Hopefully over the last few weeks, you’ve enjoyed learning a little about what being a curator involves. It’s much more than cataloging specimens or hanging some paintings on walls. As the modern world becomes progressively visual, curators are increasingly in high demand and gaining respect.
They add dimension and context to the world around us. They give us a window into the past and alternative contemporary realities. They expose the injustices, highlight similarities, unearth differences.
They help us define who we are, could be or should be.
We give you the last installment of our 7 part series written by participants in this year’s edition of the Konstfack CuratorLab based in Stockholm, Sweden. They recently went to the 11th Gwangju Biennale 2016, The Eighth Climate (What does art do?) in Korea. The texts originally appeared on their website.
intro by maeshelle west-davies
The material world is very existential
One of my most enriching encounters during the 11th Gwangju Biennale, 2016, was meeting Norwegian artist Ane Graff, who exhibited the work “Mineral Breath, Metal Mouth”. Her work is an ongoing artistic investigation in the nature of matter and how we understand and experience the physical world around us. Our conversation dived into questions of method, choice of material, interactions of matter and frameworks of thinking.
Madelene Gunnarsson: What led to your interest in the meeting place between the field of visual arts and the natural sciences?
Ane Graff: Art is such an inquisitive practice, a place of openness and curiosity. As long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the natural sciences, but also to philosophy. Art just seemed like the natural choice for combining the two disciplines: for thinking out of the box. As an artist I feel free to examine any issue, material or idea in any way I see fit, which brings a tremendous sense of freedom and joy to the work.
MG: I have read that you are inspired by feminist science studies.
AG: I am inspired by the approach of feminist science studies scholars such as Karen Barad and Donna Haraway in re-thinking the material world. From a materialist point of view, matter has been given a less than satisfactory theoretical and rhetorical treatment the last centuries: subdivided into manageable “bits” or flattened into a “blank slate” for human inscription. The past 10 years, new theories about matter and the material world have surfaced, and for me the feminist approach made a lot of sense as their focus is always on a “we”. This emphasis on relationships and the refusal to see the subject world divided into hierarchies and categories, coupled with the awareness of the constant transformations and interactions of matter (matter is active and has agency), inspired me to examine the material world from a more complex point of view.
MG: What is your work process like – is it controlled or process-oriented? Is there room for the unexpected?
AG: There has to be room for the unexpected, otherwise it would not be an inquisitive practice. Working with material processes in organic matter, nothing ever behaves like I predict. I am constantly trying to understand the material process, all the way down to the sub atomic level, and I am constantly being faced with the limits of my understanding.
That being said, of course I make choices as to when a material process is at a point where it can be part of a sculpture, or included in an installation, so in that way I exert some control.
MG: Is the result as important as the process?
AG: The process is always more important, and it is a huge part of the finished work. Some of the works will keep changing, e.g. the rust and patina patches in metals used will continue to grow and change with time.
MG: How do you choose what technique and material you want to work with?
AG: I often work with organic materials or materials found in nature, such as metals, plants, minerals, et cetera, as I would like to examine and spotlight their natural processes of growth and change. I often combine these materials, as I am curious as to how they can affect each other, both on a conceptual and material level. Lately I’ve worked a lot with patination processes in metal brought on by different plants or mineral extracts, examining issues of touch and identity in between materials and categories of materials.
MG: You sometimes employ textiles and clothing in your work. Clothes are closely connected with the human body, they represent traces of lives lived and they can unfold into personal narratives. Do you think they add an emotional and personal dimension to your work?
AG: Textiles will always invoke or reference the human body, so the textiles bring the viewer into the work with their own stories and experiences. I love the way textiles reference our bodies and our lives. I also think of textiles as a “second skin”, which opens up opportunities for me to examine issues of skin, permeability, affectability, touch, and so on.
MG: Can you give a short background for the work that is exhibited at the 11th Gwangju Biennale?
AG: The series of sculptures titled “Mineral Breath, Metal Mouth” was thought as a material hybrid in itself. I wanted to examine issues of touch, categorization and identity within a comprehensive sculptural work. The materials used for the sculptures were chosen based on their interconnectedness, affectability and their relationship to the human body. Each sculpture was made through a combination of reactive material processes, aiming to shift (or add to) the previously found material identity. Every material in the work, be it copper, clay, textile or mineral, went through a process where it was changed on a material level by another material. Some of the materials chosen already inhabited elements of other materials: E.g. the Rose quartz in sculpture number 1, contains trace amounts of titanium, iron and manganese (hence its color), and the slate in sculpture 5, contains elements of iron (the yellow parts are rust).
MG: Its title “Mineral Breath, Metal Mouth” piqued my interest.
AG: The title refers to how humans are deeply connected with, and part of, the material world. The human body can be seen as a hybrid in itself, highly material, being constantly “touched” and affected by other materials. It is inextricably part of the mineral and metal world, as metals are being pumped through our veins and minerals build our bones.
MG: Describe some of the items that you chose for the piece at the Biennale.
AG: Some of my favorite parts of the work are the textile-copper pieces, seen in sculpture number 4. These pieces consist of plant dyed silk and cotton soaked with salts and acids, wrapped around copper pipes. Through the course of six months, the copper created copper patina growths in the textiles (and thus skewing the textiles’ identity towards copper, or creating a textile-copper hybrid).
MG: What I found particularly interesting in the piece at the Biennale is that it has a very existential layer – as it contains questions about transformation, the ephemeral, decay and material sublimation. Is this something you strive for, and if so, how did these questions emerge for you?
AG: As mentioned in the beginning of this interview, I see art as a way to delve into philosophical and scientific questions, and with this work I wanted to examine these ideas though a constellation of different materials affecting each other. Working with understanding the material world is very existential, and brings up all the concepts you list above.
MG: Would you say that there’s a political aspect in your artistry? Would you say that your work is political?
AG: My practice is definitely a political one, situated somewhere in between poetry and politics. I believe that art can examine the gaps between different disciplines and forms of knowledge, and contribute to more complex understandings of our physical world. Call me naïve, but I believe that what each of us contributes to our culture, matters. Together we make up the large tapestry of knowledge that is being brought on to the next generation.
Ane Graff was born in 1974 in the northern Norwegian town of Bodø. She is based in Oslo and Amsterdam. She graduated from Vestlandets Kunstakademi in Bergen in 2004 and has a background in art history and psychology.
Initial meeting between Madelene Gunnarsson and Ane Graff took place at the 11th Gwangju Biennale 2016 during CuratorLab research trip to Korea, and continued with an e-mail interview September 9 – September 18, 2016.
Madelene Gunnarsson, f. 1984, art producer and curator. Currently working as an art producer and coordinator in AM Public, one of Sweden’s most experienced consulting firms in the field of art in public spaces. Secretary of the Eva Bonniers Foundation, which strives to initiate and promote discussions about the roles of art and architecture in the public domain. Previously director at Motala Konsthall, Sweden. MA in fashion studies at Stockholm’s University; and Art History, Uppsala University.