Judith Lavagna works as an independent curator and art critic. She is currently assistant director at L’Atelier-ksr, a gallery and project space located in Berlin. Her work experience in France and Germany drives her to enhance her approach of curating by a strong involvement toward the creation of residencies program, group exhibitions, performances, workshops, conferences and publications. She recently worked on the influence of digital transformation in a context of curatorial practices, collecting resources, transmit and distribute them in our age of acute networking (new atlantis, co-curated with Elisa R. Linn and Lennart Wolf, 2013; we outsourced everything and now we’re bored., with Clémence de La Tour du Pin and John Henry Newton, 2013. Her reflexions have lately been based on collaborative practices such as collective curating (To perform an exhibition, with Agora Collective) and how to perform the curatorial and challenging into re-enacting it (The Performative Curatorial Studio, with Lara Merrington; History of re-enactment and re-enactment of performances, Haute École des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg (HEADS) and University of Visual Arts of Strasbourg, 2013; Politics of the small act, Museum of Contemporary Art GFZK, Leipzig, 2012). Judith Lavagna initiated and co-founded the network United Residencies in Leipzig in 2011. She co-curated and managed the new media art gallery Ars Longa together with Vincent Guimas in Paris from 2008 to 2010.
Interview led by Jeroen van der Hulst, Photography by Pedro Jardim
What does curating mean to you?
In my curatorial practice it is important to constantly question what an artist is and what a curator could be, and how we work together in order to develop projects and relationships between the artistic process and its outcomes within curating. For me, curation is not just about setting up a show, nor organising an event. Effective curatorial practice is a creative act on its own. A curator has to study and analyse the context in which he is and needs a direction to work towards. He is dealing with many processes that overlap at same time which becomes really complex if he doesn’t invent specific work methods and a clear framework. Since the last 15 years there is a focus in discourse on curation and this has given it a predominant voice. For example, the notion of being an ‘exhibition maker’, such as Harald Szeeman defined in the late 60’s, is much more related today to the concept the curator’s authorship, even authority, over an exhibition next to that of the artist over his or her artwork. I’m trying to construct a ‘voice’ in which working together between artists and curators means sharing roles and activities on a same level ; a level that needs to be constantly redefined if you want to keep a certain experimental quality.
Your work tends to involve many fronts – you are always gathering people from different practices and initiatives. What are the challenges in managing such projects?
What is challenging is not the amount of projects but to be involved in different practices, this manifests itself in different forms. The activity of the curatorial practice can be very vast and extensive: I can be involved in exhibition projects, workshops, residency projects or into performative formats. And even when you initiate a network or a platform, you always have to invent – and reinvent – formats in relation to their contexts.
Which obstacles do you encounter in this process of adapting and reinventing formats?
The challenge in working with many people is that every single project has to be approached individually and deserves it’s own pattern completely. I think generally, it requires a gradual development of the processes involved in it because there are many dynamics in coordination, surprises and accidents. It’s not so much about “curation” all the time but about adaptation. This is what I like about it.
You have experienced several contexts, projects and cities in Europe – why is Berlin a place that your current practice makes sense?
I chose Berlin because here I had much more possibilities to develop both my own and collective practices such as being involved in self organisation, artists and project run spaces. This city has many creative initiatives and I noticed that there aren’t so many constraints by the economic system as one would find in other cities such as Paris where I come from. I was really enjoying my professional experience there, but I had the feeling that if I wanted to continue my career in France, I had to follow the private or institutional systems and there isn’t a lot of space to work independently. Berlin gives me the possibility to work in a very stimulating and international environment.
What is your role at L’Atelier-ksr?
I collaborate with Stefania Angelini since January of this year. I have several roles there. I’m assistant-director, coordinator of the artistic program, I collaborate with her and the artists represented by the gallery to realize projects, and sometimes I curate them. It’s very important for me to keep having these opportunities by assisting her and having more responsibilities such as curating a show.
Your latest projects – new atlantis and we outsourced everything now we’re bored. – deal with very current issues within society. Please elaborate on the two projects.
What I am trying to accomplish through these two projects is to shape some forms and relationships about our (complex) society and and the way we’re growing up within it notably through our cultural and economical background. For example, it could be related to the use and the influence of the internet and digital environments, the complexity of authorship and collecting and distributing images, or the impact of materialism on our lives.
I have been collaborating with artists Clémence de La Tour du Pin and John Henry Newton to develop we outsourced everything now we’re bored.: both of them sent 10 requests to each other, 10 chapters of a book structure that could be considered as protocols or performative instructions. All of these elements were use for an artistic correspondence in between the two artists. Then, it has been very important for me to see this book process growing to an exhibition project, which deals with the same issues such as the notion of sourcing and outsourcing but in which the concept evolves to a different structure: it was not only about creating an extension of the book to an exhibition space but to make these two formats parallely evolve together. It really turned into something absolutely amazing; trying to find answers concerning digital communication that appeared between the artists and in our collaborative work, between the book and the exhibition spaces. Somehow, in a very performative way, the project grew continuously because we specifically invited certain artists, philosophers and writers for contributions to the book and/or the exhibition until the deadline stopped us.
That is why I am really interested in this question of what this performative development means and how we have to/could really reinvent our roles between artists and curators: this experimentation opens up the idea of how to perform the curatorial, notably through The Performative Curatorial Studio co-developed with Lara Merrington.
From we outsourced everything and now we are bored. to new atlantis the most important elements were the discussion phases: the very first steps and intuitions of a collaborative project development. New atlantis was by invitation from Lennart Wolff and Elisa R. Linn from Km Temporaer, a project space based in Prenzlauer Berg on the former border between East and West Berlin. This project is based on a vision of utopia and dystopia of the 21st century which had increased by development of technologies and concept of progress and innovation. We see this theme from the 60’s and 70’s for example about being under surveillance from 40 years ago it is absolutely something that is happening now. It’s very interesting to see how science fiction, technology, art and philosophy are connected and this is reflected in Rodrigo Maltez Novaes’ contribution to new atlantis. There are a lot new philosophers and thinkers that now really nurture this 60-70’s background that Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze come from: how could we currently deal with these theories and position ourselves in relation to these tendencies?
Here in Agora, you have been active in two experimental formats, firstly with To Perform an Exhibition with Agora Collective and The Performative Curatorial Studio in collaboration with Lara Merrington during Agora Collects. Please, tell us how these projects worked and what it felt like to be involved with them?
Well, the first one To Perform an Exhibition, was a body-based project which took the situation of the group show as reflexive subject matter. The artists performed collective actions in response to the individual works presented by the participating artists in L’Atelier’s program, as well as to the relational behaviour of the audience and the general frame of the gallery itself. The collective occupied the basement of the gallery during 9 hours. The project took two months preparation with eight people that have eight very different backgrounds (artists, designers and choreographers).
It was absolutely experimental and I have to confess that until a couple of days before the start of the three days, nobody knew what was going to happen in interaction with an audience. But during this two month process leading up to it we were working so hard that we were trained to be effective in working so experimentally. By ‘trained’ I mean that we’ve created performative methods and structures on analysing the exhibition and its activities that we constantly had to adapt to; an important factor was the audience and how they would behave.
For me, it was one of the best projects I have been involved in ever, because it was a dream as a curator to conceive a collective project in which we could really question, discuss and producing texts and actions about how to analyse an exhibition in a performative way and a lively format involving the public.
To go back to the collaboration with Lara Merrington; I didn’t know her at all and it was very challenging because we had very little time to organise ourselves – five or six weeks, I think. It was very challenging also because Agora gave us ‘carte blanche’ for one day over the entire top floor. We first had to get to know each other and construct a common ground very quick. We knew that we wanted something lively and engaged. For the festival itself, we thought it was very important to first take into account Agora’s roots, which are mostly based on collaborative and multidisciplinary practices. So what Lara and I were trying to bring to the table was to get in touch with these issues by inviting some artists, writers and curators to think about experimental theory and practices which revolve around performative qualities in the relationship between artists and curators. John Holten, for example, was involved because we think the way he is handling his identity and his work as a writer, lecturer, performer and publisher was also very interesting in this blurring of roles and of mixing reality and fiction in his own statue.
But it was going to be a festival with many people there, so the main challenge for us was to implicate the public. We wanted to challenge the audience by engaging them. And the public wasn’t going to be 100% aware about the notion of curatorial and artistic practices in their performative aspects. So what we tried to do through lively formats and roundtable discussions, in which the audience was invited to participate, was to build an adaptive structure (conceived by Lorenzo Sandoval) that permanently changes in relation to the interventions of the day. This goes back to our objective of making an active audience and also to put the voice of the artist, the curator and the voice of the audience next to each other.