Curator Talks: Anne Vigeland
With a distinct bakground in dance and and a fond interest in the current upsurge and landscape of performance in visual art, Anne Vigeland is one of the young emerging curators propelling into the art scene. "I belong to a generation of curators that I experience as being rather uninterested in the idea of the ‘star curator’ in terms of fame and recognition, or in the long-lived discussion on the curator as artist", she says, adding a belief that this said generation is more concerened with establishing collaborative working methods in which the curator finds their role as a team player.
Photo: Erica Lindberg
C-P: Looking back, what prompted you in a direction towards becoming a curator in the first place?
A.V: I have a background in dance, and studied it for many years - first classical ballet and then contemporary dance and choreography. For a long time, dance and movement was a very big part of my identity, and in the end, it became rather suffocating, it felt limiting. While studying at the performing arts school P.A.R.T.S in Brussels, we were taught art and performance theory in addition to classes in dance and choreographic composition, which evoked a personal interest in theory and academia. That, in combination with physical and mental fatigue after so many years in dance education, meant that I eventually decided to move back to Stockholm to study art history. I am so grateful for that decision, it was fantastic to be able to expand my intellectual abilities beyond what my body and mind was capable of as a dancer and performer. While studying art history, I quickly became interested in exhibition practices and curatorial work, and deliberately directed my studies in that direction. So when finishing my degree, it felt natural to apply to the International Master’s Programme in Curating Art at Stockholm University, which I am currently studying in my final semester.
For me, working curatorially bears many similarities to working with choreography. Both practices revolve around structuring material in time and space, in creating spatial experiences where the body plays a central role - be it the body of the performer or the observer. I think I was particularly drawn to curating as it implies such an onerous balancing of theory and practice, it is both organisational, intellectual and creative at the same time. Also, I entered the field of curating at a time when the visual art world has become profoundly interested in choreographic and performative practices, which has meant that I have been able to foster my own curatorial practice where my background as a performer has been highly relevant. So much is happening at the moment in terms of performance’s role and position within the art world at large - it’s very exciting!
Zoë Poluch, Stina Nyberg and Adam Seid Tahir sharing work as part of Curating Art: Dance Concerts, Accelerator, Stockholm, 2019. Curated by Anne Vigeland in collaboration with pavleheidler. Photo: Anne Vigeland
C-P: Where do your current interests lie in your curatorial practice and what marks you as a curator?
A.V: For obvious reasons perhaps, my main interests lie in the current upsurge of interest in dance and performance within the visual art world. I just finished my master’s thesis in which I researched the implications of using human subjects as exhibited material, meaning exhibitions that implement long durational performance as an integral exhibitionary component. While the move of dance and performance from the black box to the white cube implies many exciting possibilities and opportunities, it also evokes many cautionary questions of both practical, juridical and ethical scope. And within that complex net of concerns, the issues of financial resources and value judgement are the most acute.
Unfortunately, the rapid expansion of performance’s presence in exhibition projects has also meant that dancers and performers are being employed by art institutions to function as exhibited subjects under highly precarious working conditions. While pressured exhibition budgets play a big role in such calculations, a lack of previous knowledge on what working with performers imply is an equally large problem. Whilst this in part is connected to structural and organisational differences between museums and theatres, it is also connected to artistic hierarchies. Dance has always had a marginalised position within the art world and in turn, dancers are looked upon as both expandable and usable in a field where painting and sculpture has enjoyed the greatest of recognition, historically speaking.
As a curator, I hope to be able to contribute to the growing discourse on performance in visual art settings, but on viable and sustainable grounds. I wish to work equally with visual artists and performers, and to develop strategies that better foster the bridge between the two fields, but also to deepen the public recognition of the connections between visual art and choreography, which are many and profound. For instance, the kinds of choreographic work I have been involved in myself bears much more similarities to conceptual art and installation art than say, traditional theatre.
Caroline Pyo Soon Byström and Andrea Yang-Nam Svensson sharing work as part of Curating Art: Dance Concerts, Accelerator, Stockholm, 2019. Curated by Anne Vigeland in collaboration with pavleheidler. Photo: Anne Vigeland
C-P: What sort of changes or shifts are you seeing happening within this landscape? I would imagine something every trained curator is having to relate to is a certain ”democratization” of the role of a curator, where also artists are increasingly seen doing curatorial work and efforts?
A.V: I think this democratization of the role of the curator that you are speaking about is only positive. I belong to a generation of curators that I experience as being rather uninterested in the idea of the ‘star curator’ in terms of fame and recognition, or in the long-lived discussion on the curator as artist. Whilst previous generations of curators undoubtedly contributed to the advancement of curatorial discourse in highly important ways - not at least in terms of actually establishing it as a profession - it also contributed to a rather problematic hierarchical relationship between the artist and the curator in terms of authority. As such a big part of curatorial work includes the notion of selection - and selection always brings about issues of criticism and thus power - it is difficult to avoid completely.
However, I believe that my own generation is very concerned with establishing collaborative working methods where the curator functions as an enabler and a team player rather than a connoisseur. I think it’s great that many artists are engaged in curatorial work and exhibition making nowadays, it speaks of a vigorous resiliency within artistic climates; artists are taking matters in their own hands and showing a great deal of independency. It is important to remember however, that the artist who makes her own exhibitions is not a new phenomenon - that was most often the case before the professionalization of the curator in the 1960s. With the rise of the curator came also a certain - what I believe to be a healthy - suspicion towards that role, which I think for better and worse still resides in certain artistic environments. When I see artists engaging in curatorial work, it doesn't make me feel as if my profession is at a decline; it is rather an important reminder of the need for horizontality in terms of working structures within the art world - curators and artists need to work next to and together with each other, not above one another.
The Vibe by Linda Blomqvist and Marcus Doverud as part of the exhibition Body of Care and Control, Köttinspektionen, Uppsala, 2019. Curated by students of the MA in Curating Art at Stockholm University. Photo: Yuying Hu
C-P: How do you think curators can impact creating a more sustainable situation and system for artists in the future?
A.V: I think we are already moving in a direction where things are changing, although slowly. First of all - and this may sound both obvious and stringent at the same time - curators and cultural organisers need to stop doing projects that don’t include budgets for salaries and exhibition fees. Creative fulfilment and public visibility doesn’t pay the rent. In a cultural climate that is experiencing financial cut-backs and a steady decrease in public funding for art and culture, such a strategy also implies a certain decline in the numbers of realised projects. However, I believe it is a necessary sacrifice in order to change established structures in the long run. As a curator, I feel a great deal of responsibility in terms of compensating the artists I work with for their time and effort. That is commensurate with what I experience as a shift in attitude in regards to valuing artistic production beyond aspects of aesthetic and intellectual value - artistic production is also work, it is labour that needs to be paid for.
Also, an important aspect of curatorial work that is not so often spoken about, is the amount of supportive labour that goes into the realisation of curatorial projects. Curating means working with people; it implies caring for one another, resolving disputes and conflicts and functioning as social mediator. Creating more sustainable situations and systems where artists are not only compensated sufficiently for their work, but also feel both seen and cared for, implies that curators need to foster their social skills and emotional capabilities just as much as they tend to their level of intellect and artistic knowledgeability.
Detail from Cure by Izabel Lind Färnstrand as part of the exhibition Body of Care and Control, Köttinspektionen, Uppsala, 2019. Curated by students of the MA in Curating Art at Stockholm University. Photo: Yuying Hu
C-P: Who are some of your aspirational figures in terms of other curators and peers?
A.V: Locally, I think Danjel Andersson who worked as a director at MDT here in Stockholm for several years, and who recently began his new position as a director at Dansehallerne in Copenhagen, is important to mention. Danjel did a fantastic job with MDT during his time there, supporting a range of young performers and choreographers who due to his strategic work are now well established within the field. Me and Danjel have worked closely together in different contexts during the past years, and he has been an important mentor for me. I am now very excited to see how MDT will evolve under the leadership of the newly appointed director Anna Efraimsson, who previously worked as head of the Dance Department at DOCH, Stockholm University of the Arts, and as assistant professor in choreography with a particular focus on curatorial practices. I also find curator Edi Muka’s work at Statens Konstråd as highly aspirational. His recent project “Choreographies of the Social” was for instance a great example of how one can work with public art in the form of temporal social encounters.
Internationally, art historian and curator RoseLee Goldberg is undoubtedly an aspirational figure, whose various writings on performance art have been highly influential during my studies, and whose establishment of Performa - the major performance biennial in New York - has meant a tremendous recognition of performative art practices on an international scale. I would also like to mention senior curator at WIELS in Brussels, Zoë Gray, who I had the pleasure to work very closely with during my internship there this past spring. Zoë is a highly experienced and knowledgeable curator whose warmth and affection implied that I had the privilege of engaging in an internship that was both inspirational and very educational.
Installation view from the exhibition Body of Care and Control, Köttinspektionen, Uppsala, 2019. Works by Lode Kuylenstierna and Anna Ting Möller. Curated by students of the MA in Curating Art at Stockholm University. Photo: Yuying Hu
C-P: What are your upcoming projects and doings in the pipeline?
A.V: At the moment, me and three of my classmates from the MA in Curating Art are working on an exhibition at Accelerator here in Stockholm, in collaboration with artist and guest professor at the Royal Institute of Art, Lina Selander, and a group of 16 art students from the school. The project, which is initiated and led by Lina, takes the Swedish Museum of Natural History as a starting point for a discussion about artistic and curatorial practices in relation to the current environmental situation. As a collective group, we visited the Swedish Museum of Natural History for a couple of days this past autumn, and engaged in seminars and lectures held by prominent scientific researchers, followed by a number of tours of the museum’s collection. Drawing from this experience, the students from the Royal Institute of Art have produced a range of completely new works, which will be exhibited in a labyrinth-like structure at Accelerator - taking usage of the building’s many hidden storage spaces and corridors. The exhibition opens on February 13 and runs until February 16.
I have also just recently started working on my curatorial exam project, which most likely will take place in May. As the project is in such an early stage, I don’t want to say too much about it, but it will definitely revolve around artistic working processes and the ethics of performance in relation to visual art settings, and will most probably include both performance and a publication set in the interstice of a catalogue and an artist’s book. Other than that, I am trying to prepare for life outside of the university as best as I can - my studies are after all rapidly approaching an end. However, I feel excited about delving into the professional field, and curious as to what the next few years will bring about in terms of developments, projects and opportunities.
Note: Survival of the Fittest (Feb 14-16 12 pm-6pm at Accelerator) is a collaborative project between students from the Royal Institute of Art, students from the International Master’s Programme in Curating Art at Stockholm University, the Swedish Museum of Natural History and Accelerator.
Initiator and project leader: Lina Selander
Curators: Yuying Hu, Elias Kautsky, Silvia Thomackenstein, Anne Vigeland
Artists: Mattias Andersson, Tobias Bradford, Karolina Brobäck, Sara Ekholm Eriksson, Simon Ferner, Lior Nønne Malue Hansen, Tim Høibjerg, Valentine Isæus-Berlin, Newsha Khadivi, Johanna Kindahl, Linnea Lindberg, Lina Lundquist, Georg Nordmark, Emilie Palmelund, Sixten Sandra, Klara Zetterholm