Visiting Arts Curators’ Visit to Tehran, Iran, took place between 20-27 April 2009.
I cannot stress enough the importance of research trips such as this. As well as enabling inter-cultural exchange and real insight into different contexts for the production of contemporary art, they provide an opportunity to reflect critically upon one’s own implication in the wider international discourse. They are also one of the few occasions when curators from peer organisations in the UK can spend an extended period of time together and really share ideas. Please make sure this continues to be a priority, and thank you for enabling this to happen.” – Tom Trevor, Director, Arnolfini, Bristol
Visiting Arts’ Curators’ Research Visits provide opportunity to engage with different geographies, global issues and debates, conceived to forge the creation of cultural links and understanding and increase the range and depth of international working. All of which we anticipate to result in considerable future arts activity and exchange.
The visit was led by Kathryn Standing, Visual Arts Manager and Sholeh Johnston, Project Co-ordinator at Visiting Arts. Sholeh is a fluent Farsi speaker, who, in addition to managing the programme, translated many of the conversations.
A group of six UK curators were given the opportunity to spend time in the Iranian capital visiting artists, seeing work, visiting gallery owners and arts organisations, and absorbing the atmosphere of a city of paradoxes, torn between tradition and modernity.
The curators who took part were:
Kyla McDonald, Asst. Curator, Tate Modern Acquisitions, London
Francis McKee, Director, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow
Angela Peagram, Project Director, Art & Sacred Places, UK wide
Tom Trevor, Director, Arnolfini, Bristol
Nicola Triscott, Artistic Director, The Arts Catalyst, London
Alessandro Vincentelli, Acting Head of Programme, Baltic, Gateshead
Research and preparation for the visit had taken place over the preceding twelve month period which paved the way with contacts both in the UK and Tehran; it also allowed Visiting Arts to slowly build a picture of artistic activity (that wasn’t dominated by any one group or person) and this research time proved to be invaluable.
The 5 day itinerary included visits to a number of selected galleries, arts organisations, as well as meeting with many individual artists through gallery or individual studio visits, in addition to informal meetings with critics and cultural commentators. The visit resulted in a total of 40 or more significant contacts being made, providing springboards for future artistic relationships. Practicalities like ‘The Mini-Bus’, proved to be more than a mere van – it became ‘the mother ship’ of the visit; a place to exhale, where conversations on life and art took place, as well as much humour. Further, the visit also provided one of the few occasions when curators from peer organisations in the UK can spend an extended period of time together and really share ideas.
Meetings at the beginning of the week were arranged to give background history and context, the pace was accelerated and intensified by mid-week, with up to twelve hour days of gallery meetings and studio visits. The week culminated with the curators giving presentations on their work and institutions, at one of Tehran’s well respected independent galleries, followed by a Q&A and networking session with an enthusiastic audience of 50 people.
I was very unsure and wary before going but I came back with a fantastic feeling about Tehran and the art scene there – it was much more vibrant and young than I had expected and it was great to see so many young artists practising. The visit has already begun to inform our strategy for our Middle East collections and Tate has continued to be in contact with artists and establish relationships since returning to the UK” – Kyla McDonald, Asst. Curator, Tate Modern Acquisitions, London
I think Visiting Arts did a great job showing us a spectrum within a very varied art scene …” – Francis Mckee, Director, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow
With flexibility and responsiveness, this was a well researched and thoughtfully co-ordinated visit…’ – Alessandro Vincentelli, Acting Head of Programme, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead
Reflections and Aspirations
A follow up meeting took place at the offices of Visiting Arts in July 2009. Arianne Levine, Art Consultant, Curator (New Art World Ltd, London) and Leyla Fakhr, Curator, Green Cardomom, were invited to join us as both have considerable knowledge and experience of working with Iran.
Three months on, it felt an opportune moment to reflect and discuss potential legacy and a number of success points were identified and discussed:
- The visit provided the opportunity for curators from peer organisations in the UK to spend an extended period of time together and really share ideas, providing valuable thinking time with each other and engendering potential future collaborations. This engagement with each other being made more productive by the relatively small number of participants.
- The visit created a sense of confidence, each person feeling they could return to Tehran alone if necessary, in order to continue research.
- The visit cultivated a great group dynamic, fostered too by the groups’ own generosity, enthusiasm and openness to each other and to what they found there. This made for a significant contribution to the outcomes of the visit and Visiting Arts is very appreciative of this
- The visit made for a very special engagement and without doubt changed perceptions of a place and its people.
…it shrank the perceived cultural distance between Iran and the UK. I feel I can now have a conversation with fellow professionals in Iran.” – Angela Peagram, Art & Sacred Places
The visit generated ideas and ambitions for future working.
The visit helped build on Tate’s strategy for collecting in the Middle East, through presentations information was shared between both departments of Exhibitions and Collections. Tate will continue to look at selected Iranian artists and make careful considerations as to who may be appropriate for Tate’s collection over the next few years.
Francis McKee, Director, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow is looking to initiate a long term relationship that could resonate in Scotland and provide a meaningful relationship for Iranian artists, chosen on standard and concept of work, rather than ethnicity and based on the notion of ‘artist as shadow’, creating an opportunity to discover how people live; a strategy that would have more legacy than just a presenting exhibition.
Angela Peagram, Project Director, Art & Sacred Places would like to consider the possibilities of artist exchange, working with new media and technologies with artists based in the UK and Iran. Sharing ideas around the theme of spirituality and responding to mutual starting points through mobile pictures and films/online. Angela also hopes to meet the Head of the Iranian Institute for inter-Religious Dialogue during his visit to the UK in August as well as undertaking a number of talks and presentations as part of the Art in Sacred Places’ programme.
Tom Trevor, Director, Arnolfini, Bristol found the visit provided a whole new level of understanding. Spending time there also raised questions about international shopping and awareness that resulting projects should involve real exchange, as well as a critical self examination into the implications of inter-cultural dialogue. Keen to sustain relationships that were brokered there; architect, Kianoosh Vahabi has been invited to contribute to Arnolfini’s journal Concept Store. The journal reflects on Arnolfini’s programme as well as wider concerns and provides a discursive space for commissioned texts, artists’ contributions, interviews and other experimental forms.
Nicola Triscott, Artistic Director, The Arts Catalyst, London is keen to keep in touch with Kianoosh Vahabi and would like to explore mutual platforms /workshops for engagement,
Alessandro Vincentelli, Acting Head of Programme, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead will be sharing with the Baltic team the direct material from artists that will continue to inform curatorial processes and exhibition research.