One Project At a Time, Curator Ana Cristina Cachola Expands her Academic Research into Shows, Comics, and Other Fun and Activist Interventions
It seems that I do many things at once: I am a teacher, a curator and I am involved in several independent and institutional projects, but the truth is that it all comes from my research in cultural and artistic studies. The results of this investigation are often different: it can be a paper, an exhibition, a cartoon, a book, a conference, or a transdisciplinary project. I try to mirror the complex and varied energy of the cultural field. I am learning to stop when I get tired. But dealing with the pressure of productivity is an essential learning experience for each of us at the moment. It is a form of subjective ecology, in other words, a healthy way of dealing with the diversity of our cultural environments with respect and ethics for each other’s time, energy, boundaries, and fulfilment.
I do research that mainly materializes into curatorial, writing and teaching forms.
This semester I’m teaching Theories of Representation to nearly fifty students from the BAs in Social and Cultural Communication and Applied Foreign Languages at the School of Human Sciences of the Catholic University of Portugal, where I am assistant professor since 2011. Students come from all over the world. Because of Covid-19 and the recent state of emergency in Portugal, we are teaching the modules online, with follow-up video calls with students twice a week. I learned a lot from teaching online, that I needed to present more visuals and do more individual follow-ups. It was a good challenge, and I love challenges. I also supervise several master’s theses about contemporary art and gender studies. I have learned a lot too from supervising theses. Most of them are by students of the Master in Culture Studies, The Lisbon Consortium (a network between the university and the main cultural institutions in Lisbon), so I had the pleasure to supervise theses about Borders and Gender in Israel (by Zohar Iancu), Soft Power and The Louvre Abu Dhabi (by Martin Poiret), or The Performative Language of the Transgender Artist Linn da Quebrada (by Luiz Novais Nunes), among many others.
My routine to keep all of my projects afloat is to wake up early, around 7 am (if I didn’t go out the night before). I take my cup of coffee for the day, and go seat in front of my computer. I manage working from home very well. When I wrote my PhD thesis in 2015, I stayed home for six months, only going out for groceries and the occasional dinners out. Now I work on my various projects depending on the days. It can be my pos-doc research (titled “The War as way of Seeing – visuality of conflict in contemporary art”) that mixes curating and academic writing, or it can be working for the exhibitions that I am curating, or writing scripts for comics. Since last year I am doing art criticism in comics with Xavier Almeida (he draws, of course) for a fanzine that is part of Estrela Decadente, an amazing project founded by Xavier in 2016 that joins music programs, exhibitions and the edition of comics fanzines. It is not mainstream, it is an alternative and political program with great quality and the team that puts its together is incredible. The title of our series is “O artista sem trabalho a pensar no trabalho da arte” (the artist without a job thinking about the work of art, in Portuguese it makes more sense because we use the same word for job and work). I write about the art system in different ways. For instance, I did a script in which I talked about the exhibition organized by Pedro Cabrita Reis with just female artists, the fact that he—a white cis hetero male artist, who never cared about feminism or included it in the discourse of the exhibition—organized it. I talked as well about the reckless comments that the exhibition sparked, such as saying those artists were only there because they are female. Some of these critics came from agents that are involved in exhibitions with only male artists, but they never care about that. Actually, I think that people just couldn’t deal with the fact that there was an exhibition just with female artists. I write about cultural policies as well, in another script I say that I want a very long period of vacations, as long as the revision of the arts patronage law. The cultural sector has been waiting for years for it. So, I don’t critique exhibitions in the sense that I don’t write about artworks but mainly about practices and themes.
It is very important for me to have an openly feminist project in Portugal at the moment, because we are seeing worrying ways of dealing with this issue. On the one hand, female-only exhibitions have emerged, but they erase the idea of feminism completely, without referencing the activism, the theory, the artists, and the works of art associated to it. Removing feminism from exhibitions that exist only thanks to the hard work done by artists, theorists, and feminist activists who denounced the lack of visibility of women artists for decades, is dangerous, ignorant, and even pathetic. On the other hand, several circuits of contemporary art in Portugal advocate the need for quotas. But women continue to work despite all forms of discrimination with poor pay and less visibility. Women do not need quotas, they need a level playing field. Those who need quotas are the curators and other sexist cultural agents, so they are less lazy when the direct their research and without them basing it on the most visible or accessible artists.
So I have a new independent curatorial project since March 2020 called quéréla, located in a side-room of O Armário, a non-profit exhibition space ran by the wonderful Benedita Pestana. Originally querela means quarrel or trouble in Portuguese, but by misspelling it with the addition of the accents it reads “quer ela” (she wants). It comes from the investigations of two feminist scholars, British-Australian Sara Ahmed and American Donna Haraway, on the concept of trouble and on the use of the word itself. Quéréla is a feminist project. The first exhibition opened a few days before the quarantine, on March 7, with Guiné-Bissau-born poet and artist Gisela Casimiro. This project, an installation made from pages of her poetry book “Erosão” (Erosion), is based on intersectional feminism. Casimiro works a lot with the themes of racism, but as well as on the experiences of day-to-day life, and on understanding emotions.
The best way to work with a team is to be aware of what you are bad at, and to try that others don’t have to deal with it. Having said that, I love working with a team. I also do collaborations often, in research and in curating.
The best way to know an artist is to really be willing to meet her/him, to spend time with her/him, and also do the proper research. Curating requires a lot of dedicated work and research. Currently, I am preparing the next edition of Walk & Talk in Azores in which I will be working with a lot of artists. For that I was in the Azores last year with them, we had group and private meetings along the way, and recently online. I researched and we shared ideas. The most time you spend with someone, the easier it is to work with him or her. For instance, I have curated many shows and written texts with curator and colleague Daniela Agostinho, and we are currently planning an exhibition with Portuguese artist Igor Jesus, who works in photography, installation, and film. I often work with them both, and is always challenging and easy at the same time. Back in 2017, Igor was doing artistic research on a very defiant project based on Pasolini’s final film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975). This resulted in a series of meetings and talks with the actors Umberto Chessari and Bruno Musso (two of the three actors who performed as slaves in the movie) and Igor incorporate this material in the exhibition Love you to Bones (Filomena Soares, 2017). When Igor invited me and Daniela to write the text he was in Lisbon, I was in Venice, and Daniela in Copenhagen, and we have totally different routines, I just write early morning, Daniela late afternoon, and Igor barely sleeps. At the end we made it, after we got money from Instituto Camões to publish the book. We launched the book and presented the exhibition in Berlin. Now we got a grant from Oporto Municipality to develop the project further and so we are working on that now.
I never curate a show without believing in the ethics of it (and ethics are totally different from morals). I need to be sure that the show is giving something to the people involved and to the environment. So, it is important that everybody that is involved has all the means to do their work, logistical, financial, emotional, and that people are happy, at least by the end. João Laia, who is a curator I really admire and a good friend, told me while we were having dinner after a show I had curated, that one way to know how good a show is, is to watch how happy the artists are during the opening. That dinner the artists were quite happy! Artists in Portugal face a terribly precarious situation, aggravated now with the COVID-19 crisis, and happiness is not easy to achieve.
To keep sane I hang out with my friends, outside or inside the art world. Or I spend hours with them on the phone.
When I am not working I can be found in a bar or a disco because I love going out at night. I think it has enormous potential in the production of emotional, affective and even theoretical knowledge. All of this is fun because I’m talking about ways of producing feelings and ideas that are not connected to productivity in the capitalist sense of the word. After long periods of work and research, when you go out in an informal context, a lot of ideas make sense, and of course you get to meet a lot of amazing people, and have many interesting conversations. Some years ago, I was working collectively with Daniela Agostinho and Joana Mayer in Pipi Colonial, an intersectional feminist project. In 2017, when the artists Sara & André invited us to participate in the exhibition “Curated Curators” (that led to their book “A Brief History of Curatorship”, 2019) we presented a project named “Night Studies”. It was Daniela who came up with the name. The premise of the exhibition was that curators presented artworks with artists, so we gave Rita Ferreira a lot of pictures of us three going out, and she came out with a series of abstract drawings.
My latest favourite piece of music is by Portuguese vocalist Cátia Sá. I have been listening to her solo album “Da barriga”, I like that she draws from different oral traditions for her ballads, and sings about social themes. Don’t miss it. I am also reading “Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism” by Ariella Azoulay, where Azoulay revisits and denounces the spread of institutional imperialism through particular historical cases and from the point of view of characters that lived through historical moment of violence.
What drives me more about curating is always remembering what curating is about: taking care of artworks. To be careful, and acknowledge that ethics and aesthetics are the two faces of the same coin.
Other types of arts such as music or theatre are important for me because contemporary art is the production of knowledge about all kinds of culture. Being a curator demands that you know what is happening in the arts in general, there is no separation. But you also need to know how social media works, how people are living, etc. Curating is about all kinds of knowledge, not only about the display of artworks.
In curating, when I need to go back to basics I just talk to the artists as I would talk to my friends. Moreover, I like to work with artists that are my friends, or I like that they become my friends after I work with them.
My perfect holiday is anywhere near the beach. I changed my opinion on this since last year. Before, I used to prefer city holidays.
My go-to piece of clothing is anything that I can wear on a really hot day, like a soft dress. I love summer and everything about it.
My favourite piece of tech is…Technology hates me.
The perfect meal with friends is having pizza and beer in an Italian restaurant near my place in Lisbon. Sorry I prefer beer, even though I know that another drink would be more appropriate.
I am already an art collector. Actually, my father is, and I work with him a lot. We collect contemporary art made by Portuguese artists. My father being a collector has a big influence on my work. As I usually say, I don’t suddenly become an orphan when I am curating or teaching. I remain very conscious of the possibility of conflict of interests, and the fact that I have many privileges—I try to make the best use of them. However, conflict of interest is one type of conflict that I avoid, because as Sarah Schulman says in her 2016 book “Conflict is not Abuse”, when we believe that something is wrong, we have the duty to repair it. Community has a responsibility when facing discrimination, inequalities, violence, and all kinds of harassment. I am part of the coordinating committee of 4Cs: From Conflict to Conviviality through Creativity and Culture, an European project co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union, lead by the Catholic University of Portugal, where we discuss this topic. It is a project that wishes to address how art cultural and academic institutions are powerful resources to reflect about social conflict(s) and warfare while contributing to create conviviality. Conviviality is a way to be together that allows differences, that paradoxically are sometimes discussed through conflicts. This is a big project that takes many forms with multiple partners, and an online platform.
I imagine my 10 years older self is visiting me from the future today and she would tell me to learn to say “no”. Sometimes I say yes to too many things.
If I wasn’t curating I would be doing anything that implies to be close to people. I love people. I hate silence and being alone (even if I can deal with it well).
Ana Cristina Cachola
Independent curator and Assistant Professor at the School of Human Sciences of the Catholic University of Portugal, Lisbon
Ana Cristina Cachola is an Assistant Professor at the School of Human Sciences of the Catholic University or Portugal since 2011. In the recent years she has been teaching in the MA and PhD program in Culture Studies at the Lisbon Consortium and at the department of Communication in different subjects (Methods of Cultural Analysis, Cultural Management, Theories of Representation, etc.) She holds a PhD in Culture Studies and a Master degree in Communication and Cultural Management from the Catholic University of Portugal.She was awarded a stipend to conduct her doctoral research on representations of Portuguese cultural identity in contemporary art. She is currently developing a post-doc research on war and visuality in contemporary art with a grant of the Portuguese Science Foundation (FCT).She is also one of the members of the European Cooperation project 4Cs: from Conflict to Conviviality through Creativity and Culture, a 4-year long project co-funded by the European Commission through Creative Europe, and lead by Universidade Católica Portuguesa. The project brings together together institutional partners such as Tensta Kunsthall, SAVVY Contemporary – Laboratory of Form-Ideas, Royal College of Art, Fundació Antoni Tápies, Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts, Museet for Samtidskunst, and ENSAD to explore the role of artistic institutions on emerging forms of conflict (https://4cs-conflict-conviviality.eu/). She is co-founder of Diffractions – Graduate Journal for the Study of Culture), and a member of the Research Centre for Communication and Culture (CECC). She works as an independent curator in Portugal and abroad (MAAT, Gulbenkian Foudation, Appleton Square, La Nave-Madrid, 50Golborne-London, etc.) and writes about contemporary art for several outlets. In 2016 she founded Pipi Colonial (Colonial Pussy) with Daniela Agostinho e Joana Mayer, a curatorial a research feminist collective. She is a member of the political and artistic collective Estrela Decadente since 2019. In 2020 she founded the independent curatorial feminist project quéréla, in Lisbon.