Interview with Xavier Acarín, Curator in Residence at the Abrons Arts Center

Xavier Acarín was born in Barcelona and moved to NY in 2008. His work has been focused on the performativity of the object as a way to frame artistic and curatorial practices. His projects have been presented at Chez Bushwick, Elastic City, The New School for Social Research, and Peekskill Project 6, and his writings have been published at A-Desk, Culturas-La Vanguardia, Terremoto and BRAC (University of Barcelona) and he has participated as author of the books Designing Experience (Bloomsbury, 2014), and Dear Helen (CCS Bard, 2014). He holds a MA from the Center of Curatorial Studies at Bard College and has participated of the Helsinki International Curatorial Programme. He is currently the 2016-17 Curator in Residence at the Abrons Arts Center.

AM: NY Art Maps / XA: Xavier Acarín

AM: Hi Xavier! Thank you for talking with us. First we would love to know what motivated you to move to the U.S. and to develop your career here in NY?                                       

XA: Hi NY ART MAPS! Thanks for inviting me! I came to work at SITE Santa Fe Biennial in 2008, and soon after I moved to New York. I came at a moment of many changes, the financial crisis started (officially) that September, and the US election of that year was impressive, I danced with hundreds of other people on Bedford Avenue to celebrate Obama’s victory, it felt like the beginning of a new era. However, we now know it wasn’t exactly that. The financial crisis came to re-shape the world, introduced an expanded state of precariousness, and reinforced the logic of capitalism and war. I mention this because it had a great impact on me, not only in terms of personal circumstances, and activism (from Alter-Globalization to Occupy Wall Street), but also it became very influential in thinking about artistic practices. Contemporary Art and New York City are very similar. They are both systems of contradictions. On one hand, they claim a space of emancipation, discovery, and encounter, and on the other hand, they are luxurious mechanisms of the market, spreading gentrification, and commercialism. Cities have become like the art world, repetitive, standard, and dominated by the super-rich and sustained by the precariat. While the public are tourists hypnotically dragged around from one gallery to the other, from one landmark to the next, either a terrorist attack memorial or a poor neighborhood where the “real people” lives. Despite the years I have been in New York, I don’t know the city, and while I like this sense of unknown possibilities, it is also true that gentrification has turned the city into a predictable machine, where everyone has been normalized and there is less and less unexpected craziness happening.    

AM: Following on this, precariousness and gentrification are two world-wide conditions of our time, how do you incorporate them into your curatorial work?                         

XA: It is important for me to understand the role that Contemporary Art plays in these processes. It is striking how many art institutions are not willing to pay honorariums for art workers, either artists or interns, while maintaining a progressive discourse. It doesn’t make sense, if they can not afford to produce programs, they shouldn’t exist. Some are just tax-evasion structures, and others are old and have lost their initial motivations. It is good and bad that New York has so many art institutions, it should be an opportunity to experiment, not to replicate exhibition models, with the same lists of artists and curators. There is a gentrification process within the art world, it’s not new, but it keeps happening, it is easy to find the same type of work, the same type of exhibition. It relates to the process of globalization but it is a homogenization that goes against the very nature of art. It is sad to see an infinite succession of exhibitions that look the same, that use an incredible amount of resources and generate an equally incredible amount of waste, exhibitions that perhaps only satisfy their creators, and besides the opening they do not receive many visitors, and the works just sit there, frozen, like a corpse. It has happened to me, and it makes me question why we keep doing this, if I haven’t curated much in my life is also because of this, what is the point on doing projects if we can not change the very conditions of our present? I might sound very upset, but it is actually a general feeling shared with many colleagues. So, yes, I think on how to incorporate this critique into our practices, which means to achieve changes at all levels, from logistics to curatorial decisions. I do not think it is enough to focus all the attention on corporations and economic processes, I think we have to consider how art can oppose and subvert the standardization of sensibilities, and how to do so without becoming aesthetic preachers or simple content-providers to the structures of the established power.

 Work by Naama Tsabar at the exhibition "Point of Contact" curated by Acarín at Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, NY, 2015 featuring works by: Gordon Hall, Martin Roth, Naama Tsabar, and Pedro Wirz

Work by Naama Tsabar at the exhibition "Point of Contact" curated by Acarín at Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, NY, 2015 featuring works by: Gordon Hall, Martin Roth, Naama Tsabar, and Pedro Wirz

AM: Your first exhibition at the Abrons, Conspiracies Are Things, was centered on violence and disruption, and presented a selection of artists working on sculpture, photography, and performance. What was your intention?                                            

XA: Conspiracies was based on a tension, between objects revealing cycles of violence and the impossibility for humans to know what these objects do. I used two examples to illustrate this, the Samsung Galaxy explosions and the hacking of large corporation’s websites using the internet of things. These events reflect on a world condition, which is unsettling, we are tied to an intrinsically violent world, for instance, the extraction of metals, global warming, human exploitation, it is all connected. We live surrounded with objects that are products of these violent processes, and as in the case of the hackers, we don’t even know if our internet-connected fridge is engaged in a cyber attack while we are drinking water from it.                                  

For instance, Spain sells weapons to the Gulf Monarchies, and some of them support ISIS who is behind the indoctrination and support of the terrorist cells, like the one who caused the recent attacks in Barcelona. By the way, we know that Saudi Arabia is funding ISIS, through the emails written by John Podesta and released by Wikileaks. It has become prescient that we address the world as this network that affects our daily lives, otherwise it is impossible to overcome the current state of affairs. At the same time, we have to search for artistic practices that address the standardization of sensibilities, the repetition of feelings and ideas, that are constantly being bombarded on the population, not only from media, but from academic institutions, and also museums.

 View of the exhibition "Conspiracies are Things", curated by Acarín at the Abrons Center, in 2016 featuring works by Sarah Anderson, Deville Cohen, Nick Doyle, Kolbeinn Hugi + Taraka Larson, Juan Kasari, and Gabriel Pericàs

View of the exhibition "Conspiracies are Things", curated by Acarín at the Abrons Center, in 2016 featuring works by Sarah Anderson, Deville Cohen, Nick Doyle, Kolbeinn Hugi + Taraka Larson, Juan Kasari, and Gabriel Pericàs

 

 

Conspiracies included recent sculpture work by Sarah Anderson, Deville Cohen, and Nick Doyle, a new piece by Gabriel Pericàs, a photographic series by Juan Kasari, and a one-time performance that was the result of the collaboration between Kolbeinn Hugi and Taraka Larson. My intention was to transmit a sense of uneasiness and detachment, by allowing for the works to confront the viewer.

 Work by Sarah Anderson at the exhibition "Conspiracies are Things", Abrons Center, NY, 2016

Work by Sarah Anderson at the exhibition "Conspiracies are Things", Abrons Center, NY, 2016

AM: The gallery space at the Abrons is quite difficult, it has three spaces separated by stairs, the main gallery is the entrance to one of the theaters, and it has large windows overlooking the open amphitheater. How it has been for you to work in that space?
XA: I already knew the space, and I had seen many exhibitions there. Conspiracies was in view during the winter, February-March 2017. I was very aware that visitors would mostly visit the exhibition in the afternoon or evenings when it was dark outside and the windows will reflect the lights inside the gallery. Instead of inviting an artist to do something with the windows, which is a usual move for many exhibitions in that space, I played with the reflection of the glass, so the works of Juan Kasari, and specially those of Sarah Anderson and Deville Cohen - as these had lights on their sculptures - reflected on the windows and disrupted the limits of the gallery space. I love working on installation and production, it is a very special moment, when everything that we usually think becomes real. I like to create situations more than exhibitions, where the atmosphere and the overall tone are very important. I like to see the curator as a choreographer, composing movements, playing with variations and repetitions.

 Works by Gabriel Pericàs and Juan Kasari at the exhibition "Conspiracies are Things", Abrons Center, NY, 2016

Works by Gabriel Pericàs and Juan Kasari at the exhibition "Conspiracies are Things", Abrons Center, NY, 2016

AM: Your following exhibition at the Abrons was completely different, Public Formats was an exhibition of posters, very connected to the political situation in the U.S. but also to the poster as a medium. What was appealing for you?
XA: For a long time, I wanted to do a project on posters. There are few things that interested me. The poster has a fascinating history as a medium developed at the same time than modernity and the process of industrialization and urbanization. Also interesting are the formal qualities, material, size, format, graphic possibilities, and printing techniques of the poster. And lastly, the performative side, how the poster communicates and directs towards an action, and establishes a physical relation with the reader. I approached artists that are interested in posters or that had done posters in the past, and I very loosely explained my ideas. The surprise came when I received all the works, and there were some deep connections between them. All together they explore: collectivity, the tensions between an ideal society and the individual; a difference that is formal and temporal and generates conflicts that are also physical and even sexual, when being together means grasping and touching or eliminating power relations. There is something interesting in terms of depersonalization of the urban experience and how the poster – as a street sign – participates in both, the construction of this global homogenous being and the search for a difference.                                                     

I am really happy about this project, and I hope to continue working on it, to expand it as a publishing platform, I’m already talking to new partners and artists. I owe this excitement to an incredible group of artists, American Artist, Itziar Barrio, Anton Ginzburg, Gordon Hall, Sara Magenheimer, and Alan Ruiz, who were very open about the project, and really took it somewhere completely unexpected. And I thank Paul John from Endless Editions who came to the Abrons and did a risograph workshop which was lots of fun. Public Formats, had a second presentation at ESTE in Brooklyn, a gallery space run by artist Victor Esther. There, we presented some variations of the works presented at the Abrons. It was a way to disseminate the posters into another space, and see what happen with both exhibitions playing as communicative vessels.


AM: What are you working on now? Any future plans that you can tell us about?

XA: We just opened two exhibitions at the Abrons, these are conceptually related although different projects. One is a project by Pep Vidal and is presented simultaneously at ADN Gallery in Barcelona. Pep bought the entire stock from a plants store in Barcelona, and it has been studying it. He is also a physicist so he combines an artistic and scientific approach to the object of study that escapes from the usual processes of visual domination and knowledge production.  The other exhibition is Imperceptible with the works of Daniel Cerrejón, Irini Miga, and Claudia Peña Salinas. It is conceptually linked to Conspiracies, as it articulates a similar set of anxieties derived from globalization. Basically, is the impossibility of escaping economic processes that are intrinsically violent and exploitative, what results in a turbulent world in which humans are reduced, fragile and precarious, limited in their agency and isolated in their lives. In the text I wrote I reference a sentence by Obama during his first campaign. “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” This sentence has haunted me ever since, it is a message of hope similar to religion prayers – in fact, I think he took it from a poem from the civil rights movement – but it is also a political manipulation, as we know that it is impossible to change our immediate reality without violently confronting the ruling class and their privileges, and to do so, would only suppose the complete chaos, as their backlash in any circumstance will be merciless. I feel I’ve been talking about the same throughout the interview, but hope you get my point, art as the articulation of class war. So, yes, I still believe art can do something.

AM: Thank you, we will definitely stop by the Abrons before December 26, to see the exhibitions.

To follow and learn more about Xavier Acarín’ s projects visit his website  www.xaviacarin.net