Ariane Kupfeman-Sutthavong

Curated project

Drawing from personal experiences in the Thai art scene, where a majority of artists are male, and a majority of curators female, 'I Take Care of Things' explores the female characterisation of acts of care. 'I Take Care of Things' is a curatorial project authored by myself, with the participation of Thai artist Kamolros Wonguthum. Looking back at the roots of the word “curating” - from Latin “curare” or “to take care of”, I invited the artist to reflect on the gendered structures of power in the Thai art world, bringing to light an instance in which women are associated with supportive, rather than productive labour.
What began as a conversation between a female curator and a female artist in Bangkok became an exhibition in London, which took place at RAW Labs (22-26 March 2019) and Goldsmiths, University of London (26-29 March 2019). In an autobiographical work “Closure – Ongoing” (a new commission), Kamolros Wonguthum reflected on her time as an art student in Thailand, where her professors pushed her to become a curator rather than an artist, owing to her gender. The art-object quality of her work (an autobiographical text, with unruly hair coming out from behind the frame) is contrasted with the internet-based, interactive installation which I devised.
Extending the idea of the conversation, I asked women in the art world - curators, artists, dealers, writers, dancers and educators - to share situations of “double bind” or “no-win situations” in work environments, drawing a parallel with the dichotomy of “care” and “control” elements in the curatorial role, as highlighted by Helena Reckitt in her essay “Support Acts: Curating, Caring and social reproduction” (2016, Journal of curatorial studies 5, no.1). This collection of stories points to situations in which these women had to make difficult choices, only to be labelled as “too nice”, “too soft”, “too weak” or “too assertive”, “too controlling”, “too masculine” depending on the decisions they took.
The work took place in the gallery space, as an interactive installation. Visitors were invited to play this unwinnable game of choices on a laptop, while the real-life situations I collected and the audience's answers were projected onto the gallery wall, giving a performative aspect to the work. Like in real-life, the audience could actively interact with the work or remain passive and observe other visitors' responses – and pass judgement. At RAW Labs, a bench was installed for those visitors who wished to watch others respond to the situations, as the wall text played out as an audio file on a speaker – again, reiterating the idea of a conversation as I recorded myself guiding the audience through the exhibition. Keeping in line with the intention to feature multiple women's voices, I asked a female arts educator to respond to my work and the recording of her text was also played. 'I Take Care of Things' also exists as a website form (itakecareofthings.com) operating on its own. As I explored the notion of “networks” in the art world, the women I interviewed were women I encountered in the art world. They are based in the United Kingdom, in France, Thailand, Greece, Italy, Singapore, Portugal or the United States. Each participant was asked to share the website, in order to reach women in their own circles. Like the project itself, the website's distribution relies on word of mouth.

While these situations can occur in any professional environment, the art world was the starting point for this project. It is only natural that it be exhibited in a gallery space. 'I Take Care of Things' is a mobile, ongoing project, as I plan on collecting more stories of women and exhibiting in other locations more works by female artists, curators or writers dealing with the female characterisations of acts of care.