There’s that screenshot again—a gem from the now-defunct @horse_ebooks twitter, infamous for hawking low-quality novels with nonsensical bot-sourced excerpts like this one: “everything happens so much.”1 I’m cleaning up my computer desktop, anxiously refreshing two different work emails, and ducking out of one Zoom seminar while I half-listen to another. I drag the screenshot over the trash bin icon even as I silently agree—with COVID-19 shrinking the world around me, my usual pile-up of tasks seems overwhelming. Everything happens so much. The pandemic mode is, for me, the inability to look at one thing at a time. Instead I pick up five or six different tasks and tell myself that they’ll become clearer, like the Pleiades, if only they’re in my peripheral vision. Multiplicity is of the moment. I double-book another meeting. Everything happens at once.

It’s no surprise that Institution as Praxis: New Curatorial Directions for Collaborative Research takes this sort of many-handed multiplicity as its approach, too. Published in March of 2020 but not available in North America until February of this year, these texts have a certain prescience about them—this attempt to visualize the pulse of a curatorial world was captured in the moments the pandemic was beginning. We were already knee-deep in the post-modern floods of polyphony and cacophony in March, and the sudden merge of every event-space, artist talk, hang-out, and party into one computer screen has only intensified multiplicity as a cultural strategy. It’s second nature now to watch these essays on para-institutional and collaborative research sprawl, leak, and rub up against each other. Through a chorus of voices, Institution as Praxis aims to analyze a shift in the curatorial landscape, providing space to reflect on our collective tumble towards non-traditional and collaborative forms of knowledge creation.

The book shines in these moments of slippage between texts, where narratives overlap and contradict each other, bestowing a conceptual double-vision on the reader. I learn that the “über-curator” is out, killed off by the eroding master-pupil relationship—or fake news—or the toxic history of the institution—or isn’t dead at all but is alive and transforming into a “practitioner-researcher.”2 I hear that biennials are wonderful, simultaneous research events-cum-institutions that respond to the urgent questions, but, at the same, time biennials had their heyday in the 90s, and really biennials are no good at all since they’ll become enablers of the authoritarian turn come 2035. We can all agree that embracing praxis is going to be big in this new curatorial world—or was it moving away from praxis? Reading “Institution as Praxis” is like tuning in to every pre-game show on the radio at once: the only conclusion to be drawn is that something is coming, and until it comes to pass, every prediction rings true.

One coherency that emerges from the noise is a collection of meditations on the flatness of the “curatorial mode.” In “What is the Curatorial Doing,” Carolina Rito vouches that “the curatorial refuses knowing ‘in-depth’[...] rather, the curatorial as an investigative practice articulates ‘knowing’ as reading ‘on the surface’[...] the plane where juxtaposed images, ideas, and concepts relate, and the ground where unexpected articulations may take place.”3 In other words, shallow and wide investigations offer more affect and connection than a singular deep dig—or, as Vali Mahlouji puts it in “Archaeology of the Final Decade” elsewhere in the book: the curatorial exists in a horizontal archaeology, not a vertical one.4 Similar horizontal properties bubble up in other texts: curaduría blanda, or “soft curating,” with its slippery multiplicity that spills out of traditional art venues;5 or autohistoria-teoría, a Chicana methodology that destabilizes narratives through polypositional storytelling.6 Institution as Praxis draws our attention to rhizomatic and relational strategies, a far cry from the in-depth, collections-focused research of old-fashioned museums. The overarching theme is a prediction for more exhibitions-as-open-vessels, for visitors to draw their own conclusions—or better yet, their own research questions.

Another contradictory chorus erupts around the idea of the “commons,” defined by Bill Balaskas as “everything that we are in a position to jointly research, create, and share”7—a definition immediately set upon by six other writers. Je Yun Moon and Emily Pringle are quick to position the commons in relation to the curatorial as a process enacted by the public network on a curatorial operation in order to generate meaning8 and an outcome of practitioner-researchers foregrounding community exchange in their public displays.9 Moon sparks a conversation about the position of the commons outside of the market, writing that “some [...] knowledge is quickly captured by the neoliberal market in the name of trend or style. But some of it manages to remain as the commons.”10 Michael Birchall speculates on how immaterial labour sorts itself between the commons and the market,11 Josia Krysa insists that the primacy of the commons is what protects a “laboratory-model” institution from turning into a “factory-model” institution,12 and Pujita Guha and Abhijan Toto reject the “commons” entirely in favour of the less-theorized-in-this-book term “undercommons.”13

It’s a lot to consider, but I’m happy to meet the commons in this tangled-up way without trying to untie every knot. I leave the commons as I found them, an amorphous well of knowledge near the margins of the neoliberal market. Each point-of-view offered in Institution as Praxis takes a tiny slice of a concept to elevate, and the joy of reading it in its entirety is in trying (and failing) to envision the whole.

What of the “new curatorial directions” promised in the title? They’re somewhere in the midst of this cacophony, and to declare them in one voice would undercut the entanglement of Institution as Praxis. I don’t know what the new curatorial direction is. Maybe, to add my voice to the chorus, the new curatorial mode will remember Walter Benjamin’s Surrealist tikkun,14 and find that there is something special about holding a collection of fragments. The day @horse_ebooks died, one of the final fragments it tweeted was: “How many times have you wished you were strong enough to concentrate your mind.”15 In the era of multiplicity, attempts to just focus on one thing or just dig deep enough are futile. In the spirit of digging around, of working on the surface, of favouring emergent connections over well-researched collections, I want to accept the generative possibility of looking at everything at once. I would love to attend your Zoom meeting.

Everything Happens So Much 
A Review of Institution as Praxis: New Directions in Collaborative Research

 1. (@horse_ebooks) “Everything happens so much,” Twitter, Sept 28, 2012.

2. Emily Pringle “”It’s All About Trust”: Reframing the Curator as Practitioner Researcher” in Institution as Praxis—New Curatorial Directions for Collaborative Research, ed. Bill Balaskas and Carolina Rito (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2021), 171.

3.  Carolina Rito, “What is the Curatorial Doing?” in Institution as Praxis, 51.

4. Vali Mahlouji, “Archaeology of the Final Decade,” in Institution as Praxis, 95.

5. Carolina Cerón, “All Those Things Are Also Ours: de lo Blando en lo Curatorial,” in Institution as Praxis, 79.

6.  Mélanie Bouteloup, “Autohistoria as Praxis,” in Institution as Praxis, 156.

7. Bill Balaskas, “Networked Media and the Rise of Alternative Institutions: Art and Collaboration after 2008,” in Institution as Praxis, 181.

8.  Je Yun Moon, “Curatorial Research as the Practice of Commoning,” in Institution as Praxis, 33.

9.  Emily Pringle “’It’s All About Trust’: Reframing the Curator as Practitioner Researcher” in Institution as Praxis, 178.

10. Je Yun Moon, “Curatorial Research as the Practice of Commoning,” in Institution as Praxis, 33.

11. Michael Birchall, “Discursive Practice: The Role of Public Practice in the Museum,” in Institution as Praxis, 119.

12. Josia Krysa, “Exhibitionary Practices at the Intersection of Academic Research and Public Display”, in Institution as Praxis, 75.

13. Pujita Guha and Abhijan Toto, “Notes Towards Imagining a Univers(e)ity Otherwise,” in Institution as Praxis, 253.

14. Margaret Cohen, “Benjamin’s phantasmagorias: the Arcades Project,” in The Cambridge Companion to Walter Benjamin, ed. David S. Ferris (Cambrdige: Cambridge UP, 2006), 210.

15. (@horse_ebooks) “How many times have you wished you were strong enough to concentrate your mind,” Twitter, Sept 22, 2013.