Can you present yourself?
What project have you been recently working on?
During lockdown/confinement I’ve been working with my colleagues at Talbot Rice Gallery (of Edinburgh College of Art and the University of Edinburgh) to develop an exhibition exploring the complexities this pandemic has revealed and created in all of us. For now it’s called the ‘The Normal’, but it could change. The exhibition is trying to look at the situation in relation to the temporary de-escalation of carbon emissions, the rewilding of urban places and resultant abundance of diversity, the decluttering of the seismic charts, the general awakening to the proof that jumping off the train of progress is possible – while also exploring the fragility of the social contract – the idea that people have been slapped in the face with what citizenship really means, and wondering whether there’ll be new social / cultural / political pathways into the future.
The show looks at virus history (Caroline Jones’ article in a recent Artforum was very interesting on this) and the increasing proximity to wildlife through deforestation, marketization of wildlife and the melting of ice making future viral pandemics ever more likely. Ultimately, what does art do with all of this? We’re eyeing crates with distrust. We’re looking for artists who are interested in a global dialogue (as these are undoubtedly global issues) but are also re-imagining the modes of production to work efficiently and locally with the grave needs of the environment. This exhibition is ‘about’ our current condition, but we’re also wanting it to teach us how to transform the Gallery’s operations and attitudes, and to discover and work with artists who are challenging themselves to do the same.
Could you tell us about an artwork that you’ve recently seen and has blown your mind?
Last summer I hopped a flight (back in the old days) to Munich and El Anatsui’s ‘Triumphant Scale’ at Haus de Kunst (perhaps soon to open at Guggenheim Bilbao?). I was already in love with the work in general – I went there to see the show – but it has been a while since I found myself weeping in front of an artwork. ‘Rising Sea’ from 2019. Absolutely overwhelming. The form is just so seductive, it drowns you in a complex wave of nature, industrialisation, hope and this incredible presence of humanity that was perhaps inseparable from the memory of Okwui Enwezor. As I was weeping in front of this artwork one of the guards came and sat down quietly next to me and said gently, “you’re not the first.”
Which book would you recommend aspiring curators to read?
A book that has been my companion on various journeys over the last 5 years is Silvia Federici’s ‘Caliban and the Witch’ – which has been translated into many languages, my husband is currently reading it in French. In a nutshell, Silvia connects the historical oppression of women (which includes the witch trials) with the primitive accumulation of capital, describing a historical climate in which it was necessary to control women to be able to control capital, as capital lay in the productivity of the labour force and women were the means of reproduction. That’s a gross over-simplification, but what I love about Silvia is that she pursues the question of “why” – she won’t settle for a historical analysis of what occurred. This is what makes her unique, and one way or another she has an immense amount to offer all aspiring people wanting to work with culture and exhibitions. Proposing Silvia Federici for an honorary degree at Edinburgh University was a way to honour her impact, with the artist Jesse Jones there who had first introduced me to her, and the response of students and parents during her ceremony was incredible.
You live in Edinburgh. Why have you decided to be based in this city? What’s your favourite thing about it and your favourite places?
Edinburgh is one of those places that just becomes more beautiful the more you get to know it. It’s an ancient city and is known for its festivals, but the thing that’s incredible about it for me is that it is nestled within a fairly dramatic range of rocks and coast. You can’t really go anywhere even in the city centre without being able to see a hill on the horizon, nearby – which is a good thing for the human psyche. There’s no blocking out of nature, no pretending that nature is somewhere else. The monumentality of Arthur’s Seat or Carlton Hill are always there. Edinburgh is where Charles Hutton worked on his ideas of geological deep time in the late 18th century, which the Scottish geologist Charles Lyell built on later to develop theories in the 1830s which look remarkably similar to what we call the Anthropocene today. Art, rocks, they’re inseparable really.
What is your best memory of FIAC/the best encounter you had during a FIAC week?
That is such an easy one to answer. The year I went to FIAC as part of the YCI was when I fell in love with Aurelien Froment, to whom I am now married and have two wonderful little Franco-Kiwis with. Or Scots. Actually they call themselves Dubliners. It’s a confusing world.
Tessa Giblin participated in YCI programme in 2006 organised in collaboration with the Fondation d’entreprise Ricard.