Sunday, 21 February 2016

Module 6: The Order of Things

Lambert and Frisch draw our attention to the fact that there are increasingly better and more cost-efficient – if not free – digital tools available for content mapping purposes, such as creating indexes for documentary collections and that some are for recreational purposes, while others are intended for experts.(1) When a platform like Pinterest is used recreationally to catalogue product purchases, inspirational images and recipes, be not mistaken, sales professionals pay close attention.(2) Marketers(3) and media publishers (4) utilize Pinterest to hyperlink product images or links to articles (5) while it provides meta data to corporations that are constantly accessing and leveraging information about prospective clients.

Being personally involved in the contemporary arts, I have had interactions with professional curators on a regular basis over the years. I therefore completely sympathize with Peter Morin’s position on the outright misuse and oversimplication of the terms “curator”, “curated by” and “curating” in online literature. He objects to the reductionist use of the term to casually describe the act of online scrapbooking, an embodiment of commodity fetishism that benefits no one but the retailers (6). I have a similar quarrel with the hijacking of the term “artisan” by the fast/processed food industries (7).

At times I feel a certain “uneasiness,” which turns into laughter, when I inadvertently come across some Pinterest boards of friends or former colleagues, and a certain pleasure when I create my own classification systems. I borrow the term “uneasiness” from Michel Foucault’s seminal preface to The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, because it points to the physiological/emotional reaction that one may have when coming across or creating taxonomies.(8) As a long-term collector of many different types of objects, I have organized a number of my collections in a fairly compulsive manner (books, postcards, etc.) and attest that there is something of that kind of reaction that effectively takes place. Taxonomies trigger a physical response, and Foucault’s preface reminded me that they have an effect on the reader. The analysis of Foucault’s text by Michael Duszat of Humboldt University of Berlin also makes important observations to this effect, in particular with respect to heterogeneous enumerations:

“One of the powerful effects that heterogeneous enumeration can have: it provokes substantial self-reflection, which, in an almost educational sense, can produce a disturbing but also immensely rewarding reading experience.” (Duszat, 2012, p. 203) (9)

“Heterogeneous enumeration becomes visible as a powerful literary device that can be employed to raise critical questions about many of our present concerns about the production and representation of knowledge and meaning, questions about rationality, order, and the power of writing.” (Duszat, 2012, p. 214) (10)

There is also something ultimately existential about list-making, as Georges Perec splendidly noted in Thoughts of Sorts.(11) Perhaps the appeal and popularity of Pinterest can be explained in part by the type of aesthetic gratification it brings its users (content creators) and readers, voluntary or accidental. The question however remains how many of its users will take advantage of this experience to engage in independent and reflective thinking about their own list-making practice and whom it truly benefits?


(1) Lambert, D. &  Frisch, M. (2013). “Digital Curation through Information Cartography: A Commentary on Oral History in the Digital Age from a Content Management Point of View,” Oral History Review, (1), 135.
(2) Constine, J. (Feb. 2016). Image Recognition Invades Shopping As Curalate Raises $27.5M”, Retrieved from:
(3) Hurley Hall, S. (Oct. 2014). How Successful Marketers Use Pinterest to Drive Conversations (And How You can Too), Retrieved from:
(4) Perez, S. (Sept. 2013). “Pinterest Appeals To Publishers With New Article Pins, Pushes To Become A Bookmarking & “Read It Later” Service, Tech Crunch, Retrieved from: 
(5) Ibid.
(6) Morin, P. (Oct. 2011). An Open Letter to Everyone Using the Word ‘Curate’ Incorrectly on the Internet. Retrieved from
(7) Polis. C. (Oct. 2011). When 'Artisan' Means 'Industrial': How One Word's Definition Has Been Overused And Abused, Retrieved from:
(8) Foucault, M. (2005) The Order of Things [1966], Preface, p. xx, Retrieved from:
(9) Duszat, M. (2012), Foucault’s Laughter: Enumeration, Rewriting, and the Construction of the Essayist in Borges’s ‘‘The analytical language of John Wilkins’’, Orbis Litterarum 67:3 193–218
(10) Ibid.

(11) Perec, G. (2009). “Thoughts of Sorts”, translated by David Bellos.


  1. I was intrigued by your reaction to the Pinterest phenomenon. I don't have a stake in the debate, so I found Morin's post quite pedantic. I'm finding though, that your first-person reaction is slowly changing my mind. I agree with Morin, that the term "carefully curated” is lazily used, yet is becoming ubiquitous.

    Dr. Laccetti and I recently had Twitter conversation on the topic. It arose from a lecture by Ernie Hsiung about moderating online comments. The word "curate" is frequently employed to describe the work of moderators. I can't summarize our Twitter thread adequately, but basically we conclude that "curate" was being used to signify "managed with care".

    Do you think that by co-opting the term "curator", it reduces what it signifies?

    Also, as a frequent Pinterest user, I can certainly relate to the "aesthetic gratification" of the social media service. However, I don't equate using Pinterest with creating content and certainly not with "independent and reflective thinking". For me, it's the passive collecting of ephemera that I may or may not recall.

    This harkens back to our class' readings about Facebook and memory (Mickes, L. et al., 2013 & Szalavitz, 2013). Unlike Facebook, Pinterest holds no personal narrative value for me because it's not social. Ie. It's unlikely that I will recall a recipe I 'pin', however I am more likely to recall if the recipe is shared by a friend on Facebook.


    Hsiung, E. (2016, February 20). Moderating Communities [powerpoint presentation & lecture notes]. Retrieved March 01, 2016, from

    Mickes, L., Darby, R., Hwe, V., Bajic, D., Warker, J., Harris, C., & Christenfeld, N. (2013). Major memory for microblogs. Memory & Cognition, 41(4), 481-489. doi:10.3758/s13421-012-0281-6.

    Morin, P. (2012, May 21). An Open Letter to Everyone Using the Word ‘Curate’ Incorrectly on the Internet. Retrieved March 01, 2016, from

    Szalavitz, M. (March 2013). “How Facebook Improves Memory,” Time. Retrieved March 01, 2016, from

  2. Hello Gwyneth,

    I just saw your response now so forgive me for my tardy reply. Thank you for your question and tweets.
    I have been involved for so long in the visual arts now that an exasperated curator’s rant (Morin) on this topic made a lot of sense to me and I was rather sympathetic and relieved to read some of the main points he brought forward.(1)

    In the last couple of weeks, I have also been thinking about the Graffiti Kings’ video that was posted as part of our Pinterest discussion. In their terms, would Morin be a “pompous wanker part of a cult of aesthetic relativists”?(2) I sure hope not and I think holding such a view would be very dismissive of the commitment that many curators hold to make some conceptually complex artworks available to the public, like Peter Morin, who has worked tirelessly as a social justice advocate with Indigenous youth and insightful curator.(3). As for curators, some are self-taught, but most are trained in the most serious graduate programs.(4)

    Take for example the Peggy Guggenheim collection in Venice, visited by millions of visitors. Over many decades, Peggy Guggenheim collected and curated the works of 20th century’s most important modern and conceptual artists with the end goal of making them universally accessible.(5) She exhibited them in London, Paris, New York, Venice and donated a large portion of her collection to public museums. As a pioneering woman in the male-dominated art world, she was the target of countless patronizing, anti-Semitic and misogynistic comments, while introducing the work of Frida Kahlo to Americans, for example.(6) This is why, I was rather unimpressed by the qualification of the screams of a Yoko Ono performance as those of a “demented bitch” in the GK video. I think that ignorance breeds a lot of misdirected hate.

    I have no problem with the term “curate” being used commonly to signify "managed with care" and to answer the question of whether or not the co-opting of the term "curator" reduces it’s meaning; I would argue that it probably does if it means that we stop acknowledging that it also designates a profession. In short, you can call your nonna a chef because you think she’s a great cook, or your anarchist uncle, a philosopher, because he holds alternative beliefs, as long as you don’t confound them with the professions of Paul Bocuse or Hannah Arendt.

    Anecdote: I went to Coeur de Pirate’s (Béatrice Martin) concert in Saskatoon a few weeks ago and she mentioned, as an intro to one of her songs, that she had found on Pinterest the artist that she hired to do the cover of her latest album. She found out who the artist was and after seeing her work “pinned” she asked her to design her album. She said, literally, describing Pinterest, “well, you know, the site on which there are pictures of beautiful kitchens”.

    (1) Morin, P. (Oct. 2011). An Open Letter to Everyone Using the Word ‘Curate’ Incorrectly on the Internet. Retrieved from

    (2) Watson, P. (2016, January) Here's why MOST modern art is total crap and why anyone who thinks otherwise is a ... [Video file]. Retrieved from

    (3) Peter Morin. Retrieved from

    (4) The Master of Fine Arts in Criticism & Curatorial Practice program at OCAD University

    or The graduate program at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (CCS Bard)

    (5) A must-see documentary on the life and legacy of Peggy Guggenheim:

    (5) Heins, M. (2016, February 4). The Notorious "31 Women" Art Show of 1943. The Free Expression Policy Project.
    Retrieved from

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thanks for following up, JP.

      I guess this is where I get meta and acknowledge the fact that we're having this conversation as part of a masters of arts of program. I would venture that our inherent privilege makes us more likely to side with Morin, rather than with the inflammatory GK video.

      However -- I don't want to make assumptions of about you or your background.

      As for my background, I'm the proud sibling of a conceptual artist that Paul Watson would likely condemn.

      I found the GK video alienating in its intensity. I feel this critique from the TV show Broad City hits similar notes, without the "misdirected hate" as you put it. Of course, as a satire Broad City seems more palatable than in a 10-minute long rant.

      (Note: I suspect due to geo-fencing you may not be able to watch this. If you can find it, I recommend watching the whole first episode of Broad City season three.)

      Aside: I love Coeur de Pirate and I think her description of Pinterest is spot on.


      Ekperigin, N. & Stamatelaky, A. (writers), & Aniello, L. (director). (17 February, 2016). "Max's Gallery Debut" [TV excerpt]. Two Chains - Broad City. Beverly Hills, CA: 3 Arts Entertainment.