Visiting curators at MEDIA ART FRIESLAND Leeuwarden
Feedback from an international exchange
Written by Irene Urrutia and Bettina Pelz. Published on 10 December 2021.
At the beginning of October 2021, we went to see the MEDIA ART FESTIVAL (MAF), an exhibition project featuring emerging light and media artists, in Leeuwarden, in the north of the Netherlands. We are a loose network of young curators from around the world that focus on art-in-context in their studies and practice. As visiting curators, we are involved with experimental displays of contemporary art and aim to provide feedback, review, and further discussions on contemporary art projects. Most of us met during their fellowships of the TASAWAR CURATORIAL STUDIOS.
One of the TASAWAR Alums is Irene Urrutia. As she was the curator of the MAF in 2021 for the first time, we had a good reason to develop a project that allows us to meet and discuss an exhibition project. We checked on each other’s availability and built an international set of curators that had only partly worked together before. We started to meet online to synchronize on aims and plans. Over the next months, we met on a regular basis, developed the framework titled TEXT ME. We were very excited when we were granted the i-Portunus funds which greatly helped us start moving. Implemented on behalf of the European Commission, the i-Portunus program fosters the mobility of artists and curators. It is coordinated by the European Cultural Foundation in Amsterdam (nl), MitOst in Berlin (de), and the Kultura Nova Foundation Zagreb (hr).
The TEXT ME Program
Irene Urrutia (ca/mx) facilitated the intensive program that encompassed visiting the onsite exhibition, meetings with the artists, and surrounding activities. Giuliana Grippo (ar/es) and Emily Sarsam (at/tn) developed and provided writing labs, co-working moments, and exercises. Lectures and workshops to support the processing of critical thinking and writing was headed by Nicolàs Dardano (ar/es), Aymen Gharbi (tn), Andrea Moeller (de/nl), and Bettina Pelz (de/tn). Alexia Alexandropoulou (gr), Cyrine Bettaleb Ali (tn), and Famkje Elgersma (de) supported the realization of the additional exhibition and studio visits. Contributions from different perspectives rooted in art mediation, art education, art sciences, and sociocultural approaches were offered by Sara Mari Blom (de), Jan Herman de Boer (nl), Amin Gharbi (tn), and Kenza Jemmali (tn). Netherlands-based participants Anne Van Lierop (nl), Neja Kaiser (nl), and Katerina Kallivroussi (gr/nl) joined the activities featuring the local perspective. The guiding idea of the gathering was to provide a framework of exchange, and ultimately produce a collection of texts summarizing experiences, reflections, and critiques. Fifteen articles resulted from this intensive, exciting, and challenging cooperation.
MAF-LUNA by Media Art Friesland
The MEDIA ART FESTIVAL (MAF) is an exhibition of existing works that have been selected by a team of scouts, either at graduation shows or other public exhibition settings. Since 2016, it is embedded in the public art project LEEUWARDEN URBAN NIGHT ADVENTURE (LUNA) that stages experienced artists working site-specific on decentral sites across the city. Within a few years, the MAF-LUNA combination became an internationally recognized annual exhibition project featuring experimental light and light-based media art approaches.
Not far from the Leeuwarden station, the MAF exhibition space is located in the former post office that was turned into a temporary exhibition space. The exhibition encompassed fourteen artworks, among them light and light-based media works, audio-visual installations, films, performances, and workshops. They showcased the artistic concerns and responses of young artists regarding contemporary media and technology, ongoing research in the arts and sciences, as well as socio-cultural and socio-ecological topics. In addition to the artworks on display, there were events, tours, workshops, performances, discussions, and special projects lined with the overarching theme “Here And Now”.
The festival format was interpreted as a flexible framework to encounter, experience, and discuss contemporary art production. The visiting curators emerged into the scene and the variety of situations. They joined the activities, interacted with artists as well as with partners of the organization, and expanded beyond the festival program with additional studio visits, talks, and discursive frameworks.
The TEXT ME Texts
The TEXT ME group organized itself and spent a week in Leeuwarden to see the artworks, to understand their contexts, to discuss, and to start writing. The writing process was accompanied by many discussions, often dedicated to questions of whether to standardize the content, extension, language, or style of our work. More often than not, however, we decided not to impose strict frameworks. Instead of creating lists of rules, we created lists of questions, such as when and why should artworks descriptions be specific? When should they be evocative and open to the imagination? How and why should a curator establish their own position in relation to that of the artist, or to the context of the festival? What version of English (or other languages) does it make sense to use, and why? Resulting from this process of questioning, the texts contain a variety of styles: from art historical perspectives to poetic fragments, from inner dialogues to question-and-answer formats. Some pose questions or develop critical comments, while others experiment with creative writing. Articles by more experienced writers stand alongside newer voices, and a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds create contrast from one text to the next. Looking back on shared time, experiences, and collective processing we start to understand that we only scratch the surface of collaborative curatorial writing processes and frameworks. TEXT ME is a collection of seeds, nurtured and planted, which we hope to see grow in years to come.
The TEXT ME Text Compilation
As a text collection, the essays offer insight into the notion of situatedness: one of the most important turns in the contemporary critique of institutions, knowledge, and language. The concept originates in the feminist return to the body as a point of reference for any and all understanding: a knowing that is necessarily different according to each person’s subjectivity. In this sense, TEXT ME showcases the multiplicity of the beings and bodies, which shape their critical and curatorial perspectives. Therefore, it is entirely possible that their positions provoke, clash, or misunderstand each other in the texts. We wish to share the joy that we find when discovering differences, seeking to understand reasons and contexts, and nourishing discussions that reshape our minds, bodies, and eyes.
The TEXT ME Network
We like to send a heartfelt “thank you!” to everyone who contributed to the TEXT ME project: the enthusiastic and magical team of the TEXT ME writers and editors; our experienced mentors and friends who offered their time, expertise, and belief in the project; the endlessly supportive family of Media Art Friesland, and the generous support of i-Portunus which funded the mobility of five of the TEXT ME participants. The dedication we experienced provides us with the sparks to look for the next opportunities. Our diversity of personalities and biographies motivates us to strengthen our links and deepen our discussions to spend some more time beyond the narrow edge of the yet-known. The inspiring artworks and art experiences nurture the care we put into our professional being. TEXT US _ we will be happy to receive feedback on what we achieved.