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Unspoken Assumptions: Visual Art Curators in Context, curatorial mentoring roundtables in Banff (July 15-17, 2005) and Toronto (December 1-4, 2005), explored contemporary art gallery and museum curatorial practice across Canada in order to both incubate new and expand existing collaborations and programming. Curators in Context brought together several generations of art curators working in or with art museums, art galleries, and artist-run centres around the country in overlapping modes—as art museum curators, as independents, as collaborators, as writers, and/or as visual artists. An online publication of the presentation’s digital and audio archive will be launched in 2008 with interactive discussion components. Curators in Context aims to be an open, fully interactive, bilingual and collaborative web space for national and international visual art curators.

Responding to the Banff thematic Thinking Through Curating Jan Allen’s Speaking through Silence was presented again at this year’s Spring Focus Session held at the National Gallery of Canada on Friday June 16, 2006.

Speaking through Silence + Click here to download PDF
flowgateslipreading: thoughts on the limits of articulation and the nature of curatorial authority
©Jan Allen, Curator of Contemporary Art, Agnes Etherington Art Centre

The eloquent staging of silence in media artist Matt Rogalsky’s application of gating software to broadcast audio streams serves as a starting point for my analysis of curatorial method and effect, what I call the spectral mechanics and uncanny valleys integral to the materialization of meaning in the art exhibition. Challenged to nurture the fluidity and relevance of the gallery within the exhibitionary complex, curators today navigate conflicted sets of accountability to connect evolving artistic practices, resources and audiences. In laying out some of the "unspoken" dynamics underpinning curatorial practice, I raise questions about the degree to which conditions support the presentation of new forms of art and identify tensions inherent in the institutional curator’s role, including the seldom broached zone of personal and professional motivation.

Jan Allen is Curator of Contemporary Art at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, Ontario, where she has developed and overseen numerous exhibitions since 1992. Major projects include: Museopathy (2001), Better Worlds (2002), and Machine Life (2004). Allen’s curatorial focus has been on politically charged art, digital media, and site-responsive projects. Her independent critical writing has been published in C magazine, Artext, Prefix Photo and Poliester. She is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Art at Queen’s University.