– Interview with Tessa Praun (Sweden)
When did you start curating? Tell us something about your educational background and curatorial experience?
What is your personal relationship with Ai Wei Wei and his work? How did it come about that you got to curate his show at Magasin 3?
I was very taken by Ai Weiwei’s project “Fairytale” that he did for Documenta XII, this impressive idea to invite 1001 Chinese people to come with him to Kassel in Germany in the summer of 2007. It is a fantastic social multi layered project that lives on through stories that are being told as well as through physical remaining parts with an amazing visual strength. Experiencing this work in Kassel made me read more about Ai Weiwei and follow the work he did after.
In 2010 I was in China and had the chance to visit Ai Weiwei in his combined home and studio in Beijing. This was in a time when he was already very pressed by the Chinese authorities and he had just been under a three days house arrest when we met. Meeting him in his own environment and under these pressing circumstances effected me strongly and coming back to Stockholm I invited him to have the exhibition here at Magasin 3 this spring.
Tell us more about the Ai Wei Wei exhibition. What has been your main role as a curator of the show?
From the beginning I knew that I did not want to make a retrospective exhibition, instead I wanted a selection of works that focuses on China as synonymous to mass production and Ai Weiwei’s concern for the individual as a necessary part of the big mass. Ai Weiwei did the first selection of works that he and I then discussed and added to. Only a few months into working together, in the beginning of April 2011, he suddenly was arrested and kept detained on no legal grounds in an undisclosed location. Not knowing what was going to happen, if and when he would be released, me and my colleagues had to decide how to move on. Together with Ai Weiwei’s assistants we came to the conclusion that the best thing that we could do in that situation was to continue the preparations of the exhibition, it felt even more so important to show his work and make his voice heard. Despite my deep concerns for Ai Weiwei’s situation I had to focus as much as I could on completing the exhibition and do so in the most respectful way.
Can you explain the importance of the reading room being a part of the Ai Wei Wei exhibition? Why emphasize on all that information?
At the point when Ai Weiwei was detained and couldn’t be part of the preparations of the exhibition anymore, I felt it was important to give our visitors a deeper insight into Ai Weiwei’s situation, why he is on a collision course with the regime and consequently has become so known also outside the art world. So I developed a reading room. A physical one in the actual exhibition space, side by side with the artworks. It includes reading material, a sound archive where various people contributed with their stories and reflections on Ai Weiwei, interviews and documentaries on and by Ai Weiwei. But also a digital one, a special homepage gathering articles, documentaries, the sound archive, filmed documentation of all panel discussions that we have arranged in connection to the exhibition etc. in order for people to explore his work both as an artist, activist, blogger, architect. He himself does not really distinguish these roles. I found it interesting to bring this up through the reading room. Both the physical and digital reading room have proven very useful and much appreciated.
Do you think new and digital media used in contemporary art has brought new aspects to arts and curating? Yes or no, explain why.
Well yes, I think since these new media are part of society today it is only a natural development that also artists explore them and art institutions adapt them in communicating with the audience. In some cases art can be brought closer to the viewer through various new media and attract those who are hard to reach in a more traditional manner. In our part of the world we live in a time with a tremendous fast pace. It is important that art can both adapt to these new circumstances but also offer a brake from just that. The content has to be the driving force otherwise the experience will be lost completely. It is a challenge for both artist and curator to find the right balance.
Photographs by Konsthopp
What qualities do you think a good curator should have?
A good curator knows how to both support and challenge an artist, is curious and open minded, dedicated to the project and flexible to deal with different characters and situations under time pressure : )
From your point of view, how does the future of professional curating look like? What are your personal wishes, hopes and perspectives on your future curatorial plans?
My main motivation for being a curator is to learn more about life. Being close to art is an amazing way to deal with life, to explore notions of the present, history and future, to be inspired to thoughts and feelings. If I can transmit this also to other people then I think I am doing something good.