Applying the Idea of Hosting Instead of Curating, Moving Between Physical and Digital Spaces

Screenshot Desktop Exhibition - Talk by Matylda Krzykowski
Screenshot from Matylda Krzykowski’s website.

“Sometimes I think I am rather a host than a curator, and rather a host than a designer” says Matylda Krzykowski, after sharing with curator and historian Glenn Adamson that she used to be a somewhat-bouncer for a club when she was 17. This talk is part of the online interviews series Design in Dialogue organised by gallery Friedman Benda. Matylda Krzykowski is an innovative designer, researcher, educator, and curator based in Berlin who is known to use surprising, experimental, and technologically progressive solutions into her exhibitions such as TV game shows, theatre, and instant messaging—to name a few. 

50/50. Krzykowski says that she constantly shifts between the physical and digital spaces, driven by the opportunities to push the discipline of design forward, that emerge from the dialogue between her own work and the work of others. Which Adamson reframes by noting that curatorial activities are part of a redistribution of attention—if one considers curatorial practices as part of an attention economy—and asks her about her political philosophy in giving access to polyphonic voices that may not otherwise have a platform. Krzykowski and her colleague Vera Sacchetti, with whom she founded Foreign Legion, a curatorial initiative for systemic change in design, architecture, and the arts, have a rule for every project, which is to make sure that half the people working on them are people with whom they never worked before. Because that way, albeit risky, “you activate something that is extremely magical” for the inherent unknowns this method brings, she says. 

Actively inviting people in. Working with people that she doesn’t know or who haven’t been exhibited before, from individuals to school departments, comes up frequently in this talk and reflects a continuity in Krzykowski’s practice—making it a strong takeaway from this conversation. “We have to give more space to different voices, not only in exhibitions but in general in the whole discourse” she emphasises. Adamson says that he thinks of her as a human crowbar that pries open “institutions so that they can be made available to a broader range of people”. She also mentions that her love of collaboration means that she always works with at least two other practitioners for every project. Asked to give an example of inclusive initiatives that inspire her, Krzykowski speaks of Contact in Manchester, where the artistic director Matt Fenton hired, via an open call throughout the city, young people outside of the art circles into the institution’s decision process. “Some people are used to have access and some people are not, so how are we going to get the people that are not used to access, in? That’s what you do by hosting, that’s what you do by inviting someone” she says when describing Fenton’s active approach.

Desktop exhibitions. Krzykowski’s shares her desktop to explain her concept of desktop exhibitions, explaining that she treats that background as a physical space—in fact they are designed by her or somebody else as desktop scenographies. To experience the show, her guests (since she’s a host) are usually sitting in a lecture room while she acts as a guide that takes them on a walk through the digital space and clicks on and talks them through different files—MP4s, JPEGs, PDFs, GIFs—that are actually artworks. The first such exhibition-conference was Is Technology Sexist? in 2017, the result of a collaboration with curator Chus Martinez at the Institut Kunst, Basel. “For me it was really important as a curator to have that possibility in an art related audience to talk about design, not specifically based on objects but specifically about narrating the story or history of design” says Krzykowski.

Curator as guide. These types of exhibitions can be owned, becoming properties that can be shown via a shared link. “You cannot go to a museum or a gallery space and own an object that is exhibited but you can all own a file that you can re-watch or look at or store on your own virtual world whenever you want” says Krzykowski. She mentions someone comparing this format to Duchamp’s “Box in a Suitcase” series, which consisted of miniatures of his artworks in a suitcase, easily transportable and shared, and for her, the suitcase is her laptop. And although she confesses that she’s growing tired of online contents such as talks, she says someone guiding you through an exhibition is quite a different feeling. Interesting how she brings forth here the side of the curator as a guide or art mediator, perhaps even educator since for her museums are places of education. It isn’t about shifting everything online however—physical experience is irreplaceable she mentions—but about seeing the opportunities it provides.

Immersive spaces. “I work in education also and I find it very interesting to bring this kind of radical weird ideas into the discussion in the educational context” says Krzykowski, exemplifying with Spectator Mode an exhibition created with graphic design students from the HFBK University in Hamburg who were looking for ways to exhibit graphic design not only through screens. Drawing from the transformative quality of immersive installations, they created a total environment exhibition space that included screens as portfolios exhibiting students’ work from the past year, but also a virtual reality kiosk, atmospheric lights, and physical objects. The idea was to narrate to the audience “what a class of digital design actually builds and what kind of themes they bring into the discussion or contemporary times” she says. 

Virtual reality-inspired physical spaces. She also speaks of another total environment curatorial project she curated with Damian Fopp in collaboration with five design studios for Total Space at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich—recreating in real life a virtual reality experience, triggering senses and moving away from the work-captions didactic side of museum exhibitions in order to leave room for the unexpected to happen. Some of her other exhibition designs include the creation of a walk-in black box for a fake and jewellery-themed show where a CCTV network connected the inside of the box to a window screen outside the exhibition space, acting as a teaser. 

Magics. To conceive her designs, Krzykowski refers to radically forgetting what one has learnt before—Men in Black neuralizer-style—to bypass our conditionings, and thinking outside the box by taking from science fiction, theatre, collaborations (withdrawing from the “I” as creators), and props for their potential to magically transform what already exists.

Main links:

Please find the entire talk, here.

To visit Matylda Krzykowski’s website, please go here.
To see all of Friedman Benda’s Design in Dialogue series, please go here

Art critic and writer.

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