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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

CURAToRial Statement

by Maria Novotny, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Ames Hawkins, Columbia College Chicago

As with so many curatorial and socially-engaged practice projects, this one is rooted in a relationship — a professional connection that evolved into a creative-critical collaboration. Ames and Maria first met in 2015 while both were presenting at the Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference in Tempe, Arizona. A year later, Ames invited Maria to be part of the Cultural Rhetorics Exhibition, and our paths crossed once more at the 2017 Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference in Dayton, Ohio. Throughout these encounters, we shared with each other updates on our individual projects – Ames’s project These are Love(d) Letters, Maria’s project The ART of Infertility. While each project is — and remains — uniquely tied to our personal experiences, we found commonality in our approach to our creative and scholarly endeavors through curation. 

The intention for this special issue is to present for consideration the relevance and power of curation as a rhetorical method. We do not claim that we have the same training or credentials usually associated with the professional moniker of curator. What we do have is experience with initiating, organizing, participating in, funding, and sustaining socially engaged arts projects that have required us to engage in sustained, considered, academically informed curatorial practice. This experience--framed with, through, and by our own scholarly training in cultural rhetorics, queer rhetorics, feminist rhetorics, and public rhetorics--becomes a kind of expertise. Not in terms of what we definitively know about curation, but expertise in the ways we in writing and rhetoric studies might practice curation as a rhetorical method in order to invite public participation around social issues, reorient and challenge dominant narratives, and enable constellational, rather than linear, ways of knowing. 

In discussing how we could mimic our shared orientation to curation, we found ourselves evaluating which academic journals were best suited to support such a project. We ended up working with the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics for two main reasons. First, we understand curation as situated within and with respect to the multimodal. Curation may or may not work with multimodal objects such as digital pieces or online texts. However, curation involves the curator’s body in relationship with a wide range of artifacts, materials, and texts in order to design, frame, and position engagements and experiences for viewers of an exhibition. In other words, curation is at its core multimodal practice. Second, rather than describe the curatorial process in alphabetic text, we encouraged submissions that demonstrate a digital orientation to curation. Curated projects are often place-time specific and presented in a particular, localized context. While we do not mean to suggest that physical installations are any less relevant, there are limitations in terms of impact. A multimodal and digital journal offers an affordance of wider circulation and increased physical and temporal access.

For this special issue, we have endeavored to situate ourselves not only as co-editors, but as co-curators. All throughout this project, it has been our goal to make sure we were employing the practices of curation through our work. As a first step, we created a multimodal CFP and encouraged submissions that would curate, rather than solely describe, the objectives of other creative projects. Then, we reviewed the 43 proposals with the intention of selecting for the issue those projects most clearly connected with and to embodied curatorial practices that would most benefit from and embrace the affordances of multimodality. Such a selection process underscores the contribution this special issue attempts to make to writing and rhetoric studies, which we acknowledge are already taking up the term ‘curation’.

‘Curation’ is a generative metaphor and descriptor for many writing and rhetoric practices. Take, for instance, scholars such as Krista Kennedy (2016) and Pamela Van Haitsma (2019) who write about curation from a digital and archival perspective. In technical and professional communication, research projects investigating how to curate digital literacies are being conducted by Ann Duin, Jason Tham and Isabel Pedersen (2019). In community-engaged projects, curation is also seen as a tactic to facilitate more equitable models of participation as seen in Tobi Jacobi’s (2016) work. Such scholarship has introduced new discussions related to the potential affordances of applying curation to rhetoric and writing studies. In this special issue, we present a more traditional--one might say ‘museum studies’--representation of curation, offering viewers exhibitions of academic scholarship rather than descriptions evoking curation to discuss such scholarship. In this way, we have positioned our special issue as one that pushes beyond descriptive analyses of curatorial approaches to, with, and within archives, toward designs, installation, and creative-critical projects that emphasize embodied practices, creative processes as research methodology, and the physicality of pedagogy. To learn more about how we view our approach as situated in connection and extension of prior writing and rhetoric studies conversations, we invite you to view our abbreviated bibliography.

As co-curators of this special issue, we found ourselves drawing upon our experiences in running our own critical-creative projects. We embraced this curatorial knowledge to mentor and push our authors to focus on the aspects of their projects that would enable them to challenge traditional, academic scholarship and reimagine the organization, structure, and design of their pieces. Our critical-creative mentorship took on a variety of approaches. In some instances, it meant frequent phone calls with authors to discuss and unpack drafts of the curated work. For others, it meant facilitating a roundtable-like discussion outside of a Starbucks at the CCCC in Pittsburgh. For others, it was a series of Skype calls and email exchanges in which we invited authors to think beyond the content of their pieces and imagine and reimagine the viewer experience in terms of the form of the piece as well. The result, encapsulated in this special issue, is offered as a curatorial assemblage of critical-creative scholarship. 

Assembled for viewers are ten different pieces, as well as a curated bibliography, each of which discusses the role of curation using a particular lens, in a distinctive form. We see these individual works in relationship with one another in physical and intellectual space, like multiple distinctive objects assembled into a single mobile. Depending upon where you are and how you look at it, you may identify different connections and relationships. No matter where you stand, you’re invited to consider the movements, gaps, juxtapositions, and relationships among the different elements. For instance, from one angle, you might see a set of works that endeavors to offer us definitions of curation (McCarthy, De Hertogh, and Rouillon; Vinson and Dutta). Take a step to the right and those that feature new work produced through curatorial practices come into view (Hammer and Sieber; Jackson; Lambke; Schneider and Pryor). A step to the left, and attention might constellate on projects that emphasize the relevance of curation to community engagement and social activism (Hammer and Sieber; Jackson and Bratta; Lambke; Vinson and Dutta). Move right underneath and you might see a constellation of pedagogical and institutional/administrative connections (Sota Vega; West-Puckett and Shepley). Step back and you could have a clear sense of the ways these projects encourage us to reframe and expand our understanding of tenure and promotion to include curatorial work (McCarthy, De Hertogh, and Rouillon; West-Puckett and Shepley). Walk around from the perimeter and you may notice a thread among pieces that evoke autoethnographic methods in their work (Jackson; Jackson and Bratta; Schneider and Pryor; Soto Vega). Move in toward the collection again and you might recognize connections between pieces that explore and examine installations and artistic engagements using curatorial practices as their critical lens (Hammer and Sieber; Moynihan and Fleming; West-Puckett and Shepley). We also acknowledge that this mobile is not only visual, and suggest that if you close your eyes you may be able to recognize an unanticipated combination of sonic curations (Hammer and Sieber; Lambke; Soto Vega). 

The point is that while we are able to create groupings and categories for you as a reader, and do offer these groupings as co-curators might, there are likely many other relationships here for you to discover. As you explore, we invite you to get lost in the pieces. Look through them as you might wander an exhibition or gallery. Consider not only what these pieces say, but how they make you feel. Not only what they look and sound like, but how they invite a sense of engagement with the topics presented, the experiences provided. Step back for a moment and return to the special issue, this time evoking the lens of a curator. Consider the special issue layout, the juxtaposition of pieces and ideas, how the orientations assemble various arguments about curation, multimodality, and socially-engaged practice. How may curation reorient your work, your teaching, your collection of data? What affordances may curation provide? How may curating your scholarship shift the audiences to whom you speak, shift the purpose of your scholarship, or cause you to wonder how your work may take on a different form? In other words, what rhetorically gets undone or reimagined through curation? How does the undoing open space for a recreation to offer something new?

We ask that you ponder these questions in the hopes that we as a field embrace curation as a methodological practice with deep rhetorical roots. For us — and for those in this special issue — curation offers exciting vantage points often not visible in traditional academic scholarship. And as scholars, departments, and institutions continue to call for renewing partnerships between communities and universities, we find curation to be a tool to assist in grappling with the messy entanglements of moving towards socially-engaged public work. In this way, we hope that the pieces exhibited for you here may begin to move you towards moments to take up such action.

One final note: we would be remiss to not mention the multiple individuals that helped see this special issue through. First, thank you to Christina Cedillo, who worked closely with us to prepare a multimodal platform for this work to appear. Her commitment to offering an innovative publishing space made this special issue possible. Second, we are grateful to Jessica Jacobs, who has provided continual support for usability considerations, as well as components of the visual design. Third, we recognize and thank the students enrolled in Maria’s English 444 Technical Editing Class during the Fall 2019 semester at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Their final project required comprehensively editing and user-testing pieces featured in this special issue, and their close readings and experiential reports to the authors elevated the experiences you see here. Finally, a huge round of applause to the authors in this special issue. They’ve worked on their pieces for nearly a year — many of them designing, coding, and creating multimodal experiences. This, we as curators know, is often invisible labor that must be recognized as influencing the academic arguments presented in each piece. We are grateful for their engagement in receiving our feedback and pushing themselves to reposition their work beyond traditional text towards multimodal argumentation. Without them, there would be no special issue.