FITA Magazine Vol. I / Invisible Atlas

A.topos Venice Curatorial Collective
The Creative Room

Interview by Francisca Gigante

Photograph © A.topos Venice

The calm and serenity of the Venetian canals speak so tenderly to our hearts while approaching the doors of A.topos Venice gallery. From inside, at the Fondamenta dei Penini in Venice, Italy, we are greeted by two curators who have converted a spacious and bright interior into a multifaceted exhibition gallery, a studio for workshops, an arena for lectures and discussions, a creative space. We find ourselves in a fertile environment for the promotion of political, social and cultural change, as they both point out.

    From the Greek atopía, which means placeless- ness, unclassifiable, of high originality, the co-founders Fernanda Andrade (Brazil) and Lucia Trevisan (Italy) disclose that they formed the non-profit cultural association in order to reflect on the times in which we are situated, in order to understand what these contemporary times can bring and what remains to be created. Fernanda Andrade is a Brazilian art curator whose main activity is research based on feminism and the decolonization of narratives. After having taught for more than a decade both Art History and History in prestigious institutions in Rio de Janeiro, she decided to broaden her education and pursue her passion for contemporary art in Venice. Lucia Trevisan is an Italian curator who previously worked closely in renowned art galleries and foundations in Italy. She is experienced in the contemporary art world. The two curators met at the Master in Curatorial Practice at IED Venice and understood that they had to start building a new curatorial narrative as a collective at La Serenissima.

    The idea of the word A.topos carries with it exactly the description of ineffability of things or emotions that are rarely experienced, that are remarkable and original in the strict sense. For this very reason, the first female curatorial collective to emerge in the idyllic city of Venice marks a generation. The local and international art scene come together to celebrate art shows by emerging creatives, facilitating connections, encouraging the free exchange of ideas, stimulating original interpretations of the arts, and ultimately contributing to building an unbiased ethos based on diversity and equity within the arts.

Photograph © A.topos Venice

How did your curatorial collective start? Do you consider yourselves professional curators as custodians of cultural heritage? And how did it materialize into the gallery space that you present today at the Fondamenta dei Penini, next to the Arsenale in Venice?

We met in a MA in Curatorial Practice in Venice. One of us is Venetian and, for foreigners, falling in love with the city and deciding to stay is not difficult at all! It’s a marvelous city for its art scene, with so many prestigious institutions and events. We wanted to take part in contributing to its vivacity and organicity. So, creating a multifaceted space was a fundamental piece of our initiative. It allows us to convert it into an exhibition gallery; a studio for workshops; an arena for talks and debates; or a creative room to showcase new talents. Castello is one of our favorite neighborhoods in the city for its authenticity, its history and with the bonus of having the two main venues of La Biennale as neighbours. We are very proud and happy of our petite jewel.

So, if we put this all together, we would say that beyond custodians we see ourselves as two of the many builders of cultural heritage - either of its concept as of its content.

How is the process of curating an exhibition? Are the artists who usually exhibit with you artists that send their portfolio through the open calls or are they artists that are recommended to you?

We are open to everyone but we mainly focus in promoting emerging artists and in fighting for equity within the arts. And this choice is informed by two simple reasons. First, we know the presence of female artists exhibited from big institutions to small galleries is alarmingly smaller compared to male participation. That is why we work primary with female-identifying artists. It started as a coincidence, but it ended up becoming a core value of our practice. Secondly, La Biennale raises the bar to established names and we know how bumpy the path between starting and guaranteeing a place under the sun can be.

Having said that, curating for us is a process that flows fed by different sources - the open calls are definitely a great way to get in touch with talents dedicated to different disciplines and from all over the world; some artists come recommended; others spontaneously contact us and some just happen to fortunately pass by the gallery while exploring the beauties of the city. We are always welcoming to receiving new portfolios and to exchanging with artists and other cultural agents in general.

Photograph © A.topos Venice
Windows Project

Venice is the ex-libris of contemporary art. The set of scattered islands connected by the lagoon brings travelers from all over the world. How can you reconcile local interest with international interest?

It’s very interesting that you brought that up because for us this “reconciliation” lays in the core of our practice. La Biennale di Venezia changes so many things in the city - the number of visitors, the level of visibility of artists, the amount of job offers, the prices... Even big art institutions in the city plan their calendar accordingly. For an independent space like a.topos, it would be counterproductive to swim against the current and ignore the hustle bustle created around the opening, the finissage, La Mostra del Cinema, etc. But, on the other hand, as residents, we felt that Venice lacked a lively cultural scene throughout the whole year, and not only during the six months of this major event. This was one of the reasons to start the curatorial collective in the first place. So, we can safely say that, except for one deserved holiday month (and for these crazy pandemic times), we are constantly working to provide the local community with art events all year long - a community we are a part of -, but always keeping open arms to receive the international audience. The more, the merrier!
What curatorial narratives mirror your project The Creative Room that is currently underway? How does the creativity to think about and organize these exhibitions come about? Where did you get your inspiration? Do you have a favorite meeting place among yourselves?

The Creative Room is an open call for emerging creatives worldwide, either individuals or collectives. The initiative was conceived to be included in our annual program from now on, each year with a different theme announced every November. In this first edition, we couldn’t avoid addressing the challenge imposed by the exceptional reality of lockdown and social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. That is why we asked participants to share with us how they have been recreating themselves as artists and their artistic practice. If it pushed them to exercise their gaze towards the outside, if they repositioned themselves as subject/object, or any other creative response they came up with.

Originally, we intended to organize two different collective shows with the selected artworks. But we had such a fabulous outcome that we decided to put together 5 exhibitions instead. The curatorial narratives - Looking within - self as sub- ject/object, solitude and loneliness; Outside the window - chronicles of a (previously) underestimated routine; See you, tomorrow - Art as an activism tool to address major issues highlighted by the pandemic; Building Bridge - Socially Engaged Art in times of social distancing and Photography - our small tribute to Tre Oci - were all unfolded by the artworks themselves.

Following these lines, we would say that our favorite meeting place would be a regular-open-to-the-public A.topos Venice! Jokes aside, our venue is a “creative room” for our ideas as well. Especially if we get to have an aperitivo afterwards!

Photograph © A.topos Venice
Binta Diallo

How did you act when faced with the need for temporary closure of physical space due to rules imposed by Covid-19? How did you adapt to the windows of the digital medium? And what kind of resources did you use?

The emergency forced us not only to pause for a reflection but also forced all art institutions to review the previous model. In addition to having to remain closed and not being able to continue our annual program, it was not easy to have to reinvent our work and ourselves. We wanted to keep feeding our audience with art, but we didn’t want to reproduce some repetitive formulas which, after a while, started to look like some kind of trap for art institutions due to the saturation of art related media channels with the same solutions over and over again. Not to mention the difficulties in finding financing... A constant challenge aggravated by the crisis.

So, to address those obstacles and avoid the trap we just mentioned, we developed online projects that seemed relevant given the restrictions imposed by the pandemic - one that created a dialogue between poetry and the visual arts (an artistic way of touching the need of expanding dialogues in times of isolation) and another on gender-based violence, considering the shocking increase in domestic abuse over the period.

We have recently launched Art.peritivo, a virtual happy hour in the company of an amazing team of artists that are opening their studios and answering some questions in a very casual chat. It is another attempt to cope with the social distancing in a playful way.

You have a vast portfolio of international artists working in different areas and mediums. How has been the reaction of the various types of audiences you work with?

We really love working with artists dedicated to different disciplines and, no matter the case, we can surely state that the audience’s reaction is one of the best rewards in our practice. For better and for worse, we might add. For us it is extremely interesting to learn that the same exhibition can be sophisticated or non-sense; playful or offensive; poetic or pretentious and to hear the reasons behind each of those judgements. Because at the end an exhibition can be about a theme, an artist, a cause, a more or less profound issue, an experiment, etc... But it for sure has to be about raising questions and voicing the audience somehow.

How can new collectors look for works of art? Should they choose works that will satisfy them aesthetically and intellectually or works that might bring some form of extra income in the possible near future?

We know a bit about how the art market works, and this is one of the reasons we did not choose to open a commercial gallery. But this is far from a critic or a judgement! It just wasn’t our priority when designing our initiative. On the other hand, we sell the artworks we exhibit and, especially when you work with emerging artists, you expect them to have a brilliant career which will hopefully reflect in their artworks market value.

Having said that, our activity includes providing advisory to collectors interested in building, expanding or keeping their art collection up to date as well as helping them understand their own profile. You can buy exclusively to be surrounded by pieces you love; you can be merely doing an investment, or you can combine both (either shifting between acquisitions that you love and others that will certainly increase value in the future, or the perfect scenario - buying a piece you love and it is also a promising investment). The most important thing is to always be respectful towards the artist and the art.

Photograph © A.topos Venice
Kate Goobey

Venice has just opened its doors to cultural spaces. What will be the shape of your next projects that you will start presenting this year 2021? Do you count on partnerships with other organizations?

We are convinced solidarity is the key concept - from before and, after the pandemic, more than ever! Galleries, independent spaces, curators, artists and cultural institutions in general should join forces to create new synergies and achieve greater projects. Either searching within your local community of cultural agents or building international partnerships seem like great exercises the pandemic led us to do and, so far, they have proven to be extremely fruitful.

Finally, taking into account that your role as curators is extremely important to show not only the best of what is done in the arts, but also to create paths that make sense in the present moment; what contri-bution would you like to leave in contemporary art?

We work to grant a fertile environment for art to build up its role in promoting cultural, social, and political change. A.topos Venice’s scope is to develop curatorial projects from a transdisciplinary and intersectional approach in order to help build an unbiased ethos based on diversity and equity within the arts. This is a key element for us. So, we can say we want to contribute by being a catalyst for contemporary art to express its blazing open arena nature.

Photograph © A.topos Venice
Trine Bumiller

The interview to A.topos Venice was published on pages 110 to 115 in Artistic Confluences chapter of FITA Magazine Vol. I / Invisible Atlas dedicated to the city of Venice. 
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