French curators, Vanessa Desclaux and Emilie Renard, write about their trip to the UK to meet to visit venues, meet curators and artists with the support of the British Council.
As part of our project and collective exhibition Your hands in my shoes at La Galerie in Noisy-le-Sec, we travelled to London, Wakefield and Bristol to meet artists, curators, researchers and directors of art centres to explore shared concerns around the ethics of institutions, feminist approaches to curating, and working conditions in small-scale institutions similar in size to ours. Our aim being to build a network, initiate long-term collaborations and get an insight into ways of working on matters such as commissioning works by artists, producing exhibitions and building relationships with different publics, contexts and communities.
In London we met with Irene Revell, director for Electra, which curates, commissions and produces projects by artists working across sound, moving image, performance and the visual arts. Irene has started a PhD on Womens Work, a rare collection of performance scores by 14 women edited and published in New York City in 1975. We were really interested in the relationship between this historical starting point of her research and her feminist methodology in curatorial practice.
In Yorkshire, we visited The Hepworth Wakefield, a contemporary art museum which opened five years ago in a large new building at the outskirts of the city. The museum brings together works from the town’s art collection; exhibitions by contemporary artists and rarely seen works by Barbara Hepworth.
We were delighted to spot one of Laetitia Badaut Haussmann work’s, one of the artists exhibiting in our own show, within the Anthea Hamilton’s installation.
Hamilton playfully brings together works by contemporary artists such as Laetitia Badaut Haussmann, Nicholas Byrne, Maria Loboda or Daniel Sinsel, alongside objects and art works from the unique collection gathered by collectors Jim and Helen Ede and displayed in their family home in Cambridge, known as Kettle’s Yard.
We visited several venues in London which share common issues with our own. The Camden Arts Centre, for instance, shares its building with private houses and public libraries very much like ours.
The Showroom on the Edgeware road, is an art centre of similar scale as La Galerie, located on the edge of London which shares common concerns with bringing art to diverse people and communities, especially in the context of the neighbourhood. We went around the exhibition by artist Uriel Orlow which traces the trial of Mafavuke Nogcobo, a South African herbalist accused of “untraditional behaviour” by the local white medical establishment in 1940, and the restaging of this event for the making of a film.
Next stop was the Chisenhale Gallery in the East End which is taking part in a joint project with The Showroom Gallery entitled How to work together, which includes the recent commission of artist Maria Eichhorn. At Eichhorn’s request, none of museum employees worked during her exhibition and the gallery and office were closed, implementing leisure and ‘free time’ in the place of work. We were particularly interested in the series of commissions focusing on issues relating to working conditions within the art centre because they echoed our own approach in the context of our own exhibition.
At the Serpentine Galleries, we joined artist Camille Chaimowicz, for a visit of his exhibition beautifully entitled An Autumn Lexicon. The show echoes the park around, referring to the garden, the landscape, and the former park café converted in the actual gallery. The timing was perfect as we experienced an unexpected power cut and we saw part of the show through natural light and the sun was shining through the curtains designed by the artist, adorning the large bow windows.
Coincidentally this situation had a strong connection with Laetitia Badaut Haussmann's work in our own show, where she proposed to open the exhibition only with natural light as a way to emphasise the domestic architecture of the art centre. Laetitia Badaut Haussmann shares with Chaimowicz an interest in interior design, which has a strong impact on their practices. Both of their works blur the limit between functional elements, domestic objects, and sculptures.
Next stop in our journey was a visit to Hedwig Houben's exhibition and performance at Spike Island in Bristol. On the day we visited, she performed a work entitled Imitator Being Made. This was also an opportunity to see a substantial number of works gathered together, to meet with their curators, and discuss future collaboration.
This trip was mind-blowing and we came back both tried and empowered with many collaborations and conservations to continue.