Editor KATARINA DJORIC sits down for an interview with ILARIA MAROTTA and ANDREA BACCIN the founders of CURA., the true multihyphenates of the contemporary art scene. Ilaria and Andrea talk about their magazine CURA., their exhibition and production work they are involved with as well as their curatorial roles.
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You founded the curatorial/editorial platform CURA. in 2009. Can you tell us about your beginnings? CURA. was born in 2009, in a phase of reflection and rethinking of previous experiences. After many years of activity and work projects, there was now an urgency to find a free space for experimentation and research, a platform that would be both flexible and institutional, free and flowing, capable of absorbing energy and knowledge, and at the same time able to move around the world through an original and nifty editorial outlook. Everything still revolves around these principles, the relentless investigation aimed at the past, and even more at the future, the historical avant-gardes and the new languages.
There have been overlaps in the past century between art and other fields, and with the CURA. platform you are in constant search of new contemporary languages and exhibition formats. What is it that makes our times specific in that sense? The use of new technologies represents the central paradigm of the systemic hub we are experiencing. It is the paradigm of a radical change from the past that inevitably includes the physical and the virtual world crossing each other. This has opened art to new expressive options, directing artistic production towards very specific technical areas, complex and expensive productions which often require technological skills, and interaction with different professionals: 3D programmers, sound engineers, musicians, biologists, architects, scientists, archaeologists, and even astronauts. The complexity of many of the new productions leaves nothing to chance. Production is often a very demanding process that must necessarily involve professionals from other fields.
In 2012 you opened an exhibition space BASEMENT ROMA in the hidden basement of the magazine’s editorial office. Was this a natural progression for you? BASEMENT ROMA is our headquarters and is a place for production and research. It is where we are able to synthesize every aspect of our practice, editorial, and curatorial. And right from the start, we envisioned it with this double function, a workplace but also an exhibition space open to the public. BASEMENT ROMA could be seen as the physical extension of the magazine, in a relentless ping-pong between editorial, curatorial, and exhibition activity.
The curator is akin to an orchestra conductor, the person who has the ability to harmonize all the otherwise unconnected instruments, indicating the rhythm and bringing vision and character.
In 2018 you opened another exhibition space in Milan, KURA. Being a fashion capital, where would you place Milan on the global art scene? And how does it compare to Rome? The Milan project was born following an invitation we got at the beginning of 2018 by the owners of Fonderia Artistica Battaglia, a historic bronze foundry, which before us had already been joined by a curatorial team, carrying out an exhibition activity together with production. KURA. was born from there, aiming to follow along the lines of the magazine’s research activity, becoming a sort of kunsthalle in the simple switching from C to K, but also a spazio okkupato [meaning ‘occupied space,’ the double ‘k’ being a reference to a specific politicized youth protest season in Italy], since we were guests in someone else’s place. After two years of activity, a headquarters relocation, and four exhibitions including David Douard, Than Hussein Clark, and Patrizio Di Massimo’s first solo exhibitions in Milan, the collaboration with the Foundry was put on standby, with KURA. taking a period for reflection that will lead to a restart in 2021. The relationship between BASEMENT ROMA and KURA. is symbiotic and complementary. BASEMENT ROMA is a space aimed more at experimentation and research, and which, despite being located in a bourgeois district in Rome, has never lost its “underground” character, while KURA. took off immediately with a different thrust, more ambitious productions, and a more institutional character.
You were selected as the curators of the 58th October Salon/Belgrade Biennale, which is one of the biggest and most important cultural events in the city. How do you feel about that? It’s a great responsibility. Belgrade is a wonderful city, very exciting, with enormous potential. The challenge is to set up an exhibition able to bring together newer generations of international artists and artists from Serbia or the Balkans, many of whom are being given their first opportunity to exhibit at an international level. But we also aim to allow an international public to get to know this city better – a city so close to Europe, despite the wounds from its past being still open.
We actually met in Belgrade when you were working on the October Salon, and I was fascinated with your dedication to setting up an exhibition that engages a wider audience, with a lot of different events all over the city of Belgrade, involving more than 50 international artists. Recently, due to this global pandemic, you have decided to postpone the October Salon to 2021. I guess it was important for you to have it in a physical space, instead of just doing a virtual exhibition. Absolutely. The year 2020 is one that we will all remember and wish to forget. The pandemic has forced us to reconsider the meaning of the things in our lives and those of other people, obliging us to change our habits, priorities, relationships. The world has become more constricted and confined to our homes, our neighborhoods, our cities, and our individual countries. Distances have become huge again, and our vision of the world has shrunk to become local. Looking at the 2021 biennial, we hope that these extra months will reset our perspective on things, allowing us to travel again, allowing artists to experience Belgrade as in the pre-Covid period, or to take part in the preparation of exhibitions, going back to an almost normal situation. It is important for the exhibition to take place in the real world, in a real and not a virtual space, so that it may be physically visited and enjoyed. This is our wish for next year.
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You’ve spent a lot of time in Belgrade in the past 2 years. What do you think about Belgrade’s art scene? Do you think Belgrade could become a hub on the international art scene? Culture in Belgrade represents an area of debate, exchange, and aggregation that is fundamental for the life of the community, a sense that has somewhat gone lost in other parts of the world. And the city’s genuine character makes cultural production in Serbia the driving force for an imminent change. New galleries are being opened, there are spaces for research on the contemporary, there is the Academy, University, the night music scene, the design festival, and important film festivals. The previous edition of the October Salon, curated by Gunnar and Danielle Kvaran, brought important international artists to the city for the first time. There are also the activities of the Belgrade Cultural Center with its successful production of exhibitions. There are even galleries such as Jan Eugster or Novembar Gallery that are taking part in international art fairs and are playing an important role in promoting local artists on the international market. Marjia Karan’s project, Balkan Projects, has been endorsing artists from the Balkan area around the world for years, holding a key cultural mediation role in working with institutions such as the Swiss Institute in New York. We think that the scene is alive and kicking and that there are all the conditions for the international growth of many of the artists we have come across.
The role of the curator has become essential in the contemporary art world and is constantly evolving. According to you, what does it mean to be a curator today? The curator is akin to an orchestra conductor, the person who has the ability to harmonize all the otherwise unconnected instruments, indicating the rhythm and bringing vision and character. There is a great deal of research that goes into the selection of artists and works, the need to be inquisitive and intuitive, there are many trips to make and exhibitions to visit, and then there’s the reading, archiving and remembering, chatting with the artists who always have an extra outlook on things. Finally, everything must work within the context of textual and hypertextual coordination that needs to be in place without stifling the work. There is also a lot of cultural mediation to do, which is not always easy.
How do you see the relation between artists and curators today and how does that relationship benefit a successful project? Curators and artists have complementary roles, but the latter would have no reason to exist without the former. Behind successful projects there is always complicity, and the shared vision between artist and curator. However, the artists must have the last word on their work.
How do you experience curating a group show as opposed to a solo show? What does it mean to an artist? Do you think a group show is a good opportunity for a young artist to be exhibited along with already established names? There are two rather different approaches. In the solo exhibitions of living artists, the aim is often a project conceived and created by the artists, and although there is still the support of the curator, it is the artists who express themselves through their work, the exhibition project, and often the catalog. In retrospectives or solo exhibitions of artists who are no longer alive, there is a great deal of research, documentation, and archival work, aimed at highlighting the fundamental moments of the artist’s life and work. Finally, in group exhibitions, the curator is the director. The works live for themselves but also need to function in a more complex idea, a broader interaction, which may easily include artists of different generations.
How important are art fairs today? Art fairs are part of the mechanism of contemporary art, because they create the market, without which the system would stop.
Curators and artists have complementary roles, but the latter would have no reason to exist without the former. Behind successful projects there is always complicity, and the shared vision between artist and curator. However, the artists must have the last word on their work.
Covid-19 has forced some galleries to close, fairs are being postponed, many art events canceled. What do you think the future of art could be and how can it evolve according to this? This is a question we are not able to answer. There seem to be some signs of a recovery, and the art market has kept on working through other channels. Exhibitions are restarting, obviously with all the necessary restrictions. It’s true that we’ve had to give up the social aspect and rituals of art, but this may not necessarily be a bad thing per se.
What is your stand on virtual exhibitions? The virtual exhibitions produced in recent months have been an answer to a compelling need, but we do not think they can replace the actual physical events.
It is important for a curator to travel, visit different art centers, see exhibitions that take place all over the world. How do you feel now that traveling is restricted? How is the art world going to survive all of this? Traveling is the aspect we miss the most. We have always traveled extensively, all over the world. We have met many artists and visited lots of exhibitions. Now we “travel” through our devices, but as we said, it is not the same. Today everything has become more complicated. For what we do, it is essential to travel, go searching, get lost, visit exhibitions, meet artists, and see their studios.
We have faced a global pandemic, the overarching and crushing impact of systemic racism, climate change, and global politics going in a very worrying direction. Do you think the world is now going to change for the better or is it going back to what it was before? This is the same question we asked the artists of the upcoming issue #35 of CURA., coming out at the end of October, focusing on the theme of The Changing World. Artists are often the forerunners of a future world before it becomes apparent to everybody else, and this is what we felt while working on The Dreamers, in which the dystopian vision of an impending future appeared suddenly, becoming obvious in the ongoing changes. Through the relentless exploration of an ever-changing world, observed through the eyes of the artists, we are always looking for the answers to questions like this.
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