Art Seen: International

PROFILE OF THE CURATOR // RENAUD PROCH PT II

In Conversation with Stephanie Cristello

– Part II –

_MG_2592_lowWe speak of a global network frequently with regards to the international art world. In Part I of this interview, Renaud Proch, Executive Director of Independent Curators International (ICI), and I spoke about how this network is now part of our consciousness. For many, the global is a very singular type of experience, one that we participate in through one sense: seeing. ICI challenges that experience.

In Part I we also discussed a new type of definition toward the art center, one that relies on networks and scenes over particular “international” cities—beyond New York and London. In this transcription, we touched on related subjects, specifically the different curatorial experience of working independently versus working for an institution or gallery, and how this model feeds into the greater ecosystem. In Proch’s words, “better navigated than opposed.” We focused on one particular Curatorial Intensive, in Ethiopia, which took place this past May in Addis Ababa.

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SC: You were Director of The Project and MC, two commercial galleries, before you started at ICI – have you seen your context as a Curator change in the transition between having a quite singular position, to a more group-based curatorial platform, such as ICI?

RP: I definitely learned a lot from working in different contexts – both in a commercial gallery setting, and for a larger non-profit organization. The main, overarching lesson that I learned and had never realized before this transition is that the role of Gallery Director is extremely close to the artistic practice, and to the artist. At least that was my experience.

SC: Do you mean that you were informing the exhibitions very closely with the roster of represented artists?

RP: Not quite – I mean that when you work at a commercial gallery, you are entirely dedicated to the artists that you work with. Not just to the artist’s work for the moment that it is in an exhibition, but to their practice, their careers. You become specialized in them, you know them and their practice incredibly intimately. And you develop an close relationship over the long term.

SC: You have more freedom as an independent curator, for lack of a better word.

RP: Well, the focus is much more on the exhibition, creating context for the artistic gesture, placing it in the world, in history. It is a different angle from working with a discreet number of artists over a long period of time. That is something that I learned from working at a commercial gallery that touched me as a curator.

SC: Has that affected your method going forward? As an independent curator, do you try to work more closely or find yourself mimicking that kind of relationship over a longer period of time?

RP: I haven’t had the chance.

SC: Is that something that you –

RP: I have just been too busy.

SC: Right. [All laugh]

RP: But really, today with ICI, I am interested in the role that curators can play in this ongoing practice of exchange, and how much they can help building structures that serve artists, first and foremost, and can help feed healthy, diverse contemporary art practices.

SC: Eco-systems.

RP: Yes, eco-systems that can operate alongside what I think has become the strongest and most dominant system of all, which is the market.

SC: Right, the prevalence of the art fair in our current climate certainly fits into that.

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Zoma Contermporary Art Center, Addis Ababa, 2014.

RP: Sure, the art fairs, the galleries, the art schools, but non-profits are also a part of the structure. We live in a world where the market is a catalyst for everything. Whatever you think of it, it’s there, like the Pacific Ocean…better navigated than opposed.

SC: You were previously speaking about how you have had to adapt and form new structures. What are some of your recent experiences with this?

RP: Most recently, we did a Curatorial Intensive in Ethiopia in partnership with the Zoma Contermporary Art Center – it was a particularly rich and privileged moment.

SC: Where were most the members from?

RP: About one-third was from Ethiopia, one-third from other countries in Africa, and a one-third from elsewhere internationally. One of the faculty speakers, Konjit Seyoum, spent the entire week with us. She founded a gallery in Addis Ababa called Asni Gallery. She was definitely touched and perhaps even empowered by the experience, and she has recently written me about her desire following the program to directly address the Addis artistic and curatorial community’s need to organize. One of the first things she did after we left was to invite 55 people involved in contemporary art in Addis to have dinner at the gallery, to meet and recognize one another’s work – she began organizing a community!

SC: Like a type of Board of Directors?

RP: Much more sprawling and organic than that – she invited 55 people over for dinner!

SC: That’s nice!

RP: This is also how her space works, it has a restaurant and she thinks about food in the similar ways she thinks about art practice, an expression of culture that brings people together, and must be fostered.

This is the type of experience I was talking about with you before in terms of uncertainty; you can never expect these things. Sometimes they happen, which is incredibly fantastic. But to me, this is one example of an occurrence that exists far beyond us. It is possible that this moment at Asni Gallery will help shape the future of art infrastructures in Addis – way beyond ICI’s small involvement with this one Curatorial Intensive.

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Curatorial Intensive faculty Konjit Sayoum, Curatorial Intensive participant Mihret Kebede, and Renaud Proch during the Intensive at Zoma Contemporary Art Center, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 2014. Photo: ICI.

SC: How do you feel about the metaphor of a radio, sending out waves and signals?

RP: Can we add receiving or releasing signals?

SC: Yes – I am sure we can add interference too, that is when the good things happen. Your organization is very geographically diverse. The headquarters may be in New York, but you have satellite locations everywhere.

RP: Well we don’t have satellite locations. I like to say that we are “active wherever activated.” That is because we are a network that is very decentralized, and we always work in collaboration with others. Whenever in the world makes sense for us to go, we try to make it happen. But it is important to note that we are not necessarily seeking out locations with a predetermined plan to do something. We often respond to our colleagues’ desire to collaborate, in their local contexts, because it makes sense to them and serves their audience.

SC: The last exhibition you did was of Tracy Rose in South Africa, how did you meet?

RP: I know Tracy through my work at the Project. So we were brought together by the visionary Christian Haye. Tracey and I had been working together on and off since 2004.

SC: We spoke earlier about independently curating with artists long-term, matching a gallery model more closely – would Rose be an example of that?

RP: Well she had actually come to me with the idea of collaborating with a curator in South Africa, Khwezi Gule on an exhibition of her work at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. I liked the idea of an exhibition that could be done by two curators whose views reflected two very different perspectives. Her work operates very strongly within a South African context and history, which I was definitely not an expert on. But I understood her work with an outsider’s perspective and had seen how it resonated in the U.S. for instance.

This allowed Khezi and me to create something very interesting with Tracey. Interestingly, my involvement in this exhibition, which happened while I was with ICI, eventually led to the possibility of doing a Curatorial Intensive in South Africa, in partnership with the Bag Factory Artists Studios, in 2013, which then led to the program taking place in Ethiopia this year.

SC: Are you still working with her?

RP: Tracey is someone who’s work I think of a lot. As a curator, there are a number of artists you keep as guides. She is one of them. I would not even classify it as a sort of conversation; the work does it for you. It’s become a compass.

SC: Has her work helped guide, or narrow in your fields of research? Or do you have some ongoing research that you are always doing outside of her practice? Her work touches a lot of concept that you can work with.

RP: I have become very intimate with her work, along with several artists’ work that I met through the Project. They shape many of the ideas I have. For example, since we are talking about Tracey Rose, whose show was titled “Waiting for God” after one of her works, religion is something I find absent in the contemporary art discourse today. Which is disturbing because so much of contemporary culture is shaped by religion.

SC: Religion proper? Meaning not spirituality, but the topic itself?

RP: I mean – all you have have to do to see its prevalence and how it shapes human condition today, is to open the newspaper this morning.

SC: If we frame it that way, then yes – it would seem to be at the forefront of our consciousness –

RP: And yet it is fairly absent from contemporary art. That is one topic of research that stays with me.


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Read Pt I of this interview on THE SEEN.

Stephanie Cristello is the Editor-in-Chief for THE SEEN, and Senior Editor US for ArtSlant.

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