Competition entry: Collection of Crowds exhibition

Yesterday we submitted our entry for the so-called Fifth Curator Competition, a jont initiative of the British Council and Whitechapel Gallery in London’s East End. The competition brief stated that:

“The Fifth Curator Competition is a unique opportunity for an aspiring curator to select an exhibition of works from the British Council Collection. The winning curator will be given unlimited access to the Collection, which includes over 8,500 key works of British art, and the resulting exhibition will be shown at the Whitechapel Gallery in the vibrant east end of London in April 2010. We are looking for someone who is based permanently outside the UK, who believes they have the passion and knowledge to be a leading curator.

Fifth Curator

Well, that sounds interesting and challenging. But how can you make a selection out of such a vast and varied body of art works? Is it possible to choose from over 8.500 collection items in any authoritative way? And can one deal with the physical limitations of a gallery space, no matter how spatious and elegant? These are the most important questions that we addressed in our exhibition proposal, titled “Collection of Crowds“.

The concept is based on the ideas of James Surowiecki who, in his critically acclaimed book The Wisdom of Crowds, asserts that a diverse crowd is often wiser at making decisions than expert individuals. Collection of Crowds explores whether this concept can be applied to an art collection, raising the question whether a diverse crowd is just as “wise” at evaluating art and making a selection as professional curators.

Collection of Crowds

For our proposal we adopted and combined three highly influential phenomena from the world of (online) media: data visualization, user generated content and augmented reality. Collection of Crowds (hopefuly) will be an exhibition in three consecutive parts:

  1. We first provide a new way to navigate through the collection, comparable to SFMOMA’s ArtScope.
  2. Secondly we enable (online) visitors to choose their favourite work from the collection and to tag, rank, discuss and share it, by applying folksonomies the way that our dear friend Seb Chan is doing to radically open up Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.
  3. The online process culminates in the actual exhibition, presenting the highest ranking works in each category in an interactive data sphere. You can think of it as an updated version of the Digital Depot by Kossmann.Dejong at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, this time adding real time (user generated) data.

By transforming (user generated) data into information, information into knowledge and knowledge into new layers of meaning, we can enrich our understanding of the British Council’s Collection and of the way it is perceived by people. Instead of a ‘grand curatorial decision’, we leave the shaping of the exhibition to the ‘wisdom of crowds’.

The final idea for the exhibition took shape during a lengthy and lively conversation with Ben Cerveny, our ‘digital daddy’ who told us about Karsten Schmidt, a computational designer based in London who builds unique, highly adaptable platforms, installations, services and systems for some well known brands and cultural institutions.  In the event that our proposal is short listed or selected as the winner, we hope to be able to collaborate with both of them.

The (six) short listed applicants will be selected and notified at the beginning of October, so pray for us..