Venice - Interviews

The British Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale: an Interview with Curator Dr Zoe Whitley

6 days ago

We interviewed Dr Zoe Whitley, the curator of this year’s British Pavilion, represented by Glasgow based artist Cathy Wilkes at the 58th Venice Biennale. Whitley discusses this pivotal moment in her curating career, her experience so far in Venice and what she is most looking forward to at Ralph Rugoff’s Venice Biennale. 

Lara Morrell: How did you feel about being selected to curate the British Pavilion? What does this opportunity mean to you?

Dr Zoe Whitley: I was thrilled, it was the first time that the British Council issued an open call for a mid-career curator, I read the job description for this role and I was so excited about it, I told my best friend and my husband ‘my gosh, this is me!’ I waited for the reply in eager anticipation because I realised how much I wanted it. I was super delighted when the commissioner first emailed me and then called to say that I had got it! I applied in December of 2017 and so I was notified in the first week of January 2018, the panel that selected Cathy was convened at the end of that month.

LM: How much say did you have in the choice of Cathy Wilkes to represent the British Pavilion?

ZW: It’s a really interesting process. The idea is for as many voices to be heard as possible and for it not just to be the curator making the decision. Every country and pavilion has a slightly different way of operating. With us, a segment of the panel made the selection that put me in post as curator and then while I was privy to the deliberations and was able to talk about various artworks, when it came down to the vote it was the panel, a panel of museum directors, senior curators from all over the UK. I think that this is really important, so that it is not just a few Londoners making a decision, the intention is that it is as open and inclusive as possible, and I think that came through in the result.

LM: How do you define the role of the curator? And more specifically as curator of a National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale?

ZW: I honestly think it is different every single time but the one constant is being the artist’s advocate. I work with living artists and so the way that that takes shape is always different. In this case it might be interviews like this, getting people excited, talking to children and school groups. The format for invigilating the Pavilion involves British Council fellows, young students from all over the country, many of whom are actually coming to Venice for the first time, so empowering them to feel ownership over the building and the work as well as inviting other people to engage in the work, so I am one of the conduits that helps make that happen for them. There are a lot of different things, like the catalogue and writing the short text that’s in the main Biennale guide, just to give people a very small flavour of what we hope they’ll be able to experience in the pavilion, all those things are part of it.

LM: I know you recently convened an event with art educators from all over the UK with a focus on the a line from a John Berger’s essay, “What went into the making of this?”, tell me more!

ZW: John Berger, particularly in a British context but also with international ramifications, is someone who was able at a crucial moment to help to disentangle what it meant to engage with and appreciate art from certain class or political structures. He asked in plain English very important questions about the male and female gaze, all of these things that effect us so much today in terms of thinking about gender, identity, our place in the world and who has access to culture. One of his sentences was so key, in terms of being able to approach artwork “What went into the making of this?”. This was a helpful way for me to introduce Cathy’s work in an open and inclusive process for art educators from around the UK, to begin working through how we can begin to invite many people from all walks of life to think through Cathy’s work that isn’t a traditional way of thinking about a curated experience. So if you are not coming to Venice, we want you to know that this is happening and you can feel pride, whether in Glasgow or in Northern Ireland about what is happening somewhere else, in terms of what this British Representation means on an international stage. So we were able to have some very productive conversations around a whole lot of things, that I found very refreshing to speak about in the context of art, about labour and the notion of work. Placing emphasis on the fact the artists are working and the dignity and the fierceness of that, that really takes a lot of seriousness and is something we must take seriously. It is something that other people can relate to, the politics of care, having to care for young people, or maybe even being at a certain point in your life when you are having to take care for both your young children and also ageing parents. There are a lot of those kinds of incredibly human and relatable themes that reoccur in the work, so again it’s about inviting other people to the many entry points of the work, we would like to invite everyone to think about them together.

LM: How would you describe the meaning of Cathy Wilkes’s work and in what way does it respond to Ralph Rugoff’s title ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’?

ZW: I think that the two are complementary. There is no like for like correlation and that is not part of the brief, I do think however that there are synergies in the work, and Cathy also has a familiarity in the Venetian context (Representing Scotland in the 51st Venice Biennale as part of the exhibition ‘Selective Memory’ and at the 55th Venice Biennale, The Encyclopaedic Palace in 2015) so her work has had these protean ways of being engaged with the whole, larger endeavour that is Venice. For the pavilion we have Cathy being consistent in her own practice and that just happens to dovetail with the kind of seriousness and respect that Ralph has for artists, and in setting this theme with a lot integrity but which gives individual artists a lot of breathing room. So I think that this is something that people will experience in this space; the sense of Cathy being so very attuned to the environment and creating a very specific environment that harnesses, in a way that I have never seen in that space before, the very particular light that one has in Venice, so that really becomes part of the overall experience.

It has also been really impactful to watch how the installation has evolved throughout this installation process because, where Cathy is concerned, a sensitivity to space is more than just placing works in a room. It wasn’t a simple matter of shipping the works here and then they get installed – paintings have been repainted here, what we have in that space is in every way a site specific installation, the work will never exist in that way again, and watching this very considered and detailed process of thinking about how all of the works are composed in this physical space, is something that is very special and I think that her voice comes through. I’ve been saying all along that Cathy’s work is art that whispers rather than shouts, not every artwork has to be spectacular, these artworks can communicate in different registers and I think that what we have created in the pavilion will allow people, who are willing, a moment to slow down and to be out of time but also as you move through the suite of rooms and as the installation unfolds and flows from room to room you really get a sense of the passage of time, the light won’t be the same in the first room by the time you leave, the North facing rooms have a very different affect. The colour that is cast from various found objects or sculptures or the paintings in each room really impart a slightly different feeling in each room and I find that I want to spend quite a lot of time in that space, which is a good thing because I will be!

All of us, when we are visiting Venice, feel compelled to see as many things as we can because that is why we are here, but there is a different pace that I think has been established in this space that I am hoping people will welcome, even if it is momentary, this sense of slowing down that there are things that are worth looking at closely and the sight lines are slightly different, the eye-line, everything is there to have you have a slightly different relationship with the works on view, and the space itself recedes.

In the current British order, or lack there of, Cathy Wilkes’s work and its tendency towards ambiguity which leaves one with open ended questions, feels rather apt. Will the current state of things in Britain seep into the work presented at the Pavilion?

I would say again, just to reiterate, what Cathy has done in accepting to represent Britain in the 58th Venice Biennale is true to her own practice and true to herself, I don’t want to overwrite or to ascribe any other meaning on top of it, but I think that exactly relates to the point you were making about how it might intersect with what Ralph is creating in the Giardini and the Arsenale. I think there is a wonderful refusal to engage in a soundbite or a 140 characters or fewer kind of culture, there is a space for an in between-ness and a not knowing and there is a beauty in that – even if it feels slightly de-stabilising, it isn’t something that is trying to heckle or shout for the sake of it, just to be seen. There is a fierce integrity to Cathy’s work, a very uncompromising position in terms of thinking about what is happening in the relationships between the paintings, between the sculptures, between object placement and within that you have everything you need and so there is, for whatever period of time, something that damps down the noise around it, I think that there is something that is really helpful about that because there are so many things that feel distracting and uncertain and frankly upsetting right now, it has the courage to be its own thing and the work is so unmistakably Cathy’s, I really appreciated and respect that approach.

You have recently been appointed as Senior Curator at The Hayward Gallery, it seems like quite a pivotal point in your career as a curator!

Yes, very serendipitous, I am really excited about joining the team, I saw Ralph briefly on via Garibaldi the other day! I start at the Hayward on the 15th April and my first project will be in Summer 2020, so I have got my thinking cap on! I am certainly in an ellipsis period, I finished at Tate after 5 years, I’m now focusing on the Pavilion, and whilst back in my air b’n’b I am furiously taking notes trying to formulate ideas, because next summer will come soon!

Where did it all begin, how did you first get into curating?

Well! I was just in LA for the opening of Soul of A Nation at the Broad (The Broad presentation is curated by Sarah Loyer) with Mark Godfrey (who I originally co-curated the exhibition with), Sarah did an amazing job and all of the artists were there and it felt like a real family reunion with all of these people whom I have grown to care about over the years, and I got to spend time with the two women who really set me on my way; the senior curator, Sharon Takeda at LACMA in the costume and textile department and then one of the curators Kaye Spilker. In 1999, I had a  Getty Multicultural Undergraduate summer internship there, they taught me how to do my job, that long ago, twenty years ago! I feel like I have to give credit to amazing women who were generous when the didn’t have to be, I mean I was an intern, they could have said go and photocopy this! But they gave me interesting work to do, they helped me learn how to research, I know it was just one summer but they took the time to read what I had written and gave me feedback and literally said to me, we see in you an ability to do this job. They recommended the MA programme I ended up doing in London at the Royal College of Art. There is something about the sense of someone empowering you or just saying that this is something that you can do too, this isn’t something that is obscure and exclusive and that there is not space for your thoughts and your energy. I try and thank them at every opportunity and then there were women at the V&A (Margaret Timmers, Gill Saunders and Rosie Miles) who offered me that same thing and my first curatorial role there. That was my first time working with living artists, knowing that was even possible, that you could be cataloguing a work by someone and they might come in and you could actually talk to them and ask them questions, that was the most mind-blowing thing, it may seem simple or everyday and its the best part of my job but when you are young and learning it there is something about not being able to collapse that distance between the artists and the artwork and start to learn how to listen, the times when I am quietest is when I am listening to artists because I have learnt so much from them.

So all of those different building blocks, that summer at LACMA, I ended up being at the V&A for 10 years from 2003-2013, first as an assistant curator and then as curator of contemporary programmes, which is a department which doesn’t exist in quite the same way anymore, but we did site specific commissions around the museum and we ran the Friday Late programme. The way we worked then – there was no distance between you and the audience you were serving, we heard directly from people what they think is brilliant, complaints and understanding logistically about how things work and the difference between theory and practice, we learnt a lot on the job in those early 2000s and Friday Lates is still going strong!

Are there any projects or pavilions you are particularly looking forward to seeing at the 58th Art Biennale?

So many! I am American and Martin Puryear is representing the United States and he is also an artist we had featured in Soul of a Nation, I am delighted to see what he is doing. My two closest allies in this are Lynsey Young who is doing Scotland in Venice with Charlotte Prodger and I just met Sean Edwards yesterday through Marie-Anne McQuay, respectively, the artist and the curator of the Welsh pavilion. Feeling like you are part of this thing that is bigger than you is really exciting! The Ghana Pavilion – I am absolutely thrilled about! One of my roles at Tate was joint lead on our Africa acquisitions, so for Ghana to be here for the first time is amazing and then the fact that nearly all of the artists in the exhibition are known to me and I am fans of theirs! Lynette Yiadom-Boakye I know is in it, John Akomfrah is showing the piece that was at the Imperial War Museum that was so phenomenally touching, Ibrahim Mahama who presented such a forceful installation during Okwui Enwezor’s Venice, he is doing so many interesting things. Felicia Abban, thought to be Ghana’s first woman studio portrait photographer, I think will be a revelation to a lot of people. Team Cathy with every fibre of my being but I’m also excited about a number of other things. There are also artists in Ralph’s show who are dear friends – Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Sometimes I know what’s coming, I’ve seen some of the works in the studio and I am so excited for other people to see them. Kahlil Joseph is going to present something really impressive here, there’ll be a lot for people to appreciate, Larissa Sansour representing Denmark is a really talented artist, too many good things!





Lara Morrell

  • Dr Zoe Whitley Curator, British Pavilion Dr Zoe Whitley Curator, British Pavilion
  • Cathy Wilkes. Untitled, 2012. Mixed media. Image courtesy MoMA PS1. Photo by Pablo Enriquez. Cathy Wilkes. Untitled, 2012. Mixed media. Image courtesy MoMA PS1. Photo by Pablo Enriquez.
  • Cathy Wilkes. Installation view LENTOS Kunstmuseum, Linz, 2015 Ph. Reinhard Haider. Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow Cathy Wilkes. Installation view LENTOS Kunstmuseum, Linz, 2015 Ph. Reinhard Haider. Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow
  • British Pavilion. Ph. John Riddy British Pavilion. Ph. John Riddy
  • Cathy Wilkes Untitled, 2016 Oil on canvas 76 x 122 x 2.5 cm 30 x 48 x 1 in Photo: Keith Hunter Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow Cathy Wilkes Untitled, 2016 Oil on canvas 76 x 122 x 2.5 cm 30 x 48 x 1 in Photo: Keith Hunter Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow
  • Cathy Wilkes Untitled, 2016 Oil on canvas 76 x 122 x 2.5 cm 30 x 48 x 1 in Photo: Keith Hunter Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow Cathy Wilkes Untitled, 2016 Oil on canvas 76 x 122 x 2.5 cm 30 x 48 x 1 in Photo: Keith Hunter Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow
Milan - Interviews

“Milan has Different Souls”: Liliana Moro talks about her city and practice with Agata Polizzi

3 weeks ago

Agata Polizzi: The last time we met we were in Milan having breakfast in a “dopolavoro” (working men’s club) in a former factory near your studio, everything had remained relatively authentic and intact considering the time past. Not far from there in Milan things are progressing at a very different speed and moving in a different direction, we talked a lot about your city and how strong your bond is to it. What remains of the Milan of the Nineties? The decade in which a lot happened to you. How much has this city changed?

Liliana Moro: Until a few decades ago the area of Precotto was a peripheral and working class area of Milan, a few kilometres from Officine Breda, Pirelli and Falck, a place where people stopped to meet one another, to play “bocce” (bowls) after work, in places just like the one where we had breakfast. Only now there are tables instead of the garden, but the atmosphere has remained the same, a working class neighbourhood where at the end of the day they would meet for a glass of wine or a coffee in an all embracing space. This is a Milan that I know well and from which I have never strayed too far. I like this feeling of authenticity, I prefer the more underground and less glossy side to the city. Milan has always been a city with many different souls, it has always offered a lot in terms of cultural spaces, public, private, but also those that are independent and outside of the official circuits.
The thing I love most about Milan is its capacity to take advantage of these differences, and its ability to adapt and change with the times. The 90s were dense years and even more so were the years that preceded them, namely the years of the economic boom, of fashion and economy. I was twenty years old when “Milan da Bere” raged.
It was then that the artists’ vision was liberated thanks to experimental projects such as Corrado Levi’s exhibition inside the former Boveri Brown & Cie factory.
The trauma of “Tangentopoli” (Political corruption scandal in Italy in 1990s) brought about an awakening of public conscious and left an indelible mark, this was the prelude to the phase of change that over time led the city to becoming what it is today.
I really like Milan and sometimes I don’t think I could think otherwise, it is a city that complains little and does a lot, it is productive and has great energy. It is also historically democratic, welcoming and forward thinking.
What binds me most to it, however, is its apparent character of being extremely reserved, that attitude of hiding yet then revealing a great depth. I recognise myself very much in this characteristic.

AP: Your work has always transmitted a great sense of control, freedom and even acute irony, how important are these elements for you?

LM: I try to be essential in my work, control is a fundamental tool for me, in reality I am interested in only saying what is “strictly necessary”, because my work emits my point of view but it is also an unambiguous vision, a process of some-what extreme cleansing, allowing for greater concentration. Observation helps me to put everything into focus, with apparent simplicity. The often concealed, subtle irony is an interesting possibility to lighten reflections on contemporaneity, those that are often very hard and complex.
Many define my work as eclectic, I prefer to think that my research revolves around the contexts that define who we are, art keeps pace with history and this leaves a great freedom of observation, in this sense it really is contemporary.

AP: You have taught for years at the Academy of Fine Arts, the relationship with the new generation is a powerful tool for understanding the changing present, what is your exchange with your students like and how do you think the teacher/student relationship has changed? Also from the point of view as a student yourself and your relationship with Luciano Fabro?

LM: I believe that young art school students, despite the enormous stimuli they receive today from the contemporary world, need to work hard. The excessive possibility of accessing information is sometimes paralysing. If I think to the days when I attended art school, there is an abyss of difference. There remains an ever profound uncertainty on being an artist, because then, as is the case now, it remains a point of fragility, perhaps the journey was more difficult for us then but it certainly was clearer.
Technology has distorted the approach to things, one has the impression of being able to skip steps that are mandatory and fundamental to personal growth, one must be hungry to learn and be curious.
Regarding my relationship with Fabro, among his greatest teachings was his constant nourishing of the habit to “see everything” to understand what happening, to observe what others around us are doing, to confront each other and if necessary be critical.
This outlook has been lost, I think. As a teacher I keep repeating the mantra “see everything”, as I tried to listen to the talent of my students and cultivate it, encourage it, provide the ingredients to grow and strengthen their visions on art. Then everyone needs to be free, this is a necessary conquest.

AP: Liliana Moro, I have been fortunate enough to work with you on several occasions and I have always admired the way you “suggest” different points of view whilst leaving ample room for reflection and entrusting the autonomy of the viewer. Is this generosity of yours an attempt in some way to encourage an open dialogue with external reality?

LM: When I think of my work I believe that it is not possible to separate it from myself, from what I am, so this way of living work as a “world” allows me to deeply share my vison with others. For example, I almost always entrust my work directly on the ground without interference or intermediation: for me, to put work on the floor means creating zero distance, I like that there is continuity and also a relationship between my work and space, so it is as if a flow has passed through different elements, without interruption whilst maintaining open communication between them.
Sometimes I am surprised by art’s enormous capacity of allowing a concrete relationship with reality, much more than one can imagine.

AP: The next Biennale 2019 arrives after many years of research that separate you from the 1993 edition, what has changed in recent years to Liliana Moro’s system and vision?

LM: I don’t think I have changed much except that I’ve grown up, and aged!
I certainly feel great excitement but am less foolish than I was then, I am more aware, more confident. The context has changed a lot too, Milovan Farronato has entrusted us with the joy of working at the Italian Pavilion with enormous responsibility, this implies an attention that is totally absorbing, absorbing all my energy.
It’s a great feeling but it’s also a great challenge, and I thank him for it.
My relationship with Milovan is one of great respect and esteem, an exchange between two people who have known each other for a long time, this umpteenth experience together I consider an important step forward for both myself and

My Art Guides Editorial Team

  • Liliana Moro, Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani. Liliana Moro, Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani.
  • Liliana Moro, Carne, 1992 Liliana Moro, Carne, 1992
  • Liliana Moro, Ouverture , 2017. Courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea Liliana Moro, Ouverture , 2017. Courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea
  • Liliana Moro, né in cielo né in terra, 2016. courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea © Renato Ghiazza Liliana Moro, né in cielo né in terra, 2016. courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea © Renato Ghiazza
London - Interviews

Oliver Jeffers: Observations on Modern Life

3 weeks ago

We had a chat with Oliver Jeffers, the award winning artist, illustrator and author in his studio in Brooklyn, ahead of his upcoming exhibition at Lazinc Gallery in London, ‘Observations on Modern Life’. 

Lara Morrell: Your third solo show at Lazinc is opening next month, what’s in store?

Oliver Jeffers: Its going under the title of ‘Observations on Modern Life’, its almost entirely works on paper or found objects, there will be more of a degree of collage, rather than oil painting. Some are re-appropriations, some are created from scratch but all of them, as the title suggests, are some sort of comment on what it is like to be alive in the 21st Century. Sometimes I deal with specific politics and sometimes with general social issues, as often as possible I try not to be angry but hopeful or funny, pointing at the humour or the poetry in something, if it is there to be found.

There are four main branches of types of work: four contemporary stories that are oil on paper, a whole bunch of maps, which are not quite straight maps but twists on maps using the classic geopolitical map as a way to make atypical points just about how maps are carved up in the first place, the idea of nationalism and xenophobia in a modern world, and continuing on from that there are a series of globes, that I have sometime re-appropriated and sometimes painted on from scratch. Then there is a series of what I call ‘disaster paintings’ or interventions on oil paintings that I have found on the street over the years, usually depicting tranquil landscapes that are lacking action where I intervene and insert that action and that is a comment on society in general, a society which is not quite satisfied with tranquility, we look to find the drama in something and that’s what we’re drawn to like a moth to a flame and then there is some just more general political and social commentary that are works on paper, that talk about things like organisation, self driving cars, social media.

Most of it is new work, at the earlier stages there were a series of older works but these have slowly been curated out as the newer work was coming together and the look and feel of the show was more complete.

Lara Morrell: Could you tell me about,‘The Moon, the Earth and Us’, your interpretation of the Overview Effect* at The High Line at the beginning of this year?

*The overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight while viewing the Earth from outer space.

Oliver Jeffers: I made an installation inspired by and for the 50th anniversary of the earth rise photograph, when humanity saw itself for the first time with an honest filter, as a single object and as one single system. The one commonality that all these astronauts had when up in space was yes you can make out landmasses but you certainly cannot see borders and you absolutely cannot see any trace of people, so these borders really only exist in our minds.

The installation consists of scale replica of the earth at 8 feet, the moon at 2 feet and they were 166 feet apart. (There will be a mini version at the LAZinc show, with the earth at a foot and a half, the moon at 8 inches, with 17 feet between them).

Being Northern Irish, I’ve always had a slight distrust of anybody who is very patriotic as Samuel Johnson once said ‘it’s the last refuge of the Scoundrel’, but there is an element of hope in ‘The Moon, the Earth and Us’ piece, which is just a reminder that people live only on the dry parts of this planet and that makes up only 30% of the surface of the planet and this is the only place in the known universe where people can survive, that’s it, that’s our lot and it is infinitesimally small and frighteningly fragile.

‘The Moon, the Earth and Us’, will be moving to Europe by the years end.

Lara Morrell: Does the dichotomy between the label of children’s book illustrator versus that of an artist ever bother you?

Oliver Jeffers: Not really, the two worlds are more intertwined now than they have ever been. A lot of the political commentary I was making in ‘Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth’, that I made for my son three years ago, was the same as what I was getting at for the High Line Piece, which was not a far off a recreation of the back cover of the book, there is all sorts of positive social commentary, so they have been overlapping for a while. The show of large scale oil paintings I had took a lot of the colour cues and the connectivity between ourselves and everything else from ideas that were planted when making this book. So I try to avoid labels, it doesn’t feel accurate to just say I am an artist and it doesn’t feel accurate to say i’m just an illustrator either. I try to refrain from calling myself anything at all.

Lara Morrell: Tell me about the use of written word in your art-work and what that extra layer entails?

Oliver Jeffers: Its always been an aspect of my work and is actually how I got into making picture books in the first place, the combination of words and pictures saying and doing different things. Its a layer of my visual lexicon that’s come through the work, not all of my pieces have text or type on them, but you can add an extra layer, you can contradict and compliment what you are seeing and often times I use the writing as a graphic devise to anchor a piece together with some sort of focus, so really its just another tool in the tool box.

Lara Morrell: When did you career as an artist begin? Did you go to art school? 

Oliver Jeffers: I’ve always liked Picasso’s answer to that one, “when did it all stop”?! I have always loved drawing pictures, most kids do, the trick is remembering that when you grow up! I went to art school once I had figured out that being an artist was a legitimate job and I had decided the system worked pretty well for me. I went to Belfast School of Art, Ulster University.

Lara Morrell: Where do you source all your re-appropriated materials from? 

Oliver Jeffers: I’m given a lot as people have come to know what i’m into! The North-east coast is filled with barns full of stuff so sometimes I go and scavenge around there. Sometimes if I need a specific thing to execute a concept, I go out looking in second-hand shops or online.

Lara Morrell: You currently live and work here in Brooklyn, no plans to go back?

Oliver Jeffers: If people think it’s mess here, it’s mess there and a lot of the work does speak to that, the lack of awareness, the lack of foresight, the insular and selfish mentality that has been seeping through the Western world recently, that is obviously being conveyed in who is president of this country and with Brexit happening.


Lara Morrell: Were there any challenges which arose during the preparation for the Lazinc show? 

Oliver Jeffers: Well all the work is done and sent, from my responsibilities sake at least! Perhaps what was a little challenging was fitting a lot of different works into one space, with different themes and issues being brought up. In some cases the stories being told are quite vague, others completely obvious, trying always to be either hopeful or poetic.


Lara Morrell

  • He Was Only Trying to Help, 2017 He Was Only Trying to Help, 2017
  • My Northern Irish Passport, 2018 My Northern Irish Passport, 2018
  • Nothing to See Here Nothing to See Here
  • Same Place Different Time Same Place Different Time
Milan - Interviews

interview da modificare

4 weeks ago

  • Liliana Moro, Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani. Liliana Moro, Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani.
  • Liliana Moro, né in cielo né in terra, 2016. courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea © Renato Ghiazza Liliana Moro, né in cielo né in terra, 2016. courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea © Renato Ghiazza
  • Liliana Moro, Ouverture , 2017. Courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea Liliana Moro, Ouverture , 2017. Courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea
  • Liliana Moro, Carne, 1992. Courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea Liliana Moro, Carne, 1992. Courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea

My Art Guides Editorial Team

Turin - Interviews

Anri Sala on AS YOU GO and The Spaces in Between

1 month ago

We interviewed artist Anri Sala (Tirana, 1974) on the occasion of the exhibition AS YOU GO, designed for the spaces on the third floor of Castello di Rivoli, the project presents three interwoven film works: Ravel Ravel (2013), Take Over (2017) and If and only if (2018). The films unfold in the form of a “parade,” with a flow of moving images and multiple narratives which create a unique and gigantic sculpture in movement.

Lara Morrell: The title of the exhibition AS YOU GO alludes to something in motion. By composing separate works one after another, like you have in this show, how are they transformed?

Anri Sala: I conceived the exhibition as a parade of sorts, merging aspects of a walkway with attributes of a conveyor belt. The visitor may choose to either stick to one place and let the exhibition pass by in front of them or walk along in tandem with the pace of the works, or go faster or go perhaps against the flow. As each film crosses the consecutive rooms while being present at the same time in multiple spaces at once, contrasting feelings of déjà vu and ubiquity emerge, juxtaposing repetition with progression. In terms of the relationship between the three separate works; I did not edit or alter the films as such, but composed the pace of their trajectories across the exhibition space. I was interested in developing how the films chase, overlap or catch up with one other as they parade. In the case of Ravel Ravel, a work that combines two separate films of two distinct interpretations of Ravel’s Left Hand Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in D major by two pianists (Louis Lortie and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet), back in 2013 I was interested in the resonance of a space consecutive to the temporal lag between the two performances. The respective tempos of each performance were recomposed so that both executions continuously shifted in and out of unison – shifting away from one another again or eventually catching up. In this exhibition, the temporal lag between the two performances translates into a spatial interval on the wall, with the distance between two projected films increasing or decreasing continually. The exhibition as a whole aims at transforming aural and temporal intervals into visible and spatial ones.

LM: Visitors are welcomed with the piece Bridges in the Doldrums (2016), which definition of the word Doldrum does this title refer to? The equatorial area of the Atlantic Ocean where direction is suspended or a state of depression? Regarding Bridges what is it about this specific transition period in a song that you were drawn to?

AS: I’m referring to the definition of doldrums as a weather condition, the state of stagnation that usually precedes a climatic depression, the moment when things are completely still and it is uncertain when an upcoming change will suddenly occur. Whereas bridges refer to the transitional part when a song is nearing its end, just after the verse and before the last chorus, leading to the coda. I find bridges particularly interesting, both musically and psychologically, because they create moments of suspense and alienation. A bridge has a significantly different melody or rhythm from the rest of the song. This contrast produces a moment of surprise in the course of the song that suspends one’s expectations. You think you have grasped the song but then the bridge arrives and leads you in another and unsuspected direction before bringing you back – thanks to the chorus – to a sense of homecoming and familiarity. I find bridges very daring, in how they break with the set pattern of a song. It is very difficult to write a good bridge and as a matter of fact they are fast becoming an extinct species. For this piece I worked together with the musician and friend Andre Vida. We selected around 75 songs coming from very different genres, periods and geographies. They have been compiled one after the other according to their BPM, from the slowest to the fastest, producing an ever-increasing sense of acceleration. The fact that the bridges here do not lead as usual to the chorus of their respective songs, but to the bridge of another song instead, it keeps one in a state of continuous guess. Many of these bridges come from unknown songs whilst some come from well-known songs. Consequently the bridges from the renowned songs offer a sense of anchorage and temporary relief, thanks to their familiarity.

LM: Could you tell me more about the interactions between the two Anthems, the Marseillaise and the Internationale in Take Over and their connotations? Also the machine versus human agency dichotomy?

AS: La Marseillaise and The Internationale share a musical kinship and political affinity. The 1871 lyrics of The Internationale – a hymn to the ideals of fairness, equality and solidarity – were initially set to the tune of La Marseillaise, an inspiring song against oppressive regimes, Thus, for 17 years the lyrics of The Internationale were sung to the tune of La Marseillaise, which means that when the music of The Internationale was finally composed in 1888, the melody of La Marseillaise was already embedded in its lyrics. From the onset, the connotations of both anthems have drifted, floating across history and political landscapes with an ever-changing symbolic significance. In regards to the machine versus human agency, where a pianist is playing alongside a self playing piano – both playing simultaneously – the piano becomes a battlefield where some notes are played by the machine itself while others are played by the pianist’s hands. So there is a double dichotomy, La Marseillaise versus the Internationale and the human player versus the self-playing piano.

LM: Both in Take Over and Ravel Ravel the keyboard is the central visual player, what does the visual architecture of the keyboard represent to you?

AS: The piano keyboard embodies the whole horizon of the Western conception of musical sound. In the beginning of both films of Take Over, before the appearance of the pianist’s hands, all the keys of the keyboard play by themselves at once and consequently all the notes are heard together in a cluster. Then the cluster eventually breaks down to smaller blocks moving up and down, alluding to a landscape of peaks and valleys, and the horizon starts resembling to a cityscape.

LM: If and Only If seems to focus on the collaboration between human and non-human and the transformation of music as an outcome. What does the role of the Snail emphasise in the music?

AS: In If and Only If music behaves like a physical matter that is continuously evolving, constantly becoming. The presence of the snail, even its weight (which appears to be irrelevant) makes a huge difference to the playing of the music. The snail’s presence becomes inherent to the music. This developing condition, before it can even be taken as a metaphor, is a real thing. If and Only If is a road movie, it portrays the voyage of the snail across the bow, but also the inner journey of The Elegy as it coheres with the snail. The trajectory of the snail along the bow becomes a tangible part of the musical composition, the snail’s location and pace compel the viola player to compose with it, resulting in a tactile interaction between the violist Gérard Caussé and the snail. When the snail pauses, Caussé encourages it to continue, using some notes and the movement of the bow as means to lure the snail to go on. Although all the notes come from Stravinsky’s original score, during Caussé’s performance the intervals between the notes dilate, creating an elasticity that helps the snail continue his journey and persevere. The performance of Elegy usually lasts 5 and a half minutes, but in If and Only If it takes about 8 minutes which corresponds with the time that it takes the snail to reach the end of the viola bow.

LM: Where did the idea of snail come from?

AS: At first it was simply the idea of a snail on a bow, whether a viola or a violin. I wanted to make a road movie across the length of a bow. I was looking after this double cohesion, where the bow plays the cords, while the snail plays the bow. It’s only later, when discussing with a musician friend in Mexico that I became aware of Stravinsky’s Elegy for Viola, whose slow pace would allow the snail withstand this particular journey.

LM: You represented France in the 55th Art Biennale, you are part of a group show Luogo e Segni at Punta Della Dogana opening next month. Our studio is based in Venice, could you tell us a little more about your experiences there.

AS: I have indeed been to Venice many times and the longest time I stayed there was when I was installing my project for the French Pavilion in the German Pavilion, and mixing Ravel Ravel Unravel in-situ with the sound designer Olivier Goinard. There is something special about Venice when you are there during these intervals that do not correspond with save-the-date moments and feel like instances of ‘low tides’, in terms of the reduced number of tourists and events. It is then that something magic happens, when one starts developing their own daily rituals and routine, against a backdrop of extraordinary views. Then, all of a sudden, everybody arrives, prompting an “aqua alta” of events and interactions, and in its brevity and intensity there is something nice about it too.

LM: What are you working on at the moment?

AS: I am currently preparing two exhibitions, one in October in Luxembourg at Mudam and then in November, another solo exhibition, in Santander at Centro Botin. I am still in the phase of imagining what aspects will hold each show together.


Lara Morrell

  • Still from Take Over Still from Take Over
  • Still from Ravel Ravel Still from Ravel Ravel
  • Still from If and Only Still from If and Only
  • Bridges in the Doldrums Bridges in the Doldrums
  • Anri Sala. Photograph courtesy of Kaldor Public Art Projects Anri Sala. Photograph courtesy of Kaldor Public Art Projects
Dubai/Sharjah/Abu Dhabi - Interviews

Art Dubai 2019: An Interview with Artistic Director Pablo del Val

1 month ago

Mara Sartore: Among the main highlights of this edition, the fair is inaugurating the new section “Bawwaba”. Could you tell briefly introduce the news of this upcoming fair’s edition?

Pablo del Val: Sure. We’re really excited about Bawwaba (Arabic for gateway), which is the fair’s new gallery section aiming to give visitors a curated reading of current artistic developments, via ten solo shows from artists either living in, from, or focused on ‘the Global South’. By this geographically we mean the Middle East, Africa, Central and South Asia, and Latin America and our intention is for Bawwaba to present a cross-section of the Global South, addressing themes of global migration, socioeconomic structures and identity. These themes are globally relevant and in many ways this new gallery section is an extension of what has always been in the DNA of the fair: an interest in exploring art and cultural exchange from all parts of the world, not just from the major arts markets. This interest in community building, inclusivity and promoting new and alternative perspectives is reflected throughout the fair’s programme: from the Bawwaba gallery section just mentioned to Art Dubai Residents, which this year allows 12 artists from Latin America to ‘deep dive’ into the UAE’s culture and art scene, and another new section of the fair, UAE NOW which will showcase the country’s emerging independent local artist-run collectives and community groups, from artistic collective Bait 15 based in an old villa in downtown Abu Dhabi to Banat Collective a creative community formed in to bring to the fore discussions about womanhood in the Middle East and North Africa region. Our performance programme, this year developed by contemporary art institution, Kunsthalle Lissabon, also reflects this and explores the unifying aspects of communal celebrations – through dance, processions and festivities – as powerful tools to think about the world around us.
At the same time, Art Dubai has always provided a platform for emerging artists too. You may remember the launch edition of Marker back in 2011, an exhibition curated by Nav Haq as point of cross-cultural exchange and discovery at the fair. Artistic collective Ruangrupa from Jakarta who were invited to exhibit back then was recently announced as the artistic directors of Documenta 2020. Art Dubai as an international platform has been a formative part of the journey for many early-career artists and collectives.

MS: Before undertaking your role at Art Dubai, you were Artistic Director of Zona Maco from 2012 to 2015; while previously you were the founding director of ‘La Conservera’ Center of Contemporary Art in Murcia, Spain. What do these positions mean to you and how do these experiences infiltrate into your current role?

PDV: That’s a great question but I think it starts further back too! I come from a family with a long tradition with the arts. My grandparents were old master collectors and my grandmother, Maria Luisa Caturla, was the main expert on Francisco de Zurbaran and a member of several museum boards like the Prado Museum. I studied in Madrid and London and have worked in most of the different facets of the art world. I’ve directed several galleries, had my own art consulting firm, directed two art fairs in Mexico and was the founder-director and curator of La Conservera, an art centre in Murcia, Spain.
All these experiences combined means I have a wide international network to draw from. This year’s Latin American theme for Residents, for example, is very much influenced by my years in Latin America and strong ties to the arts communities there. Trust must always be earned, mustn’t it? And, after working for over two decades in the industry, I have earned the trust of many commercial galleries, museums and institutions, and private and public collectors. This makes it possible for me to pour my energies into being Artistic Director of Art Dubai.

MS: What do you think about Dubai art scene and how has it changed since your arrival here?

PDV: Dubai is a city that moves at such fast speed. Since I first started working in the UAE, major developments have been the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the recent opening Jameel Arts Centre and the re-opening of Qasr Al Hosn. These of course have been well-publicised and currently Dubai’s art scene is extremely international. You can see exhibitions in galleries from a range of artists such as German artist André Butzer (at Carbon 12) or Brazilian Ana Mazzei (Green Art Gallery), for example.
But parallel to this has been the quieter organic development and growth in community and making spaces like Warehouse 421 and Tashkeel and self-organised grassroots groups and artistic collectives. This is both fascinating and vital in equal measure. Vital because these collectives and community groups offer a crucial counterpoint to the public and commercial sectors and add an essential layer to the local contemporary art ecosystem. At Art Dubai this year we offer visitors the chance to explore some of these platforms through segment UAE Now; as well as the artistic outcome of Campus Art Dubai, our intensive six-month seminar and residency programme providing Emirati and UAE-based artists with the opportunity to develop their practices under the mentorship

MS: My Art Guides likes to recommend to its readers unique places to visit in each destination, not necessarily connected to contemporary art. In your opinion, what are the absolutely unmissable places, landmarks and spots in Dubai? And could you recommend something that shouldn’t be missed during Art Week?

PDV: For an altogether different pace of life head to water. Whether on a simple wooden Abra on the Creek or something more upscale close to the beaches of Jumeirah or the Palm, Dubai explored by water is such a different experience to my usual work routine spent whizzing up and down the city’s arterial roads for meetings. I love viewing Dubai’s many different architectural styles from a different perspective and often discover incredible buildings that I’ve not seen before. During Art Week, I’ll always make time to explore SIKKA Art Fair in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. In the evening it’s particularly magical with live music, strings of lighting between the restored buildings and the sense of anticipation before you walk into one of them to discover the art within.

Mara Sartore

  • Pablo del Val, Artistic Director of Art Dubai © Amirah Tajdin Pablo del Val, Artistic Director of Art Dubai © Amirah Tajdin
  • Art Dubai 2019 Art Dubai 2019
Hong Kong - Interviews

Multidimensional Thinking to Practice a New Ecology: An Interview with Shirley Tse

1 month ago

Claudia Malfitano: Your sculpture, installation and photography explore the mutability of material, in particular plastics and their relationship to contemporary artistic, political and environmental concerns. Where does it all start? How do you develop a piece? Can you walk us through your creative process?

Shirley Tse: It started with Styrofoam packaging in dumpsters over 20 years ago- to a young artist’s eyes surveying the daily landscape of the late 20th century, it was brand-new trash, the forgotten place-in-between that was full of paradoxes: temporal in use and permanent in substance, ubiquitous but otherworldly, utopian and dystopian at the same time. It was the prime signifier of 20th century’s movement- both goods and people, as in trading and migration. I started researching plastic, or synthetic polymer, and I discovered that it is a portal to American industrial history, military history, modern medicine, synthetic garments, industrial design, material science, aerospace technology, environmental pollution, waste management, geopolitics and a myriad of other things. It is quite amazing that a single substance can span such heterogeneous fields and forms so many connections. One day it dawned on me that plastic is not even a substance – it’s a formula, a code or a syntax. Chemists were able to coax small organic molecules, mostly carbon, to form enormous chains. What makes “plastic” plastic is its structure and organisation. In recent years I have been moving away from using plastics themselves to explore the concept of “plasticity” and the “synthetic” using a combination of materials.

CM: How do you approach environmental issues and ecology? What do you mean when you talk about “negotiation”?

ST: Environmental issues often arise when people are only able to see one side of things. The study of ecosystems is a practice of multi-dimensional thinking, which is the guiding principle of my sculptural practice. While “negotiation” is a term we often hear used in business and politics, I use it in a more general sense. It applies to everyday actions. It is a philosophical understanding of how differences come together as a dynamic event, where actions bear consequences upon each other. Ecology is indeed a good example of seeing the interdependence of what seems to be separate entities and how they are in constant negotiation with each other. In terms of materials, a wide range of biodegradable synthetic materials are available now. However, I believe the true
culprit to pollution is our mode of consumption – single use, disposability, our culture of convenience. This kind of usage is clearly not sustainable, natural or synthetic.

CM: As a sculptor and a teacher, which artists do you look to for inspiration?

ST: There are just too many to list, past and present. I learn different things from different artists. I might not be fond of an artist’s work but I might learn something by hearing how they reason it for themselves.

CM: You will represent Hong Kong at the upcoming Venice Art Biennale; what does this mean to you?

ST: It is an honor to represent Hong Kong, especially being the first woman artist mounting a solo show at the Hong Kong venue. I have been developing a new body of work utilising a lathe (old-school tool) and a 3D printer (latest technology). I feel very fortunate to receive the funds to support my experiment and venture into new grounds.

CM: Where do you live and work and what is your relationship with Hong Kong like?

ST: I live in Southern California and I often fly to Hong Kong to visit my four siblings and their families. I have sought out opportunities to exhibit in Hong Kong whenever possible. ParaSite, Osage and Fotan Gatherings are some of the places where my work has been seen. The logistics of shipping large- scale sculptures is often a hurdle though.

CM: What are your favourite spots and places you would recommend to our readers?

ST: The Kwai Chung Container Terminal! There you can contemplate the sublime and horror of our contemporary lives. If that is too much, I would take a ferry to any of the outlying islands, or check out any of the hiking trails in Sai Kung. Chi- Lin Nunnery or the Victoria Peak (the actual peak, not the Peak Tram Terminal) are nice too.

Shirley Tse will be the artist representing Hong Kong at the 58th Venice Biennale with the Official Collateral Event “Stakeholders” promoted by M+ and Hong Kong Arts Development Council. Tse is the first female artist to take on this prestigious role and her project will run in Venice in Campo della Tana from 11 May to 24 November, 2019.

Claudia Malfitano

  • Shirley Tse © Image Courtesy WKCDA Shirley Tse © Image Courtesy WKCDA
  • Shirley Tse, Plastic Brain, 2012 Shirley Tse, Plastic Brain, 2012
New York - Interviews

On Valuing Art and Not its Value: An Interview with Sean Kelly

1 month ago

For the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of Armory Show, we interviewed Sean Kelly, both our 2019 editorial committee member and the English man in the New York art world, par excellence. We took him aside at the preview of the fair to discuss living in New York, what it means to be a collector today and his “Collect Wisely” campaign.

Lara Morrell: Having just landed in New York and as a fellow Brit, may I ask you what originally brought you here?

Sean Kelly: I moved here 30 years ago this year, I used to be a museum curator and director and I was really interested in giving the commercial sector a go, so I moved here for a job but that didn’t work so I stayed on and opened by own gallery. I love being here in New York, I really do.

LM: Would you ever consider moving back to London?

SK: No, I know London has changed a lot, but I think there is a great deal to be said for being outside your own culture, I am an insider but remain an outsider at the same time, which provides a unique opportunity and perspective.
When I first moved here someone (who was English) said to me ‘something will happen to you within 3 years of you being here and it will determine whether you stay or not’, if you stay you’ll be here forever and you’ll become a New Yorker and if you don’t you’ll go back and it won’t work. That was exactly what happened almost exactly after three years and I had figured out by then that I was determined to stay. You can’t just wander into to New York, you’ve got to be really determined to be here and almost everybody I knew who came went back within three years. I do think there is a funny energy to it.

LM: Could you tell me about Collect Wisely?

SK: Collect wisely came out of a general dissatisfaction around the fact that the only conversations that anybody seemed to be having in the art world seemed to be about value and finical remuneration. This is fine, its part of what we do, but I didn’t want it to be the only thing I thought about or did and I don’t think collects do either and frankly there were a lot of people getting quite distressed and turned off by it. So collect wisely was an idea that we cooked up as a positive way to respond to that weight and moving the conversation back to ideas of collecting and around value, but not just financial value, so we are essentially talking to collectors who are extremely passionate about why they collect. Its been an incredibly fun and emotionally restorative thing to do, with a huge amount of positive response.

LM: What is involved?

SK: It literally just involves the identification of a number of collectors to talk to, we sit down and talk to them, we don’t talk to them about the gallery, that was the precept from the beginning, I did not want to talk to them about what we did, I wasn’t trying to promote the gallery. I wanted to talk to them about why they are passionate about collecting. So far we’ve done 13 public episodes and we’ve got another 8 or ten in the can, we’re going to do at least one hundred, there is also an exhibition and book in the works.

LM: What is the nature of collecting in the 21st century? How does a collector make a meaningful investment?

SK: Collecting in the 21st Century is I think pretty much the same as what it has always been, yet as we sit here in the middle of an art fair, there is a much larger gene pool of collectors so its a far more valent activity than ever before, just like museum visiting. There are a lot more people going to museums and that’s a wonderful thing as well as the number of artists being supported, likewise wonderful. I think that the essentials of collecting remain the same, human nature is pretty consistent and I think it very much about what you care about, what you love and what you passionate about.

With people spending the kind of money they are spending on art there are always going to considerations about whether  or not it is being spent wisely, whether they are protecting their investment, so to say, but I don’t think anybody should think about art as an investment category, they should simply think about it as something they love and something they are passionate about. Across the life span of a collection, certain things will become very valuable, certain things will go up, things won’t, things will be fashionable or unfashionable in probably several different phases of ones collecting career and that’s natural and how it should be. I defy anybody that can tell me who the most successful artists of 19th century Victorian artist was ,because it was an illustrator, not somebody we would know now, but they were the most wealthy artists of their time, I think history takes care of those issues for us and you should just buy what you love. 

LM: How does one learn to educate their eye and get inside an artists sensibility?

SK: You have educate your own eye, you have to spend a lot of time looking and doing your homework. If you listen to collect wisely, you’ll hear every collector saying repeatedly that you have to do you homework, you have to get out there, you have to read, you have to pay attention and you have to come to your own opinion about things, if you listen you won’t learn very much and you’ll end up making a lot of mistakes, you’ve got to look! There is no shortcut, there is no better form of education than spending time educating your eye.

LM: With the ever increasing number of art fairs worldwide, what is your criteria for art fairs to take part in?

SK: There is an art fair somewhere in the world every week, if not almost every day and I think that one has to make very careful decisions which to target in terms of financial gain, but also geopolitically, if you are going to pay attention to a region then you have to pay attention to that market and I think you also have to honour and be responsible to it, for instance we do a lot in Latin America, so we do a fair in Latin America, we do a lot in Asia so we do a fair in Asia and so forth. I think it really is in response to the opportunities that present themselves in the region and what collectors you are working with.

LM: We are based in Venice, with the upcoming 58th Venice Biennale are you representing any artists taking part? 

SK: We’ve got a number of artists taking part, we’ve got Marina Abramović and Julião Sarmento in a three person show with Carsten Höller, Julian Charrière is doing something there, Alejandro Campins is doing the Cuban Pavilion and I know a number of the other artists are doing different events. It’s opening early again this year, so it splits the market a little, because a lot of people will go either before or after Basel. I myself won’t get there until after Basel, but I honestly don’t mind that, I don’t go for the parties I go for the art, In fact I prefer being in Venice either before of after when its all about the art and its quieter.

LM: What do you think of the title it carries this year, ‘May you Live in Interesting Times’?

SK: Well we do, don’t we?! So I think its quite an appropriate title, in fact I cannot remember in my lifetime a more challenging, demanding and complex time. Whether it is the idiocy of Donald Trump or the patheticness of the Republican Party and whats occurring to America or the absurdity of Brexit, or many of the other political challenges that many countries are facing, France being held ransom by the Yellow Jackets. There are challenges left, right and centre, there are challenges in Asia, Brazil and Venezuela.

We live in very challenging times, it feels like a world over geopolitical meltdown and the art world is a burgeoning environment, so I do think it is a very apt title and I hope the exhibition reflects that, because if it will, it will do its job.

Lara Morrell

  • Sean Kelly at The Armory Show 2019 March 7 – 10, 2019, Pier 94, Booth 501 Photography: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York Sean Kelly at The Armory Show 2019 March 7 – 10, 2019, Pier 94, Booth 501 Photography: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York
  • ANTONY GORMLEYSTATION XI, 20145 mm mild steel plate and 5 mm square section mild steel bar76 3/4 x 19 1/16 x 13 9/16 inches (195 x 48.5 x 34.5 cm)© Antony GormleyCourtesy: Sean Kelly, New York ANTONY GORMLEY STATION XI, 20145 mm mild steel plate and 5 mm square section mild steel bar76 3/4 x 19 1/16 x 13 9/16 inches (195 x 48.5 x 34.5 cm)© Antony GormleyCourtesy: Sean Kelly, New York
  • Sean Kelly at The Armory Show 2019 March 7 – 10, 2019, Pier 94, Booth 501 Photography: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York Sean Kelly at The Armory Show 2019 March 7 – 10, 2019, Pier 94, Booth 501 Photography: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York
  • ©Janaina TschäpeCourtesy: Sean Kelly, New YorkKEHINDE WILEYPortrait of Marcus Stokes, 2019oil on canvaspainting: 84 x 58 1/8 x1 7/16 inches (213.4 x 147.6 x 3.7 cm)framed: 91 5/16 x 69 3/8 x 3 7/8 inches (231.9 x 176.2 x 9.8 cm)© Kehinde WileyCourtesy: Sean Kelly, New York ©Janaina TschäpeCourtesy: Sean Kelly, New YorkKEHINDE WILEYPortrait of Marcus Stokes, 2019oil on canvaspainting: 84 x 58 1/8 x1 7/16 inches (213.4 x 147.6 x 3.7 cm)framed: 91 5/16 x 69 3/8 x 3 7/8 inches (231.9 x 176.2 x 9.8 cm)© Kehinde WileyCourtesy: Sean Kelly, New York
  • Sean Kelly at The Armory Show 2019 March 7 – 10, 2019, Pier 94, Booth 501 Photography: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York Sean Kelly at The Armory Show 2019 March 7 – 10, 2019, Pier 94, Booth 501 Photography: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York
  • Courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery Courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery
Dubai/Sharjah/Abu Dhabi - Interviews

“Leaving the Echo Chamber”: Sharjah Biennial 14 Through the Eyes of the Curators

2 months ago

Curators Zoe Butt, Omar Kholeif and Claire Tancons, who have collaboratively conceived the SB14 theme, present three distinct exhibitions bringing together a range of experiences and works—including major commissions, large-scale public installations, performances and film—to create a series of provocations about how one might re-negotiate the shape, form, and function of contemporary life’s “echo chamber”. Here they have shared with us their experience as curator of the biennial.

Carla Ingrasciotta: How are you each responding to the biennial’s theme “Leaving the Echo Chamber”? How have you interpreted this concept?

Claire Tancons: “Look for Me All Around You interprets the echo chamber less as a contemporary media concept and a metaphor for a feedback loop society as it attempts to chart perceptual and sensorial experiences that might manipulate or mitigate its effects. Whether life-streamed (Caline Aoun’s “Time Travel), sun-based (Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla’s “Specters of Noon or Hannah Black and Ebba Fransén Waldhör’s “Suntitled), intermodular (Jace Clayton’s 🌊🔊🤷🏽) or algorithmic, (Annie Dorsen’s “Infinite Sun), time-based works in “Look for Me All Around You variably engage with old and new digital and analogic formats and the entanglement thereof while others bring to emergence no less complex natural phenomena of perception such as the rainbow in Aline Baiana’s “Alliance for a Sunny World or The Rainbow Serpent Flows in Free Water & Janna Dam or The Second Murder of Adonis”) or the heliostats in Nikolaus Gansterer’s “Sympoeisis Observatory.) So that the notion of diasporization which can manifest as alternatively dispossessive or repossessive, although rooted in a specific reference which gave the platform its title (a sentence from a well-known speech by Marcus Garvey almost a century old), migrates from the political and the social to the conceptual and the aesthetic with untested artistic potency. In its very poetic expression, “Look for Me All Around You conjoins at once the traces of diaspora, the specters of surveillance, the distance between “ me” and “you”—a multiplicity of rebounds, returns and echoes.

Zoe Butt: Leaving the Echo Chamber” is both a statement and a question. It proposes that our dominant chamber of consciousness – a global-politic economically intertwined yet governmentally divisive – is often culturally stymied by traditional custom, insidiously lined with authoritarianism, popularly motivated by a culture of ‘like’, and blindly participating in an algorithmic world determining quantity for meaning. For me, it is the stories of artists (their artworks, their voices, their actions) that provide necessary alternate readings of humanity and its condition. Their artistic practices have opened my mind to the restrictions placed on the capacity and visibility of our echo due to the chamber in which it predominantly resides.

Omar Kholeif: Well we collectively devised the concept, so we’re not responding to it (which suggests that someone else has decided on that theme) but rather we are developing, nuancing, further evaluating what it means to consider a world that exists outside out of the homogenised political loop that is the Echo Chamber. What does it mean to exist outside of the bounds and confines of surveillance capitalism -the pervading state of consciousness of today. What does it mean to demand one’s own images, one’s own right to see through history – to make time for new ways of seeing. 

Carla Ingrasciotta: Could you briefly introduce your individual exhibition projects to be presented at the biennial?

Claire Tancons: “Look for Me All Around You is an attempt at charting a global history taking the Americas and the Emirates as seemingly distant yet surprisingly proximate coordinates taking modes of migration, development and labor as departure points to examine, experience and possibly affect processes of perception, cognition and reflection around other spatio-temporal coordinates of the contemporary.Look for Me All Around You is host to twenty-seven entirely newly commissioned works that evade visual prehension, resist stable physical materialization and embrace fluid perceptual modes—the aural, the ephemeral, the intangible—forming an open platform of migrant images and fugitive forms. Further, spanning the East and West coasts of the Arabian peninsular across two Emirates, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain, and two cities, Sharjah City and Kalba in myriad non-museological spaces,Look for Me All Around You attempts to contrast gallery-based and object-centered museological developments in the region, and offer instead more intangible means of perceiving and presenting an artistic experience.

Zoe Butt: “Journey Beyond the Arrow” argues that the way forward to increase the echo (the human rituals, language, cultural practices and beliefs) within the chamber of contemporary life is by acknowledging (thus not assuming) the cause and effect of human action – to not focus on the destination of the arrow but rather at the bow which launches its existence. Thus much of the art presented here encompasses artistic provocations of History, challenging its (written) context with interjections of lived experience, re-presenting fact as fiction (and fiction as fact), arguing (and thus celebrating) the necessary, innovative movement of mind and matter and method across the globe. 

Omar Kholeif:  “Making New Time” is one of the three constituent platforms of the 14th Sharjah Biennial and has been devised to question a number of things. 1) What is material culture and how do we relate to it today? 2) How is this material culture judged or justified in an age of heightened acceleration or speed? 3) Have societies burnt out under the current conditions of existence? 4) and how history structures and layers time – becomes a question! This last point made me start to consider sediments that slowly move and weave through time – works that deal with issues of reincarnation, political resistance, the body, mother/daughter relationships to name but a few examples. 

Carla Ingrasciotta:  How did you select the artists involved in the exhibition?

Claire Tancons:  My selection process is the outcome of both a long-standing interest in the work of artists whose development I have been following for years, and discoveries from travels and research at once guided and intuitive, motivated and free. I purposefully chose to work predominantly with artists with whom I didn’t have a prior relationship to start a fresh dialogue around what the intersection between their artistic practice, my curatorial practice, the context of the UAE and the space of Sharjah could produce, as discourse, experience, form. My interest in practices of performance and presence and the manifestation of essence, leading into the consideration of people, bodies and matter as agents, became at once informed and nuanced by conceptual practices operating according to non-linear time-based parameters.

Zoe Butt: “Journey Beyond the Arrow” was a rare opportunity for me to bring together artistic practices that have long pre-occupied my curatorial research (while also bringing new minds to the fore as a delightful consequence of research travel afforded by SB14). My passion for the re-writing and conceiving of what a ‘history’ can be has long been informed by the enquiries of artists, particularly across what I call the ‘globalizing souths’ (the peoples who endured colonial occupation), drawn to their commonalities, differences and contradictions. Many of the artists here have been of significant impact on my practice for quite some time, their storytelling a rich reserve of comparative information and methodology. So artists and artwork were selected largely based on a) engaging paradigms of (colonial) history that re-determines dominant (hegemonic) narrative; b) reveals the necessary movement of humanity and its positive and negative impact, historically; c) engages these subjects within media that demonstrates artistic and conceptual skill (often re-working traditional/disciplinary materials and techniques).

Omar Kholeif:  The idea in fact emerged from the art practices. I always begin my exhibitions and draw their themes by looking at the themes of the works of the artists who I think are making the most urgent work of our time. I then I decide on specific works based on how they dialogue and inter-relate with each other; how they create a layer cake of stories that weave through time and enrich the experience for the viewer. 

Carla Ingrasciotta: How does your idea create a dialogue with the other curatorial projects?

Claire Tancons:  The three projects in Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber intersect in ways natural and open, as they developed out of a common generational grounding in the post-colonial, with at once diverting and overlapping focuses on either or both performance and rituals, new media and the digital, the (non-)narrative and the (non-)representational. Predominantly time-based projects in “Look for Me All Around You set different clocks for “Making New Time while large non-representational and non-figurative segments of my platform offer contrasting aesthetic trajectories to “Journey Beyond the Arrow.

Zoe Butt:  Questions of time and its shaping of potential (as curated by Omar Kholeif) resonates for example, with my preoccupation with empathy and the need to give time in the shaping of human cause and effect with its embrace (evidenced in such work by Lee Mingwei, 31st Century Museum of Contemporary Spirit and Nalini Malani); while the provocation of the senses as not privileging sight (as curated by Claire Tancons) resonates for example, with my preoccupation with music and the need to understand its history as critical reflections of social injustice and human migration (evidenced in such work by Mark Salvatus and Neo Muyanga).

Omar Kholeif: I see all of the works as being constituent elements of one greater whole -one macro narrative about Leaving the Echo Chamber – all three propositions are strongly bound by a political discourse that urges the viewer to look beyond the confines of the status quo, in order to discover new lines of sight. 

Carla Ingrasciotta: How has it been working together for the biennial? Was this your first experience in the UAE?

Claire Tancons: My first encounter with the UAE was with Sharjah. I started to engage with Sharjah back in 2013 when I was invited by Sharjah Art Foundation to visit Yoko Hasegawa’s Sharjah Biennial 11. I started to research the history of the region at that time and became specially interested in the possibility of a contemporary infrastructural reading of special zones in city state-like polities based on the (contested) history of pirate enclaves in the Arabian / Persian Gulf. This ongoing interest in what some have termed the piracy paradigm has continued to inform my current engagement with Sharjah and proposition for Sharjah Biennial 14 in ways both overt and covert.

Zoe Butt:  I’ve learned SO much from working with the Sharjah Art Foundation and I’m forever grateful for this chance to bring all these wonderful people and artwork together. The UAE is my first experience of working in the Middle East and I hope to have another chance to explore again soon. 

Omar Kholeif: The process was very independent, but we shared ideas, crossovers, layered interchanges. This wasn’t my first experience in working in the UAE. The UAE has long been a site of conversation and collaboration for me. I have served for the past couple of years as guest curator for Abu Dhabi Art and have regularly lectured and presented in Sharjah and Dubai from the Global Art Forum to the March Meetings. I have also curated the Abraaj Group Art Prize. And of course the region’s galleries, not for profits, fairs, etc have served as a source of inspiration, conversation and collaboration for years. 

Carla Ingrasciotta

  • Claire Tancons, photo by Nicola Bustreo Claire Tancons, photo by Nicola Bustreo
  • Zoe Butt, 2018. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation Zoe Butt, 2018. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation
  • Omar Kholeif, photo by Eric T. White Omar Kholeif, photo by Eric T. White
  • Caecilia Tripp, Even the Stars Look Lonesome, Film Still New Commission, 2019, Courtesy of the artist Caecilia Tripp, Even the Stars Look Lonesome, Film Still New Commission, 2019, Courtesy of the artist
  • Astrid Klein, Untitled, (What are you fighting for), 1988/93. From 'White paintings, 1988, Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers. © Astrid Klein Astrid Klein, Untitled, (What are you fighting for), 1988/93. From 'White paintings, 1988, Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers. © Astrid Klein
  • Rohini Devasher, Spheres, 2017. Installation view: Dr Bhau Daji, Lad City Museum, Mumbai. Courtesy of Dr Bhau Daji Lad City Museum, Mumbai © Anil Rane Rohini Devasher, Spheres, 2017. Installation view: Dr Bhau Daji, Lad City Museum, Mumbai. Courtesy of Dr Bhau Daji Lad City Museum, Mumbai © Anil Rane
London - Interviews

Re-appropriating The Field of Emotion: an Interview with Kader Attia

2 months ago

We interviewed the artist Kader Attia on the occasion of his first major exhibition in the United Kingdom ‘The Museum of Emotion’ at The Hayward Gallery in London. The international artist, who has been named by The Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff as “One of the most interesting and cogent artists practising today”, spoke to us about the Field of Emotion, La Colonie, the Gilets Jaunes, his notion of Repair  and his experience at the 57th Venice Biennale. 

Lara Morrell: It seems to me that your art is a form of catharsis in the face of social and geopolitical frustrations, is this an apt observation and could you tell me more about the title of this exhibition the ‘Museum of Emotion’?

Kader Attia: Yes, that is true. It is important to be aware that we have been neglecting emotion, not only in art, but in politics too. Let me use France as an example: At the beginning of the 80’s, the left gained power with François Mitterrand, after two decades of a right-wing government following ’68 and the Algerian War. However the 80’s brought about the rise of neoliberalism, of a new right and what is even worse, the fall of the left. As a consequence the left became snobbish, what we call ‘Gauche Caviar’, in fact they began to neglect the ‘roughness of life’. In the cultural field they started to render the colours, smells, noise, museums and their exhibitions emotionally and intellectually dark and obscure, with the primary incentive of seducing the market. So the 80’s had become the moment when the Left abandoned the field of emotion. The 90’s were the depoliticised decade, and this is the very when Neoliberalism in France began to emerge and to seep into politics via its very own tool, the media.

LM: What would you say is the most interesting example of this?

KA: Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi owned two channels in France, La Cinq and another channel, whichgradually became very famous. As in Italy, he became the figure of a neoliberal promise and people began to believe that he was right. The connection between neoliberalism, economy and politics became more and more obvious through people like him.  Berlusconi was very much using the field of emotion by provoking catharsis within the people: their desire to be healed, to be cured; but by condemning and blaming the other. For instance the blame for the decline of French economy was put on the Left, the choices they had taken, and it was denounced as total ‘nonsense’. By 1995 Berlusconi had become very famous in France and had began to build his own political party Forza Italia. Here we can see a clear illustration of media as a tool to gain power and control. If you look at what has happened afterwards, in France and also other countries, the direction of the political agenda had started to run parallel with the rhythm of the media and the news. By hijacking the attention of the political and media landscape, by creating scandal to gain attention, Berlusconi, like Trump, played with the ambivalence of emotion.

LM: Could you explain what you mean by the ambivalence of emotion? In your opinion do emotions have the potential power to heal or they solely create conflict? Can you tell us some more about ‘The Field of Emotion’ ? (An installation in the exhibition, where the artist has juxtaposed images of politicians with singers known for their powerful, affective delivery)

KA: Why do I think that emotion is ambivalent? If you look at a seminal context in history of the 21st Century, the way that populism brought fascists to power in the 1930’s, you clearly observe that only culture and artists can compete with politics on that ground. In my wall installation The Field of Emotion, I juxtapose people with very powerful voices – very charismatic singers like Maria Callas, people who really galvanised and magnetised crowds – with figures such as Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler and Fidel Castro. All these political leaders, also females such as Fidel Castro’s sister Juanita Castro or Mao’s wife Jiang Qing who was in charge of the Cultural Revolution, were totally homophobic. They were responsible for the imprisoning and deaths of a vast number of gay people. The Field of Emotion shows the way that most politicians, especially fascists with a radical agenda, hijack intellectuals and art in order to use them as a tool to control the crowds.  You just need to watch Hitler’s or Goebbel’s speeches, convincing the audience just by their passion.

Also Donald Trump is a comparable figure and not all of the crowd are immune to him. One could state that it was a big mistake by the US Left (if one can speak of a Left there at all) to let Hillary Clinton win against Bernie Sanders. Sanders was aware of the field of emotion but there were snobbish democrats who had been convinced they were going to win over the plebs. They continued the way in which the Left in France or Italy had neglected the field of emotion, and as a consequence we woke up in a nightmare. I think we are witnessing a crucial moment of re-appropriation of the field of emotion. I do believe that the filed of emotion today is in the hands of the far right: with people like Salvini in power or with the Brexit.

LM: Could you tell me about your space, the space you opened in 2016 in Paris which encourages cross cultural critical thinking and what is your view on the Gilets Jaunes movement?

KA: Also the Gilet Jaunes protests are connected to the field of emotion. Recently we had Toni Negri for a discussion about the Gilet Jaunes movement. Afterwards I asked Toni Negri if we could connect the Gilets Jaunes to the Forconi movement in Sicily which gave birth to The Five Star movement. He explained that the uprising of the Gilet Jaunes were more complex and that many movements in Europe were the origin of the new far Right, so we now needed to be aware of such a risk.

I absolutely agree with him and Ètienne Balibar who pointed out during our discussion that the Left and the cultural institutions are demonising the Gilet Jaunes, claiming that they were Fascists. But they are just reproducing the words of the neoliberal Right and now that the media has demonised them with one agenda they really have become a Fascist movement in the eye of the public. I think this is a crucial moment; we must reinvent a way re-appropriating the field of emotion, which is held not only by politicians but also by another power: the mass media, the tabloids, the media linked to the neoliberal, and do not allowing any deviation but following the narrative of liberalism. To cope with this we need either to create spaces, small niches or to create art that the audience such as my project on 23rd February. I invited all artists, curators and critics and anyone else who wanted to support the Gilet Jaunes and to state in a public forum that the movement is becoming bigger. Re-appropriatinf the field of emotion has become an emergency today. Over the last 20 years Italy already has been witnessing this evolution towards Fascism.

*On the 23rd of February the artist hosted at his space in Paris – La Colonie a day dedicated to Gilets Jaunes activism, where artists, intellectuals and critics gathered to exchange thoughts and ideas on how to explain and engage in the Gilets Jaunes movement see link to event here

LM: The vast installation ‘The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures’ is filled with African Masks and Paraphernalia from the First World War, could you expand on your notion of Repair in relation to these seemingly contrary objects.

KA: My idea of Repair has developed bit by bit through my research of the past, especially when researching storage spaces of ethnological museums. I observed that throughout history isolated societies which had not been in touch with Western thought or modernity before colonial times, used to apply practices of repair which have absolutely nothing in common with Western concepts of repair: they repaired broken objects while keeping the wound visible, so a broken calabash for instance would be repaired with visible stitches or staples. This is not only the case in Africa, but also in Japan where the fissure of a broken ceramic pot was painted in gold after mending it. This is called ‘Kintsugi’ and it is a very delicate artistic form of taking care of the injury. With the rise of technological developments and modernity, the West started to be obsessed with an idea of repair that equals the necessity to control and to erase the injury and to make the object look like it did at the beginning. This is the total fantasy of modernity. If you consider this very obvious, yet deep-rooted contradiction you begin to realise the different concepts of injury from the westernand from the traditional point of view. For me the most significant moment of a shift of Western modernity, and perhaps the beginning of its end, was the First World War. It lasted 4 years, millions died, and it was the macabre theatre of the many inventions of Modernity. At this very point in time, the injured and wounded bodies were the incarnations of progress. What I find extremely interesting is the way people then tried to fix the injuries. At the beginning of WW1, in 1915 or so, people repaired injured faces and bodies on the battle field. The armies were simply overwhelmed with what was happening as they had not foreseen such slaughter. So they had to rely on young women, young nurses.


There is one famous French woman who after the war became a very important plastic surgeon, her name is Suzanne Noël, and she described repairing the faces of the injured in the middle of the battle field with bombs exploding above her head. In my research I found that those very early repairs looked much alike broken African mask objects that had been repaired. As the war proceeded, by 1918 the repairs became more ‘perfect’ in the sense that resin prosthetics were invented; doctors would dry the skin to fill it with resin. Pictures were taken to prove that science can repair the injury. This you can see in the slide show in the installation.

The approach towards repair is very different in the Western and non-Western world, in terms of both physical and psychological injury.

*In the slide show which forms part of the installation ‘The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures’ Attia pairs images of soldiers treated to early, rudimentary plastic surgery with African masks and objects bearing signs of physical repair, a series of juxtapositions challenging our conventional ideas about wholeness, injury beauty and otherness.

LM: On the topic of psychology could you tell me more about the installation Shifting Borders (three separate videos and a series of uncanny sculptural elements) and your focus on Mental Health Southeast Asia?

KA: The work Shifting Borders includes interviews I did in South Korea and Vietnam, and it is about the way these two countries have been dealing with their traumatic history by applying techniques from  psychology and by using of traditional healing. I have been working a lot on the way that psychotherapeutical methods have been used in societies where traditional beliefs and rites have always existed.

In South East Asia I discovered something extremely interesting,  because, for instance, it was really difficult to find Shamans in South Korea. Most people would say they don’t have Shamans any more. South Korea is a  society which has been faced with forced capitalism, it is so neoliberal, it is so tough, you are nothing if you are not brilliant, beautiful and competitive, it is a scary society so the few people who are ‘normal’ like us are trying to fight against this.

Vietnam, on the other contrary, is a country that embraces communism and despite the fact that communism opposes superstition, Vietnam has protected animism.* The work looks into a different form of healing and highlights the therapeutic role played by shamanistic practices in non-Western societies.

*In one of the interviews with mental health professionals, academics and traditional healers, a Vietnamese spiritualist describes holding a ceremony for the spirit of an American solider who had possessed her brother-in-law.

LM: Lastly, you exhibited in Venice for the 57th Art Biennale, we are based there, how was your experience on our home turf?

KA: It was great, I participated with a sound piece ‘Narrative Vibrations’, which was slightly hidden away in the Arsenale. I intergrated voices of female singers, and the sounds were transformed by a software we had developed in order to move grains on plates by sound waves. This was based on the discovery by a German physicist Ernst Chladni (1756-1827). He observed that solids transmit sounds and that some frequencies produce patterns that also exist elsewhere in nature. I applied this to an apparatus I invented with a couple of French engineers: we had ten plates in the space that were connected to the screens showing the singers, and I had poured couscous on each plate. The semola grains moved through electromagnetic waves provoked by the sounds in correspondence with the voices of musicians; Arab singers in fact from the postcolonial golden age, singers I grew up listening to. It produced some quite stunning abstract sounds and visually it was absolutely astonishing and effective.

Lara Morrell

  • Installation view of Shifting Borders, Kader Attia_ The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery. Copyright the artist, courtesy Hayward Gallery 2019. Photo_ Linda Nylind .jpg Installation view of Shifting Borders, Kader Attia_ The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery. Copyright the artist, courtesy Hayward Gallery 2019. Photo_ Linda Nylind .jpg
  • Installation view of Kader Attia_ The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery. Copyright the artist, courtesy Hayward Gallery 2019.jpeg Installation view of Kader Attia_ The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery. Copyright the artist, courtesy Hayward Gallery 2019.jpeg
  • Installation view of The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures, Kader Attia_ The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery. Copyright the artist, courtesy Hayward Gallery 2019. Photo_ Linda Nylind.jpg Installation view of The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures, Kader Attia_ The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery. Copyright the artist, courtesy Hayward Gallery 2019. Photo_ Linda Nylind.jpg
  • Kadia Attia with Ralph Rugoff Kadia Attia with Ralph Rugoff