Interview with Ruba Katrib
The young curator working for the Sculpture Center in New York, has proposed an original point of view to watch art in its contexts, that may lead to interesting reflexions: the materials that shape it.
Ruba Katrib Director of the Professional Meetings:
“Material Culture and Contemporary Art” in ARCOmadrid 2014
talks to Elena Vozmediano
Elena Vozmediano: What is the point of addressing right now material culture when images -and Art with them- is increasingly dematerialised, virtualised? Or are they not?
Ruba Katrib: Material issues are always present in artwork, even when virtual or dematerialized. I don’t think it’s possible to escape this reality. In fact, I believe it’s important to consider the implications of technology and other modes of presenting contemporary art, especially when it seems the materials are less present. We can’t avoid the reality that there is a very real impact on people and natural resources in the manufacturing of even the most intangible materials and products. And increasingly, contemporary art utilizes commercial products, and with them modes of fabrication and circulation that should be recognized.
EV: You are curator at the Sculpture Center. Is sculpture -and installation art- the field in which materials are more diverse or richer? What about other media, like painting or photography? Have you found out that materials, or their use, are also not-universal in them?
RK: Sculpture definitely addresses these issues of materiality outright, although with seemingly more universal and straightforward media, such as painting and photography, questions arise. Mundane materials are also loaded with specific associations, which I think become more and more apparent as art extends into different geographical areas. Not all places and people have access to the same types or qualities of materials. Simple questions and decisions can become very blatant, when even cameras, printing, and framing become integral to the understanding of a work.
EV: You say that materials aren’t neutral, nor universal. Localities are determinant. It is not possible in this interview to identify every variant but could you try to make a general categorization of the different trends of the use of materials, according to different geographical provenance, social or economic contexts, gender…?
RK: This comes out of specific conversations between artists, as well as from the needs and access of any community, geographic and/or social. It becomes difficult to make these broad characterizations, but I think it’s important to consider these factors when viewing or presenting contemporary art. While it can be difficult to articulate the differences evident in how artists approach materials across communities, I am less interested in defining what these are, and more investing in thinking about the terms with which we can interpret and assess a range of material relationships.
EV: How would you rate the impact of the high-technologies in the materials that artists use? How do you see the future of that interaction between art and technology?
RK: Technology is incredibly interesting to think about in this manner. There is the proposal that it creates a leveling out, functioning as an equalizing factor between artists and audiences across the globe, but I don’t agree this is the case. Tech-products are loaded with issues of labor, class, and gender, to name only a few of the sociopolitical dynamics they are embedded in. I think accessibility to technology should also be considered.
EV: Nature used to be the source of materials for artists, either raw or processed. Which meanings do you confer to the use of organic/natural/bodily materials nowadays?
RK: In contemporary art and contemporary material usage, all types of materials, from the organic to the synthetic are loaded with cultural and social significance. I think this needs to be understood to facilitate the nuanced reception of a more diverse range of contemporary art production.
EV: Does money matter? Are there rich and poor materials? Are there materials intended for the wealthiest collectors?
RK: Money is a huge force in determining artistic production. And I am sure collectors are attracted to specific types of materials, or that certain collectors would need to have the means to maintain and preserve high-end materials in an artwork. It would definitely be fascinating to investigate if and how these forces influence the production of contemporary art from this angle.
EV: As you state, the making of art is in some degree local, but it seems that its circulation and market are global. Are we prepared to fully understand those localities? How do materials help or hinder that global interpretation?
RK: There are so many factors at play in the circulation of contemporary art, that while global exchange is certainly present and possible, it isn’t as seamless as it may appear. Although, as more artworks circulate, physically and online, more and more context is lost. I am curious about how we can account for this, while avoiding the pitfalls of the overly didactic.
She is a graduate in History of Art from the Complutense University of Madrid. An art critic, she has been writing a weekly column since 1998 in El Cultural (El Mundo), while also keeping up a blog at the magazine’s website, entitled Y tú que lo veas. She has worked for the magazineArte y Parte and for the Galician Centre for Contemporary Art (Santiago de Compostela). She has had texts published in art catalogues and specialist magazines and is an editor of the online exhibitions guide ART MAD. She is a member of the Institute for Contemporary Art and was its Chair from 2008 and 2011. She received the GAC Art Critics Prize in 2012, which is awarded by Catalan art-gallery associations.
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