Why did you become a curator?
It took me a long time to figure out that this is what I want to do. I went to Parsons to study fine art and after the first semester I just felt frustrated, so I changed majors. I don’t think the school really knew what to do with the kids who wanted to work in art but not make it themselves, so they pushed us in the direction of auction houses or art fairs. These environments solely focused on the buying and selling of art objects, which didn’t interest me at all. I wanted to work with living artists, not be part of a theater where the main actors were rich people and their advisors. I’ve never taken a class on curating, or even knew what a curator was until I moved to Prague in 2012. I started interning for the curator of MeetFactory and really enjoyed it. I curated my first exhibition in MeetFactory’s Kostka Gallery in 2014, and I remember feeling absolutely terrified and vulnerable to put my work and name out there to be judged. That’s sort of when I knew that this was ‘it’ for me. I also live for working with artists and getting to know them and supporting their practice in whatever way I can. In a way I think curating is an excuse to work with people I admire. For the first few years I only curated solo exhibitions because I really enjoyed playing this supportive role. Since then I’ve branched out to other project formats, but, ultimately, providing a platform and being part of a support system for young contemporary artists is the driving force behind it all.
You have an enormous list of exhibition projects. It’s about more than 10 projects in one year. How do you do it? Does curatorial practice leave you any time for yourself?
In 2017 I decided to quit my other various jobs and only work on my independent projects. In terms of output, I’m very much ‘all or nothing’, so for the past few years I’ve just been giving as much as possible to this, and it feels normal for me even though it’s overwhelming sometimes. It’s been pretty tough, but I try to make it work as best as I can. Obviously, being a freelancer isn’t for everyone. I try to plan out my work schedule as responsibly as possible, but it’s a lot of chasing paychecks. You’re living in a constant state of financial precarity, and because the art industry is so fickle it’s hard to say no to projects that might not be so rewarding, for fear of having no work at all. I know I’m not the only one who has anxiety that they’ll never be invited to do an exhibition ever again and has so then agreed to crappy conditions. But for the first time recently I removed myself from a pretty large and ambitious exhibition project that I had already started to work on with another curator (and that will still happen without me). The proposed fee was absurdly low and didn’t at all reflect the amount of work I’d be doing for a year and a half or more. This situation isn’t at all unique but in fact pretty common. I just had this realization, like, ‘ok, I have to stop doing this to myself – accepting less than what I’m worth’, so I left. It’s taken a while, but I’m working on making better decisions and standing up for myself more in terms of demanding better working conditions.
Following you words about refusing to work on some big projects, where they do not value your engagement, doesn’t it seem that art is divided into two worlds: people with ideas and people with resources? Is it possible to find a win/win situation?
Yeah, it’s absolutely like this in many fields, my friends and I talk about it all the time. It’s hard to imagine a win/win situation if the system we live in and that art operates in remains the same. I agree with Anna Khachiyan who wrote that “as long as art remains a prestige economy of the free market — a glitzy barnacle on the side of global finance — it cannot be an effective tool for political change”. It would be a ‘win’ if art and artists’ livelihoods weren’t totally dependent on the market and art wasn’t considered either worthless or a luxury commodity. But until a revolution in the field occurs, I think the most my peers and I can do on a personal level is try to be community builders and support each other in any way possible.
What is the most embarrassing project you have curated till now?
A lot of projects I do and texts I write for exhibitions are really personal, so over time I feel embarrassed by almost everything, but I’ve just come to live with that. I would say that re-reading a few of my first curatorial texts today might make me cringe because back then I hadn’t found my voice yet. When I first started writing, I relied a lot on philosophers to back me up. I was quoting Deleuze and Barthes too much (really hope those texts aren’t online anywhere) because I didn’t think that what I had to say about art was valid, and figured no one else would either. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be really serious and academic in the beginning. My work was met at first with a lot of opposition in Prague by established curators and artists who made fun of me or tried to brush me off as silly, too young, whatever. I also experienced a lot of blatant sexism in the scene there. So I had a lot to prove and I was insecure and it came out in the texts. Soon enough though, I got tired of writing the typical formulaic International Art English exhibition texts that are still ubiquitous today. I started experimenting with formats, like poems and journal entries, songs, etc, and a few of those first ones are pretty fucked up and weird and clumsy. But the artists were always happy with these pieces and that’s what’s mattered the most to me. Getting positive feedback from them helps me so much and keeps me going.
Any favourites among the themes of art and artists’ work?
In the past year I’ve met with quite a few artists whose work is in a way a form of care or therapy for themselves and their audiences. I’ve gotten to know the work of artists who aren’t afraid of opening up and letting their vulnerability show and it’s really refreshing because I feel like there’s so much pretending and hypocrisy that goes on in the art world. I curated two exhibitions loosely based on the notion of empathy in Berlin, and I don’t think I’m finished with the theme yet. What really resonates with me is when an artist’s work is quite personal, and unashamedly so. On the topic of care, at the moment I really appreciate the work of Lauryn Youden, Maren Karlson, Sharona Franklin, and Anna Slama & Marek Delong. Alternatively I also appreciate when I see art that seems to exist in an entirely different reality than my own, and the artist has created such a convincing parallel universe that one could get lost in it and come out a different person. I get sucked into environments for sure. So for example I’d say Rebecca Ackroyd’s work stands out for me. Visiting her solo show at Peres Projects in Berlin last year had a super melancholic, chilling effect on me that I still can’t shake off. And that happens pretty rarely.
For a while death and the idea of immanence have been present in a lot of the work I’ve put out. Pet Cemetery was an exhibition that probably most directly engaged with this. But I have to stop myself from making every exhibition about death! I’m also interested in what moves people to act with empathy or in solidarity with one another. Then, most recently, I’ve been researching human and animal relations, companionship, etc. I’ve been really into Anni Puolakka’s work for a while. She often speaks from a non-human perspective, focusing on the lives of domesticated animals like cats, horses, and cows.
I have to mention Bora Akinciturk and Ville Kallio who I’ve worked with a few times now and who both have an incredible sense of humor. I like seeing the present be pushed into its most extreme or absurd/terrifying form, which I think both of them do fantastically within their work.
How do you find the artists, especially the ones with whom, as you said, you feel a resonance?
Through recommendations, studio visits, art blogs, art fairs, Instagram, going to exhibitions, visiting universities, conversations with people. Every which way.
You have mentioned animals as a topic of interest for your projects. Why? From what did this interest arise?
I’ve always been in love with animals since I was a kid and felt very close to them. A lot of my writing includes animal/human transformations or relations. There’s some kind of grounding that happens when you spend time with them as opposed to people, and I want to explore that more, or be able to understand what’s happening from another perspective than my own as a human. Animals have been depicted in art in so many different ways for ages–whether as symbolism or in narrative, but now I feel that the concept specifically of animal consciousness is quite prevalent in contemporary art and I’d like to dedicate some time to this, I guess as a way to potentially give back to animals collectively, by holding them in a higher regard, giving them agency and attention, etc.
How do you find the support for new projects (financial, technical)?
These things vary a lot depending on the space/context the exhibitions will be held in. I’ve worked with commercial galleries, institutions, privately funded spaces, project spaces – all different levels and criteria in terms of budgets and production support. A decent sized portion of exhibition projects I’ve curated have been executed without any budget whatsoever. Of course, this means that the majority of resources and support comes directly from the exhibiting artists and myself instead of the space. I don’t think it’s great to do this too often, though. It’s true that without any budget, one has more freedom to experiment with ideas and less pressure from above, but it can also feel self-exploitative and a bit like an unrequited love affair if there isn’t a balance. Another independent curator, Maija Rudovska, told me once that balancing these varied projects properly – funded/unfunded is really important, and I try to remember that when I’m planning ahead.
How could you describe the local situation in contemporary art in Prague? Any subtleties?
It’s always been exciting to be in Prague because the art scene is constantly changing. I feel grateful to have moved to CZ when I did because I witnessed the invasion and subsequent influence of post-internet art firsthand, which rapidly seeped into a scene that in my opinion in the early 2010s was still stuck on minimalism and conceptual art as the ‘standard’. I feel like that movement opened the floodgates, and now there’s more room for artists to experiment and play with rules, materials, aesthetics, etc. The scene is small and everyone knows each other so that’s annoying sometimes, but it’s also very serious in a way that I appreciate. At times I miss Prague because Berlin can be really overwhelming, and there’s this laissez-faire attitude where anything goes and everyone’s seen everything already so it’s harder to get feedback or evoke anything from people.
Do you have a professional dream?
If I ever have more financial resources, I’d like to be able to give back to the community that I grew up in professionally (in Prague) in a more tangible way. I’d also ultimately like to push myself to write a lot more, not only in the context of exhibitions, maybe utilising longer formats.
If a young curator asks you what to do to start her/his own practice, what advice would you give them?
I learned through a lot of trial and error, so I would suggest the same thing to anyone who wants to start curating projects. Go to exhibitions, meet with artists, read as much as you can. Try to create a network or find a community. Treat people and yourself with respect. Honestly that’s such a huge part of it. If you want to curate exhibitions, start reaching out to people and spaces. It takes initiative and patience and just solid dedication to the work, which shouldn’t be surprising.
How do you get rest from art? Is there anything special that you do in your free time?
Once I was on a date and the person told me that all I talk about is art, so now I try to be aware of that more. I have phases of intensity and then periods of rest where I’ll focus on consuming other things like music, movies, books or just paying attention to what’s happening around me and my community more acutely. But there’s no form of pure escape from art for me. Everything I absorb/reflect upon during times of rest usually ends up as exhibition topics so it’s all inextricably linked.
What are your future projects about?
This year I’m working more closely with artists for solo exhibitions and giving myself a small break from group shows. But I’ve been specifically researching animal consciousness and companionship, so one future group exhibition will definitely explore this.