Chus Martínez © Nici Jost

Art in the times of Coronavirus: an interview with Chus Martínez

by Mara Sartore
September 8, 2020
Mara Sartore
Chus Martínez

“Life, Love, Justice” is the graduation exhibition by the students of the Art Institute of Th College of Art and Design FHNW, Basel. How was it coordinating students during lock down, how did the students react and how much this has influenced their work?

It was a very difficult time for all of them: deprived of the direct exchange with their peers and teachers, access to workshops, and also being portrayed constantly in the media as the section of the society that may act less carefully. On top of it the cancellation of so many art events and projects, etc made this generation reflect and worry about working conditions in the future. The conversations have been intense: does it make sense an exhibition like this? Should we just postpone it? But the arguing about our circumstances has been really productive. We all learn about our own situation through the mental scenarios every one of us had in mind. COVID-19 surely impacted them, and their work and yet the virus is not at the centre of their work. Touch, and inter-generational relations, and space are the subjects taking the stage. I cannot say enough how enriching it has been for me, as a curator, to work so closely with these young artists exactly at this point.

Life, Love, Justice, exhibition view, Kunsthaus Baselland, 2020
Life, Love, Justice, exhibition view, Kunsthaus Baselland, 2020

How has it been living in Basel this past year and what were your main projects and activities during lockdown?

We were very lucky, we could still go on the streets. My parents and all my friends could not, back in Spain. I had no minute free. Taking care of the activities of the school, and also of my family. I decided to cook lunch every day in a quite special manner to give my son and husband a sense of celebration. Celebrating what? you may ask. Celebrating the space we were in together. Then, in the late afternoon, I wrote a tale per day that I published on instagram (the book published by a beautiful new publishing house, Lenz, is about to be released). I spoke a lot with my friends, with the staff… I tried to see what others were doing… I continue working with TBA21-Academy and together we commissioned a series of new Podcasts, on Corona Under the Ocean, a new series of small films by students and other artists that we published weekly on line… Not a free minute.

You are the director of der TANK where the FHNW exhibitions space is, what upcoming projects are in the pipeline?

A couple of exhibitions curated and produced by students, an exhibition curated by Roman Kurzmaier —who does a whole series on alumni of the Institute— and a new commission by Taloi Havini, an artist from the island of Bougainville, in the Pacific. der TANK is a true hybrid space, where many different artistic languages and ways of presenting art are embodied. I really think that this openness and flexibility is an asset right now. We need to maintain a productive dynamic in order to sustain attention on our younger artists.

Der Tank © Christian Knorr
Ocean Space, TBA21 Academy, Venice

You are also involved in the curatorial team of the Ocean Space, the Venice’s space of TBA21-Academy, could you tell us more about this project?

We are currently in the process of defining the activities of 2021: a fellowship programme, an even bigger exhibition by Taloi Havini (we are collaborating on this too); a series of educational programmes… it is all in the making and hopefully it will be public very soon.

My last question is about the contemporary art scene in general, Covid-19 has made us think a lot about the art system and art events, how do you think this is going to change in the future?

I think we need to rethink the role art and artists play outside traditional showcases. Art is a driving force in addressing social justice, the transformation of our democracies, the use of technology and the importance of touch. I think that It would be great to imagine art as being more present in our neighborhoods, in social spaces that matter to us. Artists are essential in helping us to place experience and life at the core of our behavior and decision making process, art educates us not in art but in the importance of considering aspects of our existence that are not possible to reduce to economy, or language, even. Art is fundamental to joy, and health is very dependent on it.

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