A Buried Interview

April 20th, 2013 § 0 comments

Artists Space Books - Talks

Sitting down in the slightly damp, roomy space on 55 Walker Street with the soft-spoken, mild mannered, but extremely articulate curator of Artists Space and the new Books & Talks venue, we discussed the goals of the new program, and how it fits into the ongoing relationship between art and verbiage. 

Tell me a bit about yourself…

Richard Birkett- I am the curator of Artists Space and I’ve been in New York for a couple of years now. I moved from London a few years ago, and have a background as an artist. I had a studio practice in London for a while, but I gravitated more and more toward curating.

When did this space, the new Books & Talks venue, open?

RB-Well, we eased ourselves into it. We opened in March 2012 and began with a program of events that were related to the Whitney Biennial. Books & Talks is one of these spaces that, as we learn how it functions, we are gradually growing and changing.

Looking through past events on the website, trying to get a sense of the discourse you’re having here, there seems to be quite a variety.

RB-Yes it’s been quite a busy few months, and we’ve done a lot of programming here already. We are definitely operating as an outside organization with a perspective on the particular interests being developed by certain artists and their projects. The thrust of this space is as a platform for us to pursue certain elements of discourse already in our programming, but it’s also not intended to have a clear gender. We can do a one-off book launch, but we also want to do long term research projects.

I’ve read recently that many alternative art spaces have struggled to remain relevant in the changing landscape of contemporary art.

RB-Artists Space is unique in that, as we often say, the mission is the name; a space for artists. What that means these days is not as clear-cut as perhaps it was in the 1970s as the notion of ‘the alternative’ has completely shifted. We’re not, however, an organization that’s driven by the number of people through the door: we’re an organization that’s driven by a wider sense of what our impact is. The kind of programming we do is about creating a situation where you can have a sustained conversation with a whole group of artists. This space is important in terms of what we can provide to new artist communities.

How do you choose who you invite to present at Books & Talks?

RB-To be honest it’s driven by feeling like there’s a need out there. Thinking about this kind of programming it’s very clear that you’re talking about a whole new level of ‘cultural practice,’ one that isn’t based around exhibiting objects in a gallery. There is a whole range of interesting people and interesting ways of presenting and developing ideas that don’t have enough support.

Can you talk about who the audience for this space is?

I think the audience varies quite dramatically, but we do tend to have a reoccurring audience that is an engaged, critical art audience. It’s a space where people don’t just sit and listen to someone else talk, but there’s a kind of conversation that happens as well.

Do you think the importance of this kind of programming has increased in recent years? Is this new space a reflection of a greater interest?

RB-In the 1970s, when Artists Space opened, there was a huge amount of programming going on that was built around notions of critique. I do think it’s more a part of the industry now than it was then, but on a base level it’s following a kind of instinct. Art production is engaged with a plethora of ideas, including ways of looking at the world and ways of challenging the dominant mode of looking at the world, and that always happens through conversations.

 I read a quote about Artists Space that said it was known for promoting “experimental artists as well as experimental ideas.”

RB-Yes, again it’s about trying to locate and engage with people who wouldn’t normally be fixed in the art world. I think Jerry Saltz referred to this in relation to Documenta this year using the word “post-art.” It’s the idea that people from other disciplinary backgrounds would find a home in the art world because of the nature of the work. In the same way that we would invite a sociologist, anthropologist, or someone with a finance background to speak here.

That’s very true, and something that was always a struggle for me in art school. Interdisciplinary can be seen as a bad word. Can you talk about the Books & Talks bookstore/publications?

RB-We wanted to create a very eclectic library/bookstore, and we ended up inviting one hundred people to pick books that had real pertinence and importance to their conception of what cultural production is. It’s quite a diverse group of people so it’s not just artists, and in a way it’s almost like an affinity network. The way in which we choose people is through an interest in their artwork and their research. It’s not about sales when it comes to the bookstore; it’s about providing a resource that is lacking and needed.

Do you plan to add anything to this space?   

RB-There are definitely going to be changes in its character as we learn how it functions, and hopefully it will become thoroughly more homely. In the long run the basement we have downstairs will hopefully become operational basically for small projects that again will be focused on what we think of as an ‘arena of correspondence,’ whether it be artists notes, letters, etc. That’s the long-term plan, but this space is intended to be a slow process of finding out what works best here and how it might evolve based on what’s needed and what’s most appropriate.

This venue seems to be a good example of the kind of texts and conversations that are necessarily a part of art making.

RB-You’re always going to turn to an awareness of certain texts that operate behind an artwork, or a critique that someone’s written about an artwork that’s added another layer of meaning to the work. My understanding of where things sit now in terms of contemporary art is that every point of art production is exactly that, a node amongst a bigger, relational network.

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