Corey Scott Mc Donald interviews curator Stefanie Hessler.

Stefanie Hessler shot by Christopher Hunt |
Stefanie Hessler shot by Christopher Hunt

Arco Madrid celebrated its 36-year last week and continued to remain one of Europe’s largest Contemporary Art Fairs attracting over 100,000 visitors to the Spanish capital. I sat down with Stefanie Hessler at the VIP opening reception to discuss ARCO, her professional curatorial experience & the future of the Art Fair.

First impression, Stefanie was as I expected, confident, composed & very ‘turned-on’. The healthy looking Sweden based German curator could pass for younger than her late 20’s but has a definite maturity about her. Not surprisingly from her wealth of experience in the Arts. She founded the progressive art space ‘Andquestionmark’ with Carsten Holler in Stockholm; curated the Momentium Biennale in Norway last year and is currently the curator of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21 Academy) in Vienna.

What work is a ‘must be seen’ @ ARCO this year?

The section I have curated is the ‘Opening’ with young galleries. We have invited 18 galleries to participate in this section this year with one from Argentina, Slyzmud gallery who are exhibiting two artists Alan Segal and Mercedes Azpilicueta. Both artists work with language; for the fair Alan has created an algorithm that works with text and language and also drawing to focus on the relationship between humans and bodies and machines and how visual languages are made into abstract languages. Mercedes works with performance and films she registers performances. Presented is a video that presents different shapes of fabric, which she associates with different performances so the piece acts like a script, formed of other works. In addition to Slyzmud the Argentine gallery my curated section included galleries & artists that I selected from Newcastle, Rio & Guadalajara amongst others.

Can you tell me a bit about the process with selecting artists to work with?

It is never the same, some of my projects had already participating artists and galleries others did not. The process is a lot of dialog between the artists and galleries establishing a relationship with the artist very often long-term and on-going. I do think this is the best way so that artists and galleries can work together very often supporting each other. So here at Arco what is interesting is that we really have a relationship between the Curator, Artist & Gallerist. For example, Priscila Fernandes who I first met in 2012 and again at the Sao Paulo Biennale last year and was very interested in her work; she introduced me to her gallery and now we are working together.

You have developed a global awareness program with the TBA21 Academy in Vienna; can you share what have been the most rewarding & challenging aspects of this massive undertaking & how this has helped you.

I am getting more and more interested in artistic & curatorial practices that make a difference. Today we cannot afford the luxury of not be engaged on so many levels social, politically, economically. I have always been interested in systems and system theories I went to a university where that is very important. What I like is to understand the system and how it works; it could be biological it could be ecological and then to apply this to other aspects of society. So, for example one aspect of society affects another; politics affects economy etc.

How can the Contemporary Art world help?

There are two ways: Art is a way to look & understand and to make positions of how we can conceive the world. Art can also help us imagine and experiment, it also provides a platform to experiment in different fields, you could bring in a scientist with an artist etc. & it’s not only about being multi- disciplinary it’s also about being undisciplined. Art can also help to create great enthusiasm;

I do not believe in doomsday scenarios it is always very important to help show people the positive side.

What is your preference, either working with great-developed relationships or constantly chartering new territory?

I am a very-very curious person and like to challenge myself and go beyond limitations so it would be new; actually here it is the first time I work with Juan Canela (co-curator, ARCO Madrid) we are very different and come from different backgrounds. Juan is very connected in Spain and Argentina whereas I have worked more in Scandinavia, Germany, Brazil & Chile. I love to have new conversations, learn new things, experience new experiences.

Is there a particular project or work of art that remains omnipresent in your head?

Philosophy for me is something like that; I really love Juan Downey the Chilean Artist. He was an architect by training so to me this relates back to Systems. Also all of my work with Carsten Holler parallels this way of thinking.

In London we had Pinta Art Fair, which failed to succeed, still operating quite successfully in New York – Do you see a challenge in promoting Latin contemporary work outside of the Latin community?

I wouldn’t even say that there is really a specific need to promote Latin American Art globally so many artists are doing extremely well with very very strong practices that are being recognized by institutions in North America, Europe, Latin America, etc. I do like to build bridges between different cultures, however in the end it is not important to me where someone comes from; it is important that the practice is very strong. I don’t believe in exhibitions such as ‘ “Contemporary Art from Brazil today” … for me that’s not interesting. You can’t pinpoint a country and try to represent a whole scene, for example the Pavilions in Venice is a model that is somewhat old for me, we are much more connected now-days.

What are your feelings & relationship with Social Media & it’s ever increasing presence & power in the Art-World?

For me I am a fan; I do not like the social “self-promotion” but do use the channels frequently for communication. I like to take pictures frequently when I travel and use it to stay in touch. There are not really many boundaries for me between my work, social and private life this is all intertwined.

How do you store ideas & stay organized?

I take a lot of photos of art & all of the exhibitions I see (Instagram) I have different folders in my computer, I mainly write down things in my computer although I love books and do schlep an enormous amount around with me. I love to write it helps me process thought.

How can curators help make Contemporary Art more accessible to the general public?

We have a big responsibility to do that; to not make shows that are populist but to make an education program that is already conceived while the exhibition is in the works. I like to involve artists as much as possible for example in the Nordic Biennale I had two artists help create the education program which created a different encounter and way of accessing information.

How far are you booked up until with projects & what is the next project?

I know where I am and what I am doing up until next year 2018; my next project is a show in Recife, Brazil opening on 22nd March about Speed Velocity and Drugs. After that; a show in Vienna about Oceanic thinking – ‘connectivity and movement ‘ a new way of thinking that is not land based.

ARCO Madrid

About Corey Scott Mc Donald

Corey Scott McDonald is a London based Art & Design consultant.