Three questions for Nicola Lees
An interview with the new curator of the Frieze Projects
a curator at the Serpentine Gallery, Nicola Lees had already encouraged
artists to experiment with all kinds of media. She continues on this
path as the new curator of the Frieze Projects. The commissioned works
for the London art fair, in which Deutsche Bank has been involved for
ten years, are now even more interdisciplinary. In ArtMag, Nicola Lees
talks about what visitors to this year’s Frieze expect from the Projects
and what she personally is looking forward to most.
experimental zeal, the Frieze Projects have always guaranteed that the
London art fair had an idiosyncratic format, whether Christian
Jankowski declared a luxury yacht an artwork, Mike Nelson's secret rooms behind working gallery booths or Aslı Çavuşoğlu rehearsed a scene for a
fictive TV thriller amidst the hubbub of the fair. After Sarah McCrory,
who had been the mastermind of the project since 2010, was recently
appointed the director of the Glasgow International Festival of Visual
Art, Nicola Lees succeeded her in this coveted curator
Lees is perfectly qualified for the job, as in
recent years she organized so-called marathons – 48-hour events with
lectures on and discussions of themes such as “memory” and “garden” –
together with Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine Gallery. There was a
wide spectrum of participants, ranging from artists such as Gilbert
& George, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Yto Barrada, to
filmmakers such as David Lynch, to writers such as Douglas Coupland and
John Berger, to scientists and historians. Lees’ greatest passion are
performative, time-based works. For example, she curated Helen Marten’s
animated film Dust and Piranhas (2011) and Oscar Murillo’s performance Cleaners’ Late Summer Party with COMME des GARÇONS for the Serpentine
Gallery’s Park Nights.
A movable theatrical system, performances that explore labor and
exchange processes surrounding the history of oysters in London, a spy
piece, paintballing: How do the commissions for Frieze Projects relate to today's political and economic realities?
I would characterize the Projects program as having a subversive
element rather than directly engaging in protest or propaganda as such.
In particular 2013 commissions focus on interactions between play,
governance and sovereignty – exploring how these exchanges can be
brought to light through participatory contemporary art practices.
are some shared points of interest which demonstrate a political
consciousness: Both Lili Reynaud-Dewar and Gerry Bibby have referred to
the writings of author and political activist Jean Genet when
discussing their projects for Frieze. Reynaud-Dewar’s commission
examines and is inspired by the works of writers who make their own
life the material of their work, such as Genet, but also Guillaume
Dustan, among others. Bibby is particularly interested in Genet’s
memoirs. This text reflects how the conflict between Genet’s identities
as a writer and criminal has always remained unresolved. Bibby’s work
explores the dialectics and alternation of these two existential modes.
some ways, what all Frieze Projects share is the lack of ends, or a
final moment of objectification. I like to think of the Projects as a
series of fleeting instants that bring them together momentarily, while
leaving them open-ended.
Curator of Public Programmes at the Serpentine Gallery you encouraged
the participating artists to take a cross- disciplinary approach. Is
this also the case at Frieze Projects? Aren’t interdisciplinary
approaches almost compulsory in the contemporary art scene?
artists may borrow from a variety of sources, a truly interdisciplinary
approach is much rarer than you would expect. Art practices with a
discursive and/or performative focus are ephemeral in their nature and
are often lost or mis-archived. Their legacy is pieced together from
fragments and remains of the original event – as opposed to
object-based art that, instead, tends to maintain its physicality and
presence through time.
However, despite the rarity of this way of
working, there are two particular examples that I would identify as
important precursors to my program this year. The pedagogical turn in
curating has made heroic efforts to document interdisciplinary
practices and present them in new contexts at different times, yet
ensuring the documentation can somehow hold or reflect the meaning and
power of the original work. For example, art historian Lars Bang Larsen
has reinstated Palle Nielsen’s Model for a Qualitative Society (1968)
into contemporary art history through a number of articles, lectures,
publications and, most recently, a series of exhibitions between
Stockholm and Liverpool.
The responsibilities taken on by Nielsen
with that project should not be forgotten: to take over the Moderna
Museet, turn it into a playground and fully entrust it to children
meant that the artist had to respond personally to what might happen.
He also had to source funds for the project himself and invested his
own post-doctoral grant from the School of Architecture in Copenhagen.
important example of an interdisciplinary project where the artist had
to raise funds is Allan Kaprow’s Other Ways from 1968, which the artist
developed together with Herbert Kohl, professor of education at the
University of California, Berkeley. After a number of rejections,
Kaprow and Kohl eventually managed to secure about $80,000 from the
Carnegie Foundation to fund an experimental education program to bring
artists and “happenings” into colleges and secondary schools.
that this year’s program will have the same spirit as these works. The
emphasis on education that both of them demonstrate is shared by a
number of the Projects: Both Angelo Plessas and Emdash Award 2013
recipient Pilvi Takala will involve children as active participants.
Takala has chosen to give the opportunity to devise and realize the
Emdash Award 2013 to a group of children around the age of 12, who in a
series of workshops decide on the final form and scope of the project.
Angelo Plessas has conceived a site-specific commission for the Frieze
Family Space under the title The Temple of Play. Located in a be-spoke
space, this will be a free, creative playground providing activities
for young people as well as adults.
What is your personal interdisciplinary passion?
Frieze Projects 2013 program focuses on performativity and interactions
across disciplines. I am particularly excited that an artist who
epitomizes this approach will be a part of the 2013 Frieze London
program: American composer, singer, filmmaker, and performer
Meredith Monk. For Frieze Music 2013, Monk will present an evening
concert, accompanied by a keynote lecture as part of Frieze Talks, and
a workshop in Liverpool during 2013 organized by the Liverpool Biennial.
ancient and modern, her performance practice incorporates not only
vocal innovations, but also theatrical elements as well as physical
movements. Similarly, her compositions unify and connect different art
forms and experiences – Monk herself described this fusion of elements
as a deep “psychic need.” Monk is a pioneer in what is now called
“extended vocal technique” and creates works at the intersection of
music and movement, image and object, light and sound in an effort to
discover and weave together new modes of perception.
I am thrilled that Meredith Monk will be taking part in Frieze Music this year, nine years after her last performance in London.