The research by Kisito Assangni on “curating as a phenomenological history of everyday life”, continues today in dialogue with Lorella Scacco.
Kisito Assangni: Does curating generate knowledge?
Lorella Scacco: Owing to my long-term experience, I feel I can say that exhibitions can work as a valuable tool for knowledge, both for the curator and for the public and, sometimes, even for the artists themselves. The curator’s approach towards the artists, when selecting the artworks to be displayed at an exhibition, can trigger a personal and, at the same time, ‘multiple’ dialogue that encourages a discussion on the society in which one lives, on how it was and how it will become. This reflective moment, which is multiplied in the case of a group show, is mirrored in the curation of the exhibition and its critical apparatus, even if it springs from an initial idea of the curator. Artists and curators read things differently to the mainstream, and then they invite the public to re-interpret the exhibitions. However, it is important not to convey something that absolutely overwhelms the beholder, but rather an invitation to join in the discussion, to interact reciprocally. Our society is characterized by a widespread feeling of transience, uncertainty, even more so after the pandemic, and by corner-cutting with possibly harmful effects. Yet somehow art forces us to linger, to ponder on the sensory realm, and therefore a curatorial art project is a quest for meaning and a process for furthering knowledge. With its potential to stimulate sensitivity it can foster a relationship of proximity to and empathy with the context (current, past or future). In my opinion, curators should contribute with their critical projects to awaken the sensitivity and attention of the audience. However, honesty and intellectual autonomy are important in the field of curating, in order to become the interpreters of the outlook created by the artists. The curator needs enthusiasm, interdisciplinarity and independence to generate knowledge.
Is there universal truth in curating or is it a particular opinion?
I believe in the plurality of perceptual experiences and therefore of thought. If, in the past, there have been trends and movements, today accelerations and rapid changes in society due to technology tend towards a very strong condition of fluidity, as Zygmunt Bauman observed in Liquid Modernity (2000). Thus, the curator’s work may discern this flow of ideas, participate in the understanding of contemporary phenomena, but the result cannot be a universal truth. In my opinion, curatorial projects are many fragments of truth over the years that contribute to form a universal history. I do not see a well-defined opinion on the part of the curator but rather a chiasmic relationship with the present, an attempt to flesh out to a phenomenology of lived experience.
How do you confront global and transcendent issues related to art production?
I believe that the community and the otherness are the basis of the future sustainability.
A strategy of disseminating the concept of community widely could be implemented through interactive, immersive and participatory art. I have dealt with the topic of new technologies and their new possibilities to interact in various ways, such as in the exhibitions Mobile Journey presented at the Venice Biennale (2007), and Artext (2006) at the Triennale in Milan, which were probably too avant-garde for the Italian audience of those years.
Furthermore, I think that community projects and interactive installations may explore sustainable ways of inhabiting and perceiving the environment. If an artwork expresses a set of values and ideas, Olafur Eliasson states in his website that “for me, today, this means working with my studio to change how my artworks are produced, shipped, and shared.” Some of my curatorial projects have dealt with the topic of climate change in various ways, such as the exhibitions Social Videoscapes from the North (Pro Artibus Foundation, Finland, and Careof, Italy), and The Quest for Happiness. Italian Art Now (co-curated exhibition at Serlachius Museum, Finland).
It is quite clear that artistic practice moves towards the entanglement of different thoughts, including art, social science, technology, and life science. Artists can support the wellbeing of our planet by addressing the interference zones that science tends to reject because of established patterns. This paradox functions as investigative data in the research of several artists with successful results. For instance, Tuomas Alexander Laitinen and his artistic experimentation directed to non-human minds. Even the well-known Eija-Liisa Ahtila investigates the company of other living beings through her recent video installations.
What do you think are the hierarchies inherent in the work of curating collections, archives, and contemporary artworks? Is there something right or wrong with the idea of curating from an absolutely pluralistic perspective?
I believe that media art is increasingly undermining the idea of a hierarchy, both in curating art archives and collections and in the field of conservation. Starting from the debate on the meaning of the work as a result of audience interplay to multiple authorship, from recent re-enactments to shared archives in motion, media art shows how a pluralistic approach is the most relevant to our age. Pluralism means inclusion. The Foucauldian analysis between discursive and non-discursive formations, between knowledge and social behaviors, which he designates with the expression “the archeology of knowledge”, was useful in indicating the perspective to be followed. I believe that the concept of curating as a producer of inclusions and exclusions, or polarizations, is destined to disappear thanks also to the digital dynamics. New technologies are expanding the capacities of archives and increasingly including the voice of the audience.
Do you consider your own bias and cultural limitations, you are aware off, and how do you deal with them in your curatorial practice?
As an art historian and curator, I consider myself lucky to have been educated in Italy, where the relationship with art can be practiced on a daily basis. This gave me a particular familiarity with the art history. In the 1990s, the art environment in Italy was already offering numerous stimuli, such as the intensive development of video art and digital photography. However, I missed out on the postcolonial studies and the theory of feminism which, instead, circulated widely in the English-speaking countries, although the opportunities to travel and visit other countries in various continents eventually helped me fill this cultural gap. For instance, my interest in Nordic art and culture has considerably widened my horizons, helping me overcome the values of the environment in which I grew up, opening my eyes to the importance of community as opposed to the strong sense of individualism that prevails in Italy, and to the respect of the natural environment, which is still poorly considered in the Mediterranean countries. I must also add that my prejudices and cultural limits have been ironed out by the encounters offered by the wide world of contemporary art, at inaugurations, events, studio visits, and in particular with artists. The recurrence of dialogue with an artist you meet for the first time in a studio can open your mind to the unknown, mold it in novel ways. Moreover, in my curatorial practice, I try to deal with my bias and cultural limitations through ongoing academic research and updates in the field of communication. Sometimes humor can also help to break down prejudices.
Define a tension in curatorial practice, describe its attributes and context, define its relation to archives and evidence, what is there to display?
My vision for developing the field is oriented towards a focus on visitor-centered exhibitions, which are becoming even more important through concepts such as immersivity, reciprocity and participation. A phenomenological approach can certainly help the curator to analyze the exploratory and participatory attitude of the audience, which is encouraged by artists to actively participate in the sensory, immersive experience of contemporary art.
Moreover, due to the increased number of exhibitions in the art world, I believe in a revision of the concept of exhibition itself and that curators should extensively write, analyze, give a contribution to the public in a critical way. Curators should focus on topics in exhibitions that deal very closely with the needs of society. For instance, subjects like sustainability, extractivism, equity, migration, and human togetherness, are interesting to consider as art themes. These issues also incite artists towards alternative methods of occupying art spaces, history, culture and economics.
Any book or exhibition recommendations?
I can recommend some readings related to the field of perception and phenomenology, such as Action in perception by the philosopher Alva Noë (Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press 2004), and Visual Sense: A Cultural Reader, edited by the scholars Elizabeth Edwards & Kaushik Bhaumik (Berg, Oxford 2008). With regard to exhibitions, and more generally art, I keep an eye on the developments of Acute Art, a digital platform for contemporary artists which provides access to cutting-edge technologies and current topics.
images: (cover 1) Marinella Senatore and Maria Fonzino, «School of Narrative Dance», performance of the exhibitive project «The Quest for Happiness», Serlachius Art Museum, Mänttä, Finland, 8 March 2020. Photo: Teemu Källi. Courtesy Serlachius Art Museum (2) Laura Beloff, Erich Berger & Elina Mitrunen, «Heart Donor», a wearable art work exhibited in «Mobile Journey», Collateral event at the 52nd Venice Biennale, Venice International University, June 2007. Photo: Edoardo Luppari (3) Eija-Liisa Ahtila, «Potentiality of Love», 2018. View of the exhibition at the Serlachius Museum, Mänttä. Photo credits: Sampo Linkoneva (4) Few test-users of the wearable art work «Heart Donor» by Laura Beloff, Erich Berger & Elina Mitrunen exhibited in «Mobile Journey», Collateral event at the 52nd Venice Biennale, Venice International University, June 2007. Courtesy by the artists (5) Exhibition view of «Social Videoscapes from the North», Careof, Milan 2013. Photo: Raponi (6) Cover book of the group exhibition «Artext – Connect to Art», Triennale di Milano, Milan 2006 (7) Lorella Scacco – Portrait
Lorella Scacco is an art historian with special interest in media art, and the intertwining of visual arts and philosophy.
Currently living between Italy and Finland, she teaches “Phenomenology of contemporary arts” and “History and Theory of Contemporary Art” at the Academies and Universities of Fine Arts in Italy and Finland. She has been working with Nordic institutions and museums since the late 1990s. At the moment she is also an affiliated researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. For more than twenty years she has been working in the curatorial field, ranging from art exhibitions in museums, galleries, art fairs, and no-profit spaces, to retrospective exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale (2007); La Triennale, Milan; Stenersen Museum, Oslo (co-curated with B. Pietromarchi); Castello Sforzesco, Milan; Pro Artibus Foundation, Finland; Careof DOCVA, Milan; Museum H. C. Andersen, Rome; Trevi Flash Art Museum, Italy; MACRO, Rome; Fondazione Olivetti, Rome; Serlachius Art Museum, Mäntta (co-curated with M. S. Bottai & P. Immonen); Cable Factory, Suomi Art Fair, Helsinki. She contributes to specialized art magazines, such as Artedossier (Giunti, Florence).
Author of Estetica mediale. Da Jean Baudrillard a Derrick de Kerckhove (Guerini, 2004); Northwave. A Survey of Video Art in Nordic countries (Silvana Editoriale, 2009), and Alberto Giacometti and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. A dialogue on the perception. Phenomenology of the art practice (Gangemi, 2017). She has participated in lectures, seminars, and symposia at several institutions such as the PalaExpo, Rome; VIU Venice International University, Venice; GAMEC – Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo; American Scandinavian Foundation, New York; Fritt Ord Foundation, Oslo; INHA – National Institute of Art History, Paris; Auditorium, Harakka Island, Helsinki; University of Turku; University of Copenhagen.
The interview to Lorella Scacco is part of Kisito Assangni’s research on “curating as a phenomenological history of everyday life”:
Transitory conversations with reputable curators who engage positively with artistic practices driven by non-oppressive facilitation, alternative pedagogies, chronopolitics, and contemporary urgencies within the context of larger political, cultural, and economic processes. At this very moment in history, as well as raising some epistemological questions about redefining what is essential, this revelatory interview series attempts to bring together different critical approaches regarding international knowledge transfer, transcultural and transdisciplinary curatorial discourse. (Kisito Assangni)
Kisito Assangni, Interview to Adonay Bermúdez. Universal Truths Have no Place in Curating (Arshake, 08.06.2021)