August 23, 2020
Ronald Kolb: What is your professional background?
Nadja Baldini:I studied art history and French literary studies and have been working as an independent curator and art educator for many years in Zurich.
RK: How would you define your curatorial practice individually?
NB: I'm less interested in “classic” curating than in testing and developing collective forms of work and different educational formats. My focus is on participatory art practices. I also refer to the concept of artistic intervention. It is about the relationship between art, politics, and society. The focus is on the interfaces and links between artistic interventions, social movements, and educational processes. This also applies to my own practice and projects. It is not the self-referential relation to the art field, but the connection between artistic interventions, educational processes, or social movements and activism that interest me.
RK: What was the most interesting/successful project/exhibition, and which was the most challenging?
NB: I can't say that in general. With projects, especially long-term ones, you go through different phases and situations that are extremely revealing, satisfying, and inspiring, and then there are setbacks, wrong decisions, or things that simply fail. Club La Fafa—a post-migrant, transdisciplinary, artistic mediation and research project—is certainly one of the more exciting projects I'm currently working on. The club was founded on the occasion of the Refaire Le Monde (2018) exhibition in the Museum Helmhaus in order to bring people with or without refugee experience and diverse cultural and social backgrounds together across generations and disciplines. Our aim is to use the knowledge and practices that come together in Club La Fafa in order to jointly shape democratic participation and social justice. On the other hand, projects always become very demanding when different institutional logics clash, and the point is that all those involved leave their secure place, and new positions have to be negotiated together.
At the same time, I am drawn into the same areas of conflict again and again because I believe that change can and should happen here.
RK: How do you finance your projects? Do you have funding? From whom? Can you make a financial profit for yourself? How did you find the projects and/or collaborations in which your exhibitions take place?
NB: The question of financing is always central. There are projects that are great, but you simply cannot find funding for them. And you can worry your head about why that is. Are the project partners missing or have you got the wrong ones, is the whole thing too big or too small, is it the uncomfortable topic, etc.? The reasons are innumerable. It is very pleasant to work when the project is already partly covere by a recognized cultural or educational institution. Fundraising is also easier to do on this basis, and you don't have to justify yourself permanently.
The fact that many independent artists and curators always see paying their own wages as their last priority is actually extremely problematic. Not only do we exploit ourselves, but we also keep the pressure on others to act in the same way. In doing so, we support a system that is primarily competition-oriented and deeply lacking in solidarity.
Perhaps sooner or later we should think about organizing ourselves as a union; this idea has preoccupied me all the more since last year I worked 20% on the management of Visarte Zurich, the professional association of visual artists.
RK: Do you have a quota in mind (of male/female, migratory backgrounds, other intersections)?
NB: The ongoing discussion about the low proportion of female artists in solo exhibitions at large art institutions in Zurich is concerning. Much does not seem to have changed. But is a quota the solution? This discussion has also been held a thousand times, and you know the arguments for and against. A quota is certainly not the solution, but it is a legitimate means of bringing about change. The discussion that concerns me especially is how diversity and inclusion—both demands that were also set as priorities in the current Kulturleitbild of the City of Zurich—can really fall on fertile ground in museums. Diversity needs to be addressed everywhere. It promises creativity and innovation. But in practice, there is still very little being done to make this diversity possible, especially when that means questioning positions and established habits. There is a lack of knowledge about how to actually deal with diverse needs. We first have to learn how specific work and learning situations can be reconciled with different realities in everyday life. Taking diversity seriously means work!
RK: What role do your projects (and your space) in the city of Zurich play locally (or internationally)? What is the role of art in your opinion and from your position? How are you connected in Zurich, with whom?
NB: I don't think that my projects will be widely noticed in Zurich or anywhere else. They're too much of a “niche product” for that. Nevertheless, I am convinced of what I do because I believe that niches are extremely important as fields of experimentation. In this context, I would like to come back to our Club La Fafa project. For two years, we have been collecting knowledge about the asylum system together with peers, dealing with questions and problems that shape the realities of everyday life of those who have an uncertain residence status and are looking for ways to communicate this knowledge to the outside world. If we assume that we live in a post-migrant society, then culture and educational institutions must also take this into account. But it seems nobody really knows how. Interested cultural institutions could get us on board as a project partner and benefit from our knowledge and experience. In return, we could intensify our project, expand it, and make it accessible to a wider public and leave the niche.
I have lived and worked in Zurich for a very long time. And the Zurich art scene is small. Everyone knows about each other around two or three corners. In recent years, I have dealt less with the Zurich art scene, or art scenes, as one should correctly say, than with the question of who does not belong. Which artists are neglected, not addressed in applications, or simply overlooked and why? This question was also the basis of the project that I realized together with the artists Vreni Spieser and Whamid Al-Ameri in 2018 for the Kunstszene Zürich: 2018—an exhibition format without a jury, where basically anyone can apply to participate. For two months we did research, met a lot of people, and tried to find out if there was such a thing as an “invisible” art scene. We documented our search on Instagram; shared insights from studio visits, showed works, exchanged stories, and discussed the reasons for inclusions and exclusions. It has been shown that the reasons for not participating in the Kunstszene Zürich are surprisingly heterogeneous. Some didn't know about it or missed the deadline. For many, however, language was an obstacle. Here, it would certainly have been helpful to publish the applications and announcements in several languages or at least in English. While this project could only be seen on Instagram (@from_here_and_everywhere), we continued our search for the “unknown” in the winter of 2019-2020 at Helmhaus Zurich. In the exhibition Auf der Suche nach Zürich, we showed positions and works that challenged the usual gaze and excerpted the diversity of art production in Zurich, yet in an exemplary manner.
Nadja Baldini is an art historian and independent curator and cultural mediator in Zurich. She currently works for various art institutions and is involved in different long-term mediation and publication projects in the educational context. She is a lecturer at the F + F School for Art and Design and works on the management board of Visarte Zurich, the professional association for visual artists.
Ronald Kolb is a researcher, designer, filmmaker and curator. He is Co-Head of the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, Zurich University of the Arts, and an Editor-at-Large of the web journal On-Curating.org and honorary vice-chairman of Künstlerhaus Stuttgart. He is a PhD candidate of PhD in Practice in Curating, a cooperation of ZHDK and University of Reading, supported by swiss universities.