Curating Data: care, commons and networks


Team Members in alphabetical order

1. Introduction

2. Research Questions

3. Methodology

Collecting - HotGlue

Exploring - case studies / examples

Examining - text/practice analysis

Excersizes - Pirate Care / ToC / Unproductive Solutions

4. Findings





5. Discussion / Conclusion


Team Members in alphabetical order

Annet Dekker

Marialaura Ghidini

Asen Ivanov

Theresa Kneppers

Eva Krumm

Kelly Rappleye

Gaia Tedone

Magda Tyzlik-Carver

Marina Valle Noronha

1. Introduction

It is clear that digital networks for a long time have been much more than just communication channels and today they are the very heart of public life. In the context of climate change, world-wide pandemic, increasing commercialization of network infrastructures, and diminishing funding for art and cultural practices, there is a need to establish a framework for understanding current developments in the field of digital curation.

In this project, we focused on digital curation, which we regarded not as an act in the silo of the art world and its institutions but as a networked practice performed daily by social media users, programmers, and algorithms (Tedone 2018; Tyzlik-Carver 2017; Goriunova 2013). In this sense, the meaning of curating has expanded beyond the usual space of the gallery and art institutions and is part of scientific practices of data collection, storing, and presentation. It is a practice of curating content for commerce and function in search optimization algorithms. Rather than lamenting over the fact that today ‘everyone is a curator’ (Kasprzak 2008) or that we are in the midst of ‘curationism’ (Balzer 2015), which supposedly diminishes the value of the practice, we made an in-depth analysis of digital curation to re-address the necessity for care and collaboration (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017, Agostinho 2019, Galloway and Thacker 2006, Tyzlik-Carver forthcoming) in these practices. At the same time, the development of online environments, with their histories, grammars, aesthetics, and ethics of technical, cultural and social changes, calls for a recognition of the fact that digital curatorial discourse moved beyond the field of art and within a wider terrain of networked art and its media and visual cultures. To account for this shift requires a radical rethinking of the notion of aesthetics as simultaneously a major mode of operation for the contemporary society and a practice in a constant process of becoming whose very constitution is being changed by networked technologies (Goriunova 2012). Therefore, in this project we also wanted to address the changes characteristic to digital curatorial practices by starting with the shared recognition that the curatorial function in digital curating has shifted from its focus on the curator as an exhibition maker and a ‘meta curator’ (O’Neill 2007) to a practice embedded in and influenced by socio-technological constructions of networks and their (ir)rational processes. Such forms of curating have been defined as ‘immaterial’ (Krysa 2008), ‘posthuman’ (Tyżlik-Carver 2016 and 2018) and as a set of networked relations (Dekker 2018, Tedone 2019), and they constitute the basis for this project that aims to identify how care manifests in contemporary forms of digital curating, and how commons making is part of this process. Moreover, and coming back to the notion of ‘care’, since curation has always had a close relationship with ‘care and caring for’, in this new constellation a rethinking of care as a practice involving political, economic and institutional power relations (Mol 2008) that has the potential to disrupt existing values (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017), could bring forth new perspectives on digital curation.

By exploring and analyzing several practices of digital and data curation we unpacked the concepts of care and commons and by assessing their functions within digital curation consider how they may help to rethink curatorial practice to address various structures of control, authority, and accountability within these practices. As such, in this project we wanted to critically evaluate the concepts of care and common(ing)s from the perspective of curating data in digital environments.

2. Research questions

What are the strategies adopted by curators to explore care in the context of computer networks and disrupt given human-machine/human-platforms relations?


What is care and how does it manifest?

Where is care situated in digital curating and what is the value of care?

What are contemporary perspectives on curating in and with human/computer networks?

What makes a network caring?

How can 'empathy' and 'sensing' be acknowledged and incorporated when working collaboratively across digital platforms and devices?

3. Methodology

In short, our methodology followed four different methods: 1. exploration of case studies and tools, 2. examination of theoretical texts to create a theoretical framework, 3. exercises to unpack and develop the abstract theoretical constructs, and 4. collecting, to do the work of digital curation.

3.1 Exploring Tools

By exploring several tools we critically reflected on how the entanglement of care and control are introduced in practices of the digital curation of art, data, objects, etc., and how teasing out this tension could be a productive way towards understanding the politics that shape acts of digital curation. Since one of the themes was common(s/ing) we decided that our tools should also reflect the theory that we were researching: using open source tools that would allow collaborative ways of working. We focused our attention on several open-source collaborative discussing and working platforms such as Jitsi, Etherpad (Variapad), and HotGlue (see 3.4).

After starting our first day on Jitsi Meet, which was chosen for its Open Source and non-encrypted video conferencing, issues with connectivity led to a switch to the Zoom Video Conferencing platform. This enabled much clearer and more cohesive communication and collaboration, including screen sharing and the use of separate, private rooms for breakaway groups, while also raising ethical questions on the use of a platform known for its security and privacy issues. Each day we tackled a different core concept, engaging with particular case studies and exercises, and using Hotglue, Variapad, and Zoom to share resources and common readings, and learn from project presentations from various group members. The days were punctuated by ‘screen walks’—visual interludes into the participants' computers—during which specific projects were presented. We also participated in a concluding performative workshop entitled “Unproductive Solutions.”

Another integral tool for our collaborative process was Variapad; an Open Source, non-encrypted digital notepad that allows for real-time writing on one page simultaneously. We used this for daily note-taking, to exchange relevant references and resources, to record discussions of relevant literature and texts, to capture presentations and 'screen talks', to formulate new research questions that emerged from the original ones, and to write this final research report together. Variapad was also used for a particular exercise during our exploration of Commoning, in which we collectively wrote Guidelines and Terms and Conditions and use for our CCCcoop research pages.

Fig. 1 , screenshot 29 June 2020

3.1.1 Exploring Case Studies

The exploration of the tools was informed by several case studies that would help us to explore the mutual implications of care, technology, and tools while questioning the ideology of private property, work, and metrics. An example of a case study was the Pirate Care project and we used their approach to learn more about supporting and activating collective processes of learning.

“Pirate Care considers the assumption that we live in a time in which care, understood as a political and collective capacity of society, is becoming increasingly defunded, discouraged, and criminalized. Neoliberal policies have for the last two decades re-organized the basic care provisions that were previously considered cornerstones of democratic life - healthcare, housing, access to knowledge, right to asylum, freedom of mobility, social benefits, etc. - turning them into tools for surveilling, excluding and punishing the most vulnerable. The name Pirate Care refers to those initiatives that have emerged in opposition to such political climate by self-organizing technologically-enabled care & solidarity networks”.[1]

To become more aware of the complex and intertwined webs of care that support or shape our lives, and to the different kinds of conditions and skills that characterize care labor we discussed the different ways care is understood – in language, in cultural contexts and digital practices such as digital preservation (in relation to defining ‘significant properties’[2]). Based on this approach we set up our preliminary Code of Conduct and Terms of Use (see 3.3.) to consider in (self)practice the question of what is common(s) and how commoning takes place through use and access to common spaces.

3.2 Examining

We conducted qualitative research on digital curation in order to rethink the concepts of care and common(s/ing) to understand how these concepts could help to understand the politics that shape and influence digital curation. We were particularly focusing on the theoretical texts of Magda Tyżlik-Carver and Olga Goriunova to explore the different genealogies and contemporary concepts and usage of the term and practices of (digital) curating, and Maria Puig de la Bellacasa’s in her book Matters of Care to come to a better understanding of the notion and value of care in technological ecologies. By analyzing and comparing these different texts we wanted to come to define what the value of care is in digital curating.

3.3 Exercises

To develop our thinking and test our preliminary findings we introduced several exercises that would help to tease out the abstract concepts in more practical ways. Hence how practice can help to unpack theoretical concepts, as well as how practice can also inform the theoretical development.

3.3.1 Code of Conduct and Terms of Use

By using Variapad, and open source/access website, anyone who knows the link can access the page on which we collected our data. Therefore, by creating the page a new common was created. In our case it was about writing collaboratively, discussing and defining, who we are, what we do, and how we create a sense of community, through the framework of terms and conditions. While this is still work in progress, we consider it to be part of commoning, establishing, and working together on creating resources. However, this raised the question: how do we want to make available (and share) the resources that we created?

3.3.2. Unproductive Solutions

Artist Rebekah Modrak and Marialaura Ghidini presented the performative workshop Unproductive Solutions to complement the discussion about the notion of relationship in the context of digital technology and curating. The workshop started with a presentation of the fictional company Unproductive Solutions by Alex Mastrangelo who introduced himself as the CEO of the Unproductive Solutions and presented the values and aims of the company. He explained that the company's aim was to collectively imagine a technological world with a soul, with humanity as the core of its philosophy, and presented an array of services. What these services had in common was their attempt to liberate people's dependence on algorithmic logic and assumptions, as well as a passive agent in a scenario often dominated by tech-enabled social intelligence. The services were presented as case studies: HumanReply, Undisciplined, and Ulogic. After the presentation, it was revealed that Alex Mastragelo was an actor hired by the Modrak and Ghidini and the fictional company is the curatorial project they are currently working on, which entail working with artists to create artworks-as-services or subsidiary companies to their project. We were then asked to work as a group to think of a technology that would challenge our present relationship with e-services (and the assumptions behind their logic), especially in the light of our discussions about care, commons, and working collaboratively in the context of curating data and digital technology.

3.4 Collecting

In an attempt to also do digital curation, we used the online platform HotGlue to collect and curate our research. HotGlue is a digital tool created by Danja Vasiliev and Gottfried Haider that allows users to create web-pages directly within a web-browser in a collage style, using very simple and straight-forward visual editing tools. We collaboratively used Hotglue as a visual board to gather the questions and findings generated in daily discussions and exercises. Each day, a new HotGlue page would present a set of research questions, and each member would “glue” concepts, images, ideas, and references to the page throughout the day. These pages therefore functioned as an interactive summary of the found definitions and processes. To capture this process, we took screen recordings of our various Hotglue pages to present our explorative process, and track the evolution of the pages.

Fig. 2, screenshot 30 June 2020

4. Findings

4.1 Curate/curator/curating/curation

The etymology of the noun curator derives from the Latin root cura, meaning ‘overseer’, ‘manager’, and ‘guardian’. The earliest use of the noun leads to Ancient Rome, where curators were senior civil servants in charge of various departments of public works, including oversight of aqueducts, bathhouses, and sewers. From the early fifteenth century, the term was used to describe those in charge of minors, people with mental illness, and the disabled. A ‘curate’ was someone responsible for the spiritual welfare of those in their charge. Similarly, curation, derived from the Latin curatione which meant ‘a taking care, attention, management’, especially ‘medical attention’, which around the mid-seventeenth century translated to ‘management, guardianship’, or an ‘officer in charge of a museum, library, etc.’. Fast-forwarding to the twentieth century and the popularization of the museum, archival and library collections the curator became the person who would organize exhibition displays of selections from these collections. Post World War II, the role of the curator transitioned to become an independent, creative author who entered a centralized position in a globalizing art world. In this transition, the meaning and function of curation shifted from the museum collection department, where the curator was embedded in the institutional curatorial department, to intellectual and institutional independence. An independent curator organized -often large-scale- exhibitions and events of contemporary art to reflect the changing nature of art objects with conceptual and postmodern art movements. Yet, by the early twenty-first century, the conflation of the term curator had set in. Under the guise of ‘avant-garde cool’ and the return to the ‘authentic’ experience, marketing departments recognized the appeal and power of the independent curator and appropriated the term. Soon the slogan ‘everyone’s a curator’ gained prominence and the curator turned filter-feeder (Schleiner 2003) or paid selector, reflecting the era of ‘prosumers’ who preferred to select things rather than produce them.

Fig. 3 Instagram profile of ‘curatewashing’, screenshot 1 July 2020.

In our discussions we explored the definitions of curate, curator, curating and curation. We reflected on the use of the terms and the changing boundaries of what can be curated and by whom. As the agents and objects of curation have expanded the forms of organizing and collecting have also shifted. What this analysis indicates is that curating as a practice in recent years has taken on a broader definition in which curating moves beyond the arts into computational and popular culture domains. We defined ‘curate’ as an action that emphasizes the 'doing' within a specific situation or network, curating as a set of practice or an act, curation has a more blurry definition, moving beyond art and embedded in computational/popular culture and often applied to social media, and finally curator as a storyteller. Though collecting and showcasing different types of art on various platforms, curators shape the time and place in which stories told by the artworks. The new digital world has therefore expanded the reach and capabilities of the curator, as new perspectives on place and time (physical art shows are more limited time-wise than digital shows) have emerged. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, these options have been explored since the physical world is shut down for a large part. We agreed that we would focus on the definition of curating as a digital practice that is embedded in an ecology of infrastructural tools and platforms, including humans, technology, and socio-political relations. At the same time, we noticed that curating is always connected to some form of care, but what kind of care? What world are we curating?

Fig. 4 Graph curation versus curating

4.2 Care

Following the initial discussion on the curator as a 'guardian' and as someone who 'takes care' and provides 'attention', the first concept we tackled was precisely that of 'care'. The exploration of this concept was aided by a mapping exercise available on the Pirate Care website ( and by the reading of the work of María Puig de la Bellacasa. As a result of the integration of these two resources, the concept of care was problematized and localized as operating at different levels: at the level of one discrete's curatorial practice; at the level of everyday life, social interactions and dynamics of subject formation; at the level of the management of files and archival systems in conservation practices as well as disguised as the insurance policy of tech companies (i.e. Apple care); and at a theoretical and conceptual level, pushing considerations on the ethics and politics of digital and online curation grounded in feminist scholarship and technoscience. The three dimensions of care emphasized by de la Bellacasa — labor/ work, affect/affections, ethics/politics — were found particularly useful in identifying where care is situated in digital curating and what kind of networks it informs, as well as the notion of the 'speculative', which proved to be generative to frame the networked and processual mode of curating experimented within the group as part of the workshop. Several interesting juxtapositions were discussed to further problematize the concept, namely that between care and critique and care and management. In relation to the latter, some considerations on the gender biases of this binary were addressed and a wider reflection on how similar concepts are 'packaged' by different fields of knowledge and disciplines opened up. The HotGlue page captures the evolution of the discussion and visualizes screenshots of projects researched by the group during the day, including projects by organizations and networks such as Rhizome, Viral Solidarity, etc.