Curatorial Instigation with Now Curation
Written by Ben Werther
Ben Werther: Where are you guys from, and how did you meet?
Sieun Lee: I'm from Korea, but I grew up in living Japan, China and Singapore.
Thea Voyles: I'm from New York originally. I lived in Paris, then Berlin. So I'm American, but I grew up in France. We met at uni, we both study History of Art at The Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
BW: Can you talk a little bit about your curatorial collective, Now Curation?
TV: We've been working on Now Curation for almost two years, and we’ve done shows completely grounded in curating a physical space. We've had five shows; three in London, one in Seoul and one in Leeds. Three of those shows had substantial catalogs with creative writing. That writing aspect seems to transition into our recent project, “The Anatomy of the Body Electric,” but other than that, we’ve always done straight-forward curation.
SL: After about the third or fourth show, we wanted to push the boundaries of what’s possible within those spaces. For one of our shows, we had life drawing in the gallery. We try not to define exactly what we do because we are always trying new things. In trying to put on shows, we met other people who are also at this early stage of their career.
We’re bringing together a community of people that can grow and support each other. That was the main aim, and we're excited to explore different realms. We’d try to find writers and begin a publication to keep the project interdisciplinary; both academically and artistically focused.
BW: How did you arrive at the structure for “The Anatomy of the Body Electric?”
SL: I was in Seoul and Thea was in Berlin, so we knew our next project would be online. We wanted to utilize the digital space in a more creative way than just putting artworks on a webpage.
TV: Anytime we're in a gallery space, we visualize every possibility. We’ll try wall treatments and put up different textiles; we're always kind of thinking about tangible space and studying the history of architecture. Being aware of physical architecture made us very aware of digital architecture. We didn’t want a direct translation from physical to digital. We started thinking of all the interesting ways that we could analyze the digital and push people to interact with it in even weirder ways than they do already.
SL: It (conceptualizing the show) was a lot of just broad reading at first.
BW: What were you guys reading?
SL: I was reading “The Medium is the Message” by Marshall McLuhan, as well as Walter Benjamin, which we had to read as part of our course. Also Hito Steyerl.
TV: I love her (Hito Steryerl). I was reading more fiction, a lot of David Foster Wallace. That was useful in being so American; there's a certain American-ness to the digital space.
SL: We also talked a lot about the different reality TV shows and dating shows and how they operate in online space.
BW: How did the various creative practices of the artists you selected for the exhibition influence the pairings you guys came up with?
TV: Before, we had looked their work up and looked at their statements and just random things that they were doing. We tried to pay attention to how their practices are changing rather than all of the things they'd been doing in the past. For example, Yage. She’s paired with Zack. When I spoke to her about her BFA and pursuing her Masters in painting, she talked about her interest in translating her craft to a digital space as classes move online. I thought, there's definitely a tie between her and Zach. He’s a sound artist and he's also interested in this translation of analog to digital.
SL: Even though they operate using different mediums, we kind of saw that they were focused on the process of translating something from one state to another state. Though their work seems very different, we thought that difference would give them something interesting to talk about because they do have a common ground process-wise. It was like that for the others as well, where we tried to look at what would be different enough for them to keep each other interested.
BW: What are some works of art, shows, or curatorial moments that you’ve seen where you feel like sociality was effectively showcased?
TV: For me, the classic example would be Claes Oldenburg’s store. I think it's interesting to think about the difference between performance and social engagement for a work of art, because they’re so close together. When you look at the 1960s action paintings, there's a whole performance involved with someone like Jackson Pollock; a performance around producing that work of art. We get really fascinated by the artist's production; this idea of the performance of production that we're aware of without seeing it. It’s just assumed that there's this whole hair pulling process that requires loads of drugs, and staying up for 24 hours, and pushing your body to its limits, to produce a good work of art. At least right now, I'm interested in looking at how we start to kind of dissect the difference between what we consider to be art that addresses social relations, or performance art, or any art that's considered to be interacting with the viewer. A lot of interactive art isn't like actually engaging the viewer at all. If you look at somebody like Olafur Eliasson, it's not interactive. It's projecting an action onto the viewer, which is not social.
BW: I like that you brought up Claes Oldenburg. He’s one of my favorite artists.
The Anatomy of the Body Electric has a kind of tiered system of collaboration where the artist pairs text or DM to generate correspondence, and then that correspondence is shown as it is generated alongside a few conversations. You guys have essentially created this living thing as the show continues to exist and change. I would love it if you guys could speak about the spirit of collaboration in relation to this show, as well as the internet as an institution for showing art.
TV: At the time we were looking at a lot of 1960s and 70s feminist art collective building mechanisms and a lot of those had really forced primary school-esque ‘pass the baton’ kind of structures. You get to say your bit when you have the baton. We were interested in fusing that sort of collective building with today’s rapid fire internet. It’s about bridging the gap between the older and more modern collaboration format.
BW: Why did you guys decide to do it in installments instead of just collecting everything for a month and then just putting it all out there?
SL: We liked the concept of following people, so it's not something that has happened and then you're seeing it later. You're able to keep up with the duo, and have the illusion that you are with them along the journey. It's also that you want to come back every week as if you were watching a TV show. We just thought that pattern in itself was unique to the internet. Then the plan is just to see what happens. Like, how are people going to respond?
TV: A lot of the show is just about being critical of the methods of communication that we're using on a daily basis. I like that the internet is continual and there's always something new, something specific to that experience. Going into it, we kept asking, what is specific to being on the internet? The episodic format, definitely. We want it to be instantly accessible but also for there to actually be a relationship. To create any kind of intimacy with people, it can't be completely public. Secrecy is super, super important to developing relationships.
BW: How did you guys decide that you wanted to start Now Curation and how did you make it happen?
TV: We were willing to put in the hours. Beyond that, I wouldn't say that there's a huge barrier to entry. Usually people are happy to show their work, especially if you're talking to people who are your own age.
SL: A big part of it is going in being confident in what you want to do. Being able to say, okay, we want to put this show together. Then, maximizing the digital platform. Nothing we did could have been possible without Instagram. You have to be social and sometimes ask for help, “Oh, do you know someone that could introduce us to venues? Do you know someone who could introduce us to this person?” It's just about getting yourself out there. Do your best and have that journey be public.
TV: I think the biggest thing probably is money. Our first show, we spent 150 pounds on the venue and we only had it for two days, which in retrospect was not a great deal. It was a white cube space and people thought it so legit, even though it was only like 150 pounds. Which is definitely a significant sum of money. We were willing to do it. We both worked as waitresses last year and you know, you pull it together.
SL: There's ways of making it more affordable. And then if you're willing to accept that you will lose a bit of money, it's doable. You just kind of have to see it through.