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Curators in South Korea: Céline Condorelli

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As we continue our 7 part series written by participants in this year’s edition of the Konstfack CuratorLab based in Stockholm, we find an interview with artist Céline Condorelli. You may know her work without even realising it.

The first time I went to the cafe at GfZK, I was looking for a party location. I loved the concrete and glass and thought it would be the ideal location. When I left the space, I had lost a location, but found something much more valuable.

The space itself is an installation. Every couple of years it becomes a living piece of art. In 2014, curated by Julia Kurz and Franciska Zólyom, it was recreated by Céline Condorelli as baubau. This was when I discovered it and this is how it currently remains. It’s open every day from noon to midnight.

I loved the lights made from copper tubing. I did not know at the time that this was the basis of the project named A school for design fiction.

The term design fiction was first used by Bruce Sterling in his 2005 Book Shaping Things. The definition came later after much discussion. Researchers Joseph Lindley and Paul Coulton propose that design fiction be defined as: “(1) something that creates a story world, (2) has something being prototyped within that story world, (3) does so in order to create a discursive space”, where ‘something’ may mean ‘anything’.”

We live in a world where colours, fabrics, materials and design tell a story. My interpretation is likely different from yours. 

Céline Condorelli sought to redefine usage by throwing out convention.

She created shapes that could be recombined to create spaces for people to interact, or not, depending on the requirements of the moment.

PVC flooring became table tops. Copper tubing became legs and lamps. Constructivist patterns and African patterns faced each other in friendship. The mural on the wall told the story and made the connections.

As she created a series of projects based on the same questions, she continued this thinking in HangarBicocca, Milano, the same year.

Konstfack CuratorLab participants visited the Gwangju Biennale 2016, The Eighth Climate (What does art do?) in Korea. The texts, including the following interview with the artist, originally appeared on their website.

intro by maeshelle west-davies


Inhabiting uninhabitable spaces

For her 11th Gwangju Biennale commission, artist Céline Condorelli has occupied in-between spaces in the exhibition areas, a balcony and an entryway between galleries in the Biennale Hall. Here, she presented two of three new works made for the Biennale, each of which creates an active, “living” environment in itself, and commenting at the same time on the history of exhibitions.

Christine Langinauer: One of your pieces for the Biennale (Corps á Corps [Head On] (2016)), takes the form of a round, sculptural seat surrounded by plants on the balcony space – could you tell us about the thought process behind this work?

Céline Condorelli: Plants, benches and other resting places used to decorate galleries until the sixties when they were gradually removed. This is really a piece that addresses this, and the idea of what is a habitable space and the fact that spaces for culture, and spaces for contemporary art especially, have become uninhabitable.

 Céline Condorelli, Corps á Corps Head-On, 2016, photo by author

Céline Condorelli, Corps á Corps Head-On, 2016, photo by author

It is really like a resting area, it is not more complicated than that. Of course it also addresses the history of the deletion of the human body and anything that is alive from the exhibition context.

Nikki Kane: Your second piece (Á Droite á Gauche (Sans Lunettes) [On the Right and on the Left (Without Glasses)] (2016)), is also located outside of the “gallery” spaces and includes thirty connected fans which hang from the ceiling. Is this also a reference to live things within an art exhibition space context?

CC: The fan piece addresses that [the deletion of anything alive] in a different way through thinking about infrastructure. The infrastructure of a museum is something you know that you should not normally look at, and so you can delete it from your mind. I am interested in making sculptures that are always dependent on other things, that are totally non-autonomous.

Céline Condorelli, Á Droite á Gauche Sans Lunettes, On the Right and on the Left Without Glasses, 2016, photo by author
Céline Condorelli, Á Droite á Gauche Sans Lunettes, On the Right and on the Left Without Glasses, 2016, photo by author

So the fans are obviously dependent on electricity, they are connected to all the lights and everything else, and the plant piece is of course dependent on care – nobody is watering the plants so once I leave I am sure they will die – but you know the idea of curation is about care [derived from the latin verb cūrāre = to take care], and you take care of artworks in different ways.

CL: You created a third piece for the Biennale, and although this is not installed, it would be interesting to hear about this work and how it connects to the other two pieces.

CC: The third piece is a sound environment, trying to tie together the gallery. Museums are some of the most silent spaces in the city, which is incredibly intimidating, so the soundtrack is also about making something habitable. The soundtrack was made initially using a series of artworks I gave to musicians to play with, in a space of the same size elsewhere, so they are artworks as instruments. Then I added some recordings that I made throughout the city, so it was about integrating the exhibition into the city and into the idea of function.

NK: I came to your work through some of your writing on friendship, support and infrastucture, before seeing any of your sculptural pieces. I wonder how you relate these different approaches in your work, and if you think of them quite separately or as parts of a whole practice?

CC: I think a lot of people struggle to put together practices that take place in different mediums. I realised that I don’t have this problem actually. But I really think that mediums are appropriate, necessary; and exploring something like friendship required writings in a way.

But I’ve done lots of other things, I’ve made music, I’ve curated, I teach, like many people.

I really think that most artists’ practices take place across many different sites and mediums and ways to communicate, and it would be almost impossible to piece them together unless you were to literally follow them around for several years. It’s just that most people tend to really separate them into categories.

Teaching, for instance, is something that doesn’t appear on my exhibition list, but it’s hugely important to my practice and it’s something that takes place through a completely different medium. So for me it is really a question of responding to issues, and I respond with whatever tools I’ve got – sometimes it’s writing, sometimes it’s publishing. I am also one of the directors of an artist-run space [Eastside Projects in Birmingham], so there are things I can do there that I can’t do in my sculptural practice.

Friendship by Céline Condorelli shows us how we can support others and retain our individuality. Chisenhale Gallery 2014, photo Andy Keate
Friendship by Céline Condorelli shows us how we can support others and retain our individuality. Chisenhale Gallery 2014, photo Andy Keate

In the case of the friendship project, and in the case of Support Structures, I think it was a case of discovering something that I’m interested in that is so big, that it was not just a question of making a sculpture: I needed to make a territory for myself, to somehow outline what the problem is, outline what I’m dealing with, and also ask people to help me do that. That is why I have a lot of conversations with philosophers or sociologists or friends or whatever that are included, which helped me to think through the set of issues within which I can then make some works.

So it’s a question of scale, something like that. In the end, the friendship book, for instance, is almost like a reader to a whole set of works. Just like Support Structures can be seen as a manual or a reader, it kind of accompanies the work – if you want to find out more you can, otherwise you can just sit on it [the bench] and it’s fine as well. But I try to address all these different ways of reading something.

I really think there are appropriate readings to particular circumstances, so if you’re in an exhibition I think you should be able to approach something in total ignorance and still get something out of it; and then if you want to get into a really discursive intellectual level, there should be that as well, but not necessarily for everybody and not necessarily at the same time. I try to not drown people in information, but then all this other stuff is also available – my books are available in the bookshop – I try to not impose too much reading and let things articulate themselves.

CL: Like the pieces in the Biennale, your works often address the context or site they are installed in – how do you approach these situations, and what is your process for developing works like these?

Celine Condorelli https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAJxiw2ELQo
Celine Condorelli https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAJxiw2ELQo

CC: I think it’s important to say that I don’t really make individual works. I have really long research projects and then they take place in different contexts. I think it’s very difficult to do serious research when you are just doing one show after another, so I try to construct my work in a way that one would construct a series of chapters. This is as much for my own sanity as a pragmatic use of my resources; you know, I get little bits of money and commissions, so instead of thinking of everything as totally self sufficient, I just try and construct all the different parts of an argument and explore it until it has exhausted itself.

The plant piece in the Biennale, for instance, I think of it as a prototype; it’s been co-produced with the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) in Brisbane and the idea is to make a permanent artwork there in the shape of a garden.

The reason why the round bench here is made out of these materials [the circular bench is made out of painted steel and plastic], is that these are the materials used to cast concrete, so for the next part I will use them to cast the concrete and then take them off, and the concrete will stay and have plants growing on top. So it is a piece but also like a tool or element to make the next thing, but it also means I can look at it now and say “oh it’s the right scale” or “it’s the wrong scale”.

In some ways, that is the only way that I can do things, because I’m not going to have a new idea every month. Everybody has got this problem – you just get so exhausted when you have to respond to new contexts all the time, so you need to be able to do some of that while you have your own thing that sort of links through, like your own direction. Your interests are limited after all, you know you can be interested in lots of things, but they always come back to a few main issues.

NK: It feels like quite a curatorial approach in many ways, bringing together different forms of practice and working collaboratively.

CC: I think the curatorial is very interesting when you are dealing with relationships in and to the space.

I decided to stop trying to define.

Everyone goes through their own paths, but for me it meant that after being asked for so many years what it is that I was exactly – ‘are you are an architect, are you an artist?’ – it’s the wrong question. It’s not a question that has an exact answer; it’s literally the wrong question, because of course you are all of these things at the same time just like you are also a daughter, or a mother, or a girlfriend, a cook, or whatever you might be at the same time. It’s just different aspects of your working life.


Christine Langinauer (b. 1981) is currently working as producer at the Academy of Fine Arts / University of the Arts Helsinki, in charge of producing exhibitions and international collaborations such as the 2nd Research Pavilion for the Venice biennale 2017. During 2014-2015, she was the acting executive director of the Pro Artibus Art Foundation, which runs two exhibitions spaces (Sinne in Helsinki and Elverket in Tammisaari), as well as two artists residencies; administers an art collection; and has an extensive art publishing activity.

Langinauer holds an MA in Art Theory, Criticism and Management from the University of Helsinki and the Aalto University School of Business. She studied art history at the Sapienza University in Rome and philosophy at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris. Langinauer has published articles on contemporary art in several Finnish magazines, such as Ny Tid and Mustekala, in which she is part of the editorial board. From 2012-2014, she maintained and curated a non-profit experimental art space, XL, in the centre of Helsinki.

Nikki Kane is an artist, curator and researcher based in Glasgow, Scotland. She graduated for the University of Glasgow in 2010 with an MA (Hons) in History of Art and completed the Masters of Research in Creative Practices at Glasgow School of Art in 2015. Much of her recent work has centred on “choreographies’”of space, seeking out and amplifying or disrupting existing rhythms, patterns and shapes within our environments and interactions with them. Her work involves independent curatorial and research projects, as well as movement, writing and object-based works. She has presented work and taken part in residencies across Scotland and in Europe.

Alongside her own practice, Nikki has worked with a range of arts organisations, including working nationally and internationally with public art organisation NVA and as a Committee Member at artist-run space Market Gallery.

Maeshelle West-Davies gleans her varied life experiences to expose a personal perspective through a multitude of mediums. Sound, video, photography, dance, performance and public art are the tools she uses to convey her message. Her work is a response not only to a physical journey, but an emotional one, as with all of us who walk along or beside our individual paths.

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