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Curator Talks: Silvana Lagos

We speak to Stockholm-based curator Silvana Lagos about her practice and projects, the inherent political nature of art and notions relating to diversity matters in the present art sphere.

C-P: What is your background into the arts like?

S.L: I started with a BA in photography in London. And then followed with my MA in Fine Arts – Art in the Public Realm at Konstfack, in Stockholm. I had renowned photographer Mark Lebon as one of my tutors, who is one of the driving forces behind “Buffalo”. I was privileged to have had him as a mentor, and started doing installations, moving away from the still image, and its stagnancy, really digging deep into the psychology of the photograph, in particular the differences between the male and female gaze. Mark was pivotal to my move to art. In the UK every semester is graded, and you have to have accomplished certain points, to accomplish each grade. I was really concerned at one of our tutorials, where I felt that I wasn’t moving in the direction that my education provided, I wasn’t ticking boxes, and I was scared I would not get a good grade.

Mark taught me that I shouldn’t be worried about ticking boxes, and that’s stayed with me in everyday practice. Whenever I feel that a certain framework doesn’t provide clarity, I seek to cross-pollinate between frameworks, experimenting and bridging between systems. That has led me to how I work today. I believe greatly in collaboration, and experimentation – creating publics within new frameworks. Curating has been an extension of this practice.

C-P: Last year for Frieze Art Week, you co-curated the site-specific exhibition Silver Sehnsuct alongside Rafael Schacter and Mara-Johanna Kolmel, joining 12 emerging and established artists, housed inside the Silver Building shortly before it was due transformation as a working space for artists and creatives. The project looked fantastic. What was the curatorial experience like?

SL: The exhibition was presented by A(by)P, a curatorial collective, a discursive platform, and a performative hub, with Rafael Schacter as a co-founder alongside Tim Roter. What we felt was lacking with Frieze was the inaccessibility to the works and long-term collaborative projects that go on during Frieze week; each year it gets more and more expensive, and more and more branded, and less and less accessible. The placement was perfect, an area of London that is being massively re-generated, a beautiful old derelict factory building at the heart of industrial London, sandwiched between the epicenters of the financial hub of London/the world. Between the three of us, we put together an exhibition were each artist had a direct relation to the problematic nature and the beauty in change and what that brings.

Of course we understood the culture capital that an exhibition would address, and we wanted to utilize that. We were on the Frieze VIP listings, which meant that we had people who would normally never visit such areas, come and see the show. In total we had 2.000 visitors to our opening night, with Mark Leckey playing a DJ set at the vernissage. I thankfully got funding from IASPIS to bring Stockholm-based artist Paola Torres Núñez Del Prado to exhibit a site-specific new work, Christine Sun Kim, whom I’ve worked with before and curated for Norberg festival also showed a work, each of the artist built their own relationship to the thematic of the exhibition, aptly titled, Silver Sehnsuct. Sehnsuct being an almost untranslatable German word, that gives not a positive nor a negative connotation to its closest relative word, “nostalgia”. We aimed to look at the locality of the exhibition as a point of departure for the ideas that surround the immanent change about to happen as well as the rich history of the space.

As for collaboration, between Rafael, Mara and myself, although we have a similar base of interest, we each explore thematics differently, and continuously learn and are inspired by one another, working as a trio also helps us keep in balance, keeping each other in check, to make sure we aren’t getting too carried away with an idea, but also that we have the support to make it happen. It was also with this team effort that we managed to create a huge exhibition and programme that was totally free with little to no funding, and no branding.

C-P: You are currently based in Stockholm, what in your view distinguishes the art scene here and working from within it?

S.L: To be able to explore Stockholm’s art scene you need to explore beyond just the immediate bubble. At least for myself, I find that the most interesting areas, are those that aren’t singular in their exploration, and or their dynamic. For example, MDT, has an extremely fantastic programme, as does Tensta Konsthall – in fact they are the institutions setting the bar really, both programmes look closely at collaboration, and show cross-disciplinary platforms, which I very much enjoy. I think that there is also a lot of support, at least in comparison to the UK, for funding, which allows there to be a supporting network for new initiatives, that do not have to affiliate with branding for example, although I have to admit that that to have this structure is also part of a bigger problematic too; how does one survive without public funding? It is a privilege to live like that also. Balance, and understanding of the economic underbelly, I think it’s a way to fully engage.

Performance and theatre has a strength here that I’ve not seen anywhere else, which I very much enjoy too. There is also such amazing support from institutions such as EMS, which along-side Fylkingen, have been around for 50 and 80 years respectively, the network that is part of that scene stretches far and beyond just their artist residencies and studios. All of the mentioned above, also have a strong history of inviting, a strong programme from outside of Sweden, which also only reinforces their strength.

C-P: Having visited the Venice Biennale last year I had an interesting conversation with a gallerist about what role contemporary art should play in the political climate, if any at all. Question being if there are other artistic disciplines better suited for channeling current world affairs and politics or if contemporary art needs as well at all times to stay informed and mirror the state of the world. What are your thoughts?

S.L: Art is always political in a way, even in trying to not be political is a political stance. I think that we cannot afford to not be aware of the issues around us, and discuss them. Aesthetics, emotions, the body, gender, race these are all themes within a bigger frame that will always be political. I have to say that I do not agree with that there are better suited artistic disciplines. I think all disciplines can be suited to discuss the current issues around us. It’s funny you mention the Venice Biennale, because I think for example it did have some politically charged works which incredibly backfired, in the case of the TBA-funded Olafur Eliasson workshop. How could no-one along the way think about the issues that the work would present, secondly this was presented by a huge foundation, with massive funding, by one of the world's currently most celebrated artists, also being curated by established and respected entities who should know better. It was in essence trying to talk about the current political topics but from a distanced and arbitrary point of view, trying to seemly be doing good, but really highlighting a distance from the issues and situation.

In a way, what was more explicit, for example BB9 (Berlin Biennale 9), two years ago when Dis Magazine curated BB9, there was massive criticism about both the aesthetics and the dialogue or the lack of, that it presented, and it was massively dismissed as a joke, a perilous look at the “trend” friendly aesthetics of art, the cross-pollination of art and fashion, interaction etc etc. There was an outcry that it did not present any deep political issues - why/how could art not present these issues - when the world around us is collapsing, the on-going circus of Trump's campaign for example. It was seen as passive, and non-negotiating. I actually think that what Dis Magazine did was in fact much more potent in their message, than we took for granted when it was presented. It was exactly that passivity that needs to be discussed, because even though perhaps we are aware of these issues, we are indeed still at a distance from them, and still continuously embrace an economic framework that we all partake in, which not only continues to infuse the distance, but also encourages that disparity. It was perhaps too great a mirror to admit at the time, I very much remember at the time thinking that; fuck this is so fucked, we are so fucked. This is too real; it was such a good show.

C-P: On a related and personal note, I almost feel like I’ve had it a bit with the visual aesthetic of post-internet art and talks about the ongoing digitalization of the realm of contemporary art. One of the exhibitions I enjoyed the most last year drew from the notion of decolonizing the North; rebutting perceptions about neutrality of these regions of the world in terms of events from recent world history. As a young curator working today, to what extent do you relate in your practice to notions like VR and AI that might significantly impact the artistic landscape in the near future?

S.L: I am a fan! I think that we cannot escape these aesthetics, nor can we escape that this is massively a part of how we interact. I think that there are amazing artists out there really questioning and working with these technologies, and really questioning the structures and frameworks within these interactions and consumptions. Do I think that VR will take over completely over how we interact, no. I think that there is a tactility, which is lacking, which is very much needed to explore deeper.

For example an artist whom I think is using AI fantastically is Lars TCF Holdhus – (TCF – The contemporary future) he works with AI and systems of information, the dysphoric systems of distribution and data, his work is beyond incredible, and works across a span plethora of thematics under these umbrellas. He comes from an art education, but is also a trained coder, he works in both music and art, and I very much enjoyed the transparency in the language that he is able to translate from each palate. Everything is data, of which everything fits within a framework, the framework being a framework of value, of which is he trying to not just question the placement of value, but also the language of data. He has created a ‘bot’ of himself, so as to create fake data, to dealing only in crypto currency, to getting a hold of all his DNA data and working on new art works with that information, as well as using that data to create tracks. Of course there is VR version of Lars TCF.

C-P: I can feel sometimes that we talk very little about diversity matters in contemporary in Sweden where the art scene itself is small and certain matters are found uneasy to talk about. Then I think for instance about the debacle that arose at the Whitney Biennial relating to Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till and the inherent issues about exploitation and cultural appropriation, and realize nobody here spoke to me about it as though it would be something very alien and distanced form here. It makes me think a little.

S.L: You are right to say that the scene here is small, and race is certainly something that is rarely talked about within the art scene at least. Whereas in the UK and certainly in the US, the conversation has been going on for longer. We are certainly in a position of privilege, and although there are movements now I feel starting to happen, it is still a topic that is not touched upon so often. For example, when I was at Konstfack, I can remember a handful of other POC, within the school; that’s a handful within a body of over 1.000 students across several disciplines. Unfortunately, although I would like to think that, everyone within an art institution, is well-versed on these issues, and is politically aware, one of the issues behind the lack of POC within any creative field, is indeed an economic reason, this however is an uncomfortable topic, because within Sweden, the class system, one would like to think is something that doesn’t exist.

It does however very much thrive, and statistically, within the art spectra, one is more likely to be of middle to upper-class background, and this is of course uncomfortable mirrors. I feel, however that there are clusters that have been forming, not just within the standardized art scene, but across culture, that are creating waves. And who are indeed addressing these issues. Not in creating an ‘us’ and ‘them’, or a victimization or exotification, but rather – curators who are really doing their research and second generations, not letting barriers get in the way. Lastly, there has also been, a number of artist of colour who have chosen to work in Sweden, and they are also really putting a mirror up in the white sea and shaking things up.

C-P: You are currently also working alongside Carsten Höller with his studio. Do your practices overlap and/or what might be a few of the significant things learnt through your collaborative work?

S.L: They certainly do, it has gotten to the point where collaborating has become almost intuitive. Carstens work isn’t just about big sculptures, the core essence is indeed based on experimentation and human relations, and his earlier works are littered with experimental “interventions”. Much of my own practice, be it within curation or with my own work, is very much about getting publics that wouldn’t normally culminate, to form. I never feel like I am not learning something from Carsten, there is always something new, a new experiment to try. There hasn’t really been a time where it every really stops either. One never stops, always continuously questioning, or seeing new solutions, or new frameworks, one is the mirror of the other. There is certain thoughtfulness and sensitivity, within his work that I always feel inspired by, and a playfulness that also keeps me on my toes. I also get to work on dream works for example, like The Double Club, with its second iteration – The Prada Double Club Miami.

C-P: What are your plans for the year of 2018, what’s on the agenda?

S.L: The year is pretty much closed. In April, I will be moderating a panel discussion at Market Art Fair, touching upon the topics of diversity or lack thereof. I will also curate a new exhibition of Jeannette Ehlers work, her work deals heavily with the themes of colonial history within Denmark, which is almost erased from immediate history, topics again that people find hard to discuss.

I have been asked to present a new body of work for the Strindberg Museum in August. Ulrika Flink, who used to be a curator at Tensta Konsthall and last year curated the Momentum Biennale, and I have been in dialogue in regards to a body of work for a while. I am extremely excited to be able to do something in the newly renovated space there. Later on in the year, I will go to South America, Lima – I was there was year, to explore the connections between Sweden and Peru, of which there are many. After the trip Revolver Galleria invited me, to do a show, in celebration of the gallery's 10 years. I'm as well presenting a bigger research body of work, which will be presented in a series of interviews for BON magazine. And then as for Carsten – there are projects, all over! Beijing in March I’m excited to be there for his new show at Galleria Continua with some new super exciting works,. I’m on 2019.

Image credits

(1) Christine Sun Kim Close Readings, 2015 (Film Still) Courtesy the artist and Carroll Fletcher, London. © the artist

(2) Portrait. Fredrick Andersson-Andersson

(3) Rosana Antoli Chaos Dancing Cosmos, 2016 - 2017 Courtesy the artist Installation View: Silver Sehnsuct, London, 2017 © mr.plala

(4) Curator walk with Rafael Schacter and Mara-Johanna Kolmel

(5) Poklong Anading Without With, 2017 Courtesy of the artist and 1335Mabini, Manila, Philippines Installation View: Silver Sehnsuct, London, 2017 © mr.plala

(6) Paola Torres Núñez Del Prado The Lost Code (Corrupted Data), 2017 Courtesy the artist Installation View: Silver Sehnsuct, London, 2017 © mr.plala

(7) Christine Sun Kim Close Readings, 2015 Courtesy the artist and Carroll Fletcher, London. © the artist Installation View: Silver Sehnsuct, London, 2017 © mr.plala

(8) Jazoo Yang Material Series, 2017 Installation View: Silver Sehnsuct, London, 2017 © mr.plala

(9) Paola Torres Núñez Del Prado The Lost Code (Corrupted Data), 2017 Installation View: Silver Sehnsuct, London, 2017 © mr.plala

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