Whitehot Magazine

October 2010, Interview with Francesca Gavin: Syncopation

Samuel Levack and Jen Lewandowski, In Babylon, End of Love, 2010
Framed c-type prints
Courtesy of the artists and Grimmuseum

Interview with Francesca Gavin, Curator

Fichte Strasse 2 10967
21 through 31 October, 2010 

Artists represented: Oliver Laric, Paolo Chiasera, Ajit Chuhan, Mark Titchner, Jayson Scott Musson, Jeremy Shaw, Lewandowski and Levack, Matt Stokes, Christian Marclay

Francesca Gavin leads the next chapter in Grimmuseum's ambitious, poly-curated project, D12. Featuring not only multiple curators but strategically split personalities, D12 takes its inspiration from the Detroit hip-hop collective of the same name (Eminem, Bizzare, Proof a.o), who employed alter-egos to turn their six members into a full Dirty Dozen. Gavin brings us Syncopation. Well-established as an art critic, editor and curator, Grimmuseum's endevour presented her with an opportunity to revisit the rich, musical immersion of her youth - one created by a family history steeped in sound, and her own stunning voice. Intermingling her personal experiences and perspectives with those of a talented, experimental group of contemporary artists she explores politics, spirituality and the ever-evolving relationship between music and art.


Kyra Kordoski: Wikipedia describes: "syncopation includes a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected in that they deviate from the strict succession of regularly spaced strong and weak beats in a meter (pulse)." Does this agree with the overall nature of the show? What are the unexpected elements, and what are they deviating from?

Francesca Gavin: I dont really consider syncopation as deviation in that sense. For me I was looking at the term as a description of the musical process of playing two simultaneously running rhytmns - for example in Claude Debussy's piano music or something by George Gershwin - when the right hand is playing a different time and melody to the left but together that mismatch creates something much more satisfying or interesting to listen to. Its something I've always been drawn to in music. I felt that it was a good analogy for a group show - where artist each create work that stands strongly on their own but creates different tempos and contrasts when placed together within a space.

Kordoski: Rhythm is by definition time-based and many of your selected artists have recently done work around time: Paolo Chiasera's explorations of Heidegger's Being and Time (Condensed Heidergger's Hut, 2009), Ajit Chaua'sn work with the ephemeral (ReRecord, 2009), Lewandowski and Levack's One Minute Disco (2009). How does time feature in Syncopation and in your sense of the relationship between art and music?

Gavin: Cory Arcangel’s collaboration with Frankie Martin is an interesting take on that – a video of a cat at a miniature rave, sitting there in the flashing lights, surrounded by techno music looking bored before it just wanders away. I love that sense of waiting and anticipation and the anticlimactic result. Levack and Lewandowski’s project End of Love also plays on that – images of people dancing at different speeds, caught in motion, almost levitating in some cases. I’m interested in how artists try to capture or depict the musical experience – which is something essentially transitory. I interviewed Stephen O Malley from Sunno)) once and he highlighted how recorded music is dead music – a ghost of a performance, the sound of something past and dead. A lot of the visual works in this show play with that paradox – depicting something that refuses to be still.


Oliver Laric, Aircondition, 2010
HD projection
Courtesy of the artists and Grimmuseum

Kordoski: In your curatorial statement you describe an interest in the "relationship between soul, jazz, hip hop and black music culture with art". From your perspective, what are some of the unique qualities of this relationship?

Gavin: Most art and music exhibitions focus on noise or some kind of avant garde performance – that whole Christian Marclay, Sonic Youth thing. Its not really what I listen to or what sparks something inside of me. I grew up listening to Kool and the Gang, Black Sheep and Cole Porter not experimental noise. I’m much more interesting in the political or social aspects of music – I love 1930s depression music. It was incredibly left wing and political. Why shouldn’t music be the conduit for change? It doesn’t have to be in a cheesy Sting, Save the World way. It doesn’t have to be commodified.

Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit, Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come, Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City, KRS1’s Sound of The Police - These are pieces of music that have much more impact on how we look at the world around us and I think that’s incredibly powerful. In Syncopation, Philadelphia based artist Jayson Musson’s brilliant video How to Hip Hop and text work touches on that aspect the most directly – exploring the clichés around hip hop and identity. I’m interested in how music is filled with social cues.

Kordoski: Mark Tichner's 2009 performance piece Feel Better Now! (Apathy and the New Sincerity) gently mocks our new-age version of spirituality while at the same time addressing a fundamental spiritual need. Art and music both have strong roots in religion. Underneath the irony, coolness and self-referentialism they tend to exhibit today, do you think they still function as a conduit for connecting to something higher, bigger or deeper than our perfunctory day-to-day? Is there an underlying sincerity we can trust?
Gavin: On a personal level – and this exhibition is unusually personal as its about my alter ego, my second self – I’m really interested in the spiritual side of music. In the sense that its roots come out of expressing something kind of connection to something larger. Call that God or energy or whatever. I grew up in Woodstock upstate New York when I was little – a little of the hippy is still in me somewhere.

That spriritual urge in music is perhaps just the need to connect and communicate to each other as social beings. Rave or dance culture – which Jeremy Shaw and Matt Stokes touch on in their works – I think has a lot of connection to that primal, tribal urge.

Jayson Scott Musson, How to Hip Hop, 2010

Courtesy of the artist and Grimmuseum

Kordoski: Berlin is susceptible to accusations of using art as an 'excuse' to party. How do you feel about art as a communal event? Does intense socialising or dancing make art and music less meaningful or more meaningful?

Gavin: I love the crossover between something social and art. I think Berlin is not just a party town – its filled with a lot of incredibly smart cultured people who are talking about the future of art, technology, social meaning while they are propping up the bar. What’s different to that and every art movement over the past 200 years from the Romantic poets to Dada to punk? I don’t think that social aspect validates the artwork but I don’t think it should have an impact on its worth. I think the problems come in when the media in particular becomes fascinated with only the social side of the art and stops looking at the work itself – take the YBAs or the Lower East Side artists that emerged this decade. Their social life was a more dominant focus than what they made and that’s when you’ve got issues. The artist as rock star thing is just as irrelevant as the newspaper obsession with the price of art and money.

Kordoski: The relationship of the body to music and art production is fascinating... You state you virtually stopped singing after your voice dropped an octave. How did this intense physical shift effect your perspective on music, writing and/or art?

Gavin: Hmmm well stopping singing was again a very personal thing. I physically couldn’t do it anymore. I went from singing every day to having a larynoscopy which showed that the muscles were not working. I lost an octave – it’s a lot. I lost what had become my only form of emotional physical outlet. Part of the reason this happened was psychological – I was so unhappy working in my first brainless job at a book publisher that I internalized my dissatisfaction. I self imploded. I don’t think it really had an influence on my perspective on other cultural forms – may be a bit more sympathy to writers block or an artist’s self criticism.

I’ve never seen writing as the same kind of urge. I love what I do but I don’t feel that its as creative or as revealing as performance. As a writer and curator I’m much more interested in other people’s expression rather than my opinion on it. I’m more of an enthusiast than a critic.

Kordoski: The broad conceptual premise of the exhibition series is D12, the Detroit hip hop collective that in its key stages consisted of 6 members with alter egos. The musical basis seems naturally very well aligned with your interests, but how has the notion of curating as your alter ego changed and defined your approach here? What would you have done differently if you were curating as 'yourself'?

Gavin: Yes the musical connection for D12 was a good fit! It was part of why I wanted to do the show when I was asked by artist-curator Despina Stokou.

My alter ego was never a different persona – it was me but a different focus of myself. It was what I would have curated if my life had a different emphasis than art.

What would I have curated as my self? All my books are curation projects in that sense. Hell Bound: New Gothic Art for example was really an exhibition in two dimensional form. The process is really similar. My next book out in April on 100 new artists is a survey group show. Every month I curate pages in Dazed in a sense.

I’m also working on a museum show for MU in Eindhoven opening in April about what I am defining as a new wave of psychadelic art – looking in particular at a lot of video work disseminated online as well as some pretty out there installations. So the ‘real’ self is already working on ‘real’ shows!


Mark Titchner, Sing a B.S. song, 2009
One part of poster diptych
Courtesy of the artist and Grimmuseum

Ajit Chauhan, Untitled (Puzzle Piece I), 2010
12 x 12 inches, Altered Album Cover

Courtesy of the artist and Grimmuseum

Kyra Kordoski - Berlin

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