At the beginning of the year, Dr. Alexandra Ross joined the CCA as a post-doctoral research fellow. We are very excited to have her working at the CCA and will keep you updated on her many exciting plans and projects. For now, we just want to tell you a bit more about her and her fascinating work and interests.

Dr. Ross’s research path has been somewhat nuanced, weaving together law, museology, curating and fine art. As a result, a great deal of her projects bring together a variety of voices and initiate moments in interstitial spaces which all too often fall off the record and off the pages of the history books.

Within the context of the curatorial, her research explores the terrain, norms, possibilities and limitations of the medium of conversation. It mines the history of the curatorial by approaching the context through an engagement with the dialogical processes at work within the field. Paying particular attention to conversation within broader dialogical practices, her research addresses the curatorial with sensitivity to the nuance of conversation. Whilst conducting her doctoral research it became apparent from preparatory conversations with experts in the field of curatorial practice and theory that conversation resides within every layer of the curatorial; from its conception and reception to its practice and critique.

Her PhD thesis entitled ‘Continuous Curatorial Conversations: An Exploration of the Role of Conversation within the Capturing of Supplementary Histories of the Curatorial’ used the contemporary art biennial as the site for accessing multiple voices and practitioners who participate in the curatorial. Through a practice-led exploration into the possibilities and limitations of conversation as a medium, she was attentive to the role of transcription as it relates to recording and presentation of conversational practices; the location, dramaturgy and choreography of the space; and the importance of a convivial approach to recording.

Undergoing beta testing, there is a website relating to her research Continuous Curatorial Conversations aimed at enabling a community-led, user-generated compilation of supplementary histories which appropriately emphasises the oral nature of curatorial practice. The emphasis on the role of conversation within curatorial practice is due to the importance and proportion of time spent engaging with the medium of conversation, not only as the crucial tool within in the curator’s toolkit, but also as a fragile and temporal medium that if not adequately captured, falls away into silence.

As it currently stands, this online platform serves two purposes: to act as an audio archive for her doctoral research, and to create a platform for future user-generated uploads and access to the oral history of curating and surrounding critique. It is transitioning into a space dedicated to hosting a multitude of voices and themes generated wider than this initial network.

The artists Barry Baker and William Furlong’s vast Audio Arts cassette based magazine and project is an example of how conversation within artistic practice has been valued, documented and archived. Although not wishing to replicate such a format or methodology, her practice certainly draws from it with admiration. It is proposed that the curatorial community could learn a great deal from adopting practices of engagement that have been adeptly experimented with and utilised by artists for decades.

There is an intention towards minimal or no editing of the audio files in order to remain as close to the real-time dynamic of the conversation. Resultantly, the audio is not that which you may expect in the conventional ‘interview’ format, as many of the conversations have been collated in unusual circumstances, at a time convenient during hectic surrounding events and in some places not ideally suited for archival quality audio recording. It is hoped that rather than detract from the content, it pulls the listener closer to the context of the conversation so as to feel privy to a moment otherwise undocumented. Issues such as, truth-telling, self-editing, the unutterable, self-promotion, the curatorial ego, self-deprecation, and other issues run through her research. Continuous Curatorial Conversations had from its conception an intention to think, or rather talk through issues surrounding curatorial practice, and how and why to document them. To be clear, the audio files housed on the site are not interviews, they are conversations around a theme or between individuals on the subject of curatorial practice, whereby there is no agenda or expected outcome.

She looks forward to working interdisciplinarily not just within UCT, but further afield. As a keen cook, many of her event-based works are thoroughly social affairs. The focus of her research at the CCA will be exploring the art object from the perspective of its creator, the artist, in order to give voice to the process of art-making.

See her CCA profile here.