From 1980 till 1990 Viktor Misiano was a curator of contemporary art at the Pushkin National Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. From 1992 to 1997 he was the director of the Center for Contemporary Art (CAC) in Moscow. He curated the Russian participation in the Istanbul Biennale (1992), the Venice Biennale (1995, 2003), the São Paulo Biennale (2002, 2004), and the Valencia Biennale (2001). He was on the curatorial team for the Manifesta I in Rotterdam in 1996. In 1993 he was founder of the Moscow Art Magazine (Moscow) and has been its editor in chief ever since; in 2003 he was a founder of the Manifesta Journal: Journal of Contemporary Curatorship (Amsterdam) and has been an editor there since 2011. In 2005 he curated the first Central Asia Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. From October 2010 he is a Chairman of the International Foundation Manifesta. He has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the Helsinki University for Art and Design. He lives in Moscow and Ceglie Messapica (Italy).
A Skype conversation with Viktor Misiano
Conversation description below
Part 1 of 3
Part 2 of 3
Part 3 of 3
In the first part of this conversation, which happened via Skype in October 2012, contemporary art curator Viktor Misiano talks about the value of working without hurry, of dedicating oneself to very well conceived and very responsibly realized projects. He is questioning the hyper-speedy way of working nowadays which, from his point of view, it’s turned to be very counterproductive.
He says that in the field of curatorship, artists are often simply receiving an invitation and nothing else. Curators are not curating exhibitions in the etymological sense of this term “cura”, Latin word meaning to be really responsible of, to have care of.
The concept of extending the temporality of the curatorial engagement on a project is very up-to-date. But Misiano was insisting on it even before. He refers, for example, to the “Visual Anthropology” workshop that he held in the 90s in collaboration with Russian philosopher Valeri Podoroga and a group of artists. This project was, in fact, 5 years long.
In the second part Misiano talks about the “Soul of the World”, an exhibition project conceived with Russian philosopher Valeri Podoroga. At the moment of this conversation, it is still a virtual project. Would that be realized or not, “Soul of the World” will represent a new step in Misiano’s more than 20 years curatorial career
In the 90s, he was mostly working in a relational way. He was insisting on that idea that subjectivity of the artist is something open. He was very much in contraposition with the idea of selfishness, closure of any creative subjectivity.
With “Soul of the WorId” he decided to stress an opposite point: he thinks that nowadays we are becoming too much open. His criticism of the speed in which we are doing things, taking decisions, reading projects, is, in some way, connected to too much exaggerated emphasis of the openness of the subjectivity.
“Soul of the World” is, in some way, an homage to the philosophical heritage of Leibniz. This because he was also emphasizing subjectivity as a closing system, as a Monad. For Leibniz, monads used to be closed in themselves but, at the same time, they were able to be in interaction with each other.
Insisting on artistic subjectivity, Misiano doesn’t want to be taken as a someone very romantic who is aiming at the solitude of the individual. His emphasis on solid subjectivity represents, in fact, a new appeal to the social and political responsibility.
In the last part of the conversation Misiano talks about the major changes he has witnessed in contemporary art during his long career.
He talks about the very emotional and very active decade of 80s, the decade of return to painting which could be conceived nowadays as a conservative turn. Then he talks about the 90s when the art scene discovered the “out-of-institution” context. Artists discovered internet, public spaces, the possibility to produce art in completely unusual situations. During this decade artist believed very much in communication, in relations, in interactions, artists were very confident to mediums of transmission of the art messages.
The next decade, the so called “Zero” decade, was, according to Misiano, the less productive and the most conservative. During this decade, art was very confident to corporations of art, economical corporations. From corporations we were getting resources, economical resources or possibility to represent itself. Art became also very confident to neo-ideology, to political ideas to something which is beyond one individual, but which is what a group of individual or many individual have in common.
Misiano thinks that, nowadays, we lost this blind confidence to what is out-of-subject entities, something that is outside of the artistic subjectivity. We are in a moment of transition and art is in a sort of disappointment. The most sensitive personalities, artists, curators, thinkers, are very uncomfortable with the main stream in art. The major trends examined in the previous decade, in the decade Zero, revealed a lot of contradictions. The main contradiction is the relation of artists and society. The debate is: should art be part of reality or should it keep its autonomy?
The Berlin Biennale, organized by Artur Żmijewski revealed a lot of contradictions around this specific theme. The intention of the Biennale was to overpass the art autonomy. But even in this case this intention was not properly fulfilled. Misiano thinks that the all issue of art autonomy and its relation to society should be redefined, re-discussed, re-proposed.
According to Misiano, today crucially important is becoming subjectivity itself, artists himself, as an individual as something that bears subjectivity, which is the main resource of artistic production. It was always like that but in previous decades we seemed to mix subjectivity with something which is external to it: institutional world, discourses, economical power, social context. According to Misiano, today intimacy of artistic subject becomes crucially interesting.