Beyond the Code: Unpacking Tacit Knowledge and Embodied Cognition in the Practical Action of Curating Contemporary Art
Acord, Sophia Krzys
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Re-evaluating classic work in the sociology of the visual arts, this Ph.D. thesis explores the tacit and practical bases of artistic mediation with reference to curatorial exhibition making in contemporary art. Data presented here derive from a visual microethnographic study of the exhibition-making process in two elite European centers for contemporary art, combined with an additional thirty-five interviews with other curatorial professionals. By focusing on the visual dimensions of curatorial work, this thesis uses a case study in the sociology of art to think more broadly about aesthetic materials as active mediators of action, or actants in the sense of actor-network theory. Drawing on work in the sociology of education, communication studies, and the sociologies of science and technology, this research explores how the material, embodied, and situated interactions between curators, objects, and environments are constructed and understood in reflexive relation to more explicitly cognitive and verbal representations, interpretations, and accounts. In planning and installing an exhibition of contemporary art, curators frame artworks and build meaning based on the material and conceptual resources at hand. The plans made by curators when preparing an exhibition and composing textual documentation are altered and elaborated during the installation of contemporary art in the physical presence of the artworks and gallery space. The disjuncture between curatorial plans and these situated actions has consequences for the public presentation and comprehension of the final exhibition. In documenting these processes as they take shape in real time and in relation to material objects, the body, and the built environment, this work aims to contribute to the on-going developments and debates that center on the creation of a ‘strong’ cultural sociology and to extend core sociological thinking on the social structures and bases of action.
The Overseas Research Scholarship, the Exeter Research Scholarship, and the British Sociological Association’s Support Fund.
The American Sociological Association's ISA Travel Grant
PhD in Sociology