Curationism – Time for Another Curator’s Q&A

So little to do, so much time to do it in – wait, strike that, reverse it…

I’ve been a bit nuts, what with Stitch Fetish San Francisco up and submissions open for Stitch Fetish 6, so this felt like a great time for another Curator round up. This month I chatted with three great and diverse curators: Dorian Katz, an artist and curator who runs the Center for Sex and Culture in SF; Daniel Rolnik, gallery owner, traveling curator, writer, and all around epic person; and our fearless leader himself, Jamie “Mr.XStitch” Chalmers!

Jamie “Mr.XStitch” Chalmers

Enough of me, let’s get to it!

When and why did you start curating?

Jamie Chalmers: I guess I started curating in 2009, when the website I set up to promote my cross stitch patterns began to evolve into a showcase of other people’s work. The site’s called Mr X Stitch, you may have heard of it.
At first I was just keen to find examples of cross stitch and needlework that had a fresh attitude, as it wasn’t so easy to find things in those days, and I don’t think I realised I was curating until about a year later, when I’d had sufficient time to reflect. I think my naïve approach to curation served me well as it freed me from philosophical constraints and people’s pre-existing mode of how curation should happen.

Daniel Rolnik: A painter asked me to curate a show for her Venice Beach studio and I said yes. Brilliant chaos ensued with broken sculptures, flash flood warnings, and a plexiglass time capsule that’s sitting inside the closet of a famous Hollywood director’s house.

What do you look for when you’re putting a show together (either or both the idea for a show and the works chosen)?

Jamie: I like a bit of contrast between pieces. I like to keep people on their toes and have pieces that sit together, but not necessarily in harmony, as it promotes further consideration of each element. One of the nicest curations I saw was in a museum in Antigua, Guatemala, where they’d taken historical Mayan pieces and matched them with modern art pieces that featured the same forms. The contrast between old and new, rugged and smooth, muted and vibrant; it made for a really stimulating experience.

Daniel: My process is akin to a mad scientist’s – I think of an idea, realize it, and then villagers come after me with pitchforks and flaming torches.

What’s your pet peeve dealing with submissions?

Dorian Katz: Huge files and people who think I owe them a show.

Dorian Katz

Jamie: Shipping. VAT on imports into the UK is a pain in the butt and I’ve even had to pay it on works of mine that are being returned to me. It can get a bit hectic in the lead up to a show when you’ve got a room full of pieces, and then while the show is on and you’ve a collection of boxes and bubble wrap to enjoy at home. The idea of having an assistant and a storage unit to manage this process is something I aspire to.

If you could give artists one piece of advice regarding the submissions process, what would it be?

Dorian: Read the whole call in advance and see that your art is a good fit for the call and ask questions early if you have any.

Jamie: Don’t take criticism personally. Not everyone is going to like what you like and think the way you think. But as long as they provide feedback that gives you an opportunity to learn and evolve, then it’s worth it. Eventually you become numb to the personal pain and then you enjoy feedback as it helps you see past your own horizons.
Of course haterz gonna hate, so be sure take it all with a pinch of salt.

Daniel: Don’t submit yourself to torture. Instead, create your own. If you have a place to sleep, you have a gallery. You’re only limited by the confines of your imagination and if you feel trapped, look up The Living Theater and The Blurring of Life and Art.

What’s your favorite part of putting up a show?

The moment when you take a step back from a part of the wall you’ve been hanging and you feel that it all fits. There can be a lot of niggling tweaks, where a piece doesn’t quite sit well with its neighbors and you have to move things by a couple of centimeters to give them space to breathe, but when you get it right and you can look at a wall and enjoy your eyes moving over the work and taking it in, that’s pretty rad.

What’s your least favorite part?

Jamie: Looking at a wall and realizing that you need to make some niggling tweaks.

Daniel: When the show comes down.

Daniel Rolnik

What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you while or because of curating?

Dorian: I expected curating to be about art. I learned it is just as much about the people – artists, guest curators, collaborators, interns, volunteers and other assorted riff raff I like to call community.
The very very best thing to happen is a friendship with Nick and Gary, a couple that have been together for over 20 years and live in the Los Angeles Area. Gary wrote me because he restored Polaroids from Fair Oaks Bathhouse, which was a collectively run gay bathhouse in San Francisco in the mid 1970’s. Gary’s friend of 30+ years, Frank Melleno, took the photos. It was a personal project and labor of love. My partner and I would never have met them if I weren’t working curating these shows. We adore them and couldn’t imagine life without them and their circle of friends we visit when we can.

Jamie: I really enjoy being able to bring together different needlework artists and presenting their work to people who have never seen it before. At the Spring Knitting & Stitching Show in the UK I usually have a space that brings together work from children, RSN Degree Students and contemporary artists, and it’s great to see people’s reactions as they see what an exciting craft it can be. While there’s a growing number of embroidery fans who appreciate the modern stuff, there are plenty of visitors to that show who’ve never seen Stewart Easton’s work with conductive thread, or Jess de Wahls’ Big Swinging Ovaries, so it’s always good to broaden their horizons.

Daniel: Making enough money to pay rent.

What’s your craziest curation story?

Jamie: I once spent a fun few days in Dublin at a show with this exuberant artist from LA who brought over some, shall we say, herbal sweets. That was a bit of an adventure and that’s all I’ll say. (author’s disclaimer: this artist from LA who may or may not be exuberant may or may not know what in the world he’s talking about).

Daniel: I was able to show a drawing by the transgendered environmental activist Marius Mason. It had to be done through an intermediary, since Marius was incarcerated at a maximum security prison for blowing up Monsanto labs and being labelled unfairly by the courts as an eco-terrorist. I felt like that was pretty crazy. I don’t know. I also hosted an art show in a cave that you had to hike out to as well as organized a massive human snake at UC Berkeley, during which someone attacked me.

Anything else you want to share?

Jamie: Thank you for having me.

Daniel: I write books:

So much and many thanks to Dorian, Jamie, and Daniel for being a part of this Curator’s Round Up! I hope you all enjoyed them as much as I do. I learn from this too, you know.

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