Interview: Regine Basha
by Eric Zimmerman
On the occasion of Regine Basha, one of the founders of Fluent~Collaborative and ...might be good, being named as the new Executive Director of Artpace we sat down over Skype—Basha in Brooklyn and me in Omaha—to talk about what makes Artpace standout amongst residencies, the move back to Texas and the future of San Antonio’s gem of a program.
Eric Zimmerman [EZ]: You’ve worked fiercely as an independent curator for quite a while now. I’m interested in you’re decision to become a company woman. What drove that decision?
Regine Basha [RB]: I wasn’t necessarily looking for a job. I’ve always been of the mind that if the right institution and position became available then I would go for it, and there’s just a few places that I can think of that would be the right match since I’m not necessarily the kind of curator that would transition to a museum or collection terribly well. It would have to be a kind of mid-sized contemporary arts space where there’s a lot of room to grow, for reinvention and for possibilities that I’m interested such as multi-disciplinary collaboration and the kind of formats I’ve been working with independently. So when this came about, my first thought was, “Wow, Artpace has always been on the radar for me because it’s both a residency program and production facility that works closely with artists to produce new works on site...” In my own independent work that’s what I’ve been more and more involved in—the interest in creating the scenario where new work could be made in the context of a place, or in response to a place; a dialogue with specificity. That’s what Artpace traffics in and that feels very close to what I’m already interested in.
The scope of it is also attractive. It’s basically three artists: national, international and local which is exactly in line with how I choose to engage with the art world. I like working locally, I like mixing and shuffling communities—showing someone from an international zone in a regional zone and vice versa. As far as the moniker of ‘independent curator’, I don’t know who came up with that. It should be called dependent curator—there’s no such thing as an independent curator. You work closely with institutions, you fundraise, you do things that a curator in an institution does, you’re just doing it with different people each time. In a way it will be refreshing and more focused for me. I’ll be able to just do it for one place that I really believe in.
EZ: Instead of juggling.
RB: Exactly. I’ll get to pour all my energy into this one place. I’m excited about that.
EZ: I’m curious how you feel about balancing the practical responsibilities of being an E.D. with your curatorial interests and the way you approach curating exhibitions. You’ve touched on some of them but I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you’re going to address those things at Artpace.
RB: I’m excited about looking at Artpace itself as a much larger, creative project and taking on new strategies and building new relationships. As a director there’s certainly a learning curve because I haven’t been an institutional director since the early 90’s when I ran a non-profit—and the landscape has changed completely. But many of my curatorial pursuits involved managing large numbers of people, engaging with many institutions and funders at once and considering interpretative models to various kinds of audiences, so much of that will come into play here.
EZ: Will you be able to continue to pursue any of your independent projects once you take over?
RB: No. I wouldn’t want to. Like I said, I’m going to focus on Artpace. If anything, I might teach. I’ve been involved lately with the Center for Curatorial Studies so there may be a relationship that will grow there on occasion, but if there’s no time I can easily put that on hold.
EZ: As one of the first graduates of Bard’s CCS program, I wonder how your experience there both shaped your working methods and what you’ll bring to Artpace?
RB: It was a long time ago, ‘95-96, and for me at that time it was so much about breaking down the traditional models of curating and exhibition practice. Because I’d come from doing about ten exhibitions a year in Canada, going to CCS allowed me to reconsider and think about other ways to work with artists that were not purely exhibition driven. Though I’d say that didn’t really take root in terms of my practice until much later after CCS. At the time people like Hans Ulrich Obrist had just emerged and I was quite inspired by his movements, his malleability and his flexibility in terms of having a direct discourse with the artist. CCS was also discussing the issues around site-specificity, identity politics—that was all mid-90’s—so much of what happened there enabled me to have the discussions with the artists of my own generation who were coming out of their own graduate programs like the Whitney Studio Program. We were all reading the same books and thinking about the same issues so I think it enabled me to be a part of a conversation that was very much in line with what the artists were thinking about. That produced a kind of community of practice in which we were riffing off of each other. Issues of context, ethics and politics of place was very much in the air. So that was my departure point.
EZ: That seems to fit right into what you talk about Artpace being able to do.
RB: Yes, Artpace has been very transparent about the fact that the artists are coming to Texas and considering what that means for their work. There’s an interchange with the community that is quite unique. It may not be the case for other residency programs. There hasn’t ever been an exhibition of all the work that’s been produced at Artpace but I can guarantee that there’s a common thread to a lot of the work that’s been produced there. Not that I would do that show! (laughs)
One of the things I’d like to do is address the archives and have them be more available and more a part of your experience there, so that they’ll be on display in a way that allows people to understand the ongoing narrative of Artpace and the artists that have been through there. It’s still early to say how that’s going to manifest itself, but it’s really going to be about having the archives be an active resource for visiting curators. One of my own most memorable experiences as an independent curator early on was researching the artists in the archive.
EZ: That seems like a real strength of Artpace. In addition to some of the other things you’ve mentioned, are there any other strengths that are unique to Artpace as an institution that you’re excited about taking on in your new role?
RB: I’ve seen a lot of residency programs, and not to be competitive about it, but I think that it’s one of the few that is really a space for new work to be produced. It’s not a residency program where you retreat into an open process without an exhibition at the end—just quiet time to study and work—which itself is great, but Artpace still retains the position of one of the few and one of the best that has produced new work and publications with really seminal artists like Felix Gonzalez Torres, who was the first resident. We have to look back on that and understand that from the beginning Linda Pace and Laurence Miller created a very high standard and were very much aware that the local art community had to be part of the conversation. I think that’s a very unique trait, which will continue. That’s something I believe in completely. I think we just need to flesh it out and make the program more visible. I’m interested in finding more ways to bring the ideas out of the residency program—the research process that the residents undertake—and to bring it out into the public realm.
EZ: What are some of the particular challenges you see Artpace grappling with in the next couple of years?
RB: The economic times are everyone’s primary challenge. Because Artpace is no longer a private foundation and we have to fundraise, that’s always going to be a challenge. Just being an arts institution right now is tough. We need to be lean while continuing to maintain the excellent standards Artpace has embodied all these years. Maintaining that and updating our online presence is something we’re looking at doing, but again, that’s a challenge for everybody. Everyone’s thinking about that right now.
EZ: What are you looking forward to most about coming back to Texas?
RB: The quality of life. I won’t have thirty-minute meetings with people who are on their Blackberry all the time and constantly rushing to the next meeting. I really enjoyed the fact that in Texas conversations were always able to take on new dimensions because you had more time. You were able to sit down with artists who were coming in and have a long conversation. The weather and the land is another thing. I grew up partly in California and one thing I have to say is I do miss just driving out and finding a place that you could take a hike, see some animals and maybe go for a swim. Especially between San Antonio and Austin. I’m excited to be in that region because those two towns are practically merging at this point. There’s all these great little spots in the Hill Country along the way and I’ve always loved that area, even though I have terrible allergies. (laughs)
EZ: You won’t be a New York/San Antonio Commuter then?
RB: Occasionally. We are keeping the Brooklyn apartment because there will be times that we have to go back to New York, maybe once a month, maybe once every two months, I’m not sure. Certainly there’s a lot of activity in New York that feeds back into Artpace. It’s like a feedback loop and New York acts like an office. You get as much done there in a couple of days than you can get done in Texas in maybe a month because so many people are funneling through. I would say I’ll also be visiting Houston, Los Angeles and Mexico City for work purposes. I don’t know if I’ll be so New York-centric to be honest. I’m really excited to link up with Mexico City. I want that to be a point of reference for us in many ways.
EZ: It seems like there’s some really exciting things happening in Mexico City right now.
RB: Absolutely. San Antonio has such a large Spanish speaking population and people coming in from Monterrey who are living there. It’s unique in that way. I think it’s our responsibility, to look at what’s going on there and develop those relationships.
EZ: Finally, what are you reading right now?
RB: I’m laughing because I have a pile of books I’m not reading. What am I not reading is the question. I’m finishing up an essay for an artist and I’m reading Simon Schama’s Landcape and Memory. I’m reading From Good to Great which is a manager’s book on how to take your company from good to great. Also, Buckminster Fuller’s book, And it Came to Pass - Not to Stay, which has been really inspiring.
Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.