An art installation of lavender structure encased in transparent purple glass, situated in a bright white gallery.

Ane Graff, States of Inflammation, 2019.

Photo by RH. Image courtesy of the artist and OSL contemporary. 

From Museo Tamayo in Mexico City to the 2021 Liverpool Biennial, Manuela Moscoso has advocated for an international, inclusive understanding of curation—a version of the practice that trades the lineral for the lateral, and looks to a global chorus of perspectives instead of an established orthodoxy. As the Executive Director of the Center for Art, Research and Alliances, which opens in New York this October, Moscoso’s work expands upon the ethos of transnational curation. We caught up with her to talk movement versus place, curating while breathing, and transnationality.

Why did you become a curator? What did you want to bring to the field?

My background as an artist has deeply influenced the way I think as a curator. I arrived in the world of curating in the early 2000s, when I co-founded—with artist Patricia Esquivias—the artist-run space los29enchufes in Madrid. Educated as an artist, I first and foremost studied the material process of art-making and its effect in the world. When looking at artistic practices, I sketch out social and affective systems, cultural understandings, and human conditions, since art-making never stands alone but always exists in relation.

For me, curating became a form of continuous learning from—and with—artists and other practitioners. This learning is case-specific, unconventional, and requires the articulation of different skills. Every experience nurtures my curiosity and my desire to challenge status quos, foster speculative thinking, and spark my imagination.

You’ve curated biennials in Ecuador and England, and have worked at institutions in Mexico City and now in New York. I’m interested in the relationship between movement and place. How do temporary exhibitions and more permanent institutions interact in your practice?

I define myself as a curator of practices rather than of objects, since understanding how people research, create, think, produce, relate and disseminate work and ideas enables me to constitute visible and temporal contact zones. This is why being situated contextually and geopolitically is crucial. I have worked in museums, biennials, artist-run spaces, non-profits, and residencies in South and North America, as well as different parts of Europe. Each organization has its own mission, and each organization is located in a specific place, has its own specific working conditions as well as my presence in those places happened at a particular moment of time in history.

Also, invitations to be part of an organization are always conditional, even when they are carte blanche. They come with intentions, expectations and a specific role that one is invited to contribute. Each invitation enriches my experiences on the possibilities and limits of my practice, and likewise informs my decisions on how to gather, produce, disseminate, research, think, and experiment.

There is a lot of listening, observing, learning and unlearning, doing and undoings  involved in each movement. There is adaptability as well archival skills: things that my body carries from moving have fructition in the new place or the next. That said, it requires a lot of energy and effort from my behalf—and my support structure—to deep dive into new environments.

Practically speaking, I approach invitations by responding or addressing to each  environment on a case-by-case basis where my experience, my curatorial research, and my life as a human being interact with each specific location. There is a need for new sensibilities in today’s world climates, and I feel an important sense of responsibility and accountability regarding our position in the assembly of the worlds, since it will determine the way in which we, as a collective, construct the present.

Art sculpture resembling a human limb, draped by a pair of blue jeans.

Camille Henrot, End of Me, 2021.

Installation view at Lewis's Building, Liverpool Biennial 2021. Photography Stuart Whipps

Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational supports curators and scholars expanding the boundaries of art and art histories—reimagining multiple art histories, moving beyond borders, and highlighting exchanges beyond countries of origin. This ethos feels very close to your own, so I wanted to ask about how you think about borders, be they political, historical, or ideological, when it comes to your work.

Borders are a big subject, and one that I love. And there are different kinds. While it is very important to know and respect each other’s personal boundaries, on the one hand, there are others types that have throughout years—if not centuries—violently enforced enduring capacities to separate, manage, and dominate the conditions of life and death among—more often than not non-white—human populations. On the other hand, the praxis of our lives, and our bodies, are in constant expansion challenging the frontier of our own skin.  We are all interdependent of each other, be it human or non-human, exchanging and transmitting all sorts of information and matter constantly.

Going back to my work, there are clear lines of research that have looked at the ways in which we define our bodies, and by extension the standard of “humanness” came to be. Through my curating I gather practices that are engaged with these questions: how was human conception as we know it was fabricated? By whom? In whose interest? At what time? Informed by what? Why? Where does the bipolarized idea of life come from—body and mind, nature and culture, human and animal, object and subject, life and death, man and woman and so on? Through these guiding questions I elaborate different types of contact in the form of exhibitions, texts, publications, and other programming.

Transparent plastic legs arranged to resemble a person lying down, adorned with a pile of red gloves.

Ebony G. Patterson, ...when the cry takes root..., 2020 (detail). Hand-cut jacquard woven photo tapestry with appliqués, conch shells, gold leaf, hand-cast glass, fiberglass, beads, tassels, lace, resin, polymer clay, porcelain, jewelry, fabric, glitter, grommets and hooks. 49 1/4 x 236 1/4 x 192 7/8 in, 125 x 600 x 490 cm.

Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery

Through our work, how we understand the concept of the “transnational” continues to evolve. We’d love to hear what the term means to you, and how it will affect the future of curating.

Here I’m inspired by the work of anthropologist Marilyn Strathen. I see what we construct in the curatorial field to be partial connections. That means that any set up relationship curators might produce comes with a “problem” of scale, as the connection that we have built amplifies certain aspects, but never all of the subjects we are invested in. To me the worlds we live are fractal and nonlinear, and the work I produce as a curator are frames of inquiry—even fictions, if you like—to host plural voices engaged in particular ideas in relation to the frame we have established, not to themselves. That is the beauty of curating done with rigorosity, slowly, while listening and breathing. Gluttony and shortcuts are usually not good friends of curatorial practices.

When the Center for Art, Research and Alliances (CARA) opens to the public in October, 2022, it will include exhibitions, publications, performances, and will be a place for gathering and unlearning. Can you talk about the importance of dialogue between artists, curators, scholars and unlearning in art spaces?

As I mentioned before, to me everything is relational and nothing exists by itself. The production of a space like CARA is done through amplifying practices in relationship to something else. This allows for encounters and experiences that would not have happened before. It produces conversations that expand beyond the walls of the institution, sometimes over a long period of time, and it expands the ways in which we can define intellectual experiences, and what the format of an exhibition can be—even if it looks like a “regular” show. Behind CARA there is a labor of weaving. Imagine a fishnet with knots that over time create a pattern, a rhythm.

A person walks through a large, red, geometric art installation in an outdoor square.

Teresa Solar, Osteoclast (I do not know how I came to be on board this ship, this navel of my ark), 2021.

Installation view at Exchange Flags, Liverpool Biennial 2021. Photo by Colin McPherson. Image courtesy of the artist and Liverpool Biennial

Can we talk about influences? Tell us about the artists, curators, and exhibitions that have impacted you over the years.

I am a woman curator from Ecuador. Legitimation and having a directorial job in New York City, was only possible through incredibly strong support networks of other practitioners—not only, but mostly women—that believed in me. They nurtured my practice intellectually and career in different and important ways. Some curators and artists that have deeply influenced my thinking are: Karin Olenschlager, Maria Lind, Yael Davids, Patricia Esquivias, Larissa Harris, Sally Tallant, Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Eduardo Navarro, Julia Spinola, Keyna Eleison, Jenna Sutela, Luisa Ungar, Pablo Lafuente, Sara Demeuse, Ntone Edjambe, Suely Rolnik and Diego Bianchi.

As far as shows: while living in Brazil I was able to visit three editions of the São Paulo Biennial, which was not only because of its content—Charles Esche being the most interesting—but experiencing the contrasts and possibilities of such iconic and massive space: the Istanbul Biennial curated by WHW; the shows at an small artist-run space early 2000s in Madrid called Liquidacion Total ran by an artist Antonio Ballester, Maria Lind work at Tensta Konsthall or living in a walking distance to the Reina Sofia in Spain was also incredibly important.

A person smiling at the camera in a white top and black round glasses.

Portrait of Manuela Moscoso

Photograph by Lyndsy Welgos

Related Content