Category Archives: In discussion

Rethinking curating in a time of change

A conversation with MA Curating and Collections students
Jiaying Gao, Celina Loh, and Hao Long

curating in a crisis

MA Curating and Collections student Cara Salmon installing the recent MACC exhibition ‘Ballets Russes: Concealed Histories’. Image © David Dibosa

A few weeks ago, the students from MA Curating and Collections were due to open their interim exhibition, ‘Ballets Russes: Concealed Histories’ in the Triangle Space at Chelsea College of Arts. As the Covid-19 emergency escalated, they had to adjust their original plan to a new format and a new space, delivering an exhibition display instead in the Exhibition Studio Workshop. The College closed shortly thereafter so the exhibition was never opened to the public (although you can read about and see more of it here).

We spoke to MA Curating and Collections students Jiaying Gao, Celina Loh, and Hao Long about their original plans for the show, and about their thoughts on their future as students and curators emerging into what will be a profoundly changed art world.


Could you talk about the process of researching for and curating the Ballets Russes show how it was supposed to be, and what changed with the new display? Were there aspects you focused on initially, that you managed to highlight in the final display as well?

CL: Our interim show titled Ballets Russes: Concealed Histories intended to focus on the dance troupe’s textile pieces, showcasing myriad details from the costume designs to the wear and tear that are usually hidden in conventional textile displays.

On the morning the textiles were scheduled to arrive, we received the news that we couldn’t display them because the safety of the collection items, on loan from the Archive and Special Collection Centre at London College of Communication, could not be guaranteed in the circumstance of a lockdown – so we had to make a quick decision and turn the show into an exhibition display. We utilised the photographs of all the materials we had thus far, to present a show that could be virtually viewed via online platforms.


Inspecting the Ballets Russes collection at LCC with Jacqueline Winston Silk. Image © Carolina Pelletier Fontes

JG: We wanted to exhibit the different textures, details, and flow of the costumes, to show the imperfections in the outfits that indicate a certain history behind the garment, the dancer’s body, and behind the influential ballet company. The project would examine how these costumes, and even the most minute of their details, offer a historical and contemporary reconsideration of the ballet troupe in terms of its design, choreography, and music.

CL: This mainly derived from our research on spectrality within theatre performances, which focuses on the absence and presence of performers and narratives. One of the curators, Dana Chan, thought it was pertinent to highlight this aspect, with the Covid-19 emergency that consequently closed most public spaces:

As with the body and dress, movement, and stillness, we note the certain absences and presences within this space. However, in the current situation of a public health crisis, we are reminded of the collective endeavour that is art.

HL: That tension between absence and presence was our focus throughout our curating process, the ‘absence of body’/ ‘absence of stage’ was the lens through which we looked at these costumes. When the costumes are presented and viewed separately, on the one hand, there is always an absence, they are like a container. On the other hand, they are probably one of the few things that are still alive of the stage of those times, the remnants of the memory. Our research also focused on orientalism, modernism, and transculturation manifested in the practice of the Ballets Russes, which can be read in the various elements that constitute the important components of ballet – choreography, music, props, and of course costumes.

What do you think, as students and emerging curators, the repercussions of this situation will be on the arts sector, and on art practitioners and curators? What do you think will change and shift (if at all!) and what do you see as the biggest challenges, and opportunities, for curators?

CL: I think the impact of Covid-19 on the arts sector is conflicting. On one hand, live events and performances had to be cancelled on top of cultural institutions being forced to close. The termination of art fairs and exhibition opportunities have a heavy impact on the economy whilst hindering emerging practitioners who strive to make a name in the art scene. On the other hand, however, the crisis has shown how art as a culture is more relevant than ever, uniting people across the globe. With millions worldwide confined at home, curators, artists and other art producers are cooperating in multitudes of ways online, to persevere with showcasing work and forming alternative approaches to curating, among other things. Personally, it has presented me with an opportunity to view and adapt my curatorial practice, which I wouldn’t have done if not for the pandemic. It has vastly altered how the convoluted art world functions, which perhaps isn’t too bad of a thing after all.

HL: I have always felt that contemporary art is about to reach a turning point, or it has been a trend for a long time, closely related to the online world or to some level of technology that has gradually become the norm of life. The current health crisis is a catalyst, and unsurprisingly, we see art fairs and mega art institutions develop online exhibitions. The rapidity with which they reacted also suggests that they were ready before this crisis happened.

Quite a few of these online shows are predictable, and if they want to perfect them, galleries will probably have to work with companies that really have the technology for it, but how this will reshape art institutions is unpredictable. Instead, think it is time for digital art or net art to embrace this moment. Online exhibitions are likely to become more like games, in which the audience will act as the player. This is already a big topic, and it is both an opportunity and a challenge. Curators have the opportunity to step out of an institutionalized curatorial context and also face the challenge of the trap of consumerism. I would not be surprised if I saw a TikTok-like exhibition.

When an art institution in New York launches an online show that is equally accessible to local and global audiences, other changes and discussions are bound to take place. The constant emphasis on ‘presence’ in the art world is going to be challenged, and how it is defined when it is not in a physical space, how that definition will be reinvented. Of course, everything depends on how long this outbreak lasts. However, art will continue to happen, people will just focus on where and how it happens.

JG: For artists, this situation allows for a platform transformation from offline to online, which means that artistic works will be digitized and widely circulated on the internet. I think it is also an opportunity to see more artworks in digital forms, which provides new challenges for their creation and archiving.

As for the curators, I think they will further promote an immersive remote collaborative design platform, and other industrial applications: online virtual gallery, online virtual exhibition, online panoramic exhibition. It would be desirable to keep the physical business activities and online business activities in parallel, but in any case, the Internet and online trading has been a challenge for the traditional art market for a while and more so now. I think we can take advantage of this period of pause to maintain and update the facilities in the gallery. In the future, the exhibition will have online communication with the organisers, curators, constructors, and transporters through this platform, to timely solve various problems and improve work efficiency.


Archive and Special Collections curator Jacqueline Winston Silk showing Ballets Russes material. Image © Celina Loh

What has been on your mind lately, and is there a thought, a text or artwork that has inspired you and that you think you will carry with you in your future practice?

CL: Lately, Jurgen Habermas’ ‘Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere’ has been running through my mind a lot and has profoundly stimulated my thoughts. As a curator, I have always been interested in improving viewers’ engagement thus the study of publics is crucial in my curatorial practice. Habermas has mentioned the prospect of a universally accessible public sphere if there exists a universalisation of interest, leading to a public that unites on the same level to critically engage with one another. Although it may be naive, I can’t help but feel like this health crisis is contributing to the formation of a universally accessible public sphere, should it succeed or fail. And if it were to succeed one day, what is the function of art in that condition?

JG: I have been interested in the potential of the digital platform and its broad market, and the many galleries setting up online exhibitions beyond space, distance and transportation. The combination of digital and art that will become a new trend in the future, made me want to research how to create exhibitions on the internet, how to use the digital form to fulfil the curator’s ambition to interpreting an exhibition well.

HL: I wasn’t there when China was the epicentre, and what I observed about the art world in the UK at the moment is that I feel there is a greater sense of isolation and loneliness among artists here. One could think that, in the face of such a major crisis, the arts are useless – however, it is not meaningless for artists, curators or any art practitioners to be witnesses of this situation. Different regions may really need to establish an effective dialogue through self-description and a willingness to understand the description of others, and that is what art can do. Also, there were some things in the past weeks that resonated with my research; the spontaneous group singing of the Italian people on their balconies, or Britons applauding the NHS etc. This kind of collective behaviour, which is closely related to sensibility/empathy/politics, is signalled by sound and is something I have been very interested in. Finally, I have been coming to terms with the fact that this is a marathon, a time when mental health is as important as physical health. But we are all much stronger than we thought and most importantly, in a bigger sense, we are never alone.


The Early Films of Derek Jarman | Stuart Comer in discussion with James Mackay

Film director, set designer, artist, writer and polemicist Derek Jarman (1942-1994) is widely recognised as one of the most influential artists of his generation. His early experimental super 8mm films preceded a career that included Caravaggio (1986), Jubilee (1978) and Wittgenstein (1993).
Stuart Comer is Curator of Film at Tate Modern, overseeing moving image work for the Tate Collection and Displays. He recently co-curated the opening programme for The Tanks and organises an extensive programme of screenings, performances, events and exhibitions.
James Mackay worked alongside Derek Jarman for many years, producing some of Jarman’s most important films, such as The Angelic Conversation (1985), The Garden (1990) and Blue (1993). 

Wednesday 20th February 2013

5.30 – 7.00pm

Lecture Theatre
Chelsea College of Art & Design
16 John Islip Street
London, SW1P 4JU

Admission Free, Open to All

This event has been organised by CCW Graduate School in partnership with CHELSEA space


Recording of Pavel Pys in conversation with SECONDEDITIONS now available on Soundcloud

Second Reflection / Symmetrical Contents: Sturtevant and Secondeditions

Pavel Pyś In Conversation With Elizabeth Peebles And Markus Eisenmann.

This event took place on 23rd January 2013. A recording of this event is available here


This event consisted of a performance piece with Pavel Pyś and SECONDEDITIONS (above), a talk by Pavel Pyś about Sturtevant’s practice from the 1960s onwards, SECONDEDITIONS on their practice and collaboration with Sturtevant and a Q&A session.

STURTEVANT is one of the most influential artists of her generation. She received the Kurt Schwitters Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2012 and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011.


Pavel Pyś, Exhibitions & Displays Curator at the Henry Moore Institute who recently organised the showing of Sturtevant’s ‘Duchamp Bicycle Wheel’ 1969-73 at the Henry Moore Institute, discussed the underlying concepts of Sturtevant’s work with Elizabeth Peebles and Markus Eisenmann of SECONDEDITIONS in relation to the exhibition second reflection / symmetrical contents at CHELSEA space from 23rd January to 9th March 2013


This event was a CCW Graduate School Public Research Platform in collaboration with CHELSEA Space. The event was recorded on Wednesday 23rd January 2013 at Chelsea College of Art & Design. A recording of the event can be accessed here

second reflection / symmetrical contents STURTEVANT and SECONDEDITIONS: Pavel Pys in conversation with Elizabeth Peebles and Markus Eisenmann


STURTEVANT is one of the most influential artists of her generation. She received the Kurt Schwitters Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2012 and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011.

Pavel Pys, Exhibitions & Displays Curator at the Henry Moore Institute who recently organised the showing of Sturtevant’s ‘Duchamp Bicycle Wheel’ 1969 – 1973 at the Henry Moore Institute, will discuss the underlying concepts of Sturtevant’s work with Elizabeth Peebles and Markus Eisenmann of SECONDEDITIONS in relation to the exhibition second reflection / symmetrical contents at CHELSEA space from 23rd January to 9th March 2013.

This event will take place on Wednesday 23rd January 2013, 6:00 – 7:30pm

Lecture Theatre, Chelsea College of Art and Design, 16 John Islip Street, London SW1P 4JU

Admission free, open to all


Join the Discussion: Toward a Hybrid Gallery Space


In our next free CHELSEA public programme talk, writer, curator and urban researcher Paul Goodwin talks to artists Sonia Boyce, Barby Asante and Peckham Space Director Emily Druiff. What would you ask them?

Take part in this discussion, which seeks to explore how curation can meet education in a hybrid gallery space…

Sonia Boyce & Barby Asante: Towards a Hybrid Gallery Space

Wed 11 July 6-7.30pm, FREE

This free panel discussion sees Paul Goodwin, writer, curator and urban researcher chair discussion between Emily Druiff, director of Peckham Space and artists Sonia Boyce and Barby Asante, investigating a new model that brings together curatorial and educational fields. This talk aims to address the questions: to what extent are these practices considered as art? How do these practices relate to terms such as ‘community’, ‘socially engaged’ and ‘dialogic or relational’ art?

Sonia Boyce, AHRC Fellow and artist will present Network, a film recently commissioned by Peckham Space which worked with young people from Visual and Performing Arts, part of Southwark Children’s  Services. Sonia will also reflect on her recent research ‘The future is social’ where she will discuss ‘how art emerges through collective and often conflictual encounters.’

Barby Asante will present South London Black Music Archive, an artwork recently commissioned by Peckham Space that worked with young people from Leaders of Tomorrow and which will tour to the Tate Modern in November this year. Barby will talk about her practice in relationship to ‘openness’, how and when this takes place and why it is important.

Emily Druiff, will talk about the commissioning process and propose a move towards a ‘hybrid gallery space’. Peckham Space is London’s newest  purpose-built public gallery dedicated to commissioning location-specific artworks made in partnership with community groups. It opened in June 2010 and is located on Peckham Square, London SE15 and part of Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London.

To book your place for this talk or for more information email:

The talks series is free and open to the public and will take place in the main Lecture Theatre at Chelsea College of Art & Design, 16 John Islip St, SW1P 4JU

Date Confirmed: Sonia Boyce & Barby Asante: Towards a Hybrid Gallery Space


Diaries at the ready…Wed 11 July it is…

We are very pleased to announce a new date for the Sonia Boyce & Barby Asante: Towards a Hybrid Gallery Space talk, which is now set to take place on Wed 11 July at 6.00-7.30pm in the main Lecture Theatre.

This free panel discussion sees Paul Goodwin, writer, curator and urban researcher chair discussion between Emily Druiff, director of Peckham Space and artists Sonia Boyce and Barby Asante, investigating a new model that brings together curatorial and educational fields.

We’ll be updating you on further information about the discussion shortly, but in the meantime you can now book your place by emailing:

Chelsea Conversations Images

A selection of images from our recent series of ‘Chelsea Conversations’ events…
The Art of Protest, 5th May 2009
Above: Guyan Porter (presenting), Yara El-Sherbini

Above: Yara El-Sherbini (presenting)

Above: Guyan Porter, Mark McGowan (presenting), Yara El-Sherbini

Left is Right? 12th May 2009

Above: Claire Fox and Emma Ridgeway

Above: Claire Fox and Emma Ridgeway

*Unfortunately, Matthew Collins was unable to join us*

What is engagement? Contesting ‘socially engaged practice.’

Above: Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre

Above: Dave Beech

Above: Sophie Hope
All photographs taken by Joanna Wodzicka (Chelsea student).
Chelsea Programme is working towards making the talks availiable via this blog, either in the form of transcripts or through podcasting edited excerpts. Join our mailing list to be informed of when they are available – contact (with ‘Mailing List’ as the subject heading.)

Chelsea Conversations

Between February and March 2008, CHELSEA public programme ran a series of talks entitled Chelsea Conversations.

The idea was to create a forum to discus issues exploring the ways in which institutions and arts organisations shape the landscape for visual artists, curators and other arts practitioners.

Topics in this series were Art Schools and the MarketArt WritingCuratorial Independenceand Black History Month and the Arts. Speakers included Lisa Lefeurve, JJ Charlesworth, Teresa Gleadowe and Bonnie Greer.

Below are a selection of pictures from this series –


From top – Teresa GledoweJen Wu and Donald Smith (Curatorial Independence); Kwong Lee presenting (Curatorial Independence); Andrew Hunt presenting (Curatorial Independence); Raimi Gbadamosi (BHM); Paul Goodwin and Bonnie Greer (BHM).