Taken literally a ‘turn’ is simply a change of direction. If someone gets ‘turned’, they’ve switched allegiances or become open to a new way of thinking. The manner in which it appears in curatorial discourse suggests one might draw similarities between the way art is spoken about in terms of movements within periods of art history. These changes in direction are normally towards particular methods and modes of presentation, production and engagement that play to the sympathies and sensibilities of said turn. Every additional turn adds more potential strings to this bow, but also new positions to react to for practitioners.

Art and curating, by their very nature, are constantly moving, looking for the next turn or movement. This tends to be how museums plot and present the development of disciplines over time. These canons celebrate those who change the direction of what it means to be an artist and/or curator, they are then branded and used as reference points throughout discourse.

We can think of academia as being comfortably in a ‘linguistic turn’, perfectly happy with the idea that everything worth anything could be converted in to language and shared forth. This is a nice idea, but as we know from our day to day lives – just because something is written down somewhere doesn’t mean people see it, read it, understand it or act upon it. The sensory turn says, yes, through writing you can send a story from one civilisation to another across thousands of years, but life itself sends its own stories across billions of years (‘The Immortals’, 2014). Il y a du hors texte! ‘The limits of my language are not the limits of my world’. (Howes, 2005).

The ‘social turn’ looked to spark social change through participatory practices, whilst the ‘educational turn’ played with pedagogy and the idea that places of art were also places of learning. Rogoff (2008) unpicks previous turns in order to understand what the term means in relation to ‘the educational turn in curating’. Is it a reading strategy, an interpretive model, the act of reading one system across another or the moment a new horizon emerges? The curatorial turn saw curators rise in to the position of ‘cultural agents’, the framers of cultural understanding (O’Neill, 2007). If a turn can be an awareness of something new and exist outside of art, or be born from art, then how might we push for an ecological turn? Or are we in the midst of one? What does a ‘research communication turn’ in curating look like?


Howes, D. (ed.) (2005) Empire of the Senses. New York: Bloomsbury

NASA (2012) Planets around the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Available at: jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-010

O’Neill, P. (2007) ‘The Curatorial Turn: From Practice to Discourse’’ in Filipovic, J. et al (ed.) The Biennial Reader. Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz

Rogoff, I. (2008) ‘Turning’, e-flux, Journal #00. Available at: e-flux.com/journal/00/68470/turning

‘The Immortals’ (2014) Cosmos, Series 1, episode 11. Netflix