When did you start the gallery and why?
Cordova is a curatorial project I founded in 2016 in the living room of my apartment in Vienna. The project grew out of Jupiter Woods, in London (where I also lived) and more directly out of the Jupiter Woods satellite location that I ran in Vienna from 2015-2016. I changed the name to Cordova because I wanted to be able to see what I was doing more clearly, without having the program in constant conversation with a larger entity operating in a different city.
Both projects arose through a desire to work more directly with artists and also from a certain impatience. I didn’t want to wait until I was validated either professionally or economically by an external structure, before I could start working with the artists I was interested in.
I have always worked parallel jobs, most of them curatorial and in these roles there are generally chasms between the artists and me. And with Cordova, it is only the artists and me, aside from occasional help. And this closeness feels really important, to go into each project fully and to try to be there with the artists through the whole process, without having to answer to anyone outside. While I do think about an audience, I really do this project for myself and for the artists.
Tell us about your program. Can you give examples of artists you have shown and exhibitions that you have organized?
Firstly, I guess it’s important to say that I am not commercial and this position I think gives shape to a lot of the projects, in that I don’t pressure the artists to make saleable work. I would sell something if someone was interested but this isn’t a driving force by any means, and if anything I encourage the artists to try something they are less sure of, or if it makes sense, something that is different from what they normally make, to challenge themselves. The program most often consists of solo exhibitions, performances and events. There have been a few occasions with groups, but for the most part this was directed by the artists involved, when they wanted to work collaboratively. Usually the projects are somehow site specific and the artist comes and makes at least part of the work on location.
Thematically I am interested in work that is in some way responsive to the morbid socio-political conditions we find ourselves in, work that attempts to grapple with some difficult and perhaps unanswerable questions. I am drawn to issues around representation; queerness, identity and feminism, geo-politics; land use, rights of access and conflict, class; systems of control and the politics of governance, and climate change and its successive environmental and social degradation. Although I do think there are specific artists that demonstrate these themes I think their work also does more than just that and thus I am reticent to single them out as illustrative, but I think if you look at the general program you will find these ideas.
How would you characterize the artists you work with?
Honestly, I try not to characterize too directly. While there are definitely themes, politics and ideas that I think about and that are important to me, the way I work is more intuitive and less scripted. I try not to think about the artist as operative, by that I mean I am not trying to make an overarching statement or master thesis with the program or through the artists work. This is also why I prefer solo shows, as something can be more fully articulated on its own, rather than as a part of a larger theme.
What brought you into contemporary art in the first place?
I was trained-and still operate at times- as an artist. I think my approach to curating and in effect Cordova, really comes through this channel, namely that I work in a very hands on way with the artist with a mode of thinking and relating to material, production and exhibition making that comes from making things myself.
Also, I grew up in South Florida about an hour north of Miami and come from a working class non-art-educated background. I am realizing more and more that even though I myself have been educated, much of my understanding of the world really still comes from this origin, especially my relation to labor-at times I have difficulty thinking about intellectual work (ie curating) as ‘real’ work. The whole environment in the region where I grew up can be quite hostile with deep class divides, homophobia and violence and I knew that from a very young age that I would have to leave in order to work or to have the life that I wanted. I think art for me offered a way out and a way of thinking that made me somehow distinct from that place.
What do you like most about running Cordova?
I think the closeness with the artists, and the feeling of mutual satisfaction when the artist makes an exhibition or performance that they are really happy with or I guess even more so when the experience of working with me in some way changes their trajectory or gives them a new perspective. One of the most rewarding experiences was when an artist told me that after doing an exhibition at Cordova she felt re-connected to her materials and was liberated somehow to try new things.
Where does the name of your gallery come from?
I was thinking, probably too consciously, about a name, and then I had this weird dream where I was at a house party and it was really fun and everyone was enjoying themselves and then I went upstairs for something and when I came back down the mood had changed entirely. All the lights were on and the music was off and everyone looked distressed. I asked someone what happened and they said that someone came in with a knife and started stabbing people at the party and then I woke up and had the name Cordova in my head immediately. Not sure that it’s related to the dream directly but it did come right after.
How do you see the role of a gallery today?
Hmm, this is a complicated question, maybe larger than I can really articulate here. I guess there is a difference between what I think or hope a gallery should be and what I think they are or have to be as a result of neoliberalism. For me it feels the most useful, at least in my context of being non-commercial, to think about representation and support. There are several artists who I speak to on a regular basis and I think through these conversations I am able to offer support, and this feels really important. Even if I am not facilitating sales I can offer these conversations and a longer-term relationship based on trust and an honest non-monetary investment in the work.
What are you plans for the future?
To continue with how I have been working. I think it’s important to note that the project is not aspirational, in that I am not trying to make it anything other than what it is, either in scale or terms of commercial or institutional success. While of course I would like more money to be able to offer better fees to the artists or to be able to offer nicer accommodations – most of the artists at this point stay with me and my partner -, I don’t have plans for expansion or of drastic reconfiguration. I try to inhabit a position of continuity rather than one focused on progress. Maybe one day I will find this way of working uninteresting but for now I am still engaged and looking forward to many more projects.