This Show Has No Title – Interview with CCQ Magazine
For Issue 9 of CCQ Magazine, Emma Geliot interviewed me about the process of curating Catherine Biocca, Cornelia Baltes, Rosalie Schweiker. To read the interview in the magazine please click here or read the text transcript below.
This Show Has No Title
How are curators made? And how do they make their first exhibition? In March 2015, Louise Hobson was selected as the recipient of the Jane Phillips Award Curatorial Residency, which aims to support early career curatorial development. She describes her curatorial journey to Emma Geliot.
Emma Geliot: Who is Louise Hobson and what makes her tick?
Louise Hobson: I’ve come to use the phrase ‘independent creative practitioner’ when asked what it is that I do. I work across and between the roles of curator, producer and artist, and so neither feels quite right to offer as a definitive title. I see my position as that of an initiator, approaching the exhibition/event/project as a space constructed over time through a cumulative process of collaboration – a layering of conversations, ideas and actions. My curatorial practice is therefore not so much about the curator-artist-public triumvirate, but a more self-determined discursive form of practice, which continuously overlaps and intersects with other forms of practice, in an ever-shifting cluster of changing elements. That last sentence seems a bit jumbled, but perhaps it’s appropriate for the messiness of cross-disciplinary working and the dual roles we assume to sustain practice.
EG: Could you talk about what the Jane Phillips Award offered you and how you used it as a starting point for something even more ambitious?
LH: The residency offered me a studio at Elysium Studios in Swansea for one month’s research and development, a £500 travel award to support overseas research, and the proposition of a three-week slot in Mission Gallery’s programming across the months of March and April 2016, with a budget of £500. Within this framework I applied to Wales Arts International to travel to New York and undertake a month long residency with Residency Unlimited and Flux Factory, and to the Arts Council of Wales for funding to produce an exhibition at Mission Gallery, and receive mentoring from Gavin Wade, Director of Eastside Projects.
This may sound all rather practical, however I’ve personally found that there can be a lack of transparency around the practicalities of production and the actions that contribute to the making of things, ‘things’ here being an exhibition and two associated events.
When I began the residency in April 2015, I set out to understand what it meant to curate a group exhibition within an institutional framework. From researching, to funding, emailing, explaining, travelling, persuading, budgeting, coordinating, adapting, collaborating, transporting, borrowing, reflecting – I wanted to make sense of the entire process. In many ways, the exhibition was a practical exercise. It’s show #1 for me, which is why perhaps, I approached the artists I did with the open and honest proposition of the gallery space, 3 weeks, the budget and an ongoing conversation. I was aware of how small my invitation might seem and how where I saw great potential, they might see risk.
EG: How did you go about selecting the three artists for your exhibition at the Mission Gallery?
LH: Selecting the artists for the exhibition was, for me, both an exciting and daunting process. With doubt comes second-guessing and I knew these early decisions were the key decisions I was going to make in this process. In conversations with both Amanda Roderick, Director of Mission Gallery, and Gavin Wade [of Eastside Projects], who acted as a mentor for me on the project, I initially looked for the manual: A guide to selecting artists. Then I realised, of course, that there isn’t one and that we each draft our own.
I knew I needed to look outside of Wales, and outside of the existing networks into/out of Wales, although I didn’t intend to look internationally. I began by looking online for what felt like days, only to realise I needed to be out in the world, and so went along to Frieze London and, thankfully to Sunday Art Fair. It was here that I encountered the work of Catherine Biocca. It was Catherine’s first time showing work at an art fair, her gallery, Jeanine Hofland, was participating in the fair with a solo project. A few emails and Skype chats later, I visited Catherine in Amsterdam to see her work in the RijksakademieOPEN 2015. Once Catherine agreed to be a part of the show, I had a starting point, and invitations to Cornelia Baltes and Rosalie Schweiker soon followed. I knew of Cornelia’s work through her gallery, Limoncello. I met her in January, at her solo presentation Drunk Octopus wants to fight, and I had met Rosalie in Venice the previous year, after emailing to order her Work Annual, a publication which, I felt, drew attention to Rosalie’s position as being for an art that is a confusing mix of everything you do.
EG: What connected them curatorially in your mind?
LH: My initial invitation to each artist began with thoughts of temporary and mobile architectures, space and exchange, ideas that for me, offer a loose curatorial connection between the three artists.
Rosalie creates mobile architectures, which facilitate social exchange, Cornelia activates the gallery space by situating her paintings as protagonists, and Catherine layers dimensions of time and space, moving between 2D, 3D and 4D. Furthermore, each artist, in their own way, uses humour and a very direct visual language.
EG: Did you have specific works in mind for the show, or did you invite the artists to make proposals?
LH: I was keen not to ask for specific works, as from my experiences assisting artists, I have seen that this can often result in a very brief exchange. I invited the artists to make proposals and I really valued being a part of that process, whether I contributed in a small way to an early conversation that committed an idea very quickly, or a conversation that continued to explore ideas until the weeks leading up to the show. I remember Cornelia once said that you can tell whether a curator is a newbie or a seasoned pro by how many questions they ask and how much they get involved. I asked lots of questions.
EG: Catherine, Cornelia and Rosalie hadn’t shown together before, did you anticipate that their work would gel so well together?
LH: I knew there would be an interesting conversation between Catherine, Cornelia and Rosalie’s works, and the spaces between would be just as interesting. I hoped their works would fit well together, though I couldn’t quite anticipate how well. However, when Cornelia began to work on her idea for the wall work Pinch, which would pull at the wiring of Rosalie’s fridge, I knew there was potential in this mischievous interaction with the notion of the group show. Cohabitation can be awkward and navigating that awkwardness has been part of my role as curator, but when Cornelia as an artist started to navigate that too, through her work, I knew we were making something better than I could have hoped for.
EG: The exhibition has no title; can you talk about your decision to just use the artists’ names?
LH: The artists give the show it’s name, because any other would have felt like a retrofit – an attempt to tie up the show and hide its loose ends. Where possible, I’ve always tried to make the process visible and, as the show is the work of these three artists, any other name would have felt like the exhibition was wearing a badly fitted suit.
EG: Were there any surprises as you got deeper into the project?
LH: There were plenty of surprises along the way, particularly as this was show #1 for me. I’m not sure if this counts as a surprise, but I’m grateful for how generous Rosalie, Cornelia and Catherine were in terms of their time to create new work, engage in a collaborative conversation, and travel to Swansea to install the work and open with a public talk. In travelling from ‘elsewhere’, respectively from London, Berlin and Gothenburg, I have come to think more about exhibiting international practice in Wales. Welsh artists bring a Welsh audience and without the existing connections to Wales, I feel the opening talk wasn’t quite as busy as it could have been. Perhaps it wasn’t that at all, but it made me question the relevance of a show like this happening in Swansea, as opposed, for instance, to London, Berlin, or Gothenburg. Is it important? Is it different from what’s gone before? Do these questions even matter?
I didn’t set out to work with artists who hadn’t worked in Wales before, but I didn’t let their location stop conversations either. It was a surprise for me that I came to work with two artists who are not based in the UK, and the third to currently be working predominately elsewhere, which her work addresses in the show.
EG: What level of risk did you think you were taking in working with artists you hadn’t met before?
LH: I had met each artist only once before the install. These early conversations gave us enough knowledge of each other to know that we could work together. Of course, though I had met each artist, they had not met each other, and so there was certainly an element of risk there, the show being a very collaborative conversation. The other risk was the unfamiliarity with the space – none of the artists had been to Mission Gallery before, only viewing the space through photos and videos.
EG: Could you talk about the individual artists’ work in the show and how it all works together?
LH: I think it’s useful to first mention that Mission Gallery is a converted Welsh chapel. The gallery space is made up of two rooms – a large square(ish) space with a vaulted ceiling, and a round apse space with a small alcove off to the left. On entering the gallery, Rosalie Schweiker’s fridge is to your left. Rosalie buys a fridge magnet wherever she goes for work and, at Mission Gallery, Rosalie presented the migrant worker’s fridge magnet collection; displaying her collection for the first time in public on a fridge stocked with local drinks. At the public preview, Rosalie offered to share a story behind a magnet, in exchange for a drink from the fridge, and, after the opening weekend, the fridge stayed on and served the exhibition as a bar. Rosalie is interested in the idea of the artist as migrant, and how it can seem sexy to travel around a lot, when actually she’d rather be in one place. She travels to sustain her practice, and pay her rent in London.
Pulling at the wiring of Rosalie’s fridge, and somewhat mischievously interacting with the notion of the group show, is Cornelia Baltes’ site-specific wall work Pinch, expanding on a resent exploration of making site-specific murals. Colours and motifs act as both clues and red herrings in Cornelia’s work, and they migrate across the gallery to paintings on coloured MDF, with the suggestive yet elusive titles of Flouride, Doc and T-Rex.
By this time, you will have most likely been addressed by Catherine Biocca’s multidimensional installation Deutscher Fürst. Catherine created an inside-out environment, transposing a time some millions of years ago into the gallery. Layering cartoon imagery, science fiction and natural history, she produced a lo-fi, deconstructed dinosaur landscape and it’s from a dinosaur that we hear, ‘Hey you, fuck off, you are 75 million years too early’. In parallel to this work, a 4-handed space drawing from the INTERGALACTIC series was also exhibited, a series made in collaboration with the artist’s father, a former spacecraft engineer.
EG: What’s next: For you? For the show?
LH: I’m interested in the idea of the exhibition as an activity, rather than a fixture – and conversation as a mode of production. In relation to this thinking, the exhibition Catherine Biocca, Cornelia Baltes, Rosalie Schweiker is, I hope, one part of an ongoing conversation that will evolve over time. I’m currently in the process of finalising the last pages of the publication produced for the show, which I’ve been making in collaboration with designers/printers Rope Press, based in Birmingham. We’ve produced it in three stages, starting with the invite, the exhibition handout, and soon, installation images. It was important to me that each stage reference a particular point in time of making the exhibition, and not concern itself with its many loose ends. I’ll be distributing these once the show has finished and so, in some ways, the show will continue to be distributed in a paper form.
The Jane Phillips Award is in memory of Mission Gallery’s first Director, Jane Phillips (1957 – 2011), and is intended as a legacy to Jane Phillips’ passion for supporting young and early career artists working in Wales. Catherine Biocca, Cornelia Baltes, Rosalie Schweiker, curated by Louise Hobson, was at the Mission Gallery, Swansea from 19 March – 09 April 2016 Missiongallery.co.uk. To order a publication from the exhibition, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.