In the publication Cream, you said,
"The practice of being a curator gives you a chance to work
in dialogue with the artist to coproduce a new reality and to relate
together in a new context." Can you elaborate?
When I organize an exhibition my first step
is always to define a conceptual framework. The conceptual framework
is based on a series of updated reflections on the problems of contemporary
life and art that correspond to a larger cultural framework. I then
start thinking about artists and specific works. I might select
an existing piece that an artist has produced because it connects
to my concept. In other cases, a work may be site-specific in relation
to my proposal, a city, a context, or a situation; in still others,
the artist may create an entirely new project. I like to create
a common ground of understanding and, after exchanging ideas, to
negotiate and feel a full communication and an enthusiastic agreement
to develop the project.
Many curators work with a consistent
nucleus of artists. How do you find new artists?
I am informed through many sources. My research
is a continuous and open process. I travel, visit exhibitions, and
read the magazines and catalogues for shows that I don't see personally.
I exchange ideas with other curators. Artists are a good resource
about other artists. Philosophy and cultural theory are also components
that fuel my interpretations. Artists who reflect the moment and
who go beyond accepted conceptual and formal disciplines are my
choice. For example, I believe painting has elaborated a historically
important discourse and has strong meaning, yet in the context of
a biennial, which looks beyond the present and into the future,
the discipline of painting is unrenovated. Video and photography
are renovating painting.
Can you define the role of the
biennial vis-a-vis the museum?
Biennials are transgenerational and transnational
and describe newly interconnected strategies. The discourse that
separates is over, and while the barriers are toppling, the artist's
multiple modes of expression must be exhibited. Biennials are the
most advanced arena for this expanded field precisely because they
do not function like museums.Museums are temples for the preservation
of memory where the art works are fetishized and displayed to create
reverence and distance.
In Dennis Oppenheim's 1971 work.
Protection, he blocked the entrance to the Metropolitan Museum with
guard dogs to question the sanctity of museums. Today, structures
have changed and museums contain project rooms for contemporary
installations that are less precious than what you describe.
I am an art historian. I appreciate all moments
in art and I defend the existence of the museum. Museums are rarefied
sometimes but they are also trying to renovate their strategies.
Today, however, biennials are a context for the exploration and
questioning of the synchronicity of the present on both a global
and an intergenerational level, while also presenting an opportunity
to break through the centers, like New York and London. The centers
have the power, but those on the periphery have voices that contribute
to a better understanding of our world.
The early model for the biennial
was Venice. It was a Eurocentric, nationalistic model born of the
19th century, where each country had its own pavilion like an embassy
In 1980 Harald Szeemann questioned this territorial
separation by founding this new section, the Aperto, for young artists
at the Venice Biennale.Aperto artists represented their art, not
their nation. However, the model was canceled by Jean Clair, a subsequent
Biennale curator, who said, "The young ones, we don't need
them." Szeemann, now in his mid-six-ties, is a perspicacious,
generous, and fantastic man. It is fitting that he has been chosen
to be the curator for the next two Venice Biennali, in1999 and 2001.
He calls these "turn-of-the-millennium Biennali": "/ApertoAll
Over," so the new spirit is clear.
It is also true that cultural politics
employ biennials to enrich the local atmosphere by way of a tourist
attraction. This is a way for a city to move into a new economy...
not a bad thing, really.
There are so many places on the planet where
international discourse can be questioned and improved. This widened
dialogue doesn't always have to happen in the centers; all places
contribute to an understanding of certain realities today. Istanbul
has 15 million inhabitants and Santa Fe has only 55,000, but the
dialogue that has begun is a contribution and is necessary.
Santa Fe is a small, complicated
city, rich in contrasts and symbolically close to the end of the
world. Here, a naturally flamboyant landscape of mountains and high
desert also contains the bleak reminder of the Manhattan Project.
Looking fora Place, my title for SITE Santa
Fe,2 questions the place that art has in our societies today as
well as the notion of finding one's own place. How we conceive natural
places like the ocean or the desert, how we experience our bodies,
and how the politics of space are sexually organized are all elements
of this. The answers are different in each locale, but they might
have similarities, too. Santa Fe is a perfect environment in which
to present an exhibition aimed at a fruitful dialogue with contemporary
international art currents, and one that speaks to finding one's
own place. Sometimes it takes a long time to find one's place. It
took Walter De Maria five years to find the place to install Lightning
What do you extrapolate from the
diversity of cultures in Santa Fe?
There are three communities not living together
or interacting much: white Anglo-Saxon, Hispanic, and Native American.
In this one place, all of the problemsof identity, struggles for
land, thematic tourism, science, and nature arise.
Will the nature and culture dialogue
be addressed in SITE Santa Fe?
I have been to Santa Fe with some of the artists,
who have explored the place and thought of different projects. We
have discussed them, trying to connect understandings and find a
common direction. As the curator, I have an overview of the show's
content and appearance. I don't think artists are just producers
of things; they project their own understanding of the world and
I respect that. I've invited Cai Guo Qiang, a Chinese artist who
made a project in Hiroshima with gunpowder, balloons, and rings
that float and then explode. He was rethinking the power of the
atomic bomb and its negative potential. I thought that he could
do a project in that direction because Los Alamos is so near, but
when he felt this place he preferred to work on the spirituality
of the landscape.
Santa Fe abounds with spiritual
and animistic influences.
I have presented the artists with the possibility
of confronting this. Now it's their turn; they will react and give
their interpretations of this spiritual balance or lack. Carl Michael
von Hausswoiff, for example, is preparing a project called Operation
of Spirit Communication (New Mexico Basic Minimalism Scene). In
my conceptual framework I talk about our anxiety about space, how
we live, where we live, our bodies and how we take care of them,
how we dress and protect our identity with fashion, etc. I'm also
interested in relational aesthetics, projects that ask for the participation
of the spectator, and I hope some of the artists will go this route.
Speed and technology diminish our
space on a psychic level. To include the spectator in a work also
brings one back into oneself as a frame of reference.
Interaction is important. Cai Guo Qiang did
a project of this type in Istanbul.3 He wanted to connect East and
West, and as we did not have a big budget, he did it through a very
delicate performance. He threw stones from both shores of the Bosporus,
the European and the Asian, and he filmed that action. Then he installed
two TV monitors in the left and right axes of one of our most beautiful
venues, the Hagia Eireni Church. Each monitor showed his action
on one side of the Bosporus and the stones crossed virtually from
one monitor to the other, symbolically connecting East and West.
He then invited the visitors to construct paper planes, to write
a desire on them, and make them fly in the axis of the church connecting
the entrance with the apse—representing the human and the
divine. Atthe end of the show in the middle of the church there
was a big, beautiful, white mountain with all the planes and all
the desires of the visitors.
This participation, encompassing
the viewer, is like an intervention that changes the equation of
the activity, of object and subject, and expands the field of vision
in unexpected ways.
Yes, the autonomy of the art work is put into
question. When the spectators interpret the work they create it
in another way. We no longer think in mirror aesthetics, with only
two sides: active artist/passive spectator. Now the visions are
prismatic. When I speak about prismatic views I do not mean only
visual perspectives; I mean emotional, ethnic, symbolic, and others.
Many people come to live in Santa
Fe to retreat from the problems of cities and global politics. It
has become a Mecca for the rich from New York and Los Angeles.
Yes, it's an existential focus; we look for
a place to hide ourselves, or to develop ourselves in relation to
others. People who go to Santa Fe go to find this landscape, this
peace. The conceptual background that I propose to the artists is
an instrument of reflection on all this.
The exposure to diverse ideas from
all over can imply that main-reamismwW result. Instead, the separate
and uniquetriumph. In New York there once was a melting-pot mentality;
now the struggle is against its leveling effect. People want to
maintain their difference.
Absolutely. This is what happens with globalization.
It's bringing back the extreme defense of ethnicity, of identity,
so there's this struggle: globalization against identity and vice
versa. I think those are two sides of the same coin. And they establish
a dialectic that has not been solved.
What is the male/female ratio of
artists at Santa Fe?
There will be a balanced number of women and
Do you see a global feminist art
Not really. I see that there are more and more
women producing art who are significant in the visible arena. Their
contributions are expanding the field and the visions about the
meaning of art, but I do not think they are acting with the militant
radicalism of the 60s and 70s. They are very conscious about their
problems, but they are not schematic and rigid; they are more fluid
and wiser in a way due to the work that others did before. Miwa
Yanagi is a Japanese photographer whose work is futuristic and melancholic
at the same time. Her works are not feminist in the traditional
sense; they present women as those who open the elevator doors in
large commercial stores. Those kind, silent, beautiful, and submissive
women are, for me, a critique of the passive role of women. In her
videos, Mariko Mori fantasizes of being a goddess.
This sounds like a menacing, retro-futuristic
role for a female cyborg.
Yet Mori's work is more appealing as a meaningful spiritual negotiation.
Many women are trying to escape from the weight
of patriarchal history, imagining for themselves a world without
the gravity of History. Others, likeShirin Neshat, an artist from
Iran, deconstruct the arena of the patriarchal model in Islam, where
women are obliged to wear a veil in public spaces. From Portugal,
Helena Almeida, who is 64 years old, develops a personal world in
her photographs. She uses the house and its furniture to explore
how women are tied to domestic space. Monica Bonvicini, from Italy,
analyzes gender issues and the sexual politics of space. She also
criticizes with pain how we metaphorically carry the house on our
shoulders and how difficult it is to escape the domestic prison.
In one of her works. Destroy She Said [ 1998], she took excerpts
from films (directed by the big macho directors of the 50s and the
60s) where there is always a certain moment where sad, tired, or
abandoned women lean against a wall, to gain support—as if
they never could stand by themselves. Her piece for Santa Fe will
be a book on the macho world of construction workers. She has been
collecting answers to a very ironic and ideological questionnaire
in various cities and she will present the results. Ghada Amer,
from Egypt, analyzes the sexual connotations of abstract painting
and in Santa Fe she will create a "Love Park," trying
to reflect and reinvent affective relations and the meaning of love
in our lives. Charlene Teters is an extraordinary woman, a Native
American artist. She is analyzing how Indians are represented in
the mass media, in Disney's portrayal of Pocahontas, for example,
and how that representation mystifies and confronts the Native American
Monica Bonvicini's work references
Gordon Matta-Clark's famous acts of architectural rupture. Hers
is a portrayal of violence done not only to the white cube, but
also to the domestic environment. Perhaps this is interchangeable.
At the Istanbul Biennial, the decision to exhibit
more women than men was an effortto balance the patriarchal tradition
we all live under, which is particularly strong in Islamic cultures.
Women are renovating the discourse of contemporary art and the critique
of culture—to highlight this was a significant gesture. I
think women artists of the 90s are more fluid than before, finding
their way like weavers, adapting to the obstacles and circumventing
them, not destroying them. They are trying to construct together
with the male.
Many heterosexual men have taken
a certain role in the art world that, among otherthings, celebrates
adolescent machismo: Jason Rhoades, Paul McCarthy, John Bock, and
Jonathan Meese, for example.
Yes, I believe this is a backlash. They are
saying to all women, "You have already achieved what you wanted.
You are equal now. You are free. But still look how powerful and
nice we are." But in fact men are terrified that women will
steal their power, so they reclaim male power. I hesitate to use
these words, but it is kind of a new fascism, a macho fascism. When
men feel that their masculinity is in question, they feel a need
to affirm it more and more. The fetish of the phallus is still there,
the idea of creation as ejaculation—puff!, like with Pollock.
It is a very male form of affirmation. I think some people become
very aggressive when you say that you are even a little bit feminist,
because they think you are going to bomb the established order.
There is no such thing as being
a little bit feminist.
Maybe I should say a soft feminist. Women are
more and more conscious of the unbalanced interchange that patriarchal
society offers and hem. "Give me your sex, take care of my
children, clean my house, and I will give you some money, security,
and protection, but you have to obey and be good to me. And if you
want to work, do it, but don't forget your other duties." When
we say, "I see things in a different way," the violence
might start. But we should say to men, "Don't worry, we still
like you. We would only like to invent other models of affective
relations and we want a better distribution of the domestic obligations
and of the power relationships. We're not going to cut your throat."
It's not the throat that they are
Yes, of course. I think that women's art is
starting to be part of the river of art, whose present course is
Do you feel any discrimination
as a female curator?
We should ask the Guerrilla Girls to count
how many women are in the best curatorial posts. Catherine David
was the first one in 50 years to direct documenta. I do not remember
any women directing the Venice Biennale. Most of us are in peripheral
situations, and I know that I have to work harder than my male colleagues,
lama member of an association of curators called VOTI. This association
has been accused of being a male club, even if a lot of women are
members. But this is because boys are still more visible; we are
more silent, more discrete. We are still looking for our own language,
but we are still obliged to use the language of the Father.
What about the other fight, the
one we women have with our mothers and the mother in ourselves?
Yes, that's another issue. We also have to
fight the possessive and vampiric power of mothers and our own desire
to embrace everything. We have to control hysteria, which for me
is just a protest of the body againstthe lack of power, the lack
of voice. As for the tack of phallus (not the lack of penis), I
laugh every time I think of our supposed "envy of the penis."
We have to start to be aware that Freud is not the only truth and
that psychoanalysis is a very macho thing. In the Jungian sense,
everyone has a masculine and feminine part, and we must integrate
them. At the same time, we are obliged to deconstruct all the laws
given to us by the fathers. So there is a lot of work to do, but
we shouldn't be afraid of anything!