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ALICE ZUCCA on the Future of Content

Alice Zucca at Futurism&Co gallery surrounded by the works of futurist painter Giacomo Balla, Piazza di Spagna, Rome, 2020 Photo: Francesca Carpi

Curatorial work is a chimera of judging and mediating that was historically rooted in the physical realm. No longer. With art confidentially migrating into cyberspace (with the help from the pandemic, no less), the role of curators is now overwhelmed with nuances.

We spoke to Art Historian, Curator and Journalist Alice Zucca, got a glimpse into her lifestyle and discovered what comes after content.

What does the lifestyle of a curator look like? In what way does the profession contribute or sabotage a “healthy” lifestyle? What kind of habits do you have and what are challenges that you have to deal with on a daily basis?

It is very difficult nowadays to give a definition of lifestyle in reference to a given type of specific profession, let alone a developing one such as that of the curator. We are in a historical period where everything seems to blend on the same line, gestures change, habits change and certainly my lifestyle, especially in relation to the curatorial aspect of my work in the artistic field, has radically changed in covid times. I am a nomadic spirit, and my profession both in the curatorial and editorial fields fits perfectly with this aspect of my personality, which is why, when in unsuspected times it was still possible to travel, I have never experienced as a challenge the fact of having to be one day in Los Angeles and the next day on the other side of the world but I approached it all with great enthusiasm for my projects, my interviews with the artists and everything else. What I do is my passion and the years 2018/2019 were certainly crazy years that contributed to sabotage my “healthy” lifestyle (which I have never had before - if it’s not because of the jet lag, it is due to insomnia in my case), but which I certainly deeply regret now that the world as we knew it before the pandemic appears so distant and changed. I did not join the new frontier of online curating by choice, which is why my last curating project dates back to the summer of 2019, the first site specific installation by artist Jwan Yosef in Italy, a conceptual work around the concept of unity and belonging. Jwan has Syrian origins and in collaboration with the Vatican we made a moving project that involved young syrian refugees, boys and girls, in Rome, trying to shed a spotlight on the current situation in Syria and the exodus of the Syrians fleeing the war in 2019.

Young Syrian refugees from the Choir of Santa Maria in Campo Marzio of the Syriac Catholic community in Rome performing traditional songs during the opening of Jwan Yosef’s site specific installation Tensegrity curated by Alice Zucca, Santa Maria in Montesanto, Piazza del Popolo, Rome, 2019. Photo © Fiorenzo Niccoli

I was working on several projects that were held back by the pandemic including one in New York focused on a dialogue between contemporary works and futurist works from the collection of the Carpi family, in collaboration with their space Futurism & Co in Rome and I had a project exhibition with Fabio Viale. In recent months several more projects have been in development and I am working on them right now but they will be most likely exhibited in 2022. Between 2020/2021 I dealt almost exclusively with the magazine I founded “XIBT Magazine” of which I am Editor in Chief and with the production of texts for the artists and galleries I collaborate with all over the world as well as their projects. I want to take this opportunity also to talk about the upcoming opening of the first major retrospective in Belgium of the memymom artistic duo at Le Botanique in Brussels in May 2021, with my text in the catalogue. Thank goodness - even if we have not yet come out the crisis - institutions and galleries can attempt a recovery and probably now more than about health in relation to lifestyle, here we should talk about sanity in relation to the radical change of the present time. The world is experiencing the unprecedented impact of the current global health emergency due to COVID-19 which appears to be ongoing and which has also impacted the mental health of millions of people, not least the artists and the world of the arts in general that had to interface with this social, expressive and economic deadlock. We know that levels of anxiety, fear, isolation, social distancing and restraint, uncertainty and emotional distress, have spread across the population as the world struggles to keep the virus in check and to find solutions.

Literature and art, on the other hand, are worlds that unite but also teach us to be alone

with ourselves, enriching ourselves individually and improving the quality of our life and time spent, in this sense rather than sabotaging me, in the current situation, the world in which I am involved at work is saving me.

Alice Zucca, Jwan Yosef and his husband Ricky Martin during the opening of the site specific installation by J. Yosef curated by Alice Zucca, Santa Maria in Montesanto, Piazza del Popolo, Rome, 2019. © BestImage

How can culture and art help people to keep their mental health in check? Do you think museums and exhibitions can provide a form of mental wellness?

I have already partially talked about this addressing your previous question and I want to borrow the words of Louise Bourgeois to develop it further: “Art is not a therapy, it is an act of survival, a guarantee of mental health. The certainty that you will not harm yourself and that you won’t kill anyone”. Louise Bourgeois teaches us not to fear what we hear, to listen without fear of silence, to establish contact with the depth of ourselves. Being aware of ourselves and the environment in which we operate is the only possible way to stay in society. Art helps us in this and, by investigating these issues, it is able to activate a constructive reflection for this purpose. Maybe someone will tell you that with art you may not change the world but art is certainly able to provide in advance the means we need to have a more accurate view of the reality that surrounds us. The exhibition spaces, museums and galleries have managed to provide this form of “mental support” in this sense, allowing us to enjoy their works and they have done so even during the pandemic by being active online with workshops and new forms of projects dedicated to sharing visions and contents, trying to break down the necessary distance and push more on the reflective aspect, that goes beyond the quality of the artwork as an object, which, being no longer physically available on an experiential-perceptive level, has perhaps caused us to dwell even more on a content-conceptual level.

Alice Zucca in front of Katja Tukiainen’s work, 2019 Photo: Flavia Lucidi, Courtesy: Futurism&Co, Rome

How could you define your role as a curator? As a curator are you more of a judge or a mediator?

I am not a competitive person, I clarify this since this question is in a context of analysis of the “competitiveness” in relation to the role of curator. I don’t even like the definition of curator in relation to myself even if I use it when I want to make it clear that I am dealing with an exhibition project rather than what I do in the editorial field. I would be many things if we are talking about my “titles”, I am not noble unfortunately (- laughs -), I am an art historian but I simply like to call myself a writer. Since I joined the Association of the Press here in Italy I am focused much more on the aspect of writing and research and when I founded my magazine my goal was to convey the message of the artists I appreciate and support. This is my only intent even when I curate a project, I do not judge and I don’t compete.

I am perhaps a mediator in this sense therefore between the gallerist, artist and the public, but I always like to define this relationship as a collaboration. After all everyone has a fundamental role, I like to validate and consider all the ideas, no one has a universal vision a type of infused knowledge that must be defined as sacred and I am no different, even the public always has a fundamental role.

Detail from Jwan Yosef’s site specific installation Tensegrity, curated by Alice Zucca at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Piazza del Popolo, Rome 2019. Photo © Fiorenzo Niccoli

What are some trends in curation that appeared during COVID? How do you stand out as a curator in an online offline environment? What do you think is valuable content at the moment?

Wanting to start by analyzing the historical period in which we are, we can say that not only in the artistic field but in all fields we have experienced a turnaround that has gone - necessarily - more in the virtual field. But we can affirm that the conception of reality in the digital field, especially in the artistic field, was already a revolution underway before this crisis, experienced and increasingly implemented by institutions and galleries for the use of artistic content, let’s think of VR and the world of social media. This is a historic moment, which has seen a flourishing of virtual exhibition rooms, online presentations, a whole series of realities that already existed before but which due to the need to communicate in some way, in the impossibility of physical presence, we had to strengthen. One of the most important things, now, in returning to what is the so called “reality”, would undoubtedly be taking into account this strong digital experience, seeing it as a possible future but in parallel with what remains what’s “properly” called reality. Contact with reality is something that must always be maintained in my opinion. Art, in fruition, is an experience that must be lived, implemented. If you think about it, even before the pandemic, an exhibition on the other side of the world was accessible only and exclusively online, in the impossibility for any reason to physically go to the gallery or museum, this is important because the accessibility of artistic contents ( that our era has allowed in an unprecedented way) is an added value and one of fundamental utility. But this was a revolution already underway, as I said. The pandemic is simply the new testimony of a real predestined and continuous transformation or rather the evolution of the figure of the curator who by the very nature of the profession, especially when linked to the field of the contemporary, deals with the present time. It is an evolution that presupposes in the always precarious present (precarious since it is a time that always implies a near, unknown time - think of the hot topic of NFTs) a continuous updating, which must be faced yes, thanks to the knowledge acquired, but with a good dose of creativity and always looking to the future.

Detail from Jwan Yosef’s site specific installation Tensegrity, curated by Alice Zucca at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Piazza del Popolo, Rome 2019. Photo © Fiorenzo Niccoli

In the confirmation of traditional positions, in the artistic field it is impossible not to witness the flourishing of new figures and to witness the birth of the ever more urgent need to convey the message through not only renewed professions but with new tools. It is now impossible to ignore the new technologies that are now aknowledged as a tool for the use - and acquisition - of artistic content and for the enhancement of cultural heritage, the works of artists and the work of institutions and galleries. The possibilities of use offered by the web are endless, just think also of the importance that social media had in the ongoing lockdown. We are talking about tools that can reach an enormous number of people, for a sharing experience that knows no limits or boundaries, but must still be embedded in the field of virtual perception. The world changes continuously and so the means of expression and every man or any curator or artist must continually update and interface with a world that changes with his own means, as a man of his time, to understand past, present and future - think about new ways of relating to the ancient of the “modern archaeologist” for example. Thus with the change and evolution of the methods of sharing, protecting, acquiring and enhancing art - which at least ideally should always be a universal and common good - the historical period that sees us all involved in today, is a testimony with more and more urgency of the utmost importance of “networking”, of dialogue and continuous exchange on the level of fruition and understanding. But we must not forget that - and I borrow some words of Cauleen Smith from the ‘COVID MANIFESTO’, which have curbed my compulsive scrolling on instagram - “The internet is a tool, not a habitat. I don’t live here”.

Alice Zucca holding the magazine of which she’s Founder and Editor in Chief “XIBT Magazine”

What comes after content, speaking of the online content that is becoming more and more crowded and repetitive overtime?

It is a reflection that creates the content (when valid) and therefore it is to other reflections that the content must lead. Before and after the content there is always the thought.

Art is really art, for me, not when it requires a single answer but when it is able to activate in us the need to ask ourselves questions. Online and offline there is no difference in this sense, our daily life repeats itself day after day, certain fundamental challenges are repeated in everyone’s life, so even the real is made up of and is crowded with thoughts and consequent contents and different voices, whether they go through the air or through the Ethernet. Repetita Iuvant said the Latins (Repeated things help), perhaps what is repeated indicates that the questions to be asked are not resolved and analyzing the various phenomena more in depth will ultimately lead to greater knowledge and benefit.

It is not always something negative, it depends on the common sense of those who ask the questions.

This interview contributes to a new media format, where Creatives are in full control of their narratives. By exploring alternatives to narrative journalism, GAHSP starts unconventional conversations, emphasizing values and problems that shape our lives collectively.

Written and Edited by Julia Horvath and Gennady Oreshkin

Image Courtesy of Alice Zucca


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