Summer 2015 Guest Curator, Ian Alden Russell, answers a few questions about his life, work, and his experiences at Artpace.
1.Tell us a little bit about a typical day as a curator.
A lot of curatorial work occurs through correspondence, so these days a large part of a curator’s day can be spent on email, on a phone call, or writing text messages. And for those curator’s tasked with stewarding a collection, there desk-based days of research and data entry for collection management systems. There are also hands-on days building scale models of gallery spaces – sometimes digital, sometimes out of foam board – to test out exhibition designs, and there are also escapes to studio visits to see artists’ new work. What I think is special about curatorial work though is the opportunity to take time and make space for encountering and appreciating an artist and their artwork. There are flows of busy work, emails, and administration, but there are also ebbs where we can pause, read, reflect, and hold space for conversations with artists to try to find the words that feel true to their work and help share the story of their art.
2. How did you choose to become a curator?
While I was writing my Ph.D. thesis in Dublin, Ireland, I worked as an art technician at the Douglas Hyde Gallery. I loved working with artists to install their work. We had wonderful conversations about art that made unexpected and profound connections to my own research on the history of archaeology. Conversations with artists like Martin Creed or Koo Jeong-A transformed the way I thought about cultural production and the exhibition space. I found these conversations so inspirational that I decided to dedicate myself to opening up space for artists to make new work and holding space for artists and visitors to have their own encounters and conversations.
3. How did you first hear about Artpace?
I first heard of Artpace from Vincent Valdez while we were working on an exhibition of his new works for the Bell Gallery at Brown University. A year later, I was working in Istanbul, Turkey, and Vincent introduced me to Amada Cruz, then Director of Artpace, who was visiting Istanbul. We had a wonderful conversation about her work leading Artpace and my own work, and some time later, I was invited to curate the summer 2015 international residency program.
4. How did you choose Fatma, Wafaa, and Gabriel as the artists for the Artpace residency?
When I thought about what the experience of the residency would be – three artists, living next door to each other in the same building where they work with a team of art professionals everyday – I felt that the most important thing was to select a group of artists that would, between themselves, form a sort of family and that their camaraderie would complement and enhance the empathy, generosity, and family spirit that distinguishes the Artpace experience. While their artistic processes and the format of their work are different, I feel that Fatma, Wafaa, and Gabriel share an earnestness and empathy in how they are present with people. There are also points of connection in their negotiation of social and political issues, and my hope is that their practices will offer new perspectives on each other’s work and that their interests and practices will inform and propel each other’s residencies and projects. All three are exceptionally mindful and responsive, opening themselves fully to places, situations, and people. Just as their residencies and works will leave an impression in San Antonio, so too will San Antonio leave an impression in their own lives and careers.
5. What is unique about the Artpace curatorial experience as compared to other institutions?
For me, it is the warmth, generosity, and profound feeling of family that distinguishes the Artpace experience. There are many fine professional arts institutions in the world, but there is something special in the Artpace family – a joy and deep commitment to opening up and holding space for artists to realize new work. There is a real feeling that the support of the Artpace family is unconditional, and it is ok to take risks and experiment. I feel this steadfast, unwavering support is what has allowed, time and time again, for artists resident at Artpace to make profound turns and take transformative steps in their work.