Background to the Archive      
  Curating Degree Zero Archive is an archive, touring exhibition and web-resource exploring critical and experimental approaches to curating contemporary art. It contains material (catalogues, articles, videos, CD’s, images and web sites) in relation to the practice of over 100 international curators, artist curators, new-media curators and curatorial collaborations.

Archives have become an increasingly common practice in the art world since the 1960s. On the one hand, there are archives founded by artists or collectors; on the other, a more recent development, there are those founded by curators, who sought to make their collections of materials accessible and make their selection criteria public. That desire may have arisen from the dissolution of the notion of the self-contained artwork, which has been eclipsed by a contingent art object that makes a new form of cultural memory necessary and always contains a note of protest and a critique of museum practices. At the same time, archives that collect material and make it publicly available are always concerned with a kind of self-enabling, to ensure that they are themselves inscribed in the cultural memory and can be heard in the “murmur of discourse,” as Michel Foucault calls it.

In order to be consistent with the kind of critical material that the participating curators have made available, the Curating Degree Zero Archive tries to preserve an open character in its a narrative structure. The arrangement is not immutable; rather as it has travelled from institution to institution, in collaboration with its hosts, it has undergone constant change and expanded to include new positions.

The fundamental idea behind the archive is to enlighten: to bring together information that is difficult to find and then make it accessible. The website serves as a navigational structure available to the users of the archive as a basis for scholarly and practical research both for the participating curators and for other members of the “operating system” of the art world. The archive is not intended to establish a self-contained narrative but rather to present a range of divergent positions in order to provide a framework for, and shed light on the contexts of the work of individual curators who wish to be critical and political. With that in mind, the contradictions that become evident in an overview of divergent practices seem fruitful to us. We want to allow these contradictions, fissures, and rifts to stand, and to use the questions that arise from them as an opportunity to gain knowledge.

The concept of critical curating is inherently not a unified one. It is subject to constant historical change, just as the discursive formation of the visual arts is subject to constant transformation. In this context the making of exhibitions should be understood as a practice that produces, influences, and alters the object of which it speaks.


On the one hand, we take critical curatorial practice—as it relates to the Curating Degree Zero Archive—to mean an orientation around content that addresses political themes such as feminism, urbanism, postcolonialism, the critique of capitalism, and the mechanisms of social exclusion. On the other hand, we are interested in finding ways to go beyond the structure of the “white cube” and classical exhibition formats. This can take the form of interventionist practices, questioning the art world’s “operating system,” or new ways to impart knowledge processes.

The archive is intended as neither a survey nor a canon, it is a research and event project foregrounding a variety of practices and positions. The growth of the archive has been based on the logic of networks, friendships and circles of shared interest. We chose to reinterpret the Archive at every venue on the tour making the exhibition itself a visual manifestation of various discourses around display and mediation of content. The presentations ranged from experimental displays to sculptural presentations and discussions, and together these posed the central question: how is it possible to make material accessible and encourage curiosity, to create a debate and to call into question the traditional positions and normalizing effects of the power of display?

This web-site has acted as an interface both for exhibition visitors and people accessing the project via the Internet. While the archive was touring, the website acted as an indexing tool for exhibition visitors, helping them to find materials of particular interest and extending the real space into the virtual, linking to the web sites of the participating curators. With the tour over the site has been simplified, offering an overview of the project, a bibliography and a list of those who have provided material. It has always been our intention that the project as a whole be understood as a research tool for an international network of curators, art practitioners, students and others with an interest in issues of display and mediation.

The archive is now permanently sited in Zurich, Switzerland, as a special collection of the library of the ZHdK (Zurich University of the Arts). It will be on permanent display in the reference section of their new library and media centre which opens in Summer of 2014, allowing access to the material to university students and members of the public alike. A publication, featuring selected projects from the archive and theoretical reflections on exhibition making in the early 21st century, is also in the early stages of planning.

We’d like to thank all the participants who have agreed to their practices being presented in the archive and generously provided us with material, the national funding bodies, foundations and sponsors who have supported its development and the Zurich University of the Arts for hosting the archive in its final form (see Tour).

Barnaby Drabble & Dorothee Richter.