Curator Zeljka Himbele-Kozul will visit Chester College as part of the Visiting Artists Symposium Lecture Series this Tuesday, October 14. She will give a lecture at 2:30 p.m. in the Wadleigh Library conference room. SO Good had the opportunity to speak to her before her visit.
SO Good: What made you decide to go into this field?
Zeljka Himbele-Kozul: It happened throughout longer periods of time. It wasn’t some early clear vision of what I wanted to do, or a decision made at some clear point, though, contemporary art was always particularly interesting to me. After studying art history, I started working at the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb. First I was an intern there, and it just grabbed me. I got involved in many diverse projects, worked with many generous colleagues, collaborated with amazing artists, both local and international, and realized how particular dynamics of the museum institution is more attractive to me than the academic one. It provided a specific frame for constant learning, because each project requires something different from you. Also, curating means working really close with other people. I really loved, and still love, the challenges this kind of work brings each time.
SG: How do you feel having roots in Croatia has influenced your career?
Himbele-Kozul: After working for several years in Croatia, I enrolled in the Curatorial Studies program at Bard College, and after that I continued to work in the United States. There are many ways how being from Croatia has influenced my work, but the most important one, I must say, is having “double perspective.” There are many differences between Croatian, or European and American cultural institutions. I am grateful for being able to notice, experience, and learn from these differences, and the good and bad sides of these different systems.
SG: For your exhibition at Bard during your second year you curated an exhibit called, “Tales of Places,” which focused on the artists' relationships with locations. What made you choose this subject?
Himbele-Kozul: To me, the exhibition always starts with one particular work. I see it and cannot stop thinking about it. It just sticks with you and it comes to your mind while seeing other things. It was the case with “Tales of Places” as well. Because of one particular work, I started to track similar ideas in some other works. These works were interesting to me because I saw them as poetical expressions of the artist's concern with the possibility of positioning him/herself in a place and achieving an intimate relationship with that place. In a way, they differed from other works dealing with place from a “more distanced,” explicitly politically engaged perspective--the works which, at least when I was researching for the exhibition, were predominantly presented in various contexts. That’s how the idea for the show arose.
SG: You curated a collection of posters for the Croatian Museum of Contemporary Art. What is it about graphic design that inspired you to curate this collection, and how do you think your collection benefited Contemporary art in Croatia?
Himbele-Kozul: Unfortunately I cannot talk a lot about this segment of my work, since I started to work on it intensely only a few months before I came to the States. The Museum of Contemporary Art has an outstanding international poster collection, which was compiled through several decades, but was never seriously studied. Numerous works were never accessioned, so I basically started from scratch--seeing what was actually in the storage, what was the condition of the objects, and proposing how to elaborate that immense material.
SG: For “My Little/Membrane,” you worked with another curator to make two exhibits with the same pieces. How did your show differ from his and how closely did the two of you work?
Himbele-Kozul: We worked very close together. Working with other curators is another aspect of curating I am always eager to explore. The shows shared the same art works, and the same display, but we had two different topics-- while my topic dealt with membranes, William Heath’s (the other curator) dealt with miniature–-two very different readings of the same art works. So, technically, you had one exhibition with two different interpretations, offered through wall labels. These interpretations were very subjective impressions, sometimes humorous, more like the notes you would take in the artist’s studio than whole, polished sentences. The project was very playful--it talked about how one art work can tell many different stories, and we underlined only two of them. Hopefully visitors discovered some others as well.
SG: What are some mediums, artists, and subjects that you feel really passionate about?
Himbele-Kozul: I must say that for me, the medium’s technical properties are of less importance than how the artist uses it to convey a certain idea. Although I curated some medium-specific exhibitions, including the most recent one, an exhibition of single channel videos entitled “Alternating Beats” at the RISD Museum, I see medium as an expressive tool. I am not passionate about particular mediums, artists, or subjects, but individual works and different contexts they can be presented within. By context I mean not only the exhibition display and the venue, but also wider cultural surrounding and the public.
SG: What is your favorite exhibit that you've curated?
Himbele-Kozul: This is a tough question. In each project I’ve been involved 100 percent, and while you’re working on it, it is always your favourite one. Maybe, from more recent ones, “My Little Membrane,” because of its intense collaborative spirit. There is something really special about hanging out with dozen of artists in the gallery space, talking, seeing them making the works, constructing the exhibition.
SG: What advice would you give to a student who is interested in being a curator?
Himbele-Kozul: Research the history of exhibition making and the history of the contemporary art system. Go out and see as many exhibitions as you can--different types and different venues. Pay attention not only to the works, but how they are displayed and interpreted as well. Soon you will discover that some of these displays and interpretations are closer to your interests than the others. And, if you decide to curate, when making decisions, ask for advice, listen to colleagues and people involved around the exhibition: the more eyes and ideas thrown to the table, the better. ALWAYS listen to the artists, but don’t hesitate to offer your own ideas and engage in discussion considering the display and different readings of the work.