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Future Curator Watch: Ellen K. Gedda

Meet Ellen K. Gedda; one of the emerging and rising curators to watch for who is already putting her mark on the contemporary scene in Stockholm."When it comes to narrowing down my practice, it comes down to how to work together with artists. I tend to be especially interested in projects where new works are being produced", she says and notes; "Ultimately, I am working within the arts because I am interested in how we, as conscious beings, manage to live in the enormous complexity that is reality." Make no mistake folks, be sure that Ellen is one of the curators whose work you will be seeing a lot more of from here and on.

C-P: I was speaking to a museum director about the lack of platforms for curators in Stockholm and how essentially every other institution should establish a curatorial grant or residency programme for emerging curators, enabling this sort of well-needed platform. You are currently studying at the Curating Art MA Programme at Stockholm University but already prior to enrolling had been serving as an assistant curator at Magasin III which means in a way already having had the sort of position many curators would aspire to have after their studies. What was your experience with Magasin III like? E.K.G: I truly cherish my time at Magasin III, it has been extremely important to me. As so often is the case, I started at the museum as an intern. As a part of my bachelor programme, the internship was supposed to last only ten weeks. However, thanks to a course at the University of Gothenburg, which allows students within the humanities to do a full-time internship for one whole semester and which grants you academic credits, I had the opportunity to stay for another six months.

As an intern at Magasin III, I experienced a great generosity from the staff who all were very dedicated contributing to my learning and encouraged me to ask all of my stupid questions, of which there were many. They also entrusted me with a variety of tasks which allowed me to gain hands-on knowledge and invaluable insights into how the process behind an exhibition may be carried out in different ways. Thanks to my colleagues being so committed in sharing their knowledge with me, by the end of my internship I had got to know the institution quite well. Then, the museum director at the time, David Neuman, kindly offered me to stay on the team, primarily to coordinate a book project dedicated to the museums first thirty years.

Shortly after I started working with the book, the position as assistant curator got available and, luckily for me, Tessa Praun, who had recently been appointed the new director, reasoned that it would be good to have someone already familiar with the ongoing projects stepping in. Therefore, the book project was put on hold for a while so that I could take on the role as assistant curator. Working on a solo exhibition with artist Gunnel Wåhlstrand, curator Bronwyn Griffith took me under her wings and guided me through the project, making sure I felt welcome to take part in all aspects of the production. She always took the time to discuss the curatorial decisions with me, giving me the opportunity to learn things that went beyond my assigned tasks.

Essentially, that is how I ended up in the very advantageous position of having this kind of experience already prior to my curatorial studies and for that I am very grateful.

Installation view Recent Graduates, Affordable Art Fair Stockholm, 2018. Work by Catrin Karlberg. Photo: Ellen Klintenberg Gedda

C-P: Getting back to the question about platforms for curators; how do you perceive the current landscape for you and your peers and what outlook towards change are you actually seeing?

E.K.G: When looking at the different developing practices just within my class, which consists of eight students, it is striking how our interests and approaches are already now quite distinct from each other. There are so many possible directions for your work to take within the curatorial field today, so in that sense I perceive the current landscape for emerging curators as very exciting. On the other hand, a more developed infrastructure of working grants, residency programs, open calls and available positions for emerging curators is needed in order to develop the profession as such. My peers and I will have to participate in and contribute to such a development. It is often talked about how the thresholds for secure employment at established institutions are high, that is definitely no news. But then again, it is far from everyone, for example in my class, who are interested in working in such a context. However, without advocating for short term contracts in general, I must say that for me, a two-year contract at Magasin III made all the difference. After working at the museum for two years I was happy to move on and leave room for another young curator to get that experience. If such arrangements occurred to a greater extent at the institutions, it would mean a big difference for many curators in their early professional lives.

C-P: You belong to a group of emerging curators whose work has been quite visible already in various contexts. What are some of the projects you’ve carried out on your own and if you had to offer an elevator pitch; what would be your overall curatorial philosophy or modus operandi that you strive to work around?

Installation view Recent Graduates, Affordable Art Fair Stockholm, 2018. Works by Anna Pajak, Sara Gewalt, Sofia Lind and Johannes Hägglund. Photo: Ellen Klintenberg Gedda

E.K.G: In October last year, I co-curated a presentation of six artists for Affordable Art Fair together with Robin Borg, who is a friend of mine that I got to know working with the fair before. Affordable Art Fair is a fair for buyers who do not necessarily identify themselves as collectors, but who wishes to bring art into their homes, basically. Under the title Resent Graduates, we therefore presented works by, as the title suggests, recently graduated artists working with mediums and expressions that we thought fitting to the context. As research, I visited all of the degree exhibitions at the Swedish art schools. That was a good way of getting to know a little bit about how the schools vary in relation to each other. However, getting to know a lot of artists of my own generation was probably the best part of the project.

Before Recent Graduates, I coordinated the exchange exhibition 木漏れ日 / Mångata at Bångska Våningen. For that exhibition, I was invited by the participating artists themselves to help bring their various practices together into the format of an exhibition. The group consisted of five Japanese and five Swedish artists who had come to know each other through various cultural exchange and residency programs. They all decided for themselves what they wanted to present, so with exception for taking a few works out, something that needed to be done with regards to space, I was not involved in the selection. Instead, my role in that project was being in charge of the installation and to present the project, initiated by the artists themselves, in text. Working with a group of ten artists, the demand for leadership and diplomacy as part of curating became apparent to me. Surprisingly, I think all eleven of us taking part in the project were happy with the presentation in the end.

(top) Installation view 木漏れ日 / Mångata, Bångska Våningen, 2018. Works by Giulia Cairone, Yuko Tsuchiya, Yumiko Shiozaki and Christoffer Billebo. Photo: Giulia Cairone, (bottom) Installation view 木漏れ日 / Mångata, Bångska Våningen, 2018. Works by Yumiko Shiozaki, Karl Patric Näsman and Naomi Shigeta. Photo: Giulia Cairone

Regarding my curatorial philosophy, at this stage I try to allow myself to remain fairly vague in order to investigate it further as I get more experience. When I applied for an internship at Magasin III, it was because I thought three-dimensional media such as sculpture and installation were my main area of interest. However, when it comes to narrowing down my own practice, it has more to do with how to work together with artists. For example, I tend to be especially interested in projects where new works are being produced. I have difficulties deciding for specific topics to focus on in my work. Ultimately, I am working within the arts because I am interested in how we, as conscious beings, manage to live in the enormous complexity that is reality. I am interested in strategies for being human in this world. But then I guess that somehow covers everything? But to narrow my curatorial philosophy down just a little bit further, it could also be mentioned that I generally prefer expressions that can be experienced quite intuitively.

Installation view Body of Care and Control, Köttinspektionen, 2019. Work by Anna-Karin Rasmusson. Photo: Yuying Hu

C-P: Your class at Stockholm University recently curated a great group exhibition joining a very interesting group of artists; titled “Body of Care and Control”. I love the thematic ideas informing the exhibition and the group effort apparently must have been very successful. Tell me about this project and what prompted your group to do it?

E.K.G: I am so happy you liked the exhibition, we are all very proud of how it turned out. Body of Care and Control took place at Köttinspektionen in Uppsala. We got invited by HAKA, the artist collective running the space’s art programme, to make an exhibition and were given total freedom to present whatever we wanted. It made sense to us, as a group, to do a thematic group exhibition and as none of us had any relationship to Uppsala or Köttinspektionen, we started off doing some research on the building itself and its historical function as a meat inspection agency. We found that the oxblood red, neoclassical building was opened as a public institution for inspection of meat in 1930, with the aim to prevent the circulation of trichinella. These findings led us to discussions on governmental care-taking and control, inspection of bodies and so on. Eventually, while we were also looking at artists that we wanted to work with, we decided to do an exhibition on bodily inspection in relation to the concepts of care and control. The universality in that framework seemed suitable for a curatorial group like ours as it opened for a broad range of artistic practices. This resulted in an exhibition that actually mirrored us as a group and that is an achievement that I feel especially proud of.

(top) Installation view Body of Care and Control, Köttinspektionen, 2019. Works by Lode Kuylenstierna and Rebecca Lindsmyr. Photo: Yuying Hu, (bottom) Documentation of performance by Anna Ting Möller, Body of Care and Control, Köttinspektionen, 2019. Photo: Erica Lindberg

C-P: What can be expected from your degree project and what’s next in store for you in 2019? E.K.G: With start in May, I will spend the summer in Berlin interning at Gropius Bau. The institution seems to be on an interesting path under the direction of Stephanie Rosenthal. Her vision is to put artistic creation at center and has, for example, initiated an artist in residence programme. As I understand it, for at least one of the exhibitions that I will be assisting on, several new works will be produced. I am beyond excited to spend the summer there and, hopefully, I will have some time left in the weekends to explore the Berlin art scene as well.

When back in Stockholm this fall, I will mainly be working on my master thesis. I have a, so far, vague idea to investigate aesthetic experience as a philosophical concept in relation to curatorial practices. Besides the thesis, I have a few other things to look forward to as well. I have, for example, been invited to do the opening exhibition of a new, small but intriguing art space in central Stockholm, run by artist Mateas Pares. With the aim to provide artists with the possibility of presenting their ideas within a quite open framework, it will be accessible for artists and curators through an open call. Since recently my fellow student Elias Kautsky and I are also engaged in a publishing project, initiated by graphic designer Sandra Praun and artist Oscar Guermouche, dedicated to exploring the book format as artistic medium. It will be launched this fall and a number of books in various forms will be released in connection with that. Then, throughout the fall, my classmates and I will do a series of events in collaboration with Accelerator, the new art institution at Stockholm University that will be open also as a physical space from September.

My degree project will take place next spring, definitely in the format of a spatial exhibition and it will somehow be an extension of the research that I will be doing for my thesis. More than that I think is too early to say. However, I will probably use the method of inviting two or three artists, who’s practices I think can nurture each other in some way, to work with me from the start, rather than inviting them to present their work within a thematical framework that has already been set.

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