|Lacking an appropriate photo for this installment, I've instead included this still from the film Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. A prize of $10 will be awarded to anyone who can suggest a caption relating the content of the interview to the choreographic stylings of Adolfo Quinones. No joke. Email me.|
Click here to read the first installment of my interview with Kevin Curran, Bushwick-based artist and curatorial director of The Laundromat.
Reid Singer: What parallels are there, if any, between your curating style and your own work?
Kevin Curran: Well, it’s interesting that you brought up this whole identity issue thing, because when I went to grad school, I found myself sitting in the studio, a straight white dude, from upstate New York. There’s nothing special about that. No angle there. Then I started thinking: “What is that all about, the culture that’s at least unique to my own life?” I guess I used to think (and I was also a philosophy major), “An artist should be making these big philosophical statements.” Or I should be, somehow, really serious. The experience in grad school was that it allowed me to let go of that. It’s like, “I don’t have to cure AIDS. I don’t have to make one big piece.” I certainly don’t want to point out the obvious. I don’t want to preach to the choir. I don’t want to make work that’s like: “Yeah. Killing kittens is bad.”
RS: You mean, explicitly political work?
KC: Yeah. I feel like a lot of that of the work that artists make like that doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t make anything better for anybody. I don’t see myself doing that.
RS: Either in your work as an exhibitor or in what you’re making?
KC: No. I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t want art to be a cudgel. I don’t want it to be like that at all. I think it should be something you think about, or connect with, or have some connection with, and a lot of times it’s nice when it’s something you haven’t imagined yourself. With some of my favorite artists, when I look at their work, I think: “I could never make that work. I would never make that. I could never imagine that thing.” That surprise, for me, is the nice thing.
I guess it’s easier to talk about work that you don’t like. It’s more satisfying a lot of the time to find work that you don’t like. It’s the same process of defining the positive while you’re doing it in a negative way, like, “This is not what looks good.”
I think we all live in a time where sincerity is particularly...people think you’re kind of cheesy if you’re really sincere. To be sophisticated, you’re more like, cynical, and ironic, and blah blah blah. I guess that’s a caricature of it, but...
RS: Of the stuff that I’ve seen here, a lot of it can have an ironic bent, not an ironic reading, but...
KC: Well, if you think about Alexa’s show...
RS: I’m thinking of that in particular.
KC: I think that there’s a weird thing that happened there. There’s two parts to this thing. There’s Alexa, who in my mind, is just really interested in observing people, ‘cause she’s from Germany. She’s not from here. I don’t see her picking people because, “Oh, it’s going to be funny to record these two old Jewish ladies talking, because they’re old and Jewish, and they talk like that.” To me she’s interested in everybody’s personal life, as beyond what you see when you see them in the subway.
RS: She was extra deliberate, I couldn’t help but notice, about filtering that through people who didn’t look anything like the people [whose conversations had been transcribed].
KC: Those were her moves. If you read her transcripts, she seemed to be going for a variety. She would also try to take out the information on the transcript. They wouldn’t say ethnicity or anything. It would just say, roughly, the age, male or female, ‘cause she doesn’t want to get into that stuff. But then she gets these improv guys in here, and they get out of control.
We talked about that a lot afterward. For me, it was interesting to see the contrast between when I read it, the experience of myself reading it, and what happens in my own mind, my own imagination. It was like reading a book as opposed to watching a TV program. You fill in more information on your own. Then, these improv people, they just wanted to go for laughs.
They just were trying to blow it up. They were exaggerating everything. They couldn’t help themselves. And Alexa, she really tried to get them to just stick with the program and not embellish, nothing too crazy. It was just: “Be a vessel from these people.” Not to use these people, somehow, as leverage for laughs.
She was a little disappointed in how they really just went for laughs and how they just sort of lapsed into improv-actor-mode comedy-hour-mode. Like I said before, she wasn’t trying to make these people like the butt of a joke, or somehow, “This is funny ‘cause it’s making fun of these people for being what they are.”
For her, she’s actually interested in what they are, ‘cause they’re different, and it’s a new place for her. I mean, she’s been living here for a long time, but still, her kind of mode is a very observational. A lot of her photography is like that, too. It’s like, “I’m going to show you the thing that you didn’t see yourself. This is something that you missed.” And that’s an old trope of photography, but she’s got kind of a quirkiness to what she selects to photograph, like gum on the sidewalk, or bird shit. And it is kind of boring in the sense of having seen that move a million times with photography, but she’s got a pretty unique voice.
RS: As far as a personal politics or a personal “take,” or agenda, that’s acceptable to you?
KC: Yeah. And I think it actually helps that she’s not American, dude.
RS: She can objectify things in a way?
KC: I guess so. Maybe if she was doing the same work in Germany it would be much easier to fall into this trap of commentary. I feel like, at least my sense of it, she’s not trying to make a commentary. She’s just more collecting.
RS: Could you talk a little bit about Naturaleza Muerta?
KC: Here we are in Bushwick. It’s like a microcosm, and it’s pretty cool. It’s kind of exotic and it’s cool, and a lot of the galleries in our neighborhood, similar to me, are not gallerists professionally. They’re just kind of doing their own thing. Also, most of their programming is from Brooklyn. From here.
RS: From nearby.
KC: Yeah. I think part of what I’m trying to do that’s a little different is to connect this location with other places, which is a good segue into this thing I mentioned earlier, which is this gallery I work with in Tokyo. This guy is named Taka Masuzawa. He basically runs an antiques store.
He’s a young guy. He’s in his late 30s. I met him because I had a show in his space. He clears out all the antiques and he also uses that space as a provisional gallery, similar to what I do. It’s a little bit different setup. We sort of have the same philosophy. We want to do this kind of program where we’re bridging from there to here. So I’m picking these young artists, and I wanted him to guest curate a show here, and I’m going to curate a show there.
RS: And you feel a certain unity with gallerists like him in Tokyo, or Mexico City, or Denmark?
KC: Well, yeah. The sort of do-it-yourself, and doing it with your own funds, out of your own pocket, and not waiting for somebody to give you a grant or something like that. I’ve never gone to some committee with my hand out, maybe because I’m too afraid to actually seek that kind of affirmation. Or I maybe just don’t want to wait for some place to be like, “Oh, you’re good. You’re good enough.” I don’t have to wait for that. I can just do it.
I have this flat file project that I do here, which is thirty drawers of drawings. I’ve loaned it to Storefront. I’m starting one in Tokyo with my friend Taka Ehorta. There are nine drawers there. Here we have thirty. And then with my friend in Copenhagen, we’re talking about maybe starting one there. Hopefully, we could just be shipping the work around this kind of circuit of all these little tiny venues that are really temporary and provisional, and also, again, very much organized on a shoestring budget, with just people who want to do it.