Our C*nsorsh*p exhibition has come to a close. This was our very first exhibition where we had complete control over the theme and imagery shown. With that freedom, came immense intimidation at the organisation that would be required, not to mention finding a gallery that would be keen on the topic.
Do you ever feel these vibes from the universe telling you YES! ? Because from the moment I walked into Galerie &co119 (@galerie8co119), I instantly knew it was the place, if they were willing to accept. That was when I met Kinuko Asano (@ki_nu_ko), the gallery art director and curator. Her non-traditional approach to scenography was so refreshing and young, it was precisely what I knew would work for FFU. She took some time to speak to me about C*nsorsh*p, curating, the scene in Paris and this phenomenal gallery and team.
FFU: What led you to gallery curation?
KA: I have both backgrounds from art direction/graphic design and photography. I thought if I succeeded in merging those skills, I’d be able to bring this objective look and sense of space I have with art direction, and the sensitive, more artistic part from photography. It was pretty natural for me to go from photo editing to curation, when I started working at gallery &CO119 as an art director.
FFU: Tell us about your approach to scenography, where do you get your inspiration from and how do you describe your approach?
KA: I think it’s important to understand, when putting a show up, both the sensibility of the artworks, the message or emotion the artist wants to convey, and how, in a given space, the flow, the sequencing and the positioning of the pieces can facilitate the visitor’s understanding and vision of the work. Being a curator is, in a sense (or at least this is how I think of it), being the story-teller that will adapt and translate the story an artist tells, so it is understood by the visitors of a certain place.
We all have cultural backgrounds that influence the way we perceive symbols, colors etc. So it’s important to think about the place we put up the show to build a story that will be understood as we want it to be!
FFU: I knew from the moment I walked into the gallery that, if you all agreed, I wanted to do the C*nsorsh*p pop-up collaboration with you. What made you choose to work with us?
KA: Ah! This one is easy. I already thought your project was amazing when you wrote to us, and let's say that when you walked into the gallery, the crush was mutual – I knew pretty immediately I wanted to work with you on this project !
FFU: Love at first sight, totally. So going back to your approach to scenography, how did you approach the scenography for the C*nsorsh*p exhibition?
KA: The approach for this exhibition was a little bit different from the ones I usually go with for the gallery’s shows and that was for several reasons : we usually have solo shows, or if we have group shows, we only have a few artists. This time, we had 27 artists (!) all speaking about their view on censorship.
The most important point for me was to find a way that all of the artwork could speak to the ones that were nearby, allowing the visitors to reflect on different “answers” to a given topic. I think it allowed each artist’s sensibility to be put up front.
I think each image is very important, but they become even more powerful when they are together, expressing all of these different voices and views from all around the world, which gives another level of lecture to the images.
FFU: I remember being completely shell shocked after our final selection because I could NOT imagine how you were going to put all of those images on the walls, yet you did it! And the result was so beautiful, it was touching.
Let's talk about Paris. Could you tell us your point of view on the art scene in Paris in terms of equal opportunities and diversity of artists represented? In comparison with the rest of the world?
KA: I’m not aware of everything that’s going on in Paris, however, from what I’ve been seeing over the past few years, I think there’s a real desire to have more diversity in genders, cultural backgrounds and types of artworks. However, I think there’s still a long way to go! The main reason seems to be that the art market hasn’t been the easiest lately. So a lot of the same famous names come back to the foreground over and over, because they’re what allows the galleries to sell and survive. I think this is the same on an international scale. But with social media and especially Instagram, I’m seeing more and more artists from different backgrounds and different stories coming on the front scene, which I’m very happy about!
FFU: Instagram does have its positive points, I'll agree with you there. Could you give us a background on Galerie &CO119, the inspiring women-led team and history?
KA: Galerie &CO119 was founded by Noelle Colin in 2016, who works as an advisor for luxury brands. As a result,she wanted to have this project that mattered to her, where she could give a space to artists she liked to show work and put up photobooks, which are still not considered to their true values.
I joined the team, which was smaller then, at the end of 2017. Khenory joined us in 2018, Lena started working with us in 2020. There were guys, but somehow, since 2017, it’s been an all-female team. And in my opinion, it is working very well! Not because we are women, but just because this team works!
Not hiring men wasn’t something we decided, but rather something that happened naturally, as we stumbled upon profiles that fit the needs of the gallery, which happened to be females. I don’t think gender really matters. However, having an all-female team allowed us to have more discussions around the lack of representation of female artists in the photographic world.
Another important information about the gallery is, I think, the diversity in the cultural backgrounds of everyone who works here. Noelle, our founder, works between France and Japan. Khenory is French and Cambodian, Lena is French and Armenian, and I’m French and Japanese. We all lived abroad at some point in our lives and all grew up with those different cultures. I think that’s the biggest influence on how this gallery is managed and how we approach shows and art.
FFU: The diversity there is so beautiful and yes, so important at the same time. Speaking of diversity, how do you do your part in promoting diversity in art?
KA: Following your previous question, I’d say we definitely have this will at the gallery to show different photography from various photographers, from various backgrounds. We show reknown artists as well as emerging artists and we try to have diversity in the artists we show. Showing photographers from different cultures is something we take very seriously. We have this obviously strong connexion to Japanese and French artists, but we want to get other points of view. Which is why we also look for talents from Corea, Australia, Georgia, Russia, Africa, US etc.
Some of them have a more documentary approach, while others have a conceptual approach. The most important thing for us is what the artists can bring with their images and how they approach it. We look for contemporary approaches, even if they date from the 19th century...!
FFU: Tell us about your curating process, what are some factors that may not be so obvious?
KA: We sometimes have an idea on paper of what we’d ideally show. But in the end, I’d say it’s all about the “crush”! We have a rule at the gallery, that is if one of us doesn’t like a piece at all, we don’t hang it.
On my side, I’ll look for stories or images I’m surprised by. I love this feeling of connecting with artworks I wasn’t expecting to connect with in the beginning...!
FFU: So it's really a collective approach, I love it. Who are your favorite women, nonbinary, trans photographers at the moment?
KA: We had a show with Australian photographer Sophie Gabrielle last year. I love her work. It’s at this bridge between art and science, archival imageries and personal creations. She’s working on this new project on touch right now, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with!
Another artist I love, both personally and for her work, is Mengwen Cao. We met when we were studying at International School of Photography in NY in 2016. She’s a Chinese queer photographer, and her work is so energetic...! I was particularly touched by a project she made in 2016, where she came out to her parents through Skype. It’s filled with love, kindness, vulnerability, strength...!
As for a trans artist, I completely fell in awe in front of Yishay Garbasz’s “Becoming”. I find everything smart and beautiful and strong in this piece. I’ve never seen it in real life, I’d love to.
FFU: I remember this Sophie Gabrielle exhibition, it was the one that was on exhibit when I first went there. I absolutely loved it. Do you see any trends emerging right now?
KA: I see more and more artists working with mixed medias, or pushing the boundaries of what “photography” means, which I find very interesting. I’m also seeing more and more reappropriation of cultural codes and symbols, which I think are a great way to tell stories. Photography is such a new tool, I’m curious to see where artists will bring it !
FFU: Any commentary on art in connection to the pandemic?
KA: This pandemic and the lockdown have been a tough time for all. It’s been tough to process, tough to express what we’ve been going through.
What’s interesting is how artists have responded to this difficulty in addressing emotions. A lot of them speak about the immediate feeling of loneliness, of isolation. I was lucky to witness the beginnings of a great project, founded by Fred Ritchin and a few ICP alumnis, called “Fotodemic”. It allows artists to submit their diaries entries, to talk about not only this pandemic, but also the feelings felt during this pandemic.
FFU: It's really been fascinating discovering some of the projects that have emerged from the pandemic. I try to think about the good parts. Any last words?
KA: I’d like to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to Foto Femme United and April, who found our little gallery, and gave us the opportunity to work together and put up this amazing show with so many talents.
I think diversity is today more than ever the key to tolerance, understanding and empathy with each other. We must have diversity in our stories, in our story-tellers, and in the points of view that are expressed. We must care for each other’s stories, each other’s voices. And what better universal language than images ?!
FFU: It's what I always say: photography is the one universal language we've got. Thank you Kinuko and the team, it has been an honor.