A Multifaceted Curatorial Practice as a Direct Extension of Writing and Research
I’m an archetype of Bourdieu’s theories—my “cultural capital”, sort of predestined my professional ambitions. What else could be expected of me with an artist for a father? I grew up surrounded by turpentine oil and artists. I did my first group show hanging for my father and his friends at 15 years old. Unlike my five sisters, I don’t have any talents, so naturally, I turned to the art market. Initially, I studied art history to be an auctioneer. But I quickly realised that I wanted to become a curator, I wanted to think an exhibition from A to Z, promote it, and highlight the work of artists. I also wanted to discover new artistic scenes, and understand the world and its changes through art.
What drives me forward the most about curating is to experience and discover. I consider my curatorial practice as an extension of my writing and my theoretical research. The exhibition becomes a language in its own right, here to question an artistic practice, a concept etc. In my opinion, my exhibitions are a form of mediation between the artist, the audiences, and my theoretical research.
I don’t have any preference between group or solo shows. It depends of the project and my desire at the moment. Sometimes, it’s preferable do look deeper into an artist’s process, consider an entire series for example, and extend the reflection about their work. I did this with the performative work on resilience of Sarah Trouche, at Vanessa Quang Gallery, in 2017, or with Emeric Lhisset—whose work reflects the relationship between contemporary art and photojournalism, drawing from several years of investigation in conflict areas—in “A l’Ouest Rien de Nouveau” at gallery GVQ in Paris, in 2013.
The group show is a different exercise, which I experience more regularly because of my research as an art critic. My curatorial practice is a true extension of my writing work, which recently has been delving in the aesthetics of the fragment.
Before starting a project, the first thing I ask an artist is … What are their desires and expectations about our collaboration? From my experience working in galleries and institutions in the past, it’s important for me to be attentive to the needs of the artist and to understand what they need at that moment of their career. This can sometimes guide my way of thinking about the exhibition, and whether or not I accompany the creative process. We do not think of an exhibition in the same way whether the artist needs to sell in order to finance his production, or whether he wishes to return to an institution.
I often disagree with certain colleagues on this subject. But in my opinion, ignoring the needs of an artist’s career is to eclipse part of the role of the curator. Artists and their works are not just a pretext for translating and mediating our research. We are there to support them in their careers. A good exhibition can change the situation for an artist, it is important to promote the role of the curator in this process of legitimisation.
Writing and curating are two practices that feed off of each other. An exhibition is a form of writing. Borders are very porous. And recently, I have been developing a form of writing that can turn itself into an exhibition. I have just finished my first book: “Fragments” with Naïma editions, with the support of the Antoine de Galbert Foundation. I wrote it following a writing residency at the Caza d´Oro Art Center, in the south of France. I evoke the work of six female artists in Occitania around the aesthetics of the fragment, based on interviews with them and research. The residency fell during the second lockdown, but the exhibition project that was to accompany the writing work collapsed. Eventually, I envisioned the project as a series of exhibitions instead of one end-of-residency exhibition. Sometimes I present one work, sometimes a series, and sometimes a particular aspect that may intersect with the artists’ approaches. The reader can read the texts as a whole, and understand my reflection on the aesthetics of the fragment as a memory paradigm and an ode to time. Or they can discover the work of the artists written about in a completely independent way. Extracts from the interviews are available as wall texts. There is this choice to experience the exhibition with or without mediation.
My routine to keep all of my projects afloat is … My consumption of chocolate is impressive and I don’t need a big amount of sleep! I set goals for the year, I wake up at 6AM every day, I’m the queen of to-do list and Trello Boards. Usually, I prepare projects one year in advance, or longer, and I reserve fall and winter for writing and prospecting: studio visits, texts commissions, business trips. I organise my exhibitions during spring and summer. During the summer holidays, I take the time to update my portfolio, my website, and enter new contacts for my newsletter, between two visits to the beach. I also take this opportunity to apply for residencies and calls for projects. The rest of the year I hardly have time. With two young children, I decided to work only 6 days a week between 9h30AM am and 4PM. On Saturdays I visit exhibitions with them.
I know I should work more and take time for networking, but disconnecting during my time off is necessary for me to recharge my batteries. It may not be a strategic choice for my career, but otherwise, I would be unable to continue to love what I do without feeling like a bad mother.
Voodoo. For those who follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I very often write sticky notes on my hands. On opening days, I sometimes make a little Basquiat’s crown with a black pen on my body or directly on my clothes. I read an article as a student where he explained the link between his signature—voodoo—and his success …
Close to the water. When I am not curating and I’m in Paris, you can find me in a café near the Seine or in a park. When I am in Corsica—at a beach bar with friends or with a book. For me water is a visceral need, like for many islanders.
Traveling notebook. When I travel I always take with me my Moleskine notebook and a pencil!
The book that still haunts me is“Vox”, a dystopian novel by Christina Dalcher. In the near future, women wear necklaces that count the number of words they are allowed per day, which is one hundred, otherwise they risk electric shocks.
Slowing down during the pandemic. The worst impact of the health crisis has been financial. Otherwise, I loved the slowing down of the art market, which is usually measuring our lives at the discretion of fairs and biennales. This has not changed my working methods, however. Because I have been dividing my time between Paris and Corsica for years, online appointments and meetings—I already practiced them. I can even say that for once, I was on equal footing with other curators and art critics.
Music and literature influence me a lot. Currently, I’m preparing the second part of a project around Roland Barthes’s text “Fragments d’un discours amoureux” (A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments) at the Ségolène Brossette gallery, in Paris, opening on March 8, 2022. The first part was a reflection on the paradigm of loneliness in love, and it happened last year at the gallery. This time the starting point is a song by Georges Brassens about the notion of boredom in the couple. I’m always perplexed by the curators with a specialty for one medium only. I am incapable of it. For me, everything is a pretext for experimentation, playing with borders and the porosity between artistic forms brings a multiplicity of views and a better understanding of our world. I like the word “porous”, it has something of both the sensory and the exchange. We can notice the necessity of the meeting with the other. And I think that’s the role of a curator.
I love pasta with truffles! But I don’t like cook, ha ha. I prefer when someone else makes it for me. I would like to live in Italy one day, it’s my favourite dish at the restaurant. But I do very well the Corsican Brocciu (Corsican cheese donuts). Unfortunately, it’s a secret recipe given to me by my grand-mother. I can’t share it with you, she will be turning in her grave!
If I wasn’t curating I would still be in the art world. I would be in charge of a private or institutional collection. This is another way of helping artists and promoting their work, isn’t it?
Paris & Corsica, France
After graduating a Masters degree in Art History and Cultural Engineering at La Sorbonne in 2011, Madeleine Filippi has been an independent curator and art critic ever since. She directs her researches around the following axes: Archive(s) – memory(s) – language(s), within public and private cultural institutions (Beirut Art Fair, Colombo Art Biennale, Frac Champagne Ardenne, National House Museum Bonaparte etc.). After having been co-chief-editor of Diapo magazine, specialized in performance, she was director of the Vanessa Quang gallery (Paris, France). Then, she was appointed responsible for the collections of several private collectors, as well as the Zinsou Foundation (Cotonou, Benin). Since 2018, she has initiated several projects around the video medium as an artefact of our contemporary society (France-Romania 2019 Season, Frans Krajcberg Foundation, etc.). Today she contributes to many different magazines and exhibition catalogues on the emerging scene and the art market. She also teaches art market at the University of Corsica and continues to collaborate with Altaïr ThinkTank on promoting culture, media and digital technology.
Madeleine Filippi is a member of the board of directors of CEA (Association Française des commissaires d’exposition, a platform promoting and organizing projects, and reflecting upon the curatorial practice) and AICA France (International Association of Arts Critics).