limitations of the medium.


Political engagement

            Political engagement is the act of understanding that living within the constructs of this world, the power structures of the art/ media we choose to indulge in, and the responsibility for one’s own actions is all inherently political. By inherent I mean that the systems and constructions earlier mentioned are unavoidable, inescapable, for we have been born into a system regardless of our own personal opinions of it. Political engagement then becomes the act of understanding the meaning and responsibility behind ones’ actions to enjoy the ever problematic (whatever we physically, emotionally, intellectually, or subconsciously) consumption. Political engagement is thus a) the understanding of systems and structures within daily interactions, and the ideological processes of the surrounding world around us; and b) partaking in society with culpability over one’s actions and choices given the way they have chosen to live. Political engagement is then something that affects every individual, but only motivates and incites change or difference when a person chooses to look into the deeper structures of it.

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