Matylda Krzykowski – Creating Social Infrastructures and Walking The Line Between Artistic and Curatorial Practices
I did ballet when I was little, and I always thought I was gonna be a dancer. I liked acting and reacting to a space. Also, I remember very vividly, my mother studied art and we went to museums quite frequently. For instance to the Ludwig Museum in Cologne. I was around ten, we were standing with my brother in front of an artwork, and he explained it to me. As a child I did not understand how you would hang up something so isolated for people to look at. I still think that way. I like spaces that relate to things, and the other way around. Also, in 4th grade I hosted a circus show for the whole primary school. I was a dompteur, an animal trainer, and my fellow students were dressed in costumes with papier mâché masks. They were my animals.
I often took on the role of a curator, but I also believe that I have an artistic practice that deals with curating. When people ask me for an alternative term, I say I am a host. I come from graphic design and product design because I wanted to express myself visually, not only physically, and to learn skills. I often use the term strategic improvisation for my method of operation; you pull from your skillset but you also improvise and respond to what is there.
Responding to the work of others. I contributed to Valentina Cameranesi´s Féminin. She designed various typologies of vases and they were exhibited at a former coiffeur in the south of France, where she invited an actress to activate the setting. The photographer Adrianna Glaviano made a short film, and I created the words for it once the edit was done. I like to respond to things, often based on the work of others or with others. I didn’t turn into someone with a studio practice because I need the energy of other people to produce my work. It wouldn’t work for me to be alone in the studio. Plus I do not have an economic system to support working only in the studio.
How to connect the practices of others in one common space, not thinking about it in a disciplinary sense but rather through themes—is what I do. If I must pick a favorite curator, it would be Inke Arns. She did one exhibition about evil clowns, another about artists and agents, a recent one on techno-shamanism. I admire her consistency in choosing themes.
Every day is a beginning. Deciding to have a practice is deciding to contribute to a culture. When I teach, or rather work with students, I challenge them to think of each day anew. For example, a graduation show isn’t the end, it’s the beginning. Starting anything is a beginning.
My first show was in 2008 when I invited the German artist Karsten Födinger to do his first solo show in my living room. I had a flatmate at the time, I was a student, and we gave Karsten a humble budget. He lived with us for a week and created several physical sculptures in our apartment. Pictures of it are now in his recent catalogue.
When I curate, I also design. It means that I define space. Right now, I’m working on a timeline-based exhibition called the “Energy Show – Sun, Solar and Human Energy” for Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam (opening in September, 2022). I specifically wanted to work with someone with a theater background, to create a narrative in the space, where you would walk from chapter to chapter, or scene to scene, where each space is different (say one space is an office, one makes you experience darkness, and another mimics being outside). You kind of become a character in a theater play or are going through the script of a movie with your own energy, yet it’s an exhibition at the same time.
I cannot segregate my artistic practice from my curatorial practice. I’m working on something for Marsèll, a brand based in Milan. It can be read as an exhibition, but it could also be read as an installation, it’s definitely a group show, and it certainly will be a “living room”. We are designing spaces that are defined by the experiences the visitors have in them. For me, it wouldn’t work without an audience. Mirka Laura Severa will produce a short film with all the artists and designers involved in it. Exhibition views often result in wide angle exhibition shots of lonely spaces, but I prefer when the documentation turns into an artwork itself and I have been working more and more with video recently.
Social Infrastructures and messy spaces. I like when an exhibition is made for people, when it becomes a spatial opportunity to engage with each other. In “Relational Aesthetics,” Nicolas Bourriaud writes about user-friendly art for human relations. How about user friendly infrastructures and activities where human relations happen? A social infrastructure can be a library or a public park. I am fascinated by the idea of a public house or pub, especially the way the British design it—a carpeted bar that resembles the idea of a living room. Since last year, I’ve been the artistic lead of CIVIC at the Art and Design School in Basel. It is a slow process to activate the space for students, employees, and fellow citizens. My work partner Jenni Schmitt, and I, want to focus on the informal first. There is a lot of planning involved when working in a school, but we recently managed to organize a spontaneous karaoke night, which was rewarding for everyone. Many public places, including schools, turned into neutral and corporate spaces over recent years. The organized and controlled nature of this is at the opposite of a social kit. But messy, leaky spaces work. I’m interested in the idea of child-caves and the way children occupy a space spontaneously and in no time, with a few bits and pieces and blankets.
I use social media. I didn’t for a long time, until Vera Sacchetti convinced me that I would be really good at Instagram, whatever that means. I find it fascinating how it can inform or disturb people. In my case, I feature many other people in my feed. I started a format called #AQuestionAnAnswer where I ask people—such as Siddartha Lokanandi, who runs a bookstore in Berlin or Oana Bogdan, who is an architect who also writes policies—a how to question. There are short videos to make people feel seen and appreciated. Then when I curate, I participate in the communication strategy or the images that are shared. I also like to make Instagram stories when I have the time. I film small social interactions and I write short texts. It takes time but it’s interesting, the least you overthink it, the more sincere it becomes. In contrast, the super glossy perfectly stylized social media accounts are completely removed from how we are as human beings.
Independent Artists. Social media is one free tool at hand. There is no one format fit for everyone. As for artists who decide on their medium, some mediums work for you and some of them don’t. I know artists who make their whole sales based on these platforms. I like that there could be an extended idea of how an artist can be as independent as possible. Andrea Zittel does it. I did a residency at A-Z West in Joshua Tree, California two years ago while the pandemic hit. She has a few gallery representations, and she works towards exhibitions, but she also has a whole independent practice, a life practice, where she can maintain and sustain herself with how she set it up.
There is one thing in the world that always soothes and calms me, it’s the combination of a mountain and a lake. In Berlin where I live, although it’s very lake-heavy, there are no mountains. Generally, I love playing games, and it’s not about winning for me but about becoming subconscious. It can be cards, monopoly, taboo, or sports games, but never a computer game. But I can also be alone. Lockdown wasn’t that painful for me. I know how to switch from searching for human connection to being isolated, I feel it physically.
One of the books I was really impressed by last year is Olga Grjasnowa’s “The Power of Multilingualism”. In an interview she once said, “If I’m upset about something, I write,” I find it fascinating when you use your negative emotions and turn them into something without hurting anyone. In this book Grjasnowa deconstructs the language class discrimination beautifully and writes about what it would mean if you could change the culture and accept that we can make verbal mistakes and that speaking multiple languages is a power.
The person I would have lunch with and where… Probably the lady from the mattress shop downstairs who permitted us to record a short video on a mattress mountain. She once told me a bit about life with her autistic son and how autism is only seen negatively because of social constructs. Each day she looks forward to coming home because her son waits for her with a cup of tea. “How many 19-year-old are waiting for you to give you cuddles and ask you how your day was?” she asked me. I would like to be invited to her house to see it for myself.
If I wasn’t curating and designing, I would run an ice cream shop. Everyone loves ice cream. Another thing that I want to do is to make a theater play. I actually started, with the support of my parents for research, to write something that has biographical elements as well as fiction and reflection about urban planning and migration. My dad already came up with a title. “Vorhalle” (entrance) is the name of a particularly segregated territory with high rise buildings in Hagen, Germany—you have to cross a bridge to reach it—where I grew up after we left Poland.
Berlin, Germany & Basel, Switzerland
Plans, designs, writes and talks about physical and digital space. Artistic lead of CIVIC, newly established social infrastructure and digital & physical exhibition and discourse space at Academy of Art and Design in Basel (CH).
Krzykowski writes Things Might, a column about the designed environment for Arts of the Working Class Magazine and is advisor and jury member at Jan van Eyck Academy (NL). She is tutor at The Critical Inquiry Lab at Design Academy Eindhoven (NL).
Recent co-curated exhibitions: Total Space at Museum fuer Gestaltung (2020), Institution Building at CIVA Brussels (2021) Recent work: TV Show Airtime for Swiss Consulate NYC, Essay Pieces of Correspondence for Bloc Studio Milan, Co-hosting Driving The Human (2021)
Upcoming exhibitions: You Don’t Want Space You Want To Fill It at Marsèll Milan, The Energy Show at Het Nieuwe Instituut Rotterdam (2022)