Curators Are Like Bridges, What We Learned From Curators Since the Inception of the Magazine in February
The pleasure of reading interview answers, comes in assorted flavours, and two of them, certainly, are appreciation and surprise. Appreciation for the obvious dedication to the work that perspire from every conversation, and surprise for the unexpected twists some answers provide. Welcome to this admittedly partisan slant about what we (me, at the very least) learned from interviewing curators for Curtain, since the magazine’s inception in February. Most of the people I initially approached, I knew already (some are even friends). How else was I to convince members of one of the busiest professions there is, to halt and satisfy my curious investigations, more often than not directed at their personal lives and states of mind, rather than their work strictly? (Curators love interviews, don’t get me wrong, but they usually favour those about their shows, and the theories and intellectual concepts behind them).
Picture curators as bridges between artists and the world, if bridges had a point of view, in addition to visibility. Curators love working with artists, even when they, like Lagos-based Kennii Ekundayo does, describe artists as a different breed of humans. One of the motivations behind the work of a curator is to help articulate and bring to a visible platform the work of an artist. Sometimes, it means the curatorial task outlasts the artist’s life. Ekundayo is currently developing an exhibition of works by late Nigerian artist Dr. David Dale (1947-2019), from a conversation she started with him before his passing. Love and support are also expressed when the curator uses her influence and network towards the sustainability of someone’s career. This can be as straighforward in reality, as bringing them to the attention of the market. Such is the case of Ana Carolina Ralston in Brazil, who introduces young artists to the gallery she’s in collaboration with.
And apparently curators can also be working companions to artists on a particular project, and not only be there when the project is completed. See how Zian Chen proposes a practice where curators and artists work hand in hand on research-based projects. He’s talking from experience, having worked as co-author on several stories with artists, including a film on the museum boom in China and a futuristic short fiction.
Also, art is more hopeful than politics (and so are bridges). As Marina Reyes Franco, pointed out, curating is a hopeful endeavour, and art provides a space to talk about issues, where politics fail to do so. She should know, she relinquished the latter to join the former, to bring forth public issues and artists’ works, from an island that still has the de facto status of a colony to the United States. Yes, still today, in 2020.
Bridges can be liminal political spaces too. In this way, this is where resides, Luigi Fassi, who works at MAN Contemporary Art Museum in Sardinia, “a place of migration and social injustice set against a landscape of idyllic natural beauty”. From there, he can facilitate timely exhibitions and residencies that are able to filter some of the many fluctuations coming to Europe from the south (by extension, the southern hemisphere). But if Fassi sits on the North-South divide, with a Mediterranean twist, often curators point at the need to create other conversations and transversal links:
Curators welcome the reading of art that is not only Western, or main-centres-centric (or usual power-centres-centric). It means, to create connections between regions on the East-West axis for example, or what Carlos Antunes, founder of the Coimbra Biennale, with Désirée Pedro, poetically named the sunrise and sunset axis. Or what, Zoe Butt, (from The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre) is working on, by establishing collaborations in Southeast Asia that bypass Western centres, thus allowing other readings on art (and art history) to emerge. Those are not necessarily in reaction to what was, but are often motivated by practical reasons and local taste, as well as an attentive listening to what needs to be done to fill the gaps in art history. Notably, in the Azores, Jessie James and Sofia Botelho (from Walk&Talk) also mention the need to work closer to home, more collaboratively, and consequently ditching the concept of the superstar travelling curator in the process.
Curators care about the representation of women in the arts. I am not one who particularly appreciates exhibitions or books based on the women-only bias, because such qualifier often distracts from the (excellent) quality of the works, but curator, Snejana Krasteva, from Garage, made a great point when she said that “for another ten years we should still very consciously fight the gender imbalance in terms of women artists in collections and art history. After this, we can forget this gender-oriented approach.” The bridge simile can carry on, for it offers a beautiful place of transition. Alia Swastika, from the Yogyakarta Biennale Foundation, is also actively working on gathering documentation and publishing books on Indonesian women artists who were silenced from art history in the ‘70s (including by their male colleagues). As for curator Ana Cristina Cachola, she launched an openly feminist project in Lisbon, because she openly (and that includes cool art criticism comics) disapproves misogynist attitudes in the Portuguese art scene that surrounds her.
Curators often step out of the art field. Singaporean Luis Ho, on a trip to Seoul, went on tracking down buildings throughout the Korean capital by Korean architect, Kim Chung-Up, after seeing an exhibition of his work, thus chasing down in real life what he saw in models. (By the way, he also supports artists from the LGBT community, by collecting their work). Often curators think transversally and include other fields, even mainstream ones, to their practices. In this way, Ricky Francisco, collaborated with radio and television host, Gang Banoy, because of her activism and reach, to create educational programmes where they ended up targeting workers from Manila’s call centres. Clearly, curating can also be in support of mental health.
Medium might have to be explored further on Curtain, I feel. In particular, the Internet and video. Although of course we had Hitomi Hasegawa, who curates video a lot, and she talked to me about an exhibition that “consists only of works from the Internet”. And very obviously the interview with founders of the online free platform blinkvideo (do register if you haven’t yet), Julia Sökeland and Anita Beckers, was only about video. (Blinkvideo is a library of video works, that also showcases video festivals and curates reviews of video exhibitions, it’s brilliant).
Curators often work better when they do so for a cause bigger than themselves (performance art, queer, women, ultimately, the artists). In the end, it won’t be only on the quality of their exhibitions than curators will be judged, but also on their propensity to facilitate exchanges and growth within the art scene. This is what inspired my choice of our first interviewee, Rose Lejeune, who launched a platform for performance art in London. She did so despite finding the process scary, but she did so with the support of her community. It is revealing of how curators (even those who work independently) are often those with the strength to connect and mobilize.
We are aware than the art industry is more often than not thriving in a self-absorbed bubble. In the art world, we criticise this fact as much as we encourage it, with guilty delight. Curtain is affectionately here for that bubble, because it is fragile after all, but it is also here to open a door to those who love art and would like to deepen their understanding of it. Prior to accepting to be interviewed, Austin/Mexico city-based curator, Leslie Moody Castro, told me: “I did peruse, Curtain, I am so impressed, it’s beautiful, and the interviews really are wonderful. I definitely appreciate the more conversational tone. It really disrupts the idea that curators are unapproachable.” Moody Castro, who processes much of her curatorial practice through writing, as it turns out, (she even organised a performative exhibition around the theme of the writer’s block) couldn’t have given us a lovelier compliment.