#ListeAsks Charlotte Laubard, Art Historian and Curator, Geneva

Charlotte Laubard, Credit: Galaxia Wang
Charlotte Laubard, Credit: Galaxia Wang

As you won’t be in Basel this June, what are you doing instead?
As the dean of the art department at HEAD ­– Genève, I continue to deal with the consequences of the “pedagogical crash” we had to face with the sanitary crisis. We’ve spent the last months trying to envision how to teach art at a distance with no proper preparation. It has been really challenging and I am still impressed by teachers’ creativity. They have invented new protocols of experimentation with the limited facilities of the students’ domestic surroundings from scratch. Now the students are allowed to go back to their studios at the school, but we had to postpone all assessments. As a matter of fact, we made the decision to give them extra time in order to allow them to concentrate more on their work. And even though we were able to help a lot of them with small emergency grants, we are very worried that they might not be able to return to their part-time jobs, which are crucial to sustaining their studies.

What is something that you never thought would happen but that has now happened as a result of the lockdown?
Definitely this massive online swing! On the one hand, it has allowed us to maintain relationships and not be petrified by isolation and anxiety. On the other hand, it completely changed the parameters of so many aspects of our lives in such a brutal way—as if it's propelled us into another era. We will need time to digest and reflect on this shared experience on a global scale as it raises so many issues.

In what ways has the current state of uncertainty and unpredictability changed your attitude or approach towards curating?
While we closed art centers, theatres, cinemas, concert halls and clubs, I couldn't stop thinking about how much our cultural practices are about situated experiences. To ensure their relevance in this future world dominated by technology, our cultural institutions should really focus on how embodiment, and the sensorial should be a political project in a disincarnated society. And of course it’s really time for us to think further about how we want to live and create within the spatiotemporal specificity of the digital realm.

What kinds of actions do you think are most needed and/or most effective in supporting young artists during the current situation?
This is one of the trickiest parts of this crisis. It’s already hard for them to make a living selling their art, but with the disappearance of many part-time jobs, their situation might become hopeless in the upcoming months. The artworld had been going through a strong debate on artists’ fees lately, and now it is time for the institutions and their public and private supporters to face their responsibilities: they need to adopt and promote a concrete fee policy. The art system can’t continue to pretend that artists work for free for the institutions and spend weeks or months on their exhibitions/events with the vague promise that they will maybe sell their work someday!

Also, so many artistic practices propose experiences that operate beyond the sellable object. That’s a fact we can’t disguise anymore and the whole artworld should embrace this growing mutation by reforming itself. Of course I know the criticisms coming from certain institutions, which cry out that they would be impoverished and that they wouldn’t be able to carry out many projects. But with this health crisis, and more broadly with the climate crisis that is taking hold, it is time to rethink our production system: fewer events with much better paid artists and more co-productions to share costs and limit the waste of resources. It's a completely different way of working, but frankly, do we really have a choice?

How can younger and less established galleries that are representing emerging and yet-to-be-discovered artists approach you as a curator in a time of online-only exhibitions, fairs, etc.?
From my side, it was the other way around. Being on the board of the Fonds Cantonal d’Art Contemporain of Geneva, I contacted galleries as well as younger artists with no commercial representation to see if we could help them in buying works for the collection of the Canton.

Have you discovered any new artist during the lockdown?
I spent my spare time—which was limited since I had my three children at home locked up with me—trying to research artists from the 1960s–80s for a group exhibition that I will hopefully still curate in late 2021 at the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain of Saint-Etienne in France. I was really surprised to see how little in-depth and high-quality art historical analyses you can find on artists from this period on the internet, even nowadays. We really need to broaden the access to historical content and work against the “online amnesia” which has consequences on how digital natives are constructing their own knowledge of the past. On the other side, it’s really interesting to note how the internet is working against the other traditional amnesia regarding women artists! I spent a lot of time, for example, browsing through the very well done project Archives of Women Artists Research and Exhibitions, which provide in-depth articles on many historical and contemporary artists, especially from the Global South.

Can you tell us about one of the very first artists you discovered at Liste and how they’ve become important to or played a role in your curatorial practice?
I’ve discovered many artists at Liste. Very often the works are small—you have to take time and look in detail! I still remember how a video presented on a tiny flat screen in a narrow hallway mesmerized me. It was Korakrit Arunanondchai’s first film. Its weird syncretic mixture of music videos, teen movies and new-age demos was blowing everything around.

"Uma Space Adventure", a video produced during the confinement by Matthieu La-Brossard, Bachelor student. Copyright HEAD – Genève
"Uma Space Adventure", a video produced during the confinement by Matthieu La-Brossard, Bachelor student. Copyright HEAD – Genève