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Three questions for Nicola Lees - An interview with the new curator of the Frieze Projects
Süden - The Villa Romana at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
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Three questions for Nicola Lees
An interview with the new curator of the Frieze Projects


As 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.


With their 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 position.

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.


AM: 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?

Nicola Lees: 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.
There 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.
In 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.
 
 
As Senior 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?

Although 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.
Another 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.
I hope 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?

The 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.
Simultaneously 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.




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On View
It´s About Freedom - Philip Guston´s Late Works in the Schirn / In Search of Impossible Art - The Zacheta Presents the Views Nominees for 2013 / To Paint Is To Love Again - The Deutsche Bank KunstHalle Celebrates Painting
News
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Press
"Breathtaking in Part" - The Press on Frieze London and Frieze Masters / "A Great Start" The Press on the First Exhibition at the KunstHalle
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