Another Story: an interview with curator Kisito Assangni
* In the picture: Mohammed Laouli, Les Sculptures n'étaient pas blanches, 2020, courtesy the artist.

 

ANOTHER STORY: AN INTERVIEW WITH KISITO ASSANGNI

            In 2019 I started to think about the Pixelache 20th Anniversary approaching in 2022. During the years we had several survays and reviews of our activities made by Pixelache members. I thought it would be interesting to take the chance of the anniversary and invite a person who is not familiar with the organisation to delve into Pixelache online archive and write an article. I have been observing the work of curator Kisito Assangni since 2018, and I invited him to research our arcvhive and formulate his findings. His article is in process and it will be made available in October 2022. This interview anticipates in brief our dialogue.

Kisito Assangni is a Togolese-French curator and consultant who studied museology at Ecole du Louvre in Paris. Currently living between UK, France and Togo, his research interests gravitate towards the cultural impact of globalisation, psychogeography and critical education.  His discursive projects have been shown internationally, including the Venice Biennale, ZKM Karlsruhe, Whitechapel Gallery London, Centre of Contemporary Art Glasgow, Malmö Konsthall Sweden, Torrance Art Museum Los Angeles, Es Baluard Museum of Art Palma, National Centre for Contemporary Arts Moscow among others. Assangni is a contributing editor at ArtDependence Magazine and Arshake.

Curatorial statement: My curatorial approach is mainly to collaborate with artists who ask crucial questions through works that expand the possibilities of what the new media can do and stand for.  I'm unceasingly interested in video art, experimental sound and performance by contemporary international artists who examine the world we live in, the language of image today, a humanity in transformation, and the limits of our sociopolitical systems. Today the mechanisms and the geography of contemporary art are global. Therefore, searching for a right sustainable way to support to the universality of art, lends a hand to dismantle the asymmetrical power relations that structure the art world.

 

Egle Oddo: What elements in contemporary art awake your curiosity, interest and sensitivity, making you responsive? 

Kisito Assangni: Any project that articulates new debates and critical junctures in the field of contemporary art as well as artists who develop a body of work that combines powerful sociological explorations and great formal freedom make me responsive. Exhibitions emerge from the conjunction of numerous narrative, social, ethical, political, economic and technical circumstances and conditions. Consequently, finding new rewarding ways for audiences to connect with art can contribute to spread the meaning and value of art throughout society by using convergence, change, challenge, and innovation.

Moataz Nasr, The Mountain, the Egyptian pavilion at Venice Biennale, 2017, courtesy the artist.

 

EO: You work with media art a lot, what are the recent turns you observe and is there anything in the latest media art productions and presentations that you find exciting? 

KA: The term "new media" was defined in 2001 by Lev Manovich in his The Language of New Media as a cultural artifact typically made and presented on the computer and characterized by five principles: 1) numerical representation of content, 2) modular structure of data and algorithms, 3) automation of processes, 4) variability of the object's existence, and 5) transcoding of cultural data and practices which are digitized and transferred to the computer, which, in turn, modifies the operations of society and concepts in media theory. In an age of wildly accelerated globalisation and from the conviction that art must proceed as an engine of reflection and social transformation, media art is playing an undeniably central role. The idea of media art has changed quite fast and indeed significantly in the past few years with the rise of festivals dedicated to this form of arts on almost all seven continents. For example, transmediale in Berlin, Electrofringe in Australia, CYFEST in USA and Lithuania, Fakugesi African Digital Innovation Festival in South Africa, Japan Media Arts Festival and so on.  I really appreciate the recent major solo exhibition "Jet Black Futures" of the British artist Keith Piper at The New Art Gallery Walsall. This ongoing project explores issues of race, speculative futurism and technology in an age of anxiety. The piece In Search of Four Horses is particularly an ambitious and epic four-screen video installation based around an exploration of the myth, metaphor and symbolism of the Biblical story of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

 

EO: What limitations you see in media art, either technical or conceptual?

KA: Media art - including digital art, computer art, interactive art, CGI art or video art - still has to be more theoretically and conceptually developed. Media art works require a certain space, a budget and scheme to be realized. One difficulty with new media is that there is not so much flexibility in installing each particular work; it involves a lot of technical elements. Nevertheless, the limitations of a medium can also be its artistic freedom.

Tabita Rezaire, Deep Down Tidal, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 2017, courtesy Goodman gallery.

 

EO:  Can you tell us about the first time that you have curated a show, any type of show, and what was your motivation then?

KA: My first curatorial show " Elavanyo - Everything is going to be alright" dates back to 2006 at Kiaca Gallery in Columbus (USA) in collaboration with The  Ohio State University of Art - Department of History of Art. It was a small exhibition of contemporary African art encompassing painting, drawing, and collage. It has been a noteworthy experience and I learned that an exhibition is more than the sum of its parts; it is the curator's "oeuvre", which illustrates a particular curatorial argument or perspective. I was undoubtedly motivated given that  two seminal events inspired me to think about making exhibitions that are interdisciplinary. The first event was the international group exhibition "GNS: Global Navigation Systems" curated by Nicolas Bourriaud at Palais de Tokyo in 2003. In terms of critical frameworks, this show blew my mind. The second event was the spectacular exhibition of Lemaître collection at Maison Rouge Foundation in Paris. This collection is composed essentially of recent video art by contemporary international artists who question the language of image today versus fictional cinema, documentary video and television.

 

EO: Did your motivations for curating artworks, shows, reviews, changed along time passing, and what is the path you see if you look backwards?

KA: My motivations did not change at any point since my curatorial approach is still empirical, reflective, and interventional. A good curator provides continually information, connections, and even contrasts to understand what makes art relevant today, and not only reflects meaning but contribute to debates and new understadings. Furthermore, I'm always interested in learning to illuminate the extra-verbal dimensions of curatorial work and the sociology of affordances.   Looking backwards, I've tried on my small scale to respond to the contemporary society as it changes, contribute to art-historical discourse with new thoughts and ideas, participate in the dismantling of prejudice, the discovery of individual and common opportunities previously unnoticed.

 

EO: You have been invited to look into the archive of 20 years activity of Pixelache organisation. What is your relation with archives in general and with digital archives in particular?

KA: Traditionally, archives are contemporary records created by individuals and organisations as they go about their business and therefore provide a direct window on past events. There are many varieties of archives, and they are for life and for living. I regularly identify appropriate archives for my research. Moreover, I'm fascinated by the record keepers who ensure the long-term physical survival and intellectual integrity of the archive as custodians of society's memory. In 1994, Jacques Derrida delivered his "Archive Fever" lecture at the Freud Museum, and its subsequent publication. Within dialogues around this work it is frequently cited as the catalyst for a turn to the archive within the humanities. Derrida deftly guides us through an extended meditation on remembrance, religion, time, and technology - fruitfully occasioned by a deconstructive analysis of the notion of archiving. Digitization obviously enables the researcher to view materials without visiting the archives in person. The internet is absolutely changing the archive. New digital archives can generate, crowdsource, and share specific and previously unrecorded experiences in an official way. I think new digital databases have greater reach and impact than traditional archives. Online projects are being used to tell new stories, make information and perspectives accessible, connect and create communities, and to process old histories in new ways.

Monica de Miranda, Beauty, 2018, courtesy the artist.

 

EO: Can you give us a tiny teaser of what you found out so far researching Pixelache archive?

KA: I've found that Pixelache acts as a spatial unification agent between human behavior, environment, music, new media, architecture, technology and communication, associated to diversity of living systems. Additionally, the Pixelache festival's uniqueness is ethical interconnection doing well for the community, finding solutions in main topics of contemporary problems related to economy building circumstances that evolve society and economy sustainability.

 

EO: What is the next project you are involved in?

KA: I'm currently co-writing a socio-ethical project about insurgent invisibility in contemporary art. Actually, the project strives to create a transversal relationship between international artists from various territories and minorities by including semiotics of the refusal of identity against all forms of domination and destruction.

TIME is Love Screening - 11th edition, Ex-New Contemporary Art Centre, Sulbiate (Italy), 2018, courtesy Ex-New.