I recently sat down with Caspar Stracke and Gabriela Monroy, both artists, who, as they have for the last 5 years, curated this year’s video_dumbo which opens this Friday, September 25. Here's the schedule . Thanks Gabriela, Caspar for getting together and congratulations.
ML: Gabriela, Caspar what's it like to curate as artists?
CS, GM: I think many artists just slide into this profession, and vice versa, curators become artists. Since the early 90's curatorial work is officially acknowledged as an art discipline on its own (i.e. Jan Hoet, Documenta IV). Quiet a fascinating development. The ever absorbing Fine Art machine started eating itself, declaring even part of its own logistical production process an "artistic value".
As artists who have worked a lot with found footage, programming is like editing — each program becomes a giant found footage film with its own dramatical arc.
ML: There are a lot of things going on, screenings, installations, live performance. Can you tell us how everything gets broken down and why?
CS, GM: You used the right expression. Curating short, time-based work is as much as breaking as it is the attempt to glue different artistic pieces into a bigger one.
So even if we stay quite open with genres and subgenres, we do separate into three major categories. Certain pieces were meant to be shown in a particular way and we respect that. The installation work usually loops and presents a totally different time concept as opposed to pieces made specifically for screening context. Ironically in our case they are not separated spatially.
This year, we return into a 4000+ sq. ft exhibition space where seven video installations are being shown and at the same time we have a cinema, within this space — When the programs are running, the installations stay in (only sound is turned down) Two years ago we tried it for the first time and were unsure because we thought that the light of the other installations would distract the main screen, but it didn't. In this giant gallery we had the luxury to leave a lot of breathing space around the pieces.
ML: What is the average length of the videos and are there certain themes running through the different programs?
CS, GM: I'd say the average length is around 7-9 min. Although, this year, we are showing works that are 8 seconds long and others that last 30 minutes.
We build themes out of all the works we requested or that were sent to us. This is the most exciting moment, when we build the screening programs. The themes range from concrete subjects like war and its distorted media representation to something as abstract as "knowledge" , "solitude" or animal voyeurism paired with robo-technology.
In a program we called Horror Vacui we combined gentrification and community loss. We juxtaposed the Shanghai demolition (by Zhengcheng Liu) of an entire residential neighborhood with the gentrification of Brooklyn's Williamsburg (by Diane Nerwen).
We are happy to be able to curate without any given restrictions. Our mission remains to be a platform for emerging video art from the NYC area, but we deliberately mixed that with international work.
ML: Can you tell us about some of the work you’re most excited about?
CS,GM: We favor conceptual work that pairs thoughtful and elegantly worked out ideas with pleasant aesthetics. Colorful supersmart and sexy. This combination remains relatively rare.
ML: How would contextualize your program in relation to others worldwide. Perhaps you can tell our audience about some other festivals and how you see video_dumbo in this larger context?
CS, GM: This is a question that is difficult to answer. There are too many film, video and media art festivals under this sun, some have just one common denominator (length, format, specialized subjects). In our case we define ourselves more as a festival/exhibition for contemporary video art not a short film / Indie film fest.
ML: If you look 3 or 5 years back, where are the interests of artists today and where were they. What surprises you most about the current moment?
CS, GM: Towards the end of the Bush era, 4 years into the Iraq war, we experienced that there were two camps: one that produced highly political work, very strong reactions on the war, the other completely avoided any confrontation and retracted in dreamland.
ML: How do you think video is perceived and practiced today compared to 20 years ago.
CS, GM: The most important aspect is that it totally freed up. In both a technical and aesthetic way. Video production 20 years ago involved a lot of heavy boxes.
Think of the typical video editing studio in the Eighties: Heavy CRT monitors, a stack of clunky 3/4 inch decks and a brutal Grass Valley switcher. Sounds very similar to the changing modalities of music production.
As for perception, it is true, everything (still) accelerates in media, and at the same there is a lot of stagnation. The omnipresent YouTube radar signalizes you: I’ve been there, done that, before a good idea can even progress. On the other hand we do sense a lot of energy out there.
Content and Framework have changed at the same time. The generation of people who started working with digital imagery today embed this medium into a much broader field of art practice. The notion of film or video festival feels a but outdated (“I know, grandpa…”)
ML: Would you be interested in presenting the work as an online festival?
CS, GM: Yes, but we have not really found a good strategy yet for keeping integrity of a carefully curated program.
ML: Tell us about some of your recent work.
CS, GM: What immediately comes to my mind is a project which is still on hold and oddly the fare opposite of an online viewing concept we just discussed: Gabriela and myself started to work on a project called CINEMACITY, designed exclusively for cinema spaces, a film made out a variety of different cinematic components (on and off screen) also including social and spatial concerns, i.e. megaplex cinema culture blending into mall culture, and the dramatic shift /loss of the local one screen cinema social meeting spot.
ML: Do you think curating effects the work you produce?
CS, GM: Oh absolutely. It just did..again.