Conversations with Curators
A series of interviews with upcoming curators is posted on this website as a prelude to the conference.
By: Annet Dekker
#1 Lindsay Howard: 319 Scholes/Eyebeam
#2 Domenico Quaranta: Link
#3 Tom Clark & Rózsa Farkas: Arcadia Missa
#4 Amber van den Eeden & Kalle Mattsson: Temporary Stedelijk
#5 Katja Novitskova: independent artist/curator
#6 Laura Mousavi: e-PERMANENT
Although curating digital artworks in physical spaces and online exhibitions is becoming more widespread, such exhibitions are mostly taking place outside of the world of traditional art. Currently a new generation of curators is organising exhibitions in old warehouses, family homes, small side-street galleries, or online. They use existing curatorial formats for these presentations, adapting them if necessary, or even creating new ones. A common denominator among these curators is their experience with online curating and presenting online artworks in physical spaces. These curators take the digital and physical realm as a given and move fluidly between the two, leaving traces in each. The interviews focus on their ideas and thoughts on curating today and how they deal with the divisions between the various art worlds.
Since their practice mostly occurs online these interviews were conducted by e-mail. All the curators were asked the same questions, with slight variations due to their specific projects or to expand on previous responses. The selection of curators for this interview series is based on my personal encounters with them during the past year. I met all of them through other projects, some by chance and some by appointment. When talking and working with them, I noticed similar lines of thinking, regardless of the differences in their curatorial styles. What at first seemed a random choice became an interesting kaleidoscope of current practices in curating.
#1 LINDSAY HOWARD
My first question is actually one that I try to avoid as much as possible, but for the sake of clarity I think we need to discuss the terminology we’re using. So, how do you position yourself within existing categories like digital art, new media or net art – to name but a few?
I started my practice as a blogger, looking at and writing about Internet Art. Since I started curating shows in physical space, I work with more new media and interactive art. The web is so pervasive, though; I find that the artists who are working on the Internet, or incorporating that imagery, those habits, that language into their practices to be the most relevant.
What is your background and how did you become interested in digital / net art?
I saw John Michael Boling’s goooooooooooooooooooooooooogle.com piece sometime around 2005 and it blew my mind. Up until that point, I just used my computer as a practical tool for writing papers and as a way to socialize and share (chat rooms, p2p networks), but John Michael’s work introduced me to the web as an artistic platform.
You are currently working for different organizations, a non-profit gallery/exhibition space and Eyebeam. Could you share some of your experiences of working in these different settings and particular contexts? For example, does it affect your practice? Are there specific things that work very well in one but not at all in the other context?
I’ve been the Curatorial Director at 319 Scholes for two years, and for the last eight months I’ve been the Curatorial Fellow at Eyebeam. I would say on an ideological level, they’re very similar organizations: both are proponents of open source practices and support artists working at the intersection of art and technology. Physically, too, they’re both big, rough warehouses. 319 Scholes has a reputation for being a radical space, which is a result of giving artists total freedom. Because we run tight and lean with a two-person staff, we can also be more agile in our programming decisions. We encourage artists to reconfigure the space or paint or spend a week living in the gallery during installation: whatever they want to do to create their vision, which yields some incredible results. On the contrary, Eyebeam provides more of a support system. They have a full administrative staff, equipment and installation crew, and communications person. I’m used to doing everything for an exhibition: curating, promoting, installing, and sourcing equipment, so it’s been a more streamlined experience organizing an exhibition at Eyebeam. I can focus more distinctly on working with artists and putting together programs.
Who do you see as your audience, I guess it changes with each new context but is there also a change (and/or exchange) that you’ve noticed over the years… people moving from one place to another, or is there a crossover from other fields?
A year ago, I curated an exhibition at 319 Scholes called Wallpapers with artists Nicolas Sassoon and Sara Ludy. The show was set to open at 7:00pm, but around 6:30 we heard a knock on the front door. When I opened it, I saw about five or six teenagers, some sitting on the sidewalk, waiting to come in and see the show. They were dressed like they might be going to a rave afterward, and were incredibly friendly. Once the show opened, they were the first ones in and they tweeted a bunch of photos and danced in the light of the projections. Our audience has gradually become more “art world” but from the very beginning, the people who were most supportive were young people who spend a lot of time online, sharing and distributing images.
As for your online exhibitions, what do you focus on? In the past we’ve seen examples ranging from lists of links, to commissions, to documentation about the work, to embedding several works in a separate website. What is our preferred or even ideal “model”?
C.R.E.A.M. was my first online exhibition, and it was commissioned by a specific organization: Art Micro Patronage. The AMP platform is designed to give artists the opportunity to receive monetary rewards for their online works, a concept that immediately resonated with me. The artists were given screenshots of the AMP website in advance, and most of them chose to adapt their works to be more site-specific and in dialogue with that framework. The works were hosted independently on the artists’ individual sites, and then iframed in order to hang in the virtual gallery.
This sounds interesting could you tell about your experience regarding the ‘monetary rewards’, did this system work? And if so, what was the end result/reward?
Art Micro Patronage describes itself as an “experimental online exhibition space” and I think that’s just what it was: an experiment. Ultimately, even the highest paid artists in my show wouldn’t be able to buy more than a couple of lattes with their earnings, but it inspired conversations about what we’re doing inside this attention economy and encouraged artists to think about the relationship between what they give and what they receive.
In your opinion what (if any) would be the added value of presenting or acquiring digital art by a museum? Do you feel it necessary that digital art enters established museums or organisations, or do you think there are other, better places where it can be presented and kept? In which case what role would museums play in the future?
For many of the artists I work with, inclusion in a museum’s collection is something to be proud of, but they seem more excited about getting a good review on a blog or having a flood of new visitors to their site when their work is posted on VVORK.com. It depends on your goals as an artist, but networked culture has usurped the museum as the be-all, end-all of gatekeeping and career longevity, because so many people have access to and share content online and in a way that creates its own archive.
I’m seeing less focus on the creation of a single masterpiece, and more attention on works that are process-based, and in dialogue with other artists, the art world, or the artist’s previous works. There’s a shift away from the artist as genius and a movement toward collaborative creativity/spontaneity. Museums will need to adapt to the visitors who spend more time looking at their phones than they do at the walls. The best example of harnessing this opportunity I’ve seen is Paola Antonelli’s “Beyond the Galleries” blog for the Talk to Me exhibition she curated at MoMA, where she published what basically amounts to a curator’s notebook. It openly tracks her team’s exhibition research, including an expanded reading list, installation ideas, and inspiring projects. Notably, the exhibition’s blog and Twitter account remain active today, long after the exhibition has closed.
Recently I had a few discussion with artists and producers about the usefulness of open source, it seems that although all kinds of codes are available they are hardly ever used by others mainly because of personal approaches to coding and the complexity resulting from such project-based methodology. What is your approach to open source in this context?
Open source is not always pretty; it lays bare one’s work with all of its flaws. However, there are cultural advantages to working in this way – think of Wikipedia. The beauty of the open source philosophy is that it not only gives a person a product, but the ability to improve that product along with the building blocks to create something completely new.
The goal of preservation for such a new organization struck me, most galleries/organization don’t really think about it until they have been around for some time. Their first priority is on presenting work. Why do you think it is already important to think now about preservation?
In 2011, we had a graduate student named Geetha Pedapati ask to use 319 Scholes’ past exhibitions as data for a course she was taking called Art of the Archive at NYU ITP. We figured, why not? What we didn’t expect was how much we would learn from the data visualizations she rendered of our exhibitions, which drew out the trends and movements during the process. Since then, we’ve become a bit archive obsessed.
Practically speaking, the importance of an archive is providing complete documentation so that new works will be less likely to tread similar ground, and instead build upon and extend the conversation.
We’ve set the bar quite high for ourselves and, as a result, now that we have all this documentation, sometimes I’ll get emails from artists or curators years later asking me to update or alter the way a work is represented. Having a proper archive of one’s work has become the new normal, and that’s an important change for the field.
Lindsay Howard is the 2012-2013 Curatorial Fellow at Eyebeam as well as the Curatorial Director of 319 Scholes, a non-profit exhibition space in Brooklyn dedicated to promoting work at the intersection of art and technology. Her work uses experimental curatorial models to reflect what she sees as an essential shift in contemporary culture, specifically a growing interest in collaborative creativity, open source philosophy, and unlimited access to information.