What is strange requires an analogical narrative that communicates itself against the backdrop of the familiar. The idea of an analogy is very important in the process of the imagination because what we are invited to do when we curate a number of objects or records or images or whatever you want to imagine, is that we re-present what is present twice over what we are usually expecting to be presented. It represents—that is, it stands for—a different order and place. This creates several possibilities, especially in how we define a place of curation through the analogy of the sea.
Let us not forget that museums are a modern invention particularly when we think of the arts. Although the idea of the gallery gained centrality with Modernism, the curation of art making extends to the perspective of a body of work. We know that traditionally speaking the site (and sight) of art was not found in the museum but in places where art functioned in different ways. In churches and temples art was choreographed as ritual and symbol. In terms of art as a domestic affair, humans have made art to make familiar what they initially regarded as impossible and out of reach. Both at home and in public rituals, art’s role was to make possible—to possibilitate.
It could be argued that curation is a form of estrangement. To curate is to bring objects together, create and recreate, move and remove, disassemble and reassemble them in different contexts. In the act of curation, the audience is invited to react to new arrangements, a viewing that becomes new once places are changed and exchanged. In and of itself, curation is an artistic activity, a choreographic form of making—chora being that space that oscillates between word and representation.
This choreographic rearrangement is an activity that uses the mechanism of analogies. The objects are re-arranged and thus re-presented in order to make meaning (whatever that may be). This meaning is conveyed through analogies of arrangement, by which I mean that the presentation is a second or third iteration. In Greek ana suggest once more. In English, analogy signals meaning as a re-presentation, as another way of presenting whatever one wants to curate, which implies an infinity of other iterations. By the same analogical mechanism, as a site of curation in terms of its original meanings, the sea is re-presented—that is, presented again—through the image and awareness of its presence. For those who gain meaning from this thalassic presence, the sea continues to shape a world outlook that significantly moves beyond the walls of their political imaginaries.
This brings to mind Giorgio De Chirico’s metaphysical and later works, and how they often recall his youth in the Aegean Sea. This is highlighted in Italo Calvino’s essays on De Chirico, where he invites readers to imagine how beyond in De Chirico’s childhood, the squares that characterise his works always lead to the sea and beyond the city itself.
Little do I remember what the city looked like from the sea: white behind cypresses like that from where the Argonauts departed; granite steps that came down to the pebbly beach where the statuary marble was reddened by the blood of little goats sacrificed to the Goddess. (Calvino, 1994, p. 395)
Even when presented this way, the analogy of the sea remains odd because in and of itself, the sea is a space which one does not really inhabit (unless one is a marine plant or creature). Also, the sea does not have the same qualities of a space like a square or a room. To curate something “in” the sea would imply something else, especially when understood literally. As an analogy and a metaphor, the sea draws our attention to a never-ending horizon of diversity that is geographical, cultural, artistic, political … and where a special narrative begins to inspire the infinitely possible, but where it also puts in us the fear of the unknown. De Chirico’s empty squares both inspire and daunt us. Calvino’s reference to the sea, which is seldom depicted in De Chirico’s paintings, represents an indirect suggestion of mystery as well as fear.
The concepts of possibility and the unknown are crucial to the understanding of the contingent nature of the sea’s daunting presence. In its contingency, the sea is a horizon of aesthetic and other formative events. It is peculiar and therefore unique in how it comes to be known, and in how such forms of knowing help us imagine a reality that is never immediate. The fear of the unknown and the inspiration of the possible are not only found in the epic myths that we have inherited from this thalassic presence. We often attribute these stories to regions defined by seas like the Mediterranean, the North Sea, the Black, Caspian and other waters. In such stories we locate the sea as a place for invention and constructed origins of a present that becomes increasingly futural.
This takes me to the second odd proposal: focusing on aesthetics education as a site of gaps and therefore as a practice that hosts the spaces left behind by art itself, in other words the spaces that prompt us to use our imagination. One can only make sense of this second suggestion if we keep in mind the analogy of the sea—indeed the sea as a strange, an odd, site for curation. This analogy suggests that we could look again at aesthetics education as a site of gaps, that is, a site of impossibilities and situations that are not there yet and which might never happen.
The idea of futuring is not cue for a hopeless sense of evangelical optimism that fails to understand the criticality of what art and education mean. Futuring implies what could become possible, which is what Gramsci dwells on when considering an historical framework that could make sense of Kant’s notion of noumena, things-in-themselves.
The noumenon must be read through a recognition of] “the concrete sense of a ‘relative ignorance’ of reality [“relativa ignoranza” della realtà] as something still ‘unknown’ [which] one day could be known with the perfection of human ‘physical’ and intellectual instruments. (Gramsci, 1975, p. 48)
There is a solid sense of futurity in Gramsci’s thinking, especially in how he explains to us (and himself) why there is value in idealistic philosophy like Croce’s and Kant’s. Gramsci explains the noumenon from the position of concepts that are yet to be understood when the historical context for such an insight becomes possible and present. It is an optimistic approach, without ever losing sight of the dire realities by which we are equally pushed to think of solutions to whatever we care to problematize. To think of futurity is to consider those possibilities which are not yet there, but which we could (and want) to capture once the skills and contexts make that understanding possible is within reach. This is what I mean by gaps that are revealed once we embrace historical contingency. When the focus is drawn to fields like aesthetics education, we cannot simply assume that learning is a given. Rather, these should be cues for processes of unlearning the habits and dispositions that we come with.