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Kasia Fudakowski talks curating with William Kherbek

In January of this year, the artist Kasia Fudakowski, known primarily for her sculptural, video, and performative works, was asked to guest-curate an exhibition at the gallery, Ginerva Gambino, in Cologne. The exhibition was to be part of the Body series the gallery began in 2016, the first of which featured works by Gina Folly, Marcus Herse, Aude Pariset Bernd and Hilla Becher and the LAPD Archive. Fudakowski’s contribution to the series took an interesting turn. Choosing a drastically more personal approach to the subject of the body, Fudakowski chose to make her own body the subject of the exhibition in perhaps the most direct (yet indirect) way possible: by contacting ex romantic partners who were artists to take part in the show. Fudakowski’s project was complex, emotionally fraught, and embracing of the prospect of disaster and failure in ways which highlight the general risk aversion of contemporary art exhibitions. Samizdat spoke to Fudakowski about the process and response to her bold foray into the field of curation.

William Kherbek: Perhaps we could start with you talking a bit about where the idea for the project came from. Was it an idea you’d had for a while, or was it dependent on specific circumstances related to the exhibition? 

Kasia Fudakowski: The idea for this exhibition reared it’s head quite suddenly after I spent a few agonising weeks debating whether to accept Laura Henseler’s (from Ginerva Gambino) invitation.

Curating really wasn’t something I had ever considered doing before and I was initially adverse to the idea because I don’t work in a way that would naturally lend itself to the role. I felt then like there were only two options for me; either select my favourite art works, (which would inevitably be budget dependent) for which I might provoke, at best, a dismissive critique on artist-taste-based amateur-curating, or, at worst, a soft hand-clap of congratulation for my impeccable taste, or, more realistically, end up calling in favours with artist friends due to budgeting realities, which could no doubt be fantastic, but then who to choose? Which friendship might I endanger by either curating them in or out of the exhibition? I felt the danger of being distracted by personal relationships, rather than focusing on the art works in question, and, then, suddenly, like a Magic Eye drawing, all the multifarious traps of curating became horribly apparent.

I started to question how far personal relationships should influence the curation. Who was I creating a platform for? Who was, therefore, not being represented and why? To what extent should a curator be perceptible in the exhibition? To what extent were my own implicit prejudices and predilections charting the course? I thought it could be both horrific and comic to address all these questions at once, head on, in an almost slapstick, self-implicating and self-sabotaging way.

WK: I would also be interested in hearing about how the process of reaching out to exes in this context felt for you. It’s hard to imagine it being a comfortable process, and the letters published in the booklet suggest there was a certain amount of trepidation on your part. Could you speak about how the invitation process played out for you, yourself, and how you finally came to produce the invitations you did?

KF:Obviously it was very delicate because it was not my intention to hurt anyone, but I was clearly the hand striking the match. What I tried to get across in the invitation letter was not only the concept, budget, logistics, etc., but, also, the fact that while recognising my power position within the set up, if any of the four chose to participate, I would absolutely stand back, and, without further interference, exhibit whatever they decided to show. This was an attempt to set up the experiment on equal footing, or at least to give the artists a set of matches.

WK: Do you see the work as a fundamentally feminist act? In that it reverses traditional power hierarchies with regard to representation in art? Do you see it as an attempt to reverse engineer the masculinist historicisation of relationships as “material” for art, or women as passive “muses” or models?

KF:That’s a complicated question to answer. I would say it’s a feminist act, but perhaps I’d wave the ‘fundamental’ away. Yes, it’s a very basic flipping of traditional power structures, and to consider the opposite, i.e. a male artist inviting his four, white, ex-girlfriend artists to participate would hopefully be unthinkable, revealing the double standards involved, but as you suggest it also serves to re-confirm certain structures.

WK: One could argue it would have been a more powerful work if you’d not paid the male individuals involved in the work, as it would more directly address the historical power relations and dynamics of art production. Was that something that crossed your mind, if not why not?

KF: I think the question of payment addresses the fact that this exhibition – or experiment – was not solely geared towards ticking off a check-list of role-reversals, but, also, perhaps to reveal the stage directions of curating an exhibition in a young commercial gallery. I tried to keep the experiment as close to the realities of the givens in the situation as possible, and it would be a mistake to understand the aim of the exhibition as a kind of historical retaliation.

WK: The project prompts questions about the ways in which romance and “love” are represented in the contemporary culture at large. Almost always, male characters are rewarded in cultural representations for (at best) loutish or even abusive behaviours. The “love story” is, frequently, a story of a woman’s submission to a masculinist narrative/positioning. Could you speak about the ways the cliches or “archetypes” of representation of love stories (or break up stories) in your cultural consumption informed your approach to the work? 

KF: Again there is a very clear flipping of roles here if we agree that men have historically been congratulated for tying knots on the bedpost, while women’s virginity had to be protected at all costs, and it’s still unusual in most cultures for women to openly list their past relationships, especially to do it in the professional context. But this, in a way, was a cheap trick. I was interested in how the art world is notoriously unregulated on almost every level, which is not only tolerated, but encouraged. It’s driven by social interactions, and personal relationships, and it’s that which I wanted to investigate. It was not necessarily about calling for more parameters, but I think the art world shouldn’t be exempt from asking itself the same questions other professions are being confronted with like ‘where is the boundary between the professional and the unprofessional’?

WK: It would also be interesting to hear about the process of “reifying” the narratives of your personal history into a cultural product in a way that mirrors or satirises “romance novels”. Such objects or products are inherently reductive, but status of narrative remains interesting in them, insofar as a process is converted into a product or an object. This is, of course, true but less immediately obvious in some visual art practices as well. Could you speak about the ways you condensed, edited, or otherwise contextualised aspects of the project for the exhibition? How did producing this work differ from your more historically familiar works in media like sculpture and film?

KF: Again, I would have to voice a certain discomfort in referring to this project as a work of my own. As I said, it was more of an experiment, or, at the very least, a collaborative work, with each participant accepting, and playing their role as they saw fit. I’m very interested, however, in approaching these kinds of collateral activities, which a professional artist often has the occasion to do, in the same way that I approach my own, more traditionally authored work. When I ‘use’ my biography, and give it form, there is always a play between fact and fiction.

We made a little booklet for the Ex-hibition, which took the form of a playbook. We wrote out the roles each one of us played during the process, which included my initial neurotic email exchange with Laura, the letters I sent to each artist, a paranoid account by Alexander Brenchley, and the whole, intentionally rambling, text of Wilhelm Klotzek’s video. It felt right to include all these elements in a more lasting form, for readers to be able to draw their own conclusions.

WK: How did audiences respond to the exhibition? Were any responses surprising to you?   

KF: A good artist friend of mine was very critical of the idea before it was realised, which made me think twice about going ahead with it. I seem to remember her reservation was about why anyone should care who my ex-boyfriends were, and it would just perpetuate what she saw as the problem. It remains a valid point, but I think I was convinced enough that it would raise some interesting questions, and also I guess I was attracted to the personal risk involved.

As with all exhibitions, the artists and curators are there for the build up and opening, but it’s the gallerists who really receive the feed back over the month or two that the show is up for, so you would really have to ask Laura Henseler, but the responses I was privy to were people immediately induced to tell me stories of their personal/professional run-ins. I think it was very natural for people to place themselves into any of the given roles, and consider their own responses.