July 2010, Interview with Kate Fowle of Independent Curators International

the backroom, Installation view, 2010
organized by ICI Executive Director Kate Fowle in conjunction with Greater New York at MoMA PS1

Kate Fowle: the backroom
P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center
Rotating Gallery
22-25 Jackson Ave Long Island City, NY 11101
June 19th through July 25, 2010

Independent curator Kate Fowle recently took the reins at Independent Curators International (ICI). ICI is a 35 year old New York City-based, non-profit organization with an impressive track record of traveling exhibitions. Under Fowle's guidance, ICI has expanded its networks and now runs a roster of public programs and professional training opportunities alongside new exhibition formats (like the recent FAX at The Drawing Center).

Fowle is currently the guest curator for the Rotating Gallery, part of MoMA PS1's Greater New York show, where her project responds to the inherent broadness of the survey format. Realizing that GNY introduces many new voices and practices to audiences for the first time, Fowle's project the backroom invites the artists exhibiting in GNY to present source materials that inform and support their thinking, extending the potential for getting to know the artists and their work. ICI's press release suggests, "more akin to a temporary archive and reading room than an exhibition, the backroom consists of participant’s influences, inspiration, and research." Walking into the Rotating Gallery, visitors find themselves in part-gallery, part-library, where they can browse source materials and personal items loaned by many of the artists represented by one work in the myriad halls and rooms of PS1.

I'm intimately familiar with this press release because - and this is the immediate disclaimer - when I'm not at school, I work part-time for ICI. Kate's been out of the office for a month masterminding the inaugural Curatorial Intensive, and then installing at PS1, so I'm somewhat in the dark regarding the origins of her show. Just as the backroom provides the backstory for the artists featured in Greater New York, this interview allows both myself and the reader to become familiar with the curatorial process behind the show. Read it, and then go to PS1 and decide for yourselves.

Michelle Jubin: I walked into the backroom at PS1 this afternoon, and immediately noticed an opened packet of Kashi cookies (with crumbs spilled out over the table) as part of Mariah Robertson's piece. On my second trip around the room, I noticed two of the cookies were MIA. At a moment where both artists and visitors are often being encouraged to "participate" with exhibition formats, can you talk a little about how you're hoping the audience will engage with the backroom? Do you have a stock of cookies to replace the empty Kashi boxes each day, or is it a case of "when they're gone, they're gone"?

Kate Fowle: Mariah has brought in a whole range of cookies that she enjoys in her studio - everyday there will be a new box left in the space - when they are gone they are gone for that day.... In terms of engagement - I want people to engage in the way that you did - by hanging out with various folders/files that take their interest and moving through the space instinctively according to what draws their interest. It’s about searching and making associations that lead to new ways of thinking, which in turn may lead to discovering a fresh perspective on an artists work

Jubin: What's the difference between this presentation - and specifically the space it's currently in at PS1 - and past iterations of the backroom? (the backroom is extension of a project initiated by Magali Arriola, Kate Fowle, and Renaud Proch over 6 months in 2005 in Los Angeles, that has since had incarnations in San Francisco, Paris, Mexico City, and Orange County. Over 60 artists, filmmakers, writers, and architects from around the world have participated in past versions. See www.the-backroom.org for more details)

Fowle: In talking with a few people, I’ve created it here so it’s like the experience of a studio visit, where you talk predominantly about 'work' but at the same time you have the opportunity to see what an artist has pinned to their walls, or what is on their bookshelf, and as part of the conversation, interests and parallel thoughts will arise. This is the first time the artists are more or less of the same generation, and all live in the same part of the world. Its also interesting to me that many of the artists chose to submit other artists artworks as an influence, which has not happened as much in the past.

Jubin: Lize Mogel's pie chart illustrations were left blank for artists in the audience to fill out, demonstrating how "input" devoted to art making relates to "output", as measured by time, success, money (or lack thereof). Do you find that the "input" required to direct an organization like ICI works for or against your creative outputs like your curatorial practice? Where do you find the time to do both (or all) of what you do?

Fowle: Running ICI takes as much creativity as curating a project in order to give it vibrancy as an organization - and there is always enough time if you love the idea of doing something. I got a great deal of support from Bridget Finn on this project which made it all possible.

Jubin: I liked David Benjamin Sherry's contribution (a vitrine displaying the artist's books, music and ephemera) and it made me realize what a unique opportunity the format of the backroom offers each artist to shape not just the public perception of his or her work, but a public persona (Sherry's display tended toward the high-brow - bar one postcard - including samples of work from Ginsberg, Cocteau and Kenneth Anger). Can you talk a little about the submission process? What was the timeline like for the genesis of the exhibition checklist, and did anyone submit something you couldn't include?

Fowle: I invited all the artists that were already selected for Greater New York - about 40 of them chose to participate. The whole project was created in 6 weeks, and basically the checklist was changing and mutating up to the day the exhibition opened. The artists were all asked the same thing - which was to contribute materials that gives the audience more access to their interests, research, and source influences. Then we also talked with all of them, and that’s when artists took their own direction with deciding how to respond.

Jubin: Finally, I couldn't figure out who the jumpsuits were by. They're awesome. Who did them, and what's the backstory?

Fowle: It’s Pinar Yolocan who took the photographs of the Turkish women in the jumpsuits - she wrote a really great explanation of the project in the backroom folder that’s left for perusal on one of the tables in the gallery space. It’s a project she worked on with female Turkish farmers from a village near Canakkale. She covered them in jumpsuits designed according to the colors and textures of Mother Goddess statues.

the backroom, Installation view, 2010
organized by ICI Executive Director Kate Fowle in conjunction with Greater New York at MoMA PS1

the backroom, Installation view, 2010
organized by ICI Executive Director Kate Fowle in conjunction with Greater New York at MoMA PS1

the backroom, Installation view, 2010
organized by ICI Executive Director Kate Fowle in conjunction with Greater New York at MoMA PS1

Michelle Jubin

Michelle Jubin is a doctoral student in Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center.  Hailing from Glasgow, UK, she worked as a contributor for BBC Radio Scotland and as an artist's assistant for the sculptor Andy Goldsworthy before first coming to New York to work at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.  She now works part-time at ICI and lives in Brooklyn.

view all articles from this author