Elina Suoyrjö speaks for feminist strategies in curating
ISCP’s 2018 curator-in-residency Elina Suoyrjö is an independent curator currently working as the director of Titanik art space in Turku, Finland. She is also a Ph.D. candidate at Middlesex University, London. Feminist strategies and collaboration drive her curatorial practice and she is aiming to spend her time in New York engaging in dialogue with local artists and curators.
In addition to art history, you also took gender studies while in university. How do you think that shaped your understanding of art and the art world?
I got my first Master’s Degree in Art History at Helsinki University, and during those studies, I was also introduced to feminist art history. So, I continued pretty much straight away to another Master’s in Gender Studies. During my internship at The Finnish Museum of Photography I got to curate a project and realized that was what I wanted to do, so I got a third Master's in Curating at Stockholm University. To me, those three areas have always fed into each other, and that is what my Ph.D. grew out of.
You divide feminist curatorial practice roughly into two categories: firstly, feminism in terms of the context and the tools of the work, and secondly, feminism in terms of the themes that the artists deal with.
I actually see three different approaches to feminist curating. The first step is paying attention to equality and having clear statistics about representation. This especially concerns museums and other institutions that have a social responsibility. The second approach is thematical, for instance, building exhibitions around the theme of feminism, or displaying works made by female artists.
The third aspect that I’m personally most interested in is the idea of having feminism embedded, built into the curatorial practice so that it manifests in everything that the curator does.
You have stated that art is powerful because it can change the way we think and feel about something. Do you see art as a potential political force?
I think art does hold a transformative power: artworks can change, even if slightly, those who experience them. This transformative power can also be political. My interests lie mainly in the politics of emotion: how art can make us feel, rather than what art means.
Why is collaboration so central to your work?
Collaboration is everything to me and I see it as a feminist strategy. I work horizontally with artists. I give a lot of agency to the artworks as well and in my view, they are also part of the collaboration process.
The exhibitions that you curate often feature performative aspects and might also invite the visitors to actively participate. What effect does this have on the way that the exhibitions are experienced?
When you think about it, all art is participatory. You have to give the artwork time and attention in order to really experience it. My curatorial practice is all about connections, links, and encounters. I’m fascinated by the idea of coming together between different bodies, human or non-human. If you can meet someone in a meaningful way in an art space, it can make a big impact.