Susan Bright Lecture

I attended both the Susan Bright lecture and the question and answer time that followed it. Susan talked about being a curator and what it meant to her. She describes herself as a curator and a writer (and a teacher) and said that she had spent considerable time thinking about what those terms meant to her She explained that the original meaning of curator was ‘keeper’ and that most curators worked either within a museum or with a collection to work to keep it, expand on it, write about it and produce exhibitions . She is, however, an independent curator, which effectively means that she works on what she wants to, usually in collaboration with the artists involved. She chose this role to allow her to be involved with exhibitions that she was interested in.

While talking she noted several things:

  • There has been a long-term underrepresentation of women in art. This culminated in a backlash in 2019 at Arles where it was particularly noticeable
  • Women are still underrepresented, even in the present Covid situation with a lot more online talks, and after the ‘me-too’ discussions
  • Art remains mainly white – not that art is white but that the art that is shown in major exhibitions and sold does not cover the breadth or depth of art (including photography) that is available.
  • Photography appears to favour speed, youth and moving forward while she favours emotion, slowness and listening to history.
  • She considers herself to be a ‘feminist’ curator – and tries to reflect feminist values within her work
  • Collaboration is crucial, and in practice has always happened although is not always acknowledged. It can be across generations and also between various roles
  • The role of a curator is not to ‘be nice’ but also to say the hard things
  • She doesn’t censor work – but the gallery or a publisher might

Bright then talked about several of the exhibitions and artists she has been involved with.

  • Home Truths both in the exhibition and the book that followed it was born from a lack of images and discussion about ‘mothering’ in all its complexities and range. Each artists work was different and presented initially came out of her own need to make sense of her own conflicted feelings about motherhood. Talked about both abundance and loss, endurance, and emotions.
  • Deja vu in Spain (for an essay on this see :
    • Elina Brotherus – she has had a long history of working with her following an initial email. She had originally been reluctant to show her work Annunciation as very personal, so SB became a virtual gatekeeper for it.
    • Clare Strand – Discrete Channel with Noise – a collaboration between her and her husband – sending information across a phone – to produce an image – working on issues of communication and electronic/virtual engagement
    • Sharon Cox – who copies paintings – but something is always a little ‘off’
    • Délio Jasse – looking at ideas of identity, obsolescence, and work across generations
    • Patrick Pound  – another curator – using algorithms to collect things and then make into others i.e. a pan pipe (related to wind) links to a fluted cooking pan. Looking at chance in how things fit together.

Bright’s background is in art history, leading on to a dissertation on curatorial practice. She feels that for her type of curation the academic background is crucial. She collaborates with the artists, but it is a very different role from that of an art critic. She pointed out that collaboration starts – but it also needs to stop – to allow both of you space. The question she always asks of the artist is “Why?”

Bright talked about the things she feels are crucial if you contact a curator (or ask someone to look at your work):

  • The work must be coherent
  • Don’t get defensive (they are there to criticise not just agree with you)
  • Grow a thick skin
  • Research the person and present work they may be interested in
  • Be clean and polite!

Making an exhibition:

  • Be careful about the details
  • Frame things well if they are to be framed.
  • If you don’t use a frame – have a reason
  • Make a maquette (software available)
  • Think about the flow though the exhibition
  • Faces are welcoming – so a good starting point if there is one
  • Be careful with text – a hook/explanation at the beginning – but do you need more?
  • Have lots of people look at it – not just photographers
  • Attend as many exhibitions as possible and take notes

Lecture available at:

Conversation event available here:

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