Time, Sensory Experiences, and Film, When Intuition and Research Overlap
I did an arts degree and a fine arts degree at the same time, majoring in painting and gender, sexuality, and culture. I found out that I couldn’t quite get my cultural and my painting studies to merge. When I graduated I started working in a commercial gallery and realised that working with artists was the most exciting thing. That lead me to curating.
Working with film. When I’m curating independently, I tend to work primarily with video art. I have made video essays and shorts in the past, and I plan to pick this up again in the future. I have led playful workshops to make collaborative films in both Thailand and Indonesia with artists and creatives.
Cosmic Futures. It’s the best way to describe my PhD interest. It’s thinking about how people imagine the future beyond earth, space exploration, the colonisation of another planet, or how planets and things beyond the bounds of our atmosphere relate to us here and now, and in the future. Another thread of interest is in anthropological research, looking at ways to decolonise our understandings or ontologies of being, looking at belief systems like animism where different things are seen as alive in nature and having a consciousness. I was interested in whether you could apply this thinking, prevalent in Thailand, to outer space. A lot of those space discussions, particularly coming from an American influence are very colonial: going to the ‘final frontier’ and plant a flag on the moon, seeing it not as alive but as a blank space for us humans to put ourselves onto. Thailand has all these different belief systems, what would happen if I were to look through those futures through a Thai lens? That’s where it came from.
“Haunted Thresholds“ is an exhibition I did, in 2014, at Kunstverein Göttingen. It was the first where I focused on artists from Southeast Asia. I was invited to curate for an academic research network, DORISEA (Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia). I went to Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, and I fell in love with the art scene. I kept a relationship with some artists in Thailand over the years, curating them into exhibitions.
Thai artists in Moscow. In 2014, I also curated Thai artists Nontawat Numbenchapol, Tulapop Saenjaroen, and Chulayarnnon Siriphol, in Moscow, in the exhibition ‘A Brief History of Memory’. It was part of the 4th Moscow International Biennale for Young Art at the Modern Museum, and every floor had different curators. I brought artists who were reflecting on their political situation and blending animistic, sometimes supernatural stories and symbols to talk about the political past and present—because it’s not possible to speak about it directly in Thailand.
Studious. At the moment I am trying to focus on my dissertation, which is in anthropology. I also teach curating at Node Center for Curatorial Studies. Currently it’s a course titled “Expanding Exhibitions: Innovative Approaches to Curating” where I think outside the box (or the White Cube!) and among other things, talk about working with different disciplines (science, anthropology etc.) and different curatorial formats. I am starting a new course in May about developing curatorial concepts in both research-driven and creative ways. I have a few curatorial projects on the downlow but it’s too soon to speak about them.
Sensory experiences. It’s very exciting to me how you bring together different sensory elements in curating an exhibition. It’s not just about sight, but also sound and smell to give someone an experience about an idea. I like that it’s not just words. My ideal situation is when the whole space around an exhibition cohesively reflects its topic. And in terms of what is being communicated, I am very interested in the blurring between fiction and reality, the every day contemporary, or when things go surreal and supernatural. I am often interested in themes of futures, animism, technoscience, and consciousness. I just did an exhibition with eight artists called “Infinities” at the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery, in Goulburn, Australia, about different senses of time, like deep time, or even ‘spiral time’. It was nice because it was my first exhibition in Australia in 9 years. Because of Covid-19, it was also the first time, as a curator, that I did the whole thing online.
I am part of a curatorial collective called insitu collective. We are four curators, each originally from different locations, Nora Mayr (Austria), Marie Graftieaux (France), and Gilles Neiens (Luxembourg). It started as a physical space in Berlin, in 2012, but since 2017 we work without a space and focus more on institutional projects with usually one large exhibition per year. We are almost like family now, Skyping every fortnight and always talking on WhatsApp, but the core of insitu collective is an interest in scenography and storytelling. When we work independently, we do different shows, but when we are together we play on how to create an immersive environment and ring people to a otherworld they would not experience in their daily life.
Exhibitions as fictional characters, and being transparent. One of our projects was “I dreamed I was a house”, at Casino Luxembourg, where we were thinking about the psychological resonance of home, and how different rooms are associated with different psychological states. Think about the stereotypical ones, the basement as the subconscious, the bedroom as a space for desire and intimacy etc…We wanted to play with that and invited five artists to create five rooms. It was a kind of deconstructed skeleton leaning towards the architecture of a house: a hallway, an office, a kids room…We tried to create a holistic experience. We also experimented on whether an exhibition could be a fictional character, like in ‘Jonny’, a kind of otherworldly charismatic version of a futuristic woman imagined from the standpoint of the ‘60s, and based on a song by Rowland S. Howard called “I know a girl called Jonny” written about vocalist Jonnine Standish. We tried to choose artworks that would reflect different facets of her personality, including a work made by the real Jonnine about her fictional self. For the exhibition design, we were inspired by ’60s kitschy futuristic sci-fi B-movies. We had nice feedback, people found it quite intuitive and could get straight away into it. We were always so nervous sending emails inviting people, because no artist in this exhibition ever imagined to be part of an exhibition like Johnny when they created their works. Our strategy from the beginning was to be transparent and honest, so artists would know what they were part of. It’s a very different frame of reference. We had great feedback. One artist, Nancy Buchanan, a feminist artist from the ‘60s, said she was intrigued and honoured to be part of something like that. Among the works was a video piece form the ’20s by Viking Eggeling, Buchanan’s from the ‘60s, and very sleek and glossy works by artists from today like Lotte Meret Effinger. We were able to make new curatorial connections and no-one said ‘no’.
Sensory experiences. It’s important to think about the concentration level of audiences and what you can realistically expect. In the case of Jonny, all videos were under 5 minutes and even then, we didn’t expect people to watch them all through. I always hope that exhibitions can play on multiple levels so there is that first sensory feeling where you can get a taste for what is happening around you, and you then can dive deeper into the topic, or not, and both are ok. For me that’s part of the strength of that immersive approach, you don’t need to stand there and read an essay on a wall for a long time. Different formats have different strengths whether it’s a dissertation, an exhibition or a film, and I find it exciting to try to play to the strength of the format I’m working with.
Writing is a love-hate relationship. I get the most satisfaction out of writing and I really enjoy editing. I think there are some parallels between editing and curating. But it’s always a struggle, and it takes me a lot of time to write.
I have to read academically but I try to make time to read for pleasure. At this moment I am reading Chinese science-fiction novel “The Three-Body Problem” by Cixin Lin, centering around physics. You would think with my PhD related to outer space, that I am a sci-fi fan but I am not, yet I am really excited about this. I also recently really enjoyed a book by science writer Lulu Miller, “Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life”. It’s based on the real story of a biologist and taxonomist who is responsible for discovering one fifth of the fish population in the world. His entire collection (aka his life’s work) was destroyed in an accident which he then tried to rebuild. It became a story about our desire to create order from chaos, and more broadly about such human desires.
When I travel I take a lot of photos, it’s my way to document everything. One of my favourite things is seat in a cafe and write my observations. I can let my thoughts run freely compared to when I am at my desk. I also love to eat and try new food, but I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
I used to have a lot of trouble changing mindsets between my activities and it was difficult to keep up with doing different things at the same time, but at the moment I am in this golden period where everything I am doing feeds each other, the teaching, the curating, the dissertation, they all support each other. I am very glad about that.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, one of my recent favourites is called The Rabbit Hole, it’s about the YouTube algorithm and how it was leading to people being radicalised in different ways. They took a really well-researched approach that crossed from interviews with one of YouTube’s original algorithm architects, to YouTuber PewDiePie, to people who fell in and out of QAnon. Another one is Longform, I love hearing about how other people write and work. But what started my love for podcasts was Radiolab, and that one I find very useful for curating. I like how they stack together ideas on top of each other. For example, they would have an episode on loops, and give three very different ways of looking at what a loop can be.
My favourite time of the week is Friday when I visit my sister, who is also in Berlin, and I play with my two nieces (three and one-year old). With kids, you are always in the moment, it’s a joyful and absurd kind of experience which is cathartic, especially during Covid times. On weekends, my husband and I go on long discovery walks in different suburbs. I also love to fantasise about food. My husband calls me the ‘indulgence master’, but I am not a cook, I am just good at making something better than it already is, like if we have Italian, I suggest we have a negroni, not just a glass of wine.
If I wasn’t a curator—if you ask my child self, I wanted to be a vulcanologist. My early adult self actually only applied for one art course, the rest was psychology, I left it to fate. So I guess psychology would be my other career. Having said that, I didn’t know at that age that what I am doing now was possible.
Lauren Reid (born 1983 Melbourne, Australia. Lives and works in Berlin, Germany) is a curator, researcher and educator. She is Co-Director of insitu collective, Lecturer in Curatorial Practice at Node Centre for Curatorial Studies and a PhD Candidate in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Freie Universität, Berlin with the project ‘Thinking Beyond the Final Frontier: Cosmic Futures in Thailand’.
Through exhibition-making, writing and moving images, she explores themes that span from extraterrestrial cultures to animism, passing through the Anthropocene, parapsychology and speculative techno-scientific futures. In her curatorial practice, she creates immersive experiences that activate all the senses as a method to bring audiences inside the world of a topic, be it outer space, a future nuclear waste repository, or a fictional character.
Since 2010, Lauren has curated exhibitions at locations such as the Moscow Museum of Modern Art for the IV Moscow International Biennale for Young Art; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany; Kunsthal Viborg, Denmark as part of the European Capital of Culture 2017; Casino – Forum d´Art Contemporain, Luxembourg; and Kunstverein Göttingen, Germany.