Content and Context
In Conversation with Jagna Ciuchta
Anna Tomczak: In 2014, as part of a summer residency at the Parisian Glassbox, you created the project Spin-off, involving a series of brief exhibitions. How did you exactly orchestrate this event?
Jagna Ciuchta: Glassbox is an independent exhibition space that turns into an artist’s studio in the summer. Usually the work created during the summer residency, which takes place between July and September is displayed at the very end in the form of a final show. Instead of moving my studio to the Glassbox and working on an exhibition, I decided to utilise the space as content and context, and to use the time offered by the residency as a process in itself. I invited some artists, who were given a deadline and carte blanche to use this space to prepare a solo show. Some of these artists went a step further and invited other artists in turn. As a result, there were three solo exhibitions and two group exhibitions throughout the summer. We worked with a shoestring budget and a tight deadline. Each exhibition was open for seven to ten days, which included the time needed for the installation and deinstallation of the pieces on display.
AT: As an artist, what role did you play in the project? Because to me it seems like reaching out to artists or preparing an exhibition is actually the job of a curator…
JC: At every stage of the project, my actions were decisively those of an artist. I did dabble in curatorship and used the power it provided, and performed other duties such as being a technician, a photographer etc. It wasn’t my intention to curate the exhibitions. I simply asked some of the artists I love and respect to work with me. Besides, their themes and techniques are so diverse that I didn’t even attempt to seek any common ground, motif or coherence. I guess the only thing they all had in common was an instant reaction to my offer to organise an exhibition from scratch. I provided them with an opportunity to create simple, casual, light exhibitions, and the way they responded was incredibly strong and generous. Furthermore the project enabled a kind of exchange. I did the photographic documentation not only for the archives, but also for the material, which I would use for my final show at Glassbox. When necessary, I helped install exhibitions, organise openings, and made announcements. The artists themselves wrote the press releases. I took care of the rest, including the design of the graphic chart (described by France Valliccioni in a superb literary press release ).
AT: How did you use the photographs you took?
JC: I’ve been photographing exhibitions for some years. I recorded the Spin-Off project very conventionally, following formulaic genre rules and taking pictures of details or other angles. Originally I had no idea how I would use the photographs from Glassbox. I was uncertain of how my own exhibition would materialise until the very end of the last (Marlena Kudlicka’s) show. All of us – myself and other artists – had to be fast and furious!
AT: It seems like a performance…
JC: Sure, or a performance-like hybrid. This wasn’t the first time I collaborated with artists and invited them to work within the frame of my practice. Spin-off had simple foundations. A few months prior, I led another project that was much more complex and dynamic called Eat the Blue. It was an exhibition on process, which evolved in an organic fashion over a period of three months. It featured works by twenty-three artists who continuously brought in their pieces. The artists installed their works, and I consequently rearranged the scenography of the whole space as new work arrived. On the one hand, the scenography was very practical – pedestals for sculptures or screens for videos, etc; on the other hand, it had a very strong visual identity whose forms, colours and textures were derived from the exhibited artworks themselves. The space became fuller as the pieces accumulated. At one stage the space reached a density to which we are not accustomed in the art space (the process can be viewed on the project’s website ). It was a great experience. Eat the Blue was a lot of work but it also brought along discussions, pleasure and joy. I realized that such a context generates great creativity, new forms and attitudes. Before Eat the Blue, I had produced The Grey Room in the Antonio Ratti Foundation, the first project where I invited artists within my work…
AT: What does the notion of authorship mean to you then?
JC: It means a great deal to me. Both Spin-off and Eat the Blue are projects that border on appropriation and collaboration. Eat the Blue is in fact both a group and a solo show, yet neither one nor the other. Whereas Spin-off is a series of autonomous exhibitions; I regard the whole series as my own art project. One of the core elements of my work is my relationship with other artists – sharing experience and possibilities. Perhaps, my attitude is slightly subversive or contains an element of applied institutional critique, as it is expressed not theoretically but with action. It also pertains to the artist’s autonomy. For Spin-off, this short one-person residency, we had six shows taking place with nine artists. So we had six openings! And a large amount of my budget went on chips and drinks. Both Spin-off and Eat the Blue were art research labs we enjoyed immensely. These projects could not exist without combining the ingredients of intellect and pleasure. Needless to say, the element of appropriation appears in both projects; in both cases, the photographs of the exhibition became my property and my matter. In Spin-off, I used those photographs for my exhibition, the last stage of the cycle. The questions of authorship, intellectual property, territory, or the blurred boundaries of these notions are some of the main questions at the core of these projects.
AT: How exactly did you use these subjective and conventional photographs you took during Spin-off?
JC: The photographs record the exhibitions for me and other artists. My show incorporated images of fragments of invited artists works. But I also presented photographs from other series, such as those featuring empty exhibition scenography (Wiels, MAM, Artists Space), unfinished ceramics by Cécile Noguès placed in her studio, the artist Vanessa Safavi posing for a picture in front of the Sol Lewitt’s sculpture while we were at the Stormking Art Centre, etc. These photographs, which all varied by size, were put up on the walls like wallpaper, sometimes on top of each other. The walls, which provided a backdrop, were painted so that paint sometimes covered my pictures. Cécile compared these walls to huge pop-ups.
AT: Did you want to give photographs more depth this way?
JC: I’m not sure. However, the space at Glassbox was definitely somehow altered by the photographs featuring architectural viewpoints. Images and time merged together. I had been taking these pictures in different loctions for three years. Paint, which is usually underneath and serves as a backdrop, was negated by being poured onto the image and their chronology and actions. Everything was compressed and presented onto walls in the form of a thin layer of paint and paper. Yet the physical space of Glassbox remained empty. There are narratives that occur between these pictures, but I am not going to delve into details and interpretations…you need to see it yourself.
AT: I see you kept one of your works. Is it just a souvenir or a continuation of the project?
JC: The photograph was shot during a scenography rearrangement in Eat the Blue. You can see the pedestals and artworks covered with plastic wrap in the middle of a room. The walls were being painted black. Spin-off included a large-scale version of this picture pasted on the wall and painted with the same black paint, technique, and equipment as in the case of Eat the Blue. So what you see here it is the picture that was unglued from the walls of Glassbox. Remnants of glue from another picture, which were placed on top, are clearly discernible. There is some paint on the bottom. Consequently, the picture stands on its own – an artwork that records the process from Eat the Blue to Spin-off at the different levels of its materiality.
AT: Did Spin-off give rise to more works?
JC: Yes, I unglued three triptychs total – they still have marks of the glue, the paper is folding back. These works are not meant to be pasted on walls anymore. They are meant to be seen as they are now. Moreover, I took some pictures of fragments of the exhibition. These new images are autonomous and can be seen without having to be contextualized. They constitute an ensemble of archeological information about represented spaces, about this exhibition, about the whole process and themselves.
AT: What are your views on the exhibition as a medium?
JC: An exhibition is a holistic, codified and complex form that emerges at the junction of diverging elements – artworks and their display, roles, powers and interests (artists, curator, institution), in the frame of a given time and space. I’ve always enjoyed uprooting individual elements from their fixed positions and moving them somewhere else. The exhibition display is the stage for presentation that can potentially acquire an equal or superior meaning to the artworks on display. One exhibition’s documentation inspires the other, and thus the tools for exposition turn into the expositional pieces themselves, etc. The process blurs linear time. The exhibition becomes aware of itself.
AT: Your book entitled When you see me again it won’t be me (2014) illustrates the long-term project of exhibitions and their documentation that began in Toulouse in 2005. Where does it go from there?
JC: An installation view of my show from 2005 provided me with the basis for my 2010 exhibition When you see me again it won’t be me (Cajarc, France). I printed it in on the Dibond board and cut out the windows. Consequently, the image of my installation photographed from the outside of the gallery disappeared. The photograph hung slanted, like those family pictures you perch on your fireplace. I also made three lacquered pedestals on which the picture, sculpture and projector were mounted. I worked extremely hard on those pedestals. When I mounted the exhibition, it occurred to me that the pedestals themselves were enough to stage a show. I asked a photographer to take pictures twice – with and without the pieces on pedestals. Every picture got doubled. Therefore, we were capable of recording an actual, as well as a virtual exhibition. This is how I began working on the series When you see me again it won’t be me.
AT: You simply made the most of this exhibition…
JC: Indeed, the pedestals and their photographs were further deconstructed (literally and metaphorically) in a process of several subsequent exhibitions. Finally, I gave what was left from the pedestals to another artist named Laurent Le Deunff as material for a new sculpture. I just sent him the boards and a carte blanche. I saw the end result of the work that we co-signed when the exhibit was being mounted. That was not the end though. I have some leftovers of this sculpture in a box, and it is a sculpture in itself. I also painted on pictures featuring the first exhibitions of the series, etc. The series is limitless. Jakub de Barbaro designed the book; he did an excellent job by designing it as a story with an open ending.
AT: Was this how you began working on displays?
JC: Back then I attended the James Ensor exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay and realized that I was fascinated not only with his paintings, which I adore, but also with the whole scene. It was a genuine spectacle of lighting, coloured walls, the power of display – as if yet another exhibition was hiding underneath. This experience sparked my interest in empty exhibition scenography. The idea of photographing an exhibition without the pieces just came to my mind. For shooting Ensor it was too late (for arranging that) or too early (to take action). Therefore, I put the idea aside. A year later, I visited the Alina Szapocznikow exhibition at Wiels. Szapocznikow’s works were breathtaking in the strong exhibition design and spaces at Wiels. The exhibition was truly outstanding. My initial idea just came back to me. I started the series entitled Missing Alina. I photographed an empty display after the exhibit had already been dismounted. Then I photographed every room, including the archives room, and every floor. Afterwards I went to New York to shoot the empty display of the very exhibition in a totally different context and space (Szapocznikow from Wiels to MoMA or geopolitics of exhibitions!). It was the beginning of an exhibition series based on these photographs – such as Treize in Paris or Komplot in Brussels (near Wiels).
One of the first photographs I took for the Missing Alina project at Wiels was included in the Glassbox show. I pasted another picture over an empty pedestal featured on the photograph so that it was sort of levitating above. It was a reproduction of an old Russian postcard I came across while working on Spin-off. It was only entitled Art in India and depicted a voluptuous woman with four arms and abundant attributes. It actually turned out to be the Hindu goddess Saraswati.
 Artists invited to the project Spin-off: France Valliccioni, Cécile Noguès, Colombe Marcasiano, Nicolas Lafont, David Ancelin, Giuliana Zefferi, Sylvain Azam, Antonia Carrara, Marlena Kudlicka  France Valliccioni, Other Backgrounds, translated from French by Jill Gasparina and David Malek
http://www.jagnaciuchta.com/ Spin-off-exposition-sept-2014  Artists invited to the project Eat the Blue: Cécile Noguès, Julien Bouillon, Ingrid Luche, Colombe Marcasiano, Stéphane Bérard, David Evrard, Shanta Rao, Katharina Schmidt, Vincent Lefaix, Guillaume Durrieu, France Valliccioni, Julie Vayssière, Renaud Bézy, Babeth Rambault, Clémence Seilles, Paul Branca, Vanessa Safavi, Julie Favreau, Aleksandra Waliszewska, Emmanuelle Lainé, Samir Ramdani, Rada Boukova, David Horvitz.  http://eattheblue.com/#  Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone, 1955-1972; Wiels, Brussels, Sept 10, 2011 – Jan 08, 2012; MoMA, NY, Oct 7, 2012 – Jan 28, 2013.
interviewed by Anna Tomczak
translated by Karolina jasińska
edited by Maggie Kuzan
Jagna Ciuchta, born in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki, works and lives in Paris. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań (PL). In 2014 she started her PhD research faculty in Academy of Fine Arts in Paris (ENSBA) and École Normale Supérieure (ENS). In her research she questionate the rules of the exhibition which becomes both the content and context of her work. Through her works based on myse-en-abyme structure she proposes individual, group or between these two exhibitions. Her two recent projects Spin-Off (2014) and Eat the Blue (2013/14) were at the same time individual and the group shows in a process. Often she works in a rhythm of series like in When You See Me Agin It Won’t Be Me (2010-2012) or Missing Alina (2012-2014) which even overlap with her other works. In 2010 she participated in Dream Seminar program held by Fondazione Antonio Ratti (IT). In 2013 she took part in the Residency Unlimited in New York. She is a laureate of Prix CIC award for contemporary art (2012) and CNAP grant for creation (2013).