Searching for Meaning, from a Solo Prolific Artistic Practice to Socially Engaged Curatorial Projects Developed Collectively
When it comes to my earliest art memories, sometimes I talk about the sea. It would seem that this isn’t an art answer. But I come from Santander, which is a beautiful city by the Ocean. Every Sunday from a very early age I would visit my grandma, have a hot soup, and then get closer to the sea and the waves exploding on the rocks. This is nature, but the feelings that I got from it, even when it was windy and scary—people have been known to even die while taking photos and trying to capture the dramatic waves—were related to artistic expression. That visual picture is something that always stayed with me. I was into art as early as I can remember, but my upbringing wasn’t. Except that I was a very active child and the only way my parents found to calm me down was actually painting, so since I was 5-year old I sort of started painting classes. Museums, I perceived them as huge playgrounds. I experienced my first at 15 during a school trip, and it was the Guggenheim Bilbao. And I vividly remember when it opened in 1997, I remember thinking “That should be my playground!” There was the astonishing Frank O. Gehry architecture and the Fire Fountain (1961) by Yves Klein installed on the pond, the permanent giant sculptures by Richard Serra, and a room with James Rosenquist’s work that I wasn’t quite ready for, but it made me very intrigued.
Living Fast. When I was a teen, one of my uncles passed away in a bad car accident, and it showed me that you should do everything you want in life because one day you might not be around anymore. I was really into art to be an artist, it was my passion. In 2007, I got this great scholarship named Ruta Quetzal, and flew—for the first time of my life—for a month and a half stay in Mexico with 300 people coming from all over the world. The experience changed my life. I studied art after Mexico, in Bilbao and then Madrid, for my Masters in Arts Research at the Complutense University. At that time, Spanish art education maintained the idea of genius, and taught you that your work speaks for itself and you don’t need to communicate around it. I felt that it wasn’t teaching me enough. I completed my Degree a year earlier, still not knowing what a gallery or a curator meant for an artist. The art market and academia were completely disconnected. I had already exhibited my work internationally but all through awards and prizes. I felt that I needed a more solid base to be able to express myself in the art world so I applied for a graphic design scholarship and went to New York. And then I realized that I didn’t die, for some reason I thought 25-year old was my age limit.
When I arrived at the La Nacional Spanish-Benevolent Society in New York in 2015, an artist was installing her show. I made some suggestions about the hanging, to move some works to the entrance as it made more sense with the context. One thing led to another and eventually she asked me a few weeks later to write a text about the works. We made a booklet, and I helped her through the entire process. I had no idea what curating was at the time, but helping structure, designing, and accompanying her practice seemed quite natural and refreshing. I ended up being involved in everything at the non-profit. There was a nice community but no conceptual art direction, random artists came to us, without selection guidelines. Nobody was talking about immigration for instance, yet the place had been built 150-year ago to support people from the Spanish-speaking communities immigrating through Coney Island. Even important artists such as Picasso and Buñuel apparently passed through. There was also a collection of great works donated by artists that weren’t referenced. I decided to stay longer and enrolled for a Masters in Curatorial Art Practice at the School of Visual Arts. The program ended up being the second best experience of my life, as it put me in contact with people I absolutely admire, professionals, friends, the members of Colectivo SHE, etc. But the program was also carefully balanced between theory and lots of hands-on projects, and professional support. We had curatorial round tables and studio visits with artists every week and New York provided the rest.
Coletivo SHE. I am part of a curatorial collective called, Coletivo SHE, that seeks to expand the limits of language by addressing migration, identity, human rights, and memory. There is Andrea Valencia Aranda, who is currently Associate Curator at the museum Tamayo in Mexico; Natalia Viera, Associate Curator at the National Academy, from Puerto Rico; and Maria Alejandra Saénz García, an independent curator from Colombia. We met when I was in New York and we started to work with artists interested in migration policies and feminism. Work from Latin America was very powerful in blending art and activism. I stopped doing my own art for many reasons, but one was that I started questioning it. I struggled with feeling selfish, as I thought it was not political or strong enough to entice a change in the viewer. But working collectively with socially engaged art made me realize how expansive it can be, how we construct multiplicity, enrich and layer an idea, all by creating a vision together.
For the journey. As a curator, I find that many artists are working towards an idea, and I feel that it is my place to accompany them to articulate it and be part of the project’s development and concretisation, sometimes by pushing the artists harder or stopping them, but mainly by listening, talking, expanding the conversation. But I am equally excited by the work of artists who are great at curating their own work, such as Walid Raad with his lecture-performances. He has control, makes meaningful propositions, and makes the audience think while completely grabbing their attention. I had the opportunity to work with him this year as part of TBA21 at the Museum Thyssen in Madrid. He’s been my idol for many years, but seeing his process, his care, his details and respect for the teams throughout the whole production made my year. Whenever I have a low day that needs some spark, I think about his way of articulating fiction and reality. I think about the “undeath” and my belief comes back.
Curating for a social future in the context of labor automation. I find that curating is the place to bring together artists, curators, thinkers, and real life at a critical point and show it in a different way. It is through curating that I find my political stand, the place for listening and the place for being heard, and also a place to ask for social change. It could be a film, but I believe it could also be an exhibition. For instance, I am currently reading “An Algorithm is Going to Substitute You? The Future of Work in Spain” by economist and writer Lucía Velasco. She speaks about the accelerated changes in labor and how women and caregivers especially–because they are not filling decision-making roles–are in danger of losing their place in society as automation increases. There are several artists working on these themes right now and I am thinking about different ways to bring it to the public.
Together you go further. I am also reading “Desde lo Curatorial. Conversaciones, Experiencias y Afectos by Juan Canela y Ángel Calvo Ulloa,” another title that was released after the pandemic with interviews of curators who mostly said that any project that came up form the pandemic happened because it was pushed forward by a collective of people. It made me think about the social and collaborative dimensions of the curatorial job, constantly staying in touch with different artists and curators, and how precarious it can be otherwise.
Who’s a slasher? I am obsessed right now with the term slasher. You can be a curator / communicator / educator / graphic designer / politician / engineer / many other things, and you can also be something else completely in the digital world. The term slasher was popularized after the book “One Person, Multiple Careers” by Marci Alboher, and poignantly describes my generation, and the generation of many workers whose recently-studied degree is on the verge of disappearing or being replaced. One of my current projects is an exhibition planned for May, 2023, titled “Easy apply! A generation of slashers and early burnout” to be installed at La Sala de Arte Joven owned by the Region of Madrid Region. In it, different slashers come together as a burnout generation that is in continuous adaptation since graduating from degrees now irrelevant to their many current or future occupations, but who have found a way to reinvent themselves. Artists that are aware and conscious of how the labor is being transformed and are adapting their education and sensibilities toward it. Those who apply for thousands Easy Apply jobs on LinkedIn, while studying for the new occupations that digitalization will bring in the next 20 years. The exhibition would show how better assumptions and expectations can be taken by analyzing current advances on digital afterlife legacies, meta verse policies, health checks monitored by machines, zero waste and carbon footprints technologies, new printing and manufacturing industries, or how even something like music is already the result of an algorithm.
I love to be outside, anything happening outside is best. I am still the active child that my parents tried to calm down through painting classes and sports. I moved from painting to rhythmic gymnastic, contemporary dance, and collective sports now, it really gives me pleasure, especially social sports. At the moment I am practicing padel, the racket sport similar to squash, originally from Mexico. I just have so much fun. I also recently started crossfit, only because it’s very near my house. Otherwise my hobbies are going to see exhibitions, theater, dance, films, and poetry open mics—especially those that are a little unprepared, I love them. As for the last play I saw, it was Ladies Football Club at Teatro Canal directed by Sergio Peris-Mencheta, on how the first women football team was created by eleven Doyle & Walker munitions workers in England in 1917.
If I wasn’t curating I would do something in social justice or education. I am very worried about the future and the future of work so I would want to do anything proactive and meaningful to help guide future generations with empathy and adaptability.
Noelia Lecue Francia is a Spanish curator currently based in Madrid. She was a Fulbright Fellow for the MA in Curatorial Practice at School of Visual Arts, New York. She holds a BA from the University of the Basque Country and Sheffield Hallam University, and an MA from Complutense University of Madrid. Since 2015, she has worked for the 150 year-old Manhattan non-profit institution, La Nacional—The Spanish Benevolent Society, defining and steering their cultural events and art exhibitions. She has been a Curatorial Intern at the Queens Museum and has worked in the Curatorial department at the Solomon R. Guggenheim and Foundation. Additionally, Noelia has assisted the Artistic Director Neville Wakefield in Desert X Biennial, Palm Springs, California, and curated independent art shows such as Génerx: del dicho al hecho, at the Cervantes Institute, New York (2018). The Future of Labor en el Pfizer Building, Brooklyn (2018), Nature Visions (2018), Vessels (2019), La Nacional, Nueva York.
Noelia was also a former participant of the Editorial Collective Kit Caníbal and is a current member and Co-Founder of Curatorial Collective SHE, Se Habla Español, with whom she has coordinated and implemented programs and exhibitions such as Solidarity (2020), Female Migrations (2019), Performance as Repair (2018), Breaking and Unveiling the immigration glossary of Severalty (2017) among others.
In 2020, Noelia moved to Madrid where she worked in the Communication Department of TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, and is now independently developing a series of exhibitions around the topic of labor and the situation of current generations. In 2023, she will curate Easy Apply! A generation of slashers and early burnout, an exhibition within the context of Se Busca Comisario, sponsored by the region of Madrid.