Interview with The Artling
Curator: Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani
Sundaram Tagore Gallery presents Anthropos New York, a large scale exhibition of cutting-edge multi-media work by twelve Singapore and Thai artists. The show opens on 4th runs for two months at the Chelsea and Madison Avenue gallery spaces. The Artling speaks to curator Loredana to find out what inspired her to put this show together.
First of all, what does Anthropos mean? What was the genesis behind this show?
“Anthropos” is the Greek word for “human being”, and ANTHROPOS NEW YORK revolves around the qualities of the human condition through the works of 12 Southeast Asian artists.
The idea of holding this show in NYC came about a year ago. It was in fact on September 13 last year during the opening night of the predecessor show in Singapore: ANTHROPOS Singapore! The event was very well attended by the public and by the artists featured in the show who came to Singapore for the event. The atmosphere was good and the works looked amazing in the Sundaram Tagore Gallery space at Gillman Barracks. That night Mr Tagore and I had a casual conversation about the success of the evening. I was only starting to breathe again after finally seeing the show together. It was then that Mr Tagore asked me to consider holding a follow-up show for his New York galleries! It took me by complete surprise but I started to work on it the very next day.
What was your background and how did you end up as a curator?
I studied arts and literature in college in Europe and then when I moved to New York I continued my studies and obtained a degree in Interior Design. It may seem a little different from my previous course of studies yet related in the intrinsic aesthetics in both art and design. I developed a few projects in New York and later in Mexico where I lived till we moved to Thailand.
It was hard adjusting to life in Asia at first but slowly I was blown away by the richness of the culture and the people. I was not able to continue my interior design projects as it entailed a fluency in Thai that I did not have. So I focused on my other passion: photography. I studied (again!) then collaborated with various lifestyle magazines to cover feature stories that would bring me closer to Thai people and their stories. This led to the launch of my independent project: two calendars with my photographs taken throughout Asia. They were sold in major stores in Thailand and the profit went to charity. I am pleased to say it turned out to be very successful.
Once I moved with my family to Singapore I got close to the Friends of the Museum community and joined the docent training course at the Singapore Art Museum. I became the docent coordinator overseeing all the different tours and audiences at the museum and that led me to start my master’s degree in Asian Art Histories at LASALLE. I was in the first batch of this programme and truly enjoyed it, and focused all my studies on my first love—Thai art and culture.
The rest is history. After finishing my dissertation I developed my first curatorial project CUT THRU with 9 Thai artists at ICAS LASALLE. Since then I have developed and curated many shows always focusing on nurturing the younger generation, at first exclusively of artists from Thailand but lately from the wider Southeast Asian region.
I am very fortunate to have met amazing people during my professional journey, the artists of course and directors of institutions and galleries that have believed in my projects and my commitment to the art.
What kind of artists or practices are you drawn to? Was this something you kept in mind or tried to move away from in this show?
I enjoy researching the younger generations of Thai artists. Knowing them made me realize the hidden treasures in Thailand and Southeast Asia. Art for many of these artists is a true passion, unrelated to market forces, and that is amazing and valuable.
Just like everybody else I am drawn to certain works. They could be installations, video work, photography, painting, any medium really, but I guess what attracts me first is the content and value that lies beneath the surface, and execution, too, of course. I believe a work of art needs to have aesthetic traits. They need to have the power to draw us into itself. Once that engagement is achieved, only then is the value of the work, the content and its meaning unveiled.
For instance, in ANTHROPOS NEW YORK the curatorial framework defined by “the human condition” emphasizes three primary elements specific to Thailand and Singapore: “spirituality” or moral choice, which is profoundly embedded in the artists’ personal and artistic growth; “political conditioning” or the relevance of cultural hegemony in Thailand and Singapore on the development of the individual; and “detachment” or the process engaged by the artist of separating from conventional cultural and social ties. From photography, oil painting and sculpture to video and mixed-media installation, each artist adds his or her perspective and introspection, often leveraging personal experiences.
Did Sundaram Tagore play a role with the selection of artists, and how did this collaboration come about?
Our first collaboration in Singapore came about during a meeting in which I presented to Mr Tagore the project—ANTHROPOS Singapore—that I was at that point still developing. Mr Tagore is extremely open and embraces new facets of the arts on beaten and unbeaten tracks. He was very open to the idea of a Thai-Singapore exhibition, the first for him.
For this show in New York we deliberated the selection of artists and works to include and I learnt a lot from his advice. Overall I must say he gave me carte blanche, which is amazing!
I brought him to Bangkok to introduce him to the various artists and their studios. I believe that was an inspiring trip for him as he saw first hand the unquestionable passion driving many of the artists, heard the many stories they told, and experienced the richness of Thai culture beyond the stereotype of the Land of Smiles.
With this show, what do you hope to convey to audiences about Singaporean artists and Thai artists? Are there any similarities or dissimilarities?
The show does not seek to highlight differences, nor similarities; however, the unique cultural and political legacies of these two countries are reflected by different means of expression. For example, the Buddhist-centered Thai culture permeates the works and practice of many Thai artists. Life and death, and the “short journey in between,” are often presented by Thai artists as an experiential journey, which in turn may be reflected in their social and political climate. Singaporean artists, on the other hand, seem to be less concerned with the spiritual and mystical dimension of life, rather focusing on the global dimension of the human being. Side by side, both art scenes achieve a strong and encompassing balance between the religious and the universal.
Lastly, do you have any new projects on the horizon?
Yes, of course! I always have the next project lined up.
I am very pleased for the chance to curate the Mekong Platform at the MIA art fair premiering in Singapore in October. This a video and photography art fair with a long success story in Italy. I am pleased the director Lorenza Castellyi embraced the idea of the Mekong Platform in which 7 artists from the Mekong region will show their new works. This is the first time I will curate a platform in an art fair and so far it has been a fantastic experience. The next day, literally, there will be another curatorial project that I have done in collaboration with One East Asia Gallery opening in London. This is an exhibition of Southeast Asian art with specific focus on the diaspora and the relevance of the moving and melding of bodies in foreign countries. There will be artists from Singapore, Cambodia and Thailand. I am very excited about this project, the first for me in London where I am currently based.
For more info on the show, click here: http://www.sundaramtagore.com/exhibitions/2014-09-04_anthropos/
Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani has a master’s degree in Asian Art Histories and was a lecturer in the Fine Arts Programme at LASALLE-Goldsmith College of the Arts. She writes for several academic journals, art magazines and symposium publications, and works extensively as an independent curator for commercial and institutional places in Singapore, Bangkok and New York, improving the visibility of young and emerging artists from Southeast Asia. Her academic and curatorial focus, and continuous research, revolves mostly around contemporary art in Thailand.
Interviewed by Ning Chong