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Curating Contemporary Art graduates on adapting to work online

This year’s graduating Curating Contemporary Art (CCA) MA students have shown great resilience in adapting to the challenges posed by Covid-19. Here, the groups discuss how they rethought their curatorial approaches, gaining new insights into the themes they were exploring and discovering new ways of working collaboratively with artists, and each other.

Gasworks Partnership 

So remember the liquid ground is a programme of meditative and sensorial experiences responding to the hidden or forgotten social histories and ecologies of Vauxhall, London.

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Watershed, Linda Stupart 2020
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Curating students sit around a table
CCA graduating students, 2020
What made you choose the artists you worked with?

We chose artists who create work in response to their surroundings, whose works are immersive, sensorial and whose artistic interests address a wider relationship between humans, non-humans and technology. The artists were invited to think of water not just as a metaphor, but to consider water as a medium for communication and connection; for holding local stories, memories, reflecting layered histories and for being a reservoir for silenced voices. 

Has Covid-19 made you think differently about how we connect to and synchronise with our surroundings?

This is a pertinent question and illustrates how hard it is to translate physical into digital. An example from our programme would be the live streaming by Soundcamp Collective @effra streams. Listening to the River Effra, the seed of our project, loud and clear, hitherto suppressed, was an immensely immersive experience. Sitting remotely with a laptop, yet feeling connected with nature and with others through live streaming and a very simple IRC chat from all over the world was evocative and communal. 

Furtherfield Partnership

Empathy Loading is a transdisciplinary online art project exploring affective relationships between humans and non-humans.

#algofeels, Vishal Kumaraswamy 2020
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Photographer: Courtesy of the artist.

group of students
CCA graduating students, 2020
In what ways did you adapt your project to the challenges and opportunities posed by working online?

Even for a born digital curatorial project, adapting to unprecedented circumstances brought about a litany of obstacles, including having to navigate a multiple times zones and unstable wi-fi connections. As the ease of communication was irreparably disrupted, we chose to rely on our ethos of collaborative creativity and critical play to help lift our spirits and navigate these pitfalls. 

In what ways has your understanding or approach to empathy and intimacy changed through curating this project?

Empathy is situated at the intersection of logic and emotion, this aspect has been readily employed by key sci-fi writers, such as Phillip K. Dick and Octavia E. Butler, to explore the plight of the marginalised as they put to paper their aspirations towards a future of non-hierarchical cohabitation. Bringing these philosophical notions to test during lockdown, we saw how crucial empathy was towards the relationships we built with our contributors and how a little bit of understanding goes a long way towards the realisation of a shared objective.

Nottingham Contemporary Partnership

Sets and Scenarios was an online programme exploring our heightened proximity to moving images and what it means to live under their influence.

woman with hands over her mouth
The In/Extinguishable Fire, Thuy-Han Nguyen-Chi 2019
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© Thuy-Han Nguyen-Chi

In what ways did you adapt your project to the challenges and opportunities posed by working online?

In the context of the lockdown we had to reimagine our four commissions and our original inquiry for the online space. This brought interesting challenges: How do you choreograph different modes of spectatorship within the limitation of the screen? How is liveness to be approached within the context of a website? We opted for a three-act structure guiding the viewer through a linear narrative to uncover the commissions, linked by interludes.

What was it like working with artists to commission artworks for this project?    

Working on four commissioned works was a new experience for all of us. We were lucky enough to be working with very patient and hardworking individuals who were prepared to adapt their practices to an online space. Each work raised challenging inquiries: the fine line between spectatorship and voyeurism online; the flow and glitches of screen-mediated movement and sociality; the blurring of on- and off-set; the construction of history through film. 

Open School East Partnership

Initially conceived as a series of commissions to be presented in Margate, Nothing gentle will remain is an online publication speculating on how we gather together, now and in the future.

hand peels at tree bark
Have you felt that vertigo, when you no longer know what is close?, Naïmé Perrette 2020
Digital collage
© Courtesy of the artist

How has your understanding of gathering together changed since curating the project? 

This notion of collective gathering has been called into question throughout this process: turning from a naively utopian intention, to something seemingly impossible, to a necessity in order to demand real and significant change. Ultimately, it is the artists’ responses to these shifting conditions that guide us; laying the blueprints for what collective gathering means in 2020 and beyond.

How has your experience of this project shaped what you are planning to do next?

We were conscious of creating a website that only added to the noise during the art world’s exodus to online platforms. We decided early on that the project would become a publication, and we are currently working on its physical iteration; working closely with a designer to create a distinct space that continues to question notions of collectivity and performativity. 

Team London Bridge Partnership

Originally planned as a project for shared spaces in London Bridge, Quincunx is an artist-led cross disciplinary research project exploring medicinal plants, sounds and breathing.

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Quincunx (detail), Rachel Pimm 2020

Why is research an important part of the artistic process and what are the challenges to a curator in representing this?

Our role completely shifted from its original position. For public art curators the initial approach has to be not only focused on artistic research, but on the feasibility of the process in itself – mostly due to the incredible amount of regulations that they are confronted with. When lockdown started, all of those regulations, as well as the stakeholders disappeared. In a way, this lack of institutionalisation is what allowed us to explore our position as independent curators further. It gave us the chance to delve deeper into the artists’ research process in order to expand the vision of what the project could be – as it was not constrained by the site-specificity of London Bridge anymore.

You can see more from the CCA graduates on RCA2020.

Find out more about MA Curating Contemporary Art and how to apply.