Conversation between Mille Højerslev Nielsen, Moa Alskog and Cecilie Skov that took place on the 27th of October at Moa's studio in the lead-up to the exhibition 'So much into collectivity after all' - a collaboration between Mille Højerslev Nielsen and Anthony Faroux.
Mille Højerslev Nielsen is an independent curator and writer. She uses her interest in text actively in the making of exhibitions. Mille has a MA in Visual Culture from the University of Copenhagen.
Anthony Faroux works and live in London where he graduated in 2007 from the Royal Academy Schools, UK. He was awarded for the Abbey Schorlaship at the British School at Rome in 2008 and granted the Jerwood Painting Fellowship in 2012.
Exhibitions include; "Till the end of it" at Gallery Maksla XO in Riga/Latvia (2014), "Repressed Statements with some Collectibles" at 43 Inverness Street Gallery in London (2014), "Enjoy the Squares&Triangles you know. Discover the Squares&Triangles you don't Know" at Arcade in London (2013), "Jerwood Painting Fellowships" at Jerwood Art Space in London (2013).
Mo: Why did you choose to invite Anthony?
Mi: I met Anthony through common friends in New York 2013, when I participated in a residency at Flux Factory. He was invited to take part in a group exhibition I was invited to curate at a gallery in New York, but the show was never realised. Since then we've been in close contact and have had a lot of interesting discussions about art, as his practice is very different to mine. He works in a more traditional way, mostly with painting, and I experiment a lot with text and collaborations.
Mo: Do you see your curatorial practice as artistic?
Mi: I don't know about practice, but I see my approach as artistic. The method is similar to the method I use when I write journalistic texts about art. I always have an artistic approach when I write. I'm aware of what genre I write in, my own presence in the text and my position as a writer. I attempt to push boundaries and challenge the frames of what is possible. In addition to that I write more with the heart than with the brain and therefore I’m very personal in my style of writing, hoping it to touch and interest more people. The reader is important for my work and is always there from the beginning. I write for kunsten.nu, but work freelance. The same artistic and creative approach I use for writing, I use when curating exhibitions and events. I think it's important to have a dialogue with the artist and to be an active part of the production of the exhibition.
C: So the dialogue is essential? How do you create the frame of the dialogue? What is important about it?
Mi: Yes the dialogue is essential. I see it as my most important role to communicate art, to be the link between the artist and the audience and thereby encourage dialogues. It's important when developing the exhibition, for my collaboration with the artists, but also in relation to the audience. It's important that those who see the artworks know what the idea behind the exhibition is, that they feel welcomed and become curious. I wish to create the framework for the dialogue by being friendly, open and honest about my work, to establish a confidence. Confidence is another important element.
C: Can you explain the ideas behind the two exhibitions titled "In Word Drown I" that you've previously arranged?
Mi: 'In Words Drown I' is a platform and the name I've used when I've organised exhibitions myself. Until now there has been one in Roskilde and one in New York, both based on text. I see 'In Words Drown I' as a community, because I always collaborate and because I see the act of producing an exhibition as a joint effort. It is important for me to have a flat hierarchy and that everybody in the process is equal.
Mo: This is something I've been thinking about in relation to this exhibition. We haven't had any contact to the artist exhibiting, Anthony. We've invited you and you've invited him. So his work hasn't had that much space in the process and his work has become secondary in a way.
Mi: Do you think so?
Mo: Not necessarily. But it's something I've been thinking about. The visitors will of course meet his work in the exhibition, which he has been involved in shaping. But when you invite someone to a project, where you have set the framework, it's hard not to be the one determining the 'direction'. You really have to think it over in order avoid it... the hierarchy that arises. If that is what you want.
Mi: That is something we've struggled with in the process. In the beginning Anthony said that his practice wasn't performative and that he couldn't see the connection to my work. What we've done to break down the hierarchy and to avoid the exhibition to turn too much in my direction, is that we've discussed and developed the idea together. Building this wall in the space, which functions both as connecting and disconnecting the two elements in the exhibition, my text and his painting, hopefully we in that way can overcome the hierarchy issue.
C: Can you say a bit about the idea of this show?
Mi: From the start I wanted to write an exhibition text, which differs from conventional exhibition texts. I often feel that in those texts, an interpretation is put on top of the art works exhibited, or that exhibitions are build up around one theme, where each artwork could point in so many other directions than the specific theme the curator has decided on. I want to write a text that invites you to interpret and experience the exhibition freely. I want to activate more voices and to get the visitors to participate. In a way it's two exhibitions in one. The text is a response to Anthony's work so it's two elements that speak.
I will write some questions as a starting point to help the visitors make an independent reading and interpretation. The text will hang on the wall and print outs will be available in the space. I attempt to do what Susan Sontag speaks about in her essay 'Against Interpretation'- to focus on the sensuous, the material and the erotic.
Mo: How do you avoid making the questions direct the interpretation?
Mi: I have thought a lot about that. I will start by writing them as questions and then rework them. In the end it will probably be more similar to a text in prose that you can read and be inspired by.
C: It's interesting the hierarchy between text and painting, their different material shapes, and the way they are talking to each other. There might be a tendency to 'listen' more to a text, that the text becomes the one to define the painting and not the other way around.
Mi: That is exactly what I want to challenge.
Mo: The insecurity in the meeting with the exhibition room you are talking about in the introductory text you've sent. What do you think it is caused by?
Mi: I believe it has a lot to do with the status of the room, and also I think it's because of the exhibition texts, that are often written in a language that can be hard to access.
C: Yes, 'International Art English'. Is that why you're building the wall?
Mi: Yes, I'm planning to cut a hole in the wall, that you have to pass through in order to see the exhibition. I think it should be in a size, where you have to crawl through or bend to get in. It's a way of challenging the hierarchies and to exhibit the insecurities. Maybe some are more cool than others, but they all have to struggle a bit to get in. Then the people who are inside the space can look at those coming in looking funny and have a laugh.
C: Then there might be people not entering at all, he he.
Mo: I have a friend who says she doesn't like visual art. I asked her why, since she likes other sorts of culture such as music, film and poetry. Her theory is that it's caused by a lack of visual arts education in primary school. It's an area that you don't necessarily come in contact with unless you have family or friends that can introduce you to it.
Mi: Yes, and if there's teaching, it is very traditional such as painting and modelling, something that doesn't relate to contemporary art today. I find it very interesting, that art is something you have to be educated in, in order to understand.
Mo: I think it also has to do with confidence. That you don't feel confident in what you experience, if you haven't been in contact with the artworld before. Visual art is also still something, which is performed in majority by the upper middle class.
C: I guess it's a language you have to learn. The more time you spend with it, the better you get. But in a way, again we are back to the discussion of 'International Art English'.
C: Do you think about art historical references when you work?
Mi: Of course there are references for example 'concrete poetry', but not really, no. For me it's important to focus on what is here now. To meet people from different worlds, with different experiences and listen to what they want from an exhibition.
C: Why did you invite Anthony, you said earlier, that your methods are very different. What is it in his paintings that you're interested in?
Mi: Well, the reason why I like his paintings is, as I see it, they are built up around a narrative, something that interests me too. And because the shapes and the figures are often a bit awkward. They try to look like something recognizable, at the same time as they don't look like something at all. I like the way he mixes a Modern tradition in painting with the size, inspired by the size of a TV-screen. I really like the play there is between the paintings and the titles, which often disturb the reading of the image. I've often experienced looking at the painting and then the title and then thought: that was not what I saw. Sometimes it matches and sometimes it's completely off. I like to be disturbed in that way.
In a way it links to the awkwardness and insecurity I sometimes experience in the exhibition space. It is something I find important to break down and I do this by building the wall and experimenting with the exhibition text. I want to encourage the dialogue between the artist, the work and the visitor.
C: It is hard to shape. You can hope the dialogue occurs, but you never know. How has it worked with your other exhibitions? Have there been moments where you felt that; wow, now it is happening?
Mi: At the first exhibition I arranged, it happened naturally. It was at a library, where the dialogue came to be a lot about the context; what is this in our library? In the second exhibition I tried to create some life and distractions by having performances, concerts and different activities in the room. The exhibition was constantly changing and affecting the spectator.
Mo: We have talked a lot about the audience and including the audience. But should all art 'speak to the people'? What do you think of artistic research turning to a smaller group of initiated "experts"?
Mi: I haven't decided what I think about that. For me it's important to make people curious.
I myself am very curious and interested in all sorts of things. I'm not interested to make art neither for the people nor the experts, but for both groups.
C: Would you like to talk a bit about the erotic you mention in your text? Is it in the dialog that the erotic occurs?
Mi: Yes, and in the idea of including the body in the experience of art, not being afraid of going into a dialog with neither the artworks nor each other.
C: It's quite formless, flighty and very fragile.
Mo: Susan Sontag is talking about the film as an 'erotic' media. As I understood it, it's because of it's immediacy, it's freed from the hermetic interpretation that she thinks other art is governed by. I think she has a point, still, film is more 'direct' in many ways. Maybe because it is something you grow up with, making it easier to experience?
C: You are guided through a narrative in a film, it has a start and an end and it talks directly to your senses through sound and image, in contrast to the art exhibition, where time is more 'free'. In the exhibition space you decide how much time you use on each artwork. In that way the understanding of the artworks depends on how much time the visitor chooses to spend on each piece. It takes time, everything shouldn't take a second. In film the amount of time given is already decided for you.
Mi: It is the aspect of time, which I think is really interesting but also the senses. You have your body with you when you look at movies, go to a concert or when you're reading, as opposed to when you're visiting a museum.
C: For me it's opposite! I see the body as passive, when we sit in the cinema or read a book. I've thought a lot about it in relation to the theatre, where we see the performance from one position. In the exhibition space we move around in the space and create the narrative ourselves. The dialogue with the artworks are much more intimate. We can interact with the works and the space in a very physical sense, even though there are still rules and conventions in that sort of space. There are limits to how long you're allowed to spend on each piece and often you can't touch it etc.
Mi: Yes, I agree.
Mo: Why do you feel you're not using your body?
Mi: To a high degree I use my intellect and my eyes, when I look at art.
Mo: I can recognize that, before I started studying art I think I felt it the same way. I think it was connected to the fear we spoke about earlier, the feeling of thinking the wrong thing or not understanding.
It is demanding to look at art, it should be, and you need to use both the intellect and the body. Artist moves within many different discourses today, that wasn't really the case until the 60s, where it was mainly painting and sculpture that counted.
C: I take notice of how works are installed and what they are made out of.
Mo: Yes, me too.
C: You come from a curatorial background, seen in this light, this conversation stands out in relation to the other conversations in this series. Even though you've invited Anthony, it's you we are talking to and your thoughts on materiality that we’re interested in. In that way it becomes a bit meta-ish this chat.
Mi: I also sense in this conversation that we speak different languages. I liked to hear, that when you go to exhibitions you look at how a work is installed and what it's made of. I really like that. It's something I occasionally think about, but not always. It's an example of our different worlds.
C: It's interesting when we talk about hierarchies. For example we, Moa and I, haven’t wanted to think about ourselves as curators on this exhibition series. The questions we ask, are questions we ask ourselves, this relation between material and content…
Mi: What are you thinking about the 'New Materialism' that Bogh talks about in his text?
C: I think it's a bit boring talking about it as an art historical tendency, but I can recognize this material based curiosity in my own practice and also trace it among my fellow students.
Mo: He definitely got hold of something. And it is human to generalize and i guess if you're an art historian it's part of your work. I do it myself; thinking that all you guys in the sculpture department, which is the definitely the biggest school right now, only paint monochromes and cast in bronze.