The fifth edition of the Moscow Curatorial Summer School is devoted to the changing meaning and status of things. This development has been especially evident since the beginning of the 21st century, but can be traced back to the growing scepticism towards culture being presentable through things since the second half of the 20th century. As a paradigm shift the questioning of thingness becomes particularly evident in the mode of presentation, which in turn has decisively informed and shaped the societal relevance of the field of the curatorial. Imminently related to presentation as a mode of being (public) in the world, - in terms of practices, methods as well as discourse, - the curatorial has the potential to address, visualize and question the central effects of the changing status and function of things. Even further than that the presentational mode must be considered to have had a generative role in this development, since it participates vitally in the mobilization of things with all its aesthetic, semantic, social and not least economic dimensions.
In the practice of today's globalized exhibition system things are of high mobility just like people, discourses and information. Being thus involved in changing signifying contexts traditional concepts of how things obtain meaning as exhibits begin to dissolve and get re-formulated. This development entails far-reaching consequences for the techniques, strategies and conditions of dealing with them. Among them must be noted a significant shift in the attitude towards exhibits from containers of meaning to "semantic monsters". Initially in Western culture exhibits were understood as repositories of meaning and thereby obtained the central constituting role in the conception of the museum. Just as little as this notion can be generalized in regards to non-Western exhibition practice and institutions, it cannot be applied to the curatorial practice of other disciplines – such as theatre, dance or film. Considering things as "semantic monsters" requires an experimental reflection on notions and methods of presentation, contextualization, actualizing, and documentation taking the ephemerality, immateriality and shifting encounters into consideration.
Finally, things can acquire the status of agents, thus acting as participants in presentational situations. Challenging the line of demarcation between things and human beings necessarily asks for a revision of the concept of presentation. It is particularly evident in museums that present art, craftsmanship, archaeology, ethnography, and anthropology together or separately — like in the Oriental Art Museum where the 5th Moscow Curatorial School will take place. Its collection is based on several private collections dating back to the late 19th century, as well as gifts to the museum and objects discovered during archaeological excavations. Having several official names — Museum of the Nations of the East, Museum of the East and Oriental Art Museum — this exceptional institution draws the distinction between the East and the West as introduced in the discourse of Orientalism and bases the presentation of things on fascination with, and appreciation of, Eastern traditions, philosophy, religion, and culture. The collection of the Oriental Art Museum is divided into regional departments and showcases an outstanding constellation of artifacts, carefully labeled and placed on the historical timeline. This combination of things from the East and the Western tradition of repositories establishes a certain system of relations between things as well as defines the value of each of them and the significance of the collection as a whole, while the museum's research and educational mission let this system remain scientific and objective. But what happens to the status and the role of these things, this relationship and these systems as history goes on? And how do they keep their validity with regard to the notions of the contemporary and the curatorial?