About Science, Creating Narratives, and Curating as an Undefined Field where Knowledge and Sensibility Cross Paths

Curator Merlina Rañi
Merlina Rañi. Photography Lara Kremer

Music home. My connection with art happened very early because my mother is a painter. Also, with my father they both work in making special effects for cinema and advertising and they use a lot of tools that come from art. The first memory I had with the feeling of art was about music, I was around four or five years old. I was listening to music with my parents, something instrumental, and I said that I wish I could live in there. I liked the music so much that I wish I could enter that world. Of course it’s an intangible thing so you can’t live in there, but that was what I felt.

From writing an art manifesto to curating. I was very nerdy when I was young. And when I was 15 years old, I thought that I would like to work with art and be an artist. I didn’t live in a city that had many art proposals, because I lived in a little town in Brazil. But then when I came back to Buenos Aires, I began to have artistic conversations with a friend and from those conversations we made a manifesto and then we arranged a place and made an open call and a lot of artists came. We talked about the manifesto—it was something to do with being sincere in art making, a need inside to do it, very naive—and we made an exhibition. Two years later I realized that what I was doing was curating. Perhaps more production at first but I was deepening my practice and having a more conscious discourse. And I was always interested in philosophy, like an amateur or a person in love with science, which I was since I was a little kid. I read a lot of science books on astronomy and sociological science. I always work with science as an inspiration, and for the questions it brings to society. I like to think about it and explore it in a way that is not part of the scientific thinking and can be interesting for everyone, not just people who are interested in art. I also love science fiction, writing, the development of a personal poetics, the training to tune into the poetics of others, and the possibility of entering into questions of soft and hard sciences or philosophy from an artistic thought—it all fascinates me. So I like to have these different gradients that can make an unexpected product. I choose curation because it is a somewhat undefined field of articulation of knowledge and sensibility, which allows me to explore my curiosity and to practice empathy.

Curator Merlina Rañi
Computer Fiction (Azul De Monte and Mateo Amaral). Espacio Pla, 2016

Digital. I began to work in the digital arts, and I am specialized in how art works with technical components. It could be generative art, digital art, or visual art that thinks about the technical in the form of a contemporary issue. In the last exhibitions I worked on, I was very interested in complexity as an epochal paradigm, which is a concept that comes from science, the theory of complexity. It concerns Systems Theory and it’s a way of organizing thinking, that perhaps it’s not new but it’s different from modern theoretical thinking. I think it concerns the arts because it’s really difficult to make sense or produce sense in that complexity in which we are living. For the exhibition Signar la complejidad (Signify the complexity) at UCA Fine Arts Pavilion, I designed an interface to approach the art pieces—a diagram. That is a regular exercise in my practice, whenever I make a graphical form to express a concept ,which is not in a linear logic (with only one direction/meaning). In that show I worked on the difficulties to make significance in the complexity and the artists that work with that complexity in the material of their art pieces. 

From digital to physical. In the last show that I curated, No existe tierra más allá (There ‘s not land beyond), which was the first physical exhibition for a community of artists who work with crypto and NFTs, the CryptoARG Collective, we wondered about creating an image that included every virtual interaction and every space exploration routes. It’s a very complex image. In Antiquity, it started with a map with a circle in three parts with Europe, Africa and Asia, and then the European discovery of America changed that map. But in present days, if you also think about including virtual activity to a physical map, it’s very difficult to have an image of the world. The world is not just one planet, you could insert everything we know and see. As a curator, bringing the work of the CryptoARG Collective into the physical space was a lot of work. It included more than 30 artists with very heterogeneous works, and production time was very short. I had conversations with each artist to get in tune with their poetics. In a way, their works are connected by the abstract environment in which they coexist, which represents a symbolic displacement into the very material aspect of everyday life. These questions appear because the changes are present in all societies, at least those connected to the internet. My observations are almost anthropological, but I notice this human phenomena that is more about human expression than about art.

Curator Merlina Rañi
In front of work by Leonardo Solaas. +CODE. 2016

I work both in the digital and physical spaces, I have no favorite. Perhaps the online curation is less popular, but I enjoy doing it. The biggest difference for the curator is the environment. In the virtual exhibition you have to design it, you have to think about the tools used to access the show and the navigability, how good the connection is, if people have gamers’ access. I always work with the worse scenario, thinking about people who don’t have a good connection, a good computer, gamers tools, and don’t know how to. I am trying to make environments that are very easy to access. You can either make a white cube or a digital desert—a nothing where things are floating—or windows and architectural structures with gravity that you have to attend to. For me it doesn’t make sense to create a copy of the real place, in that case I prefer a real place. In the physical you have your body, and it’s very important then to create an atmosphere within the exhibition. In the digital, the relationship with the body is a philosophical question, you experience the exhibition with your mind. It’s a very “mindy” place. The possibility to make it very conceptual and expansive is challenging but also very exciting, you can design more with the mind. In the physical you have a lot of ingredients and you wonder how to make a good thing with all of those ingredients. 

It’s very different, also in terms of communication. When you have a digital exhibition if you communicate two weeks prior, people will click on the link and find nothing. You have to communicate on the day. My next digital exhibition will launch early March, it’s called Marea Modular. Oráculo de la imagen en potencia (Modular Tide. Potencial image oracle). It will be an online exhibition that combines different languages (visual, sound and poetry) through an exercise in combinatorics and randomness that will explore the unmanifested images between the pieces, and thus think about how an image is made up. Since the pandemic I have made four digital exhibitions and it has been a challenge every time to think about the interface and what is the best way to access the artworks. In each case I designed and developed an environments that has to adapt to the pieces. 

I work with all kinds of artists, some don’t work with digital art at all. I tend to the digital world but I really appreciate, say, a painting. In Argentina, and probably everywhere, digital artists aren’t considered part of the contemporary art world. Now with the NFT phenomenon there is more recognition, but for me I don’t like to separate them. My practice is based on crossing both worlds. I always try to bring things from different knowledges together. I don’t like standards, I don’t think that art has to entertain me and be fun, but I do enjoy when things are unexpected. Everything is going so fast and we are making mutations in so many aspects of humanity and we are seeing those deformations in real time. It’s what makes our times interesting, so I always try to open instead of closing. 

Multiple heads. I love working in teams, especially because the types of projects I work on that usually require a varied range of knowledge. So I tend to be part of teams in which different disciplines converge and where there is an affinity about the subject and also an affective aspect.

Curator Merlina Rañi
In front of work by Kevin Kripper. Espacio Pla. 2017

I am interested in the editorial work of institutions. I like to know their proposals in depth and in general I look for a point from which I can align my research with some aspect of the institution’s identity. Institutions involve diplomatic work and I find that interesting too, but it can be hard.

I used to sing in a band and play the theremin. I love to dance, I like disco and house, and I play music, sometimes I DJ. I enjoy reading and writing a lot, that keeps me balanced and also amuses me. And then, I like cycling, playing ping pong, and seeing friends. It’s very important to have leisure time, which changed a lot with the pandemic.

Whenever some system is proposed to me, I think of a narrative. It comes from my love for science fiction. I like to work with narratives and fiction, creating fiction is a way to produce sense. I like perspectives that open up, that seek their way out of the expected, and I think art offers a rich field for such ambitions.

At the moment I study a book by Chinese philosopher Yuk Hui. It’s his first book in Spanish, “Fragment The Future : Essays on Technodiversity” and it offers an open perspective about the technical, but also he makes a proposal, he’s not like philosophers who only criticise. He’s talking about his concept of Cosmostechnics and questions our thinking of the technical based on the occidental point of view only. I find it very interesting, especially his political views in terms of solving current issues. I also recently read “My Name is Red” by Orhan Pamuk and it was beautiful. I am also reading a manga by Junji Ito, called “Uzumaki”.

Curator Merlina Rañi
At the Gin Tronic show. Photography Tomás Guida

Sound is another layer for reality, and it’s common that I work with sound. In the last physical show that I curated we designed sound (with sound designer Ai li a.k.a. Sueño) for the different rooms of the exhibition, but I don’t always do that, perhaps the exhibition doesn’t ask for it. But for my next exhibition, Marea Modular, which I am co-curating with Malena Souto Arena, we invited sound artists along visual artists and poets. We mix visual with sound with poetry, like an editorial work. 

If I had a magic wand to change anything in the art world … As a woman and a woman from Latin America, I think the art world could use less misogyny and less standardized labels on people. I am also concerned about the exclusivity of the art world. I understand it, but it can be bad for art also, as it makes the scene poorer. Although it’s a magic wand, I think if you take something away from a system it disturbs its equilibrium, so you need to make a global proposal. But misogyny could just go, art was initially made by men for white men, and although it’s changing, that ghost is still present.

I don’t like the taste of meat but I love fish, especially uncooked: ceviche, sushi. I think Peruvian food is the best in the world, in par with Spanish seafood. I also love good wine, fruits, and water.

If I wasn’t a curator I would like to be an astronaut. I went to visit Disney as a kid and I thought I was going to NASA, I was so disappointed. When I think about art, I sometimes think in astronomical notions of time. When you think since how long art exists, 12,000 years, it’s very short. I like to think about human production as a species and not as tendencies. I like to go back and look at things from a distance, like an astronaut.

Merlina Rañi

Independent curator

Buenos Aires, Argentina


(São Paulo, 1987) Live and work in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Work as independent curator, trained in the praxis and self-taught studies that combine aesthetic, art theory, philosophy and scientific divulgation. Between 2008 and 2016, has directed different independent art projects, with focus in experimental work and investigation (A2dC, Blanco Galería, Alpha Centauri). She worked in electronic art festival +CODE, as co-curator (2016 – 2018), and as associate curator in Espacio Pla (a gallery focused on the cross between art and technology) from 2015 till nowadays. As an independent curator released exhibitions in Espacio Pla, UCA Fine Arts Pavillion, Acéfala Gallery, Quimera Gallery, Hilo Gallery, Fundación PROA, and has curated the first physical exhibition of CryptoARG group, in Buenos Aires. Also had co-curated an exhibition at Mario Kreuzberg Gallery in Berlin.
Her texts were published in Artishock Magazine (Chile, 2016), and in books Artificially Intelligent (V&A, London UK, 2018), and 10 years of Espacio Contemporáneo (PROA, Argentina, 2017). Texts (selection):  (2021) Cache Tragedy. Julian Brangold series in SuperRare. (2017) 2 computers playing Pong. Diego Alber- in Artificially Intelligent, V&A exhibition book. (2021) From optical illusion to simulation. Eduardo Pla in Aura Art. (2018) The Face of Earth. Open call in Espacio Pla. (2016) There will come soft rains. Collective exhibition in Mario Kreuzberg Gallery.
Her work focuses, in the intersection between art, science and philosophy, aims to open art problems to other humanities, with the intention of generating interaction and socializing knowledge. Her latest productions revolve around the implications of technical  abstraction in the political and affective life of society. Curatorships (selection): (2021) No existe tierra más allá (There ‘s not land beyond) CryptoARG Collective in CheLA, Buenos Aires. (2021) Signar la complejidad (Signify the complexity). Collective exhibition in UCA Fine Arts Pavilion. (2020) Ergo Proxy. Collective exhibition in UCA Fine Arts Pavilion. (2018) La faz de la Tierra (The face of Earth). Collective exhibition in Espacio Pla. (2016) There will come soft rains. Collective exhibition in Mario Kreuzberg Gallery. (2016) Miles de millones (Billions and billions) Diego Alberti in Alpha Centauri Gallery. (2015) La invención de la libertad (The invention of freedom). Collective exhibition in Fundación PROA.

Art critic and writer.

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