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Curatorial Studio Blog: Instructions and Exercises Ben Callaghan, a participant in Curatorial Studio 2017/18 reflects on the process of creating and editing a new publication.

by Ben Callaghan
Image: Curatorial Studio in Residence in the Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art

The idea of producing a publication was floated in the early stages of Curatorial Studio 2017/18,. It was not a necessity, but one option amongst many of making the group’s time together visible and public. There was precedent, however, as there was one made the previous year and there was much we could learn from that. After the initial suggestion, we didn’t discuss it too much. The eventual theme – a kind of poetic instruction manual or exercise book – had yet to crystallise. We held the proposal in the back of our minds while we occupied ourselves with other things, like dancing together and playtesting board games.

During our residency at the Reid Gallery at Glasgow School of Art in January 2018, we needed to make a decision. We gathered in a small meeting room upstairs and shuffled the odd, hard-wearing institutional furniture around the room’s one large window. The decision was quick and unanimous. The concentrated time together had given us momentum and there was an air of optimism about the prospect of sharing the thoughts, ideas and activities we’d been developing together.

We pitched our ideas, desires and ambitions for what the publication could be and discussed the logistics of how it would be produced. What roles would we each take on? What structure should we use? A few days later, we had a breakfast master class on publishing from Paul O’Neill, who is widely celebrated for his writing and publishing on curatorial practice. Paul energetically walked us through the entire process of bringing a book to print, in minute and rapid detail. Looking back at my pages of frantically scrawled notes from that day one word jumps out: large on the page and underscored, “Clarity!” Our plans from the day before suddenly seemed awfully vague. Further discussion and facilitated sessions during our time at the Reid Gallery brought things into focus. We developed a structure for the publication, a brief for contributions, set out a timeline and decided on a design direction.

I volunteered to help with editorial work alongside Curatorial Studio founder and facilitator, Kirsteen Macdonald. Our first task was to find a designer. Previously, the group had visited volunteer-run independent book shop Good Press and been graciously shown around by designer and co-founder, Matthew Walkerdine. Our aim was to find examples of publications that we liked. We all gravitated to an issue of the art and poetry magazine The Burning Sand that, as it turned out, Matthew had designed. Luckily, he was available and excited to work on the project with us. All that remained was to write our pieces.

Over the following couple of weeks, we had regular Skype calls and lengthy email chains to discuss our contributions. We needed to figure out how to frame each piece in relation to the others and how our theme, the instruction as a prompt for individual or group learning, would be communicated, through editorial, content and design. After what felt like both the longest and shortest time, Matthew sent through his first draft design layout. Seeing all the ideas, discussion, hard work and planning manifest into something that was suddenly so tangible was exhilarating in a way that’s quite hard to explain.

Ben Callaghan

The Curatorial Studio publication will be launched at Good Press, Glasgow in July. Watch SCAN’s social media channels for more information.