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Interview with Kathy Rae Huffman: Curating digital art with heart and mind

  • Zagreb University of Applied Sciences
n.paradoxa Vol. 40 21
Kathy Rae Huffman is a writer, producer, researcher,
lecturer, prolific public speaker and a pioneering curator
of video art, media art, online art, interactive art,
installation and performance art. In her curatorial work,
she introduced video and computer technologies to art
museum audiences in the early 1980s. Born and raised
in California, Kathy spent a significant part of her career
in Europe, lecturing and curating media art and Internet
art. She was Chief Curator at the Long Beach Museum
of Art (1979-1984); Curator/Producer at the Institute of
Contemporary Art in Boston (1984-1991); a freelance
curator based in Austria (1991-1998); Associate Professor
of Electronic Art and Director of the undergraduate
program EMAC at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,
New York (1998-2000); Director at Hull Time Based
Arts (2000-2002); Visual Arts Director at Cornerhouse
Manchester (2002-2008); and then a freelance curator
again (2009-2014) based in Berlin.
In 1997, she founded the mailing list FACES with
Diana McCarty and Valie Djordjevic for women artists,
curators and writers working with new media which is
celebrating 20 years of its on and offline existence in a
get-together, 13-15 October 2017 at Schaumbad-Freies
Atelierhaus, Graz. She consults for The Villa Aurora, Los
Angeles and Berlin (since 2013) and she is a member of
the SIGGRAPH Digital Arts Community Committee (since
2015). She has resided in Southern California since 2014
but continues to curate and to consult independently.
In November 2017, a major selection of women’s video
curated by Huffman from the Video Pool video archives
will open in Winnipeg.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: Your
work can be found under many different labels including
but not limited to net art, Internet art, virtual art, media
art, intermedia. Which expression is the best fit for your
line of work?
Kathy Rae Huffman: I always felt that the labels
were really restrictive, so I’ve tried to avoid them.
Initially, I was considered to be a video curator. But,
at my first curator position at the Long Beach Museum
Curating digital art with heart and mind
Kathy Rae Huffman interviewed by Ana Peraica,
Ana Kuzmanić and Petar Jandrić
Text and images © named author/artist, n.paradoxa.
No reproduction without © permission of n.paradoxa and author/artist.
22 n.paradoxa Vol. 40
of Art, I was responsible for all exhibitions. Of course,
video was my passion, so it had a continuous presence
in the museum. When I moved to Boston in 1984, I was
given the title curator/producer, working collaboratively
between a public television station and the Institute of
Contemporary Art, with the mandate to bring video art
to television. When I moved to Europe as a freelance
curator in early 1991, I used my experience with video
and artists’ TV to earn a small income by giving lectures,
working for festivals by curating programs or serving as
a jury member, presenter, and/or organizer. It was a time
when video had gained popular respect and my American
experience was considered valuable.
I got passionate about the Internet right at its
beginning in the early 1990s, probably because of my
association with Van Gogh TV, whose producers I met at
Ars Electronica in 19901. I was impressed with their live,
interactive TV performance work, and involvement with
VGTV became a turning point for me.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: Two
decades ago, in her editorial for the publication of the First
Cyberfeminist International, Cornelia Sollfrank asked:
‘What is Cyberfeminism? What is hidden behind the fusion
of cyberand feminism”?’2 With some wisdom of hindsight,
please answer these questions in the context here and now.
Kathy Rae Huffman: For me, Cyberfeminism is a
specific term coined by the Australian based VNS Matrix
in ‘A Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century’.3
At the time, the message was a powerful kick in the
ass for women around the world, especially as they
approached using the Internet. Today, however, I think
that Cyberfeminism is a bit like Cyberpunk. Both are
respected for the consciousness they inspired, but as
working theories they now seem outdated. Of course,
that does not mean that we don’t need Feminism – we
can see the necessity of Feminism even at the highest
levels, like during the presidential race between
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the US election.
However, I am not sure whether it is useful anymore to
separate digital equality from other forms of equality.
It is a constant struggle to point out inequalities in
every area of life, and it is everybody’s. I am more
concerned with why the younger generation of women
does not embrace, respect or understand basic feminist
principles. Perhaps this disregard for the recent past
has led to less enthusiasm for Feminism in general, and
that impacts upon Cyberfeminism as an ethic, as well.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: A lot
of your work is related to gender and feminism. How
did you get an interest into gender issues online and
Kathy Rae Huffman:
I was always sympathetic
with feminist issues, and it has a long history in Los
Angeles. From 1976 the Los Angeles Woman’s Video
Center4 at the Woman’s Building was closely associated
with the Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA). As the
intern at the museum from 1977, I was often the courier
transporting LBMA’s equipment to downtown LA for
special programs. In 1983, when I was curator, working
with guest curator Arlene Raven, I presented the ten-
year anniversary exhibition of Womanhouse (1972) at
the LMBA, a groundbreaking project of The Feminist
Art Program at Cal Arts, originated by Judy Chicago and
Miriam Shapiro. Both Chicago and Shapiro participated
in this important exhibition, along with Suzanne Lacy,
Leslie Labowitz and me, at the Long Beach Museum of Art, 1983,
on her site visit for preparing for the At HOME exhibition. Photo:
Suzanne Lacy.
Right: Leslie Labowitz’s work, Sproutime in At HOME.
n.paradoxa Vol. 40 23
Faith Wilding, Eleanor Antin (and others).
The LBMA video program presented most of the
early feminist video works. Women used video as a tool
of empowerment and introspection, and video facilitated
consciousness-raising sessions, which were important
to developing the second wave of feminist activity
worldwide. An entire genre of video was generated from
this early feminist work, and I was lucky to be working
at such an early point of my career, in the midst of this
energy. When I moved to Europe in 1991, I realized
that my support network revolved around the women I
knew – women gave me the basic information I needed,
women hired me to organize events, write texts, and
collaborate in projects. So Feminism, for me, has always
been both personal and professional. There seemed to
be many women involved in European Internet activity
in the early days, which I found to be both comfortable
and inspiring.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: Some
of your projects, such as Face Settings,5 are decidedly
female-only. How did they arrive into being?
Kathy Rae Huffman: After Eva Wohlgemuth
and I finished our first Internet project, Siberian Deal
(1995), we wanted to work on another project together.
We discussed things we liked to do, like traveling and
cooking, so Face Settings (1996-1998) was a good
solution. We dedicated this project to improve female
usage and understanding of the Internet. At the time we
were quite active in the Austrian and European Internet
scene, and we were early users of Internet streaming,
telnet, IRC, and other (now archaic) communication
protocols. We were invited to organize and teach many
workshops. Eva was the technical one, and I was the social
networking person, otherwise known as the “party girl”.
At one of our workshops, at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanian
in Berlin, Cornelia Sollfrank made her first website. At
our courses we had women and men, but we discovered
that men asked all the questions. Women would come
to us later and say: ‘I didn’t want to seem stupid, but
how do you do this...? So we decided to do female-only
workshops and see if that provided a different dynamic.
Women were no longer talked-over, they were not
interrupted, and they did not feel stupid. That is how we
arrived to the female-only part.
We got the idea that it would be fun to get women
focused around an activity that everybody feels more or
less comfortable about: cooking. For Face Settings, we
organized co-cooking communication events in different
cities. We asked the women participating to give us their
favorite local recipe, which Eva and I would prepare
while we demonstrated and talked about the possibilities
of Internet, hoping that Internet could become a part
At HOME exhibition
catalogue and poster
24 n.paradoxa Vol. 40
their art practice. The discussions were designed
to be remote, via early Internet streaming. But for
events in St Petersburg and Glasgow, we sat around a
common table. We collaborated with female artists in
Belgrade, Bilbao, St Petersburg, Bielefeld, Glasgow,
and Vienna. The title of the work, Face Settings, refers
to individual table “place/face” settings for a common
I’m currently curator of a selection of video
created between 1984-2009 by women, selected
from the archives at Video Pool,6 a media center in
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The presence of work
by women in the archive was particularly strong, and
covered the entire history of the organization. It was
exciting to find intergenerational, ethnically diverse,
and technically disparate works that reveal the
diversity found among those women artists who live
and work in the harsh Canadian prairies. These works
have all been digitized and are available for viewing
(and rental) from the new Canadian cross regional
online platform: VUKAVU. The exhibition will open
in November 2017, and will travel to different media
centers across Canada through 2018.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: One
of the lasting legacies of Face Settings is the mailing
list Faces (1997).7 How did it arrive into being; how
did you manage to maintain it for two decades?
Kathy Rae Huffman: At our Face Settings dinner
meeting in Vienna, the women attending were really
excited to keep on communicating, and talk of a female
only mailing list had been percolating for awhile. At the
time, there already was an important mailing list called
NetTime (established in 1995). However, some women
felt intimidated posting there. Diana McCarty (who was
connected to NetTime and the Meta Forum symposium
in Budapest) and I spearheaded the female-only mailing
list Faces. We announced our intentions at the LEAF
festival in Liverpool in April 1997, that it would be a
place where no man could tell you to shut-up or talk over
you.8 We took a lot of flak for that – a lot of men in the
net community criticized us, we were publically yelled at
by some of our male colleagues, and they even walked
out of our presentations. We could not believe how upset
they were about our decision to keep Faces female-only!
Yet, providing women with their own space actually
Kathy Rae Human and Eva Wohlgemuth in
Vienna, 2001.
Right, above and below: Face Settings event at
Documenta X, 1997
n.paradoxa Vol. 40 25
meant a lot to us, so we kept working. Valie Djordjevic,
who was working at Internationale Stadt in Berlin,9 got us
online, and it has continued.
When Cornelia Sollfrank was asked to co-ordinate a
Cyberfeminist Week during the Hybrid WorkSpace at the
1997 documenta X, she proposed using the Faces mailing
list to organize the women who would attend, which gave
Faces a big bump in subscribers. For the opening night,
Eva Wohlgemuth and I were invited to cook the opening
dinner, as a Face Settings event, and the result was really
a great confirmation of our female network.
Faces has kept going, moderated by Diana McCarty,
Valie Djordjevic, and myself. Since 2002, the list has
been administrated by Ushi Reiter, and hosted by Servus.
at, in Linz, Austria. The list currently maintains about
350-400 women, from many countries, who meet from
time to time at media festivals. It is a community rather
than a discussion platform for texts, theories, or rants
(well, sometimes there are rants).
In 2004, recognizing that many women still did not
have their own websites, and we also wanted to move the
list members to a more public environment we designed
a website, with a small grant from Austria. Made in the
content management system Drupal, FACES women
could upload their CVs, photos, and also discuss their
work. Unfortunately, our website was launched at about
the same time as the now mega social media platform
Facebook, which was very simple to use. Drupal, on the
other hand, is a platform that requires some concentration
and skill. Consequently, the Faces website never took off.
That was indeed a strike of bad luck. The list remains
a vital communication tool because it is really needed.
Still, there is no advertising, and no recruitment of
new members, no money exchanged to operate it, so it
remains a self-motivated, word-of-mouth community.
This year, 2017, is the Faces 20th anniversary, and that is
a real milestone.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: Face
Settings sets up the metaphor of dinner on the web and
‘brings together offline and online communication.’10
What is the point in bringing together online and offline
Kathy Rae Huffman: When we started Face
Settings there were very few women active in digital
communication, and it was not yet completely normal
that people even exchanged emails. I was fortunate,
because I got involved in the Internet scene in 1994, while
working with the Soros Centers for Contemporary Art,
Moscow, preparing for the exhibition and symposium
NewMediaTopia / NewMediaLogica (1994).11 By 1995,
when I moved to Vienna, I was probably spending 15
to 16 hours a day online. This allowed me to meet up
with an international group of artists whom I would
not otherwise have the opportunity know, much less to
stay in contact with. But, we always looked forward to
meeting up in person. For feminist groups, it has always
been important to meet together IRL (in real life). I
learned this early, while spending time at The Woman’s
Building in Los Angeles, observing how women would
discuss, and make work collectively. When you are in
a group, you gain collective power. So women gained
strength from each other, shared stories and passed
along oral histories. Using cooking as the hook to
begin deeper conversation, we realized it was also an
enjoyable way we could engage all participants, equally.
na Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić:
Back in 2008, you donated your curatorial video
collection of approximately 1000 VHS titles for
preservation at the North West Film Archive in
Manchester.12 Recently, you donated your personal
curatorial library of books to Goldsmiths College
Library in London (as the Kathy Rae Huffman
Media Art Library), including catalogues and
rare documentation of media and video art of the
Screengrab of FACEs website archive online.
26 n.paradoxa Vol. 40
1970s-1990s.13 What inspired you to make
your own
archive and library available to the public?
Kathy Rae Huffman: These collections document
my personal curatorial history with artists. They contain
materials by and about artists, research materials for
exhibitions, and the video artwork I collected over the
years. My video collection and library first went public in
1995, as a part HILUS Intermediale Projektforschung, a
research project in Vienna, led by Herwig Turk, Christine
Meierhofer, Gebhard Sengmuller and Max Kossatz.
When HILUS disbanded, I loaned my video collection
to the C3 Centre in Budapest (one of the Soros Centers
for Contemporary Art) 1996-1998. When I moved back
to the US to teach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
(1998-2000), I shipped everything to New York and used
the videos and books in my teaching and research. When
I relocated to the UK, I shipped everything again. When I
moved to Berlin, I left the video materials in Manchester,
primarily because Steve Hawley, the Head of the
Manchester School of Art (and a video artist himself)
planned to have them become part of a new research
center. However, for reasons I don’t know, the collection
was never made available to the public. Instead, it ended
up in deep storage at the Northwest Film Archive.
Goldsmiths now has about a third of my curatorial
library or about 500 kilos of books and documents. In
2013, when I was planning to leave Berlin and return to
California, Nick Crowe, an artist from Manchester who
teaches at Goldsmiths, living in Berlin, said: ‘I think
we can use these at the Goldsmiths Art College’, and
they created the Kathy Rae Huffman Media Art Library.
This is really great, because many students are interested
in these materials; they are using them for research,
discussion groups, and they have access to information
that is not on the Internet. So the library is really being
put to a good use.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: What
are the main messages of this collection for present
and future of media art?
Kathy Rae Huffman: My personal collection is
comprised of books, catalogues, exhibition materials,
videotapes, and digital matter such as CD ROMs, photo
documentation, and software (as well as drawings and
handwritten letters) gathered and saved over my career
(about 40 years worth). It is a very personal collection and
was never intended to cover all areas of media art (such
as a collecting institution might do). Most of the time,
this kind of material ends up in boxes or on the highest
shelves, and never gets looked at again. Furthermore,
many of these materials are made in outdated and obsolete
formats by artists who made important statements, and it
is important to have them available.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: The
majority of the Kathy Rae Huffman Media Art Library
consists of pre-digital materials. Without digitization,
the collection is doomed to be forgotten; yet, digitization
would inevitably change its nature. What happens to
artwork during the process of digitization?
Kathy Rae Huffman: There is much to learn
from ‘the real deal’. In 2011, I did research in the
Getty Research Institute video archives, leading up to
a retrospective exhibition, Exchange and Evolution:
Worldwide Video Long Beach, about the Long Beach
Museum of Art’s video program, 1974-1999. As I worked
through the museum’s archive and associated curatorial
files, I was also reading my own personal curatorial
history: my notes, my writing, post-it notes, letters sent
to me, and copies of letters I wrote to artists between
1979-1984. It took me a while to digest this experience
properly, because I never expected my daily transactions
to be preserved, and especially in such a prestigious
institution. I was dealing with real physical artifacts –
and they energized my memories. But when I see digital
archives, where items are translated into digital files,
everything becomes standardized and lacks this kind
of “personality” and memory hit that objects impart. I
experienced this feeling again while researching the artist
Nan Hoover, spending time in her archives when it was
at The Dusseldorf Academy (this archive has since been
relocated to The Netherlands).
A few years ago, it seemed that all documents and
artworks were eventually going to be digitized. However,
this is not happening. Digitization takes time and trained
technicians. For some institutions like the Getty Research
Institute, when there is demand, and the original needs
protection, a video work gets digitized. But for the most
part, there isn’t capacity to digitize all the materials in
n.paradoxa Vol. 40 27
their vaults. Also, it takes a robust database, and server
space, to offer digital materials online. A few years ago we
thought that digital technology was going to make online
information immortal, but somebody has to pay for that,
and that is just the beginning, where the problems start.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić:
Browsing for (materials about) your work feels literally
like plunging into the history of the Internet. During our
research for this interview, therefore, we could not help
but feel a strong sense of decay and loss… We tried to read
shattered web pages, clicked on dead links… even the
Internet Wayback Machine14 was often of little help. The
same applies to artwork – in comparison to painting and
sculpture, digital artifacts have a much shorter lifespan.
Do you think media art is meant to be ephemeral?
Kathy Rae Huffman: If I can backtrack a little bit,
your question does not apply only to digital art. What
about performance art, community actions, or conceptual
artworks that were documented? Were they meant to
last, or were they created for the moment? Yes, many
of these works have been lost. So how do we recall and
memorialize these one-off ephemeral events? Usually,
it is through the memory and observation of those who
witnessed the event: they write, discuss and critique,
and the event becomes part of the collective memory of
the generation.
Digital art is really specific, yet it has
some points of connection with other forms of art. Not
everybody had access to the Internet when some of the
early Net Art projects were online, so we only know
about some by reputation. Through writing, often in
media festival catalogues, these works become a part
of our history. Many digital works are not backward
For the earlier period, there was an anti-elitist art
feeling, especially during the 1970s punk era. We were
doing something new, something exciting and momentary.
It was a fashion statement, and there was little concern
for the art machine that collects. No one expected that
ephemera would one day be valuable. What we have left
is mostly stuff that was thrown on the floor afterwards
(cheaply copied postcards, flyers, program notes). Only
a few media artists were in institutional collections, or
had some capacity to put their artwork where it would
be maintained. Consequently, a lot of early work has
been lost. I think today’s digital artists are well aware
of this issue – they are much more concerned about the
longevity of their work and their legacy than previous
generations. Also, this issue has become important to
institutions as well as artists, and is now in the forefront
of discussion – complete histories are important.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić:
Online materials are often praised for their openness
and availability. Yet, online availability of artwork is
often restricted as a rule of thumb, famous artists
show very little online. What happens to the promise
of openness within the context of digital arts?
Kathy Rae Huffman: The Internet seems to serve
emerging artists really well. However, more well-known
artists, their galleries and collectors, are concerned about
who has access to their work and what is done with it. I
actually think that a kind of stigma has developed about
having one’s work online. An online exhibition often
means that an artist puts their own work on view, and
personally controls what is on a website to completely
bypass the art establishment. But the job of promoting
work and engaging critics to establish artistic value is a
bigger job than most artists are prepared for. In the early
1990s, Net Artists embraced the idea of the Internet as a
rule-free (even art-free) zone – but that has changed and
curatorial affirmation is no longer problematic for these
artists (who are often also curators). The importance of
an artist is still, in part, determined by a curator and the
context of the presentation, which might be an exhibition,
a biennale, a one-time screening, etc. Depending on the
institution and curator, online exhibitions gain credibility
through their focus, topic, selection policy, accessibility
and design, ability to reach wide audiences, and by
having a reliable server. Consequently, outstanding
online exhibitions are few and far in between.
I curated a number of online exhibitions, and
experienced the changes in protocol during the past 20
years. Yes, many early online projects have disappeared.
For instance, in 1995 I did one of the first online
exhibitions for the Ars Electronica server: a monthly
installment of a web artwork by female artists called
Dar-Links. This collection has completely disappeared –
most of the links went dead, the designs became dated,
and Ars Electronica became more sophisticated with their
28 n.paradoxa Vol. 40
online platform. Also, the series of online exhibitions I
co-curated with Karel Dudesek, as well as Van Gogh TV
and Web 3D Art,15 has completely disappeared. This was
an amazing international collection of 3D work that was
ahead of its time. VGTV maintained their own servers,
but they were eventually decommissioned. It takes money
to keep servers alive, you need constant maintenance, and
the hosted projects can require upgrades. Sustainability of
online digital art is a huge issue. The two online art projects
I co-authored with Eva Wohlgemuth, Siberian Deal and
Face Settings, are also among the disappeared (an early
version of Siberian Deal is on Rhizome). I mention these
two projects because they were hosted by the Viennese
art server, Public Netbase (supported by the Austrian
Ministry of Culture). When funding dried up, the server
closed; passwords no longer worked, and many projects
were lost unless they were migrated to other servers.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić:
What are the main issues pertaining to support and
sustainability of digital art?
Kathy Rae Huffman: Digital art requires time,
expertise, and maintenance – it is not only dependent on
a computer and an Internet connection. I recently curated
the online exhibition Enhanced Vision – Digital Video,16
for the ACM SIGGRAPH Digital Arts Community
(2015). SIGGRAPH is known for supporting technical
innovations, computer graphics, and advanced digital
software. SIGGRAPH has its own servers, and so all
video works were uploaded (not linked, since external
content can change or disappear). This means that the
exhibition will be there for as long as the servers exist.
ACM SIGGRAPH just celebrated 50 years, they have
deep pockets and have had robust servers for over 20
years, and are always upgrading, so this exhibition might
remain online for quite a while. For individual artists or
small organizations who have limited financial resources,
their digital information will inevitably get lost. That
creates the two-level hierarchy, with major institutions
on top and individual artists at the bottom.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić:
Information technologies offer unprecedented
opportunities for online communication from the
WELL, through Facebook, to the newest designs of social
networks, people use these opportunities for various
(old and new) forms of collaboration. Therefore, it is
hardly a surprise that the image of lone artist (writer,
painter, sculptor) slowly but surely gives way to various
collaborative efforts. Can you comment on the rise of
collaborative art in the digital context?
Kathy Rae Huffman: It has always been more
exciting, informative and engaging to work with
like-minded collaborators. Collaborations require
compromise, lots of discussion, planning, and personal
responsibility. One project that comes to mind is
[prologue] new feminism / new Europe (2005).17 Because
collective work brings together information from many
sources, this project raised the level of knowledge for all
participants. Six curators, from five different countries,
brought together over 25 artists from 17 countries, in a
progressive exhibition (a bit different in each of the host
countries) to comment and reflect upon the younger
generation of feminist artists in Europe. Organized largely
by Internet communication, it resulted in an amazing
series of gatherings that were considered multicultural,
interdisciplinary, provocative and political.
Another experimental online writing collaboration I
co-created was with Margarete Jahrmann: pop~TARTS18
for the Telepolis journal, published by Heise Verlag and
supported by Armin Medosch, editor. This column was in
German and English, and filtered topics through a female
lens. Multimedia, and conceived to be a type of palaver
about electronic digital culture, through interviews, reports,
and topics, the column was active from 1996-1999.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: Your
curating career started in the age of television. With
the advent of the Internet, your practice has entered
the age of the digital media. Can you describe the
main transformations in curating practices during
the past few decades?
Kathy Rae Huffman: I
t has been a really interesting
transformation. I remember when most information came
from three television channels, unlike today when so much
information is available, too much at times. Those who
n.paradoxa Vol. 40 29
are online regularly know what curatorial perspectives
are currently being discussed; we see critical responses to
different curators’ concepts; we read reviews of exhibitions
around the world that we will never see. Before the
Internet, one would get this information months after the
exhibition, printed in journals that were costly to subscribe
to – now, we might get information six weeks prior to an
exhibition, and the critique is almost instantaneous and
from several sources. When I started my curatorial practice,
my knowledge of new work, and possible exhibition
collaborators depended on reading, travel, and shared
information from a network of close colleagues and artists
who were essentially my curatorial “informants”. Today
we read Facebook postings and see images streamed live
from curatorial studio visits and from art gallery receptions.
On the one hand, this causes uncritical information
overload; on the other hand, all this information can be put
to good use if one has stamina and a good internal filter.
Social networks are now more of an alert system, one that
flags up interesting events that must be put into a queue of
information to digest and
Actually, we are working in the future – now – we
are not working in the past. The reflection process has
changed, too – instead of looking at people’s reactions,
we now look at expectations. However, even with the
availability of all this information, and the fact that stuff
happens a lot faster, I believe that it is still necessary
to travel and experience different environments. It is
important for curators to get to know artists, read what
they read, and visit them in their studios in order to
understand the background of their ideas. You need to
do this in order to make informed curatorial decisions.
Traditional curatorial practices still seem to dominate –
but are undertaken with more background information
now, due to the ability to communicate quickly and
Curators today should aim to create exhibitions that
reveal ideas of substance. The world does not need any
more exhibitions of pretty pictures – we need exhibitions
that are involved with real life situations and reveal deep
thinking, ideas that challenge, and promote dialogue and
social interaction. It is important not simply to react to
current events or hip trends. In the past, we would just
do “something”, anything, then cross our fingers, and
hope that “it” would work out. Now, because of extreme
visibility on the Internet, artists and curators need to
understand that visibility carries with it a responsibility,
and it’s necessary to follow one’s heart and mind to present
critically challenging, timely, and well researched ideas.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: With
the advent of the digital media, traditional roles of
artists and curators have significantly transformed.
Thus, as curator and writer Igor Zabel wrote:
Today, when the idea of art is no longer connected only
to a specific type of object but often to constellations,
relationships, and interventions into different contexts,
the division between artist and curator is less clear,
especially since both activities tend to meet in an
intermediate area.19 What is the relationship between
today’s curators and artists?
Kathy Rae Huffman: I really agree with this
statement – it is true, although a lot of people don’t
Above: Kathy Rae Human at ICA, Boston in 1988
Right: Eva and Kathy present at OpenX - Ars
Electronica 1997, grrl power workstations
30 n.paradoxa Vol. 40
recognize it. However, let us be clear that this relationship
depends a lot on the artist and the curator and how they
interrelate. Again, there is no blueprint to make the
relationship between curators and artists work. In my
opinion, we are joined together in a kind of symbiotic
relationship. In the best relationships there is good
communication, and we when we really get to know each
other, we understand the reasons for what motivates us
individually. While there are many different approaches
to curation, the curators I respect are always quite close
to the artists they value and give time to. Over time,
we often become good friends with artists, because we
spend so much time together and share ideas. Preparing
an exhibition is a huge responsibility (to the institution,
to the public, and to the art) which takes a lot of time
and energy. Over the years, it is natural to gain a close
circle of artist friends, and this creates a positive circle
of information. I have taken many referrals from artists,
and I always find that artists provide the best tips for new
talent. I have never been let down by an artist who says:
You really should look at this young person’s work;
they are quite good’. I always follow up on a referral
from an artist who I trust and admire.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: Here,
you touched upon a very important topic the curator’s
choice. How do you choose artists and artwork, and
in which order? Do you first pick artists, and then
commission them to produce something for you, or you
first choose an artwork, and then contact its author(s)?
Where do you find these people and their works? How
do you decide what is worth exhibiting?
Kathy Rae Huffman:
This is close to the heart of
the matter. And probably the question that I’ve been
asked more than any other. There is a certain curatorial
instinct, maybe it is a way of seeing, responding to
work, to ideas. I cannot actually confirm the process
very precisely. Curators should be willing to look at a
lot of work, go to some lengths to meet artists, read, talk
to colleagues (and artists) and take risks. Sometimes
a connection is instantaneous, and at other times
connecting with an artist or a concept requires a lot of
time. For me, there always needs to be a hook between
the artist being presented and the space, the context
and the situation; i.e. installing a quiet, contemplative
video work in the middle of a busy, loud passageway
may make no sense, it will get lost. Opportunity plays
a role, too. If it is an invitation to curate an exhibition
of regional artists, that sets boundaries for inclusion.
Which artists finally achieve the point of exhibition is
not always the decision of the curator! There are levels
of approval, budget considerations, space limitations,
scheduling issues, and considerations about how an
artist’s work supports the mission of the institution
hosting the exhibition.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: The
act of curating is inevitably political. What are the
potentials of curation for fostering social change?
Kathy Rae Huffman: Through their choice of
artists, topics, and medium, curators play an enormous
role in bringing attention to issues pertaining to social
change, equality, justice, and human rights (as examples
of only a few important “issues”). However, curators
may find that audiences don’t wish to have issue-related
art in their art museums. Thankfully, audience opinions
have changed with curatorial persistence. When I first
moved to Europe, I was asked to make a presentation
at the Cologne Kunstverein, in a video series that
profiled individual artists, and I decided to show the
works of Branda Miller. Her early works were known
for bringing together sound and image, and were almost
clips. In the late 1980s, her works became very political
in content – they were concerned with the AIDS crisis,
documenting ACT UP marches and demonstrations.
And, the audience asked me: ‘Why are you showing
this? This is not art! I was really distressed because
– at that time this work was not considered so to this
European audience. Today’s artists are examining their
social and political systems with a critical eye, and they
are more involved in social change. Life is pretty short,
so let’s use it to the best of our ability to say things that
are important. I am not interested in exhibitions that
have no critical purpose. Let’s take chances and say
things, and let’s get some strong messages out there,
from artists’ work, curatorial perspectives develop.
Ana Peraica, Ana Kuzmanić, Petar Jandrić: For
the very end of the conversation, what does it mean to
be a curator in 2017?
n.paradoxa Vol. 40 31
Kathy Rae Huffman: This is a question that books
and PhD dissertations have been devoted to discussing.
I can only briefly answer this for myself, what I hope to
attain. For me, artists are the most important element in
curating, and I also regard them as partners in the process,
not to be confused with being a product. I am also
influenced by the open source movement, but even before
this concept, I supported open information and sharing. I
hope this will become more accepted as normal curatorial
practice. Even after years of dedication and research,
curators should not believe that they own the artists they
work with. Curating is an act of bringing art and ideas to a
wider public, into discussion, and as a critique on cultural
and political events. As funding opportunities decrease
and the political atmosphere becomes restrictive, around
the globe, the duties and responsibilities of a curator
have changed. Working freelance, one must be prepared
to multitask, to be a prolific writer, travel agent, cultural
critic, event promoter, full-time fund-raiser, psychologist,
cheerleader, conflict-resolution negotiator, legal advisor,
networker, and political agitator. Today, to be a curator,
especially for contemporary media art, you must read
obsessively, keep up with technology, understand the
political pressures that undermine individual rights, and
the issues of security in the online world. You must never
fear taking risks or making mistakes. Curatorial work
requires a balance between patience and aggression. The
quest for understanding artistic practice is always present,
always all consuming. For me, curating has never been a
‘job’, it is a way of thinking and learning.
Ana Peraica is an art theoretician, Ana Kuzmanić
is a practising artist, and Petar Jandrić is a (scientist)
educator from Croatia. An extended version of this
interview will be published in Learning in the age of the
digital reason (Sense, forthcoming, 2017)
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
VGTV-A reactor for new media
  • K Dudesek
K. Dudesek 'VGTV-A reactor for new media' (2004) Retrieved 23
Hamburg: Old Boys Network, 1998) p. 1. This question is also explored in Faith Wilding's essay, 'Where is the Feminism in Cyberfeminism
  • C Sollfrank
C. Sollfrank 'Editorial' in C. Sollfrank (ed.) Old Boys Network. (Hamburg: Old Boys Network, 1998) p. 1. This question is also explored in Faith Wilding's essay, 'Where is the Feminism in Cyberfeminism' republished in n.paradoxa vol. 2 (July 1998, Women and New Media) 3. VNS Matrix (1991) 'A Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st
Face Settings: an International Co-cooking and Communication Project by
  • Judy Malloy
Judy Malloy 'Face Settings: an International Co-cooking and Communication Project by Eva Wohlgemuth and Kathy Rae Huffman' in (ed.) Women, Art and Technology. (Cambridge (MA): MIT Press, 2003) p. 399
it always goes back to feminism. Interview with Kathy Rae Huffman'. Hamburg: Old Boys Network
  • C Sollfrank
C. Sollfrank (1998) ' always goes back to feminism. Interview with Kathy Rae Huffman'. Hamburg: Old Boys Network. Retrieved 23 September 2016 from
Internationale Stadt Berlin
  • Monoskop
Monoskop (2017). Internationale Stadt Berlin. Retrieved 23 April 2017 from 10. J. Malloy Women, Art and Technology (2003) p. 399 11. Soros Center for Contemporary Arts Moscow (2017).
Pioneering Media Art: An Interview with
  • Newmediatopia
NewMediaTopia. Retrieved 23 April 2017 from http://www.da-da-net. ru/98/e_exh.html 12. D. Gkitska (2015) 'Pioneering Media Art: An Interview with
The Institute of Contemporary Arts
  • Kathy Rae Huffman
Kathy Rae Huffman'. The Institute of Contemporary Arts. Retrieved 23 September 2016 from
Enhanced Vision -Digital Video
  • Siggraph
SIGGRAPH (2015). Enhanced Vision -Digital Video. Retrieved 23
Words of Wisdom. A Curator's Vade Mecum on Contemporary Art
  • I Zabel
I. Zabel (2001) 'Making Art Visible' in F. Bonami, D. Cameron & B. Curiger (Eds.) Words of Wisdom. A Curator's Vade Mecum on Contemporary Art (New York: Independent Curators International (ICI)) pp. 175-176