this post is the second in a series on worship curation
 opening up a series of reflections
what is it that a curator thinks about in relation to curating worship? in the first post i laid out a very practical list that i drew up for people taking the curation role in grace - thanks to the people who have commented btw. if you follow in a newsreader you're missing that part of the conversation. i'm beginning to think this is going to be a really interesting conversation as it plays out. i have started to and fro-ing with a few people via e-mail and plan to publish a series of interviews over the next few months.
in retrospect i'm not sure if such a practical post was the best way to start. maybe it was too functional? so let me come at the question of what it is that a curator might think about by suggesting it is three things: articulation, imagination and continuity. this is not my original thought! it's from an essay in curating subjects by simon sheikh on the techniques of the curator where he suggests that as curating looks to the future it should centre round these three notions.
worship imagines a world, nothing less. sheikh suggests in relation to exhibition making that if the curator is happy with the way the world is now they should continue to make exhibitions as always and repeat the formats and circulations. but if they are not content with the world they are in in a broad sense, and in the art world, then they will have to produce other exhibitions. i find this such a resonant idea. i'm not content with the world - globally, politically, or indeed the church world or the way worship is played out and imagines the world. so if you are curating worship what kind of a world do you imagine, do you make? maybe that is the most important question any of us can ask and it will probably take a lifetime to answer? if you are restless perhaps it is because you don't like the world being made for you by other imaginaries? i was talking with someone yesterday who had been at a christian exhibition for their organisation running a stand talking to the punters at a conference. but they were next to a stand that was selling worship cds for your church - if you didn't have a worship band, you could simply plug in their cds and sing along. the music played non stop for three days and nearly drove my friend insane. but the point is what kind of world is being imagined?! i want to create a totally different one. reflecting on alternative worship, which is where the notion of worship curation has come from, i think it has been about imagining new worlds, new relationships, new strategies and tactics, and counter-publics, about saying that other worlds are indeed possible, that business as usual simply will not do.
so these three themes...
articulation. this is how sheikh puts it (substitute worship for art or exhibition as you read any of these quotes):
worship is an articulation of something, of how things could be seen. i think this is really helpful. as a community or a curator you have a vision, a take. it might not be fully worked out but it is definitely not a neutrality. i think we sometimes want to pretend about this. if i reflect on this in grace, taking something like communion, we have articulated a radical vision of hospitality and welcome around the table in most of our liturgies - this is deliberately in the face and counter to the imagination of a world where only the insiders are welcomed. in the song table of christ one of the lines is 'come if the church stops you at the door'. this is articulation. articulation is also around more subtle things like deconstructing the front, or the role of the expert or priest, around posture and layout, and around the use of culture and popular culture in worship - making a world out of the stuff of everyday life rather than articulating a world which runs in parallel to the rest of life. i love the phrase 'an offering but not a handout'. art rarely works when it shouts - maybe punk is the exception?! and worship is the same. it's good to have clarity about what you want to articulate but it needs to be offered and explored rather than shouted and dictated. the tone and posture are really important. i also like it when art is multi-valent - functions at many levels and meanings so people can find a number of pathways through. but let's not pretend that this doesn't then have an articulation...
imagination. i go on and on about imagination and creativity. it's what it means to image god - such a gift. and the curating is a process about imagination. it's the fun part. at a macro level it's about ways of seeing, imagining another world, but it's also about imagining at the level of the process of coming up with ideas and dreaming things that have not been done before or have a different take. i will come back to the process of how people come up with ideas in interviews with people i hope. but it's so exciting to be involved in the making and producing in this way. i like to think sometimes that the angels sit in the rafters or on the balcony thinking what on earth are these crazy people going to do to worship today?! and we keep surprising them and bringing smiles to their faces. beach hut advent calendars, stations of the cross in public art galleries, embedding prayers in slabs of concrete, slapping containers of installations in city centres, sending surprises through the post, welcoming people dressed in contamination suits, guerilla worship... - i love what you guys dream and have dreamt and is yet to be dreamed. imagination - it's a muscle that can be developed and needs to be flexed and there's nothing better for it than being around other people flexing imagination, maybe it's a habit that can be caught.
continuity. i'll pick up on this more in interviews. but art/worship has a history a narrative or histories depending on who does the telling no doubt. there is a tradition, a line of ancestory, a communion of artists/saints worldwide and down the ages. to curate is to locate in this line sometimes straight, other times kicking off from, subverting, giving a new spin to, and opening up the traditions. it's how traditions get remade and taken forward. and the beauty of the art world and church world is that there is so much to play with. but it is a continuity whatever way you look at it even if sometimes a rupture is brought to that continuity. if you are located in a particular denominational setting (as we are in grace) this affords certain rules/logic/grammar. if you are outside of that, continuity will play out slightly differently. but the point is as a curator or team how are you locating in relation to continuity of the worlds before and the world to come? alternative worship in this respect was much keener to stress continuity and location in tradition in contrast with the modernising moves of worship in the 70s and 80s that broke with continuity going for the new.
this was going to be a quick post over breakfast and has extended a bit!... but a final quote from sheikh