Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Pelin Uran interview

Knowing that you graduated from curatorial studies at Bard in New York, which has a reputation for producing professional and successful curators, we would like to discuss your practice. You have said in conversation that you make visits to artists studios, how do you choose the artists you visit?
I think it is more about me feeling close to his/her work prior to knowing the artist. I try to do as much reading as possible especially interviews with the artist. By then usually you have a pretty strong impression about how the visit would evolve. In the end you not only choose what is close to your mind but also what is close to your heart. Moreover, for me the crucial aspects such as sincerity and straight forwardness have to be there.

In hindsight I can say that it has changed a great deal since the beginning. During my first studio visits I did not have any idea of the dynamics or power relations taking place, therefore I was not picky at all. It was simply about getting to know the works of the artist. Since I was curious and wanted to know more, I was not thinking about the side effects such as feeling stupid, feeling intimidated or powerless.

Then with time and experience my priorities started to form in order for the studio visit to be beneficial for both parties. At this point I have to admit that being a freelance curator gives you the freedom of choosing.

I once read an article in which the conductor Daniel Barenboim was talking about the artistic talent of his ex-wife, well known cellist Jacqueline du Pré, that she was a musician before she was a human. I think this is exactly something that I do not feel close to. For me, having a comfortable situation during the studio visit needs mutual freeness from anxiety and self-importance.
The more that I think about it the more complicated it seems!

I find it really interesting that you say the curator may feel stupid or intimidated by the artist. I think most artists, and I'm talking about the Australian condition here, see the curator as holding the power and the possibility to elevate them. What is your project as a curator for now, given that you don't have a space, how do you work?
I think that holding power and feeling intimidated are not mutually exclusive.

I believe that not having a stable place|space and being freelance forms you subconsciously. To start with you do not play in a safe ground such as working in your territory and you do not have the necessary tools to feel powerful since you are not representing an institution.

Instead of power you have to construct other codes. Personally, meeting with remarkable and down to earth professors at Bard College, where I did my MA studies, was very formative. This experience changed my perspective. I have realized that there is not one way of approaching things. Therefore, to keep the relationship as equal as possible helps me a great deal.

Since I work on my own I have the chance to delve into projects that I am most interested in. It requires a lot of research and reading. Thomas Keenan, head of the Human Rights Department at Bard College, refers to Marx’s in Fables of Responsibility saying that to read is always also time to stop reading. Therefore as opposed to rushing myself, in order to organize something skin-deep, I give myself time to read and think and sometimes time to stop doing both.

Do you have a particular audience in mind when you research and make a project.
The audience enters unconsciously from the very beginning without explicitly thinking about them.

If I don't know where I'll be showing the exhibition I don't have the luxury to know the audience in advance, therefore I'm usually interested in works which make sense disregarding the cultural or national borders. The process of thinking how to articulate the theme -and the problem- and finding appropriate language to translate, in and of itself, begins in the audience. Even the very initial question, which is why to bring up this subject matter as opposed to another and why right now, implies the audience.

Would you tell us about one of your studio visits - perhaps with Sislej Xhafa, you mentioned that the two of you met in New York. What did he show you and what did you discuss together?
Yes, I met Sislej through Sarah Ciraci. The first time that I asked to see Sislej's work, he told me to meet him at Grand Central Station in NY. I was not surprised about the meeting point because I thought that his studio was not central so he was doing me a favor by meeting me. When I arrived Sislej was waiting for me with a friend of his. We took the G train and after some time I still thought we were going to his studio. In the meantime he was asking me a lot of questions about the
exhibition I was going to curate, about the artists that I was working with, about my being Turkish and him being Kosovan etc.

I realized that we were not going to any studio when we arrived at the last train stop and instead of exiting we were on our way back to the Grand Central. At that point he started to talk about the metro being his studio and his experiences of everyday life being the essential part of his art. I was so fixed about the studio visit taking place at the studio I did not know how to react. I didn't know if he was making fun of me, being tacky or just being as he is. I still don't know.

However, even though I didn't have any answers back then, and not even today, I was not offended. I kept in contact with him and the second time I was invited for a studio visit at his studio. As for myself, the awkwardness of the first meeting with Sislej, may be, made me realize my prejudices and my uptightness in unexpected circumstances.
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