ane Onckule is a curator and the Program director of Kim? Contemporary Art Centre in Riga since 2010. 

Q: We met at Independent Curators International (ICI), where you had a presentation in 2017. Could you describe the project?

ZO: The talk at ICI was organized on the occasion of my departure from Kim? Contemporary Art Centre in Riga, an institution I have been affiliated with for about 8 years at that point. I had arrived to NYC with a freshly printed publication, a “brick” in  my hands that marked exhibition and events’ history at Kim? from 2010-2016 and included various contributors and voices: curators, artists, philosophers, photographers. Centered around publication, my talk highlighted the “mood” of the art across Baltic region. Titled “On the Playground with Kim?” the ICI event dealt with the characteristic and the quality of this mood and how it plays out in a self-referential, almost performative manner.  Playfulness here exists in opposition to a view that, because of the theoretical, political-economic structures (the narrow circle of collectors, galleries, dealers) and art-historical conditions (the lack of discursive, dialectic or critical art), contemporary art has a serious limitations to even exist in that region. Armed and alarmed by and with the aforementioned knowledge I spoke about various possibilities and various limitations of a self-reflective and site-specific curatorial practice within that particular contemporary art space in Riga. 

Q: I’d like to talk to you about appearances and love. “Do what you love” or DWYL is my pet peeve as far as millennial motivational-speak since it assumes that we all start from the same platform and the only thing we have to choose is the doing. Of course there are things like working visas, mental health and finances. Where do you currently find yourself, in administrative, producing and love – balance, in your work?

ZO: Whoa, this is one provocative opening question (laughs).. For the sake of one’s own image, answer should be either superficially affirming on the struggles but then strongly confirming of hope for the good things to come, or it can use a similar type of strategy and reply would be a dose of sarcasm as a substitute for a more of dead pun joke. As I am typing my reply and I travel through my thoughts, I find myself disinterested in doing either. Therefore: I am pretty much struggling in balancing-act of an overabundance and simultaneously absence of the administrative, production’s and love in what could be called my current life. 

Q: You started in photography and also studied economics, how have this background benefit or intervened with your current projects?

ZO: I sort of announced myself to myself and to the world with studies in Economics, then a brief stint studying Communication Studies and Journalism and then eventually Art History with parallel episode in Photography as well as pursuing what could be called a “studio” or more precisely dark room practice in black and white analog photography. Currently, after some 8 year pause in studies, I am working towards my MA in Curatorial Studies. Not entirely sure how exactly this path have influenced my curatorial thinking but what I could see as an impact is perhaps a constant shift, juggling across the mode, mood and discipline. I am interested in questioning the very curatorial voice, impact and (its) dominance in art production, narration, dissemination, forgiving and forgetting.

Also, perhaps the experience has granted me with the awareness of how “others” think, how they perceive themselves and the world. I got to see how sometimes amusing/funny/ridiculous/presumptions/narrow minds of economists are, as well as Museum directors or artists or well, yes, curators. I think it has provided me with more open ended thinking if not too open. As well, with a genuine interest in what happens outside of all of these respective “bubbles” we tend to put ourselves into.

Although and despite the fact I have managed to sit on several stools of the various educational institutions, I wouldn’t value myself as a particularly disciplined or skilled student. 

I feel like current studies perhaps are going to be my last, but who knows. If ever do it again, then perhaps I would finally be mature or ready enough to get into the world of deep thought and generative analysis as well as reflection .. the one of Philosophy. Art, especially art of the now, constantly peaks into the field of Philosophy with what I feel is mostly a “surface reading”. Browsing, fast reading and more of a cursory knowledge is certainly something I am struggling and trying to deal with.. Perhaps therefore so many schools that I have attended.  

Q: You said to me recently you really didn’t want to have a screen-based work in your upcoming show. I am really interested in this reticence and what the background of it is?

ZO: It is correct, yes, yet I wouldn’t focus on that too much. You know, it is like you have these days you don’t like the same daily pastry or type of a nut or shape of pasta you used to adore and crave/ed so much. So you go for something else. What’s more, I was not quite trying to avoid the presence of a screen, but was motivated in part by the fact that I pretty much cannot control the type of the device/screen it would be played/showed on. I see Balticana, an exhibition that I am currently working, as an atmospheric screen itself, with the certain faktura – the “noise of the surface” as Russian/Latvian theorist from early 20th century Voldemārs Matvejs (best known by his pen name Vladimir Markov)  has pointed out. I like, I love screen-art that has a great capacity in bringing, in transporting visitor to the unknown territories, not yet experienced senses etc., but compositionally and spatially it just didn’t seemed a good fit for my Balticana. Also and largely the decision is guided by what is available as well as what I prioritize for, there was simply no videos, any feature length materials/films/recordings I felt like using to populate Balticana’s “body” with.  

Q: In regards to appearances, I am interested in visibility: What is visible and what is is lost in the flight from Riga to New York? What seems to come through more?

ZO: What is gained is in equal proportions – a deeper observation of myself both as a private subject, as a projecting subject, as well as sort of representative of the “site” and the context I am coming from and have worked within and with. This is paired with a more engaged, more direct (from the first person’s perspective) assessment of the future situation I could find  myself in. Also, it should be said I have spend the last 1.5 years in what could be called imaginary NYC. In reality I am based in a somewhat unreal/bucolic Upstate New York which is far removed from the city. So I am establishing my relationship with that big exciting city through the notion of desire and longing as much as one does towards the partner one doesn’t get to see often enough. 

Q: Have you started dressing any differently since you arrived to New York?

ZO: Good question,  haha… I don’t know, I don’t think so. I did have episodes of trying something else last year, but I it seems like I have returned to my “uniform”. I am very much interested in fashion, textures, colors and fabrics, but would not necessarily see myself as wearing a particularly exciting or experimental type. I am semi-informed, certainly interested in fashion but more as an observer. My camouflage is some good black for autumn and winter months with lots of transparency and white/off-white and beige when its warm/er. Also, during my “career” in/with shopping across nice places (my favorites are weird/obscure good vintage places, fashion outlets and men and military/working clothing shops) I have assembled decent amount of “statement” or investment pieces. And yeah, my closet is pretty much curated. Also, I am a fan of buying less and/or buying the same type, same brand, same color. It’s just like with the hairstyle or the food I consume. The same. The same good thing, on a never ending loop. But it doesn’t bore me, at least I don’t see it that way. I see this as a good base, a good foundation to base things on and work on, where all the other unexpected and new things have possibility to arrive to. 

Q: You have a collection of antique jewelry – could you tell me about how it started and how you choose to what travels with you or do you carry complete collection to each of your new homes?

ZO: I think I am what you call an old soul and in antique jewelry goes together with old books and/or china or buttons that I also have managed to acquire. I very much enjoy the notion of certain understated weirdness/eccentricity that I can channel via my jewelry. These are items that carry quite special stories starting from the various centuries or even B.C. period pieces, their materials, origins as well as added value being from the people who have worn or possessed them. Less gemstone heavy, they are simply very special to me as symbols, signifiers. I guess these things are for me what for some are shoes or bags. Most of them travel with me from place to place and only in very rare or unfortunate occasions some of them are either left or god forbid, lost. Still grieving from the one lost jade earring during a walk on the lawn here upstate.. 

Q: How do you feel the time spent in New York affected your approach to thinking about programming as a curator? What topics do you feel you want to talk about and are forced to talk about because there is a lack of discussion or misunderstanding?

ZO: This is a question not easy to answer, because as soon as I am about to express something, to share certain struggles or problematic aspects such as lack of curiosity, or access, or structural understanding, of the information or site-specific history that I have had spent much time and care on, immediately, in that very moment, a similar, if not identical approach could be bounced back at me. Nevertheless and when I think of being forced to share something, I would say I feel myself more engaged with and interested in the curatorial ethics (even if at this stage I am only further problematizing the very question and not necessarily acting how I am “supposed to”). I take slower steps in curatorial, institutional and artistic value judgments and opinion sharing (I guess it’s called political correctness). And, I am more engaged in taking in and connecting to numerous other voices from vast territories across so wide, yet at once so narrow, contemporary art map. While topics I am reluctant to cover are those of the doubts and short-sighted discussions on certain territories, including, that of my own origin. One particular aspect that troubles me is the oversimplified and somewhat misunderstood reading of the “whiteness” of that region. Whiteness that I am interested to channel and challenge as a more nuanced idea, has been summarized in my latest thinking to be described as not quite white, instead, it is more of an “off-white”. 

Q: As we wrap up 2018 – making wishes seem appropriate, a wish is a more forgiving form of a resolution which to me has a flavor of a boot camp. Being careful what you wish for, because it may come true: What would be your ideal work situation for the next couple of years? 

ZO: Being familiar with the fact that an impassioned wish for one is less so for another, my ideal situation, work situation included, would be to to relocate to the city of New York and to integrate into the art scene there and to contribute in the capacity of a curator, programmer or researcher. Interesting and exciting offers are to be reviewed and accepted! But simultaneously I am considering other possibilities, here to remain unnamed roles I am mulling over. All the while and in parallel I will continue my work and part-time  contribution from a distance to the institution/s in Riga and across the Baltics.