The Untold Story
Society at INexactly THIS

Issue no2
April - May 2019
Magisch Realisme

In Metropolis M No 5-2012 we present short texts on some of the international participants of INexactly THIS/Kunstvlaai. Here the long, non-edited, uncensored version of the interview with Susan Gibb, founder of Society in Sydney, and curator of the show that presents one of the already iconic images of this year's edition of the Kunstvlaai.

—Domeniek RuytersCould you tell me some facts about Society? Who is working for it? Founded in? By whom and why? Based where?

—Susan GibbSociety is based in Sydney, Australia. It was founded by me Susan Gibb in July 2011. I founded Society as I had been working as a curator in institutions and was constantly having ideas that didn’t fit into the timeframe of the institutions or the structure of their programs. I wanted to get these out of my head and work through them. I was also very interested in the values of working independently. More simplistically though, it was really just a what next and why not moment. I had saved some money and thought that I could either go on a overseas holidays or spend it on a community that has given me a lot and that I very much enjoy being a part of. I chose the latter and have not regretted it. I am also 28 so maybe it has something to do with my Saturn return.

—Domeniek RuytersHow would you describe Society?

—Susan GibbI have tended to describe Society as an independent curatorial project. In more detail though it loosely comprises a program of exhibitions, artist conversations and a series of reflective essays (something which I am currently working on).

—Domeniek RuytersWhy this name: Society. It already seems to tell something about its mission?

—Susan GibbOne thing I was conscious not to do was have a mission, or at least the archetypal mission statement, for Society to begin with. I wanted it to have the flexibility to be open and change in response to things that happened along the way. For this reason I liked the name Society very much for a lot of reasons. Obviously it provides an instant framework in which to critique and read what happens or is presented in the space. The word does a lot of the heavy lifting and critical questioning without me having to prescribe a dogma. A questioning of the word also felt timely.

—Domeniek RuytersWhat is the context in which Society has been founded? Are there many independent spaces in Sydney? How does Society relate to the others, the commercial scene? Where do you position yourself?

—Susan GibbThere is a fairly healthy scene of independent spaces in Sydney, though the main issue for independent and commercial spaces alike in Sydney is always finding affordable real estate. The main differentiation between Society and these spaces though is that Society is run by a curator rather than by artists. It also was started with a finite timeframe of twelve months in mind. The other major difference is that Society is entirely self-funded, with artists getting the exhibition space for free along with an artist fee and assistance with the install. It is also has a more organic and conversational mode of operation, it doesn’t run on a proposal or a board structure, and is also not targeted at artists in particular stages of their career, the program has been inter-generational.

—Domeniek RuytersIs there a special way of working?

—Susan GibbAs I live in the space and because it is funded by my disposable income, Society is very much integrated into my life. It is unstructured structured day-to-day routine. Making the running of Society sustainable in my life was very important and a major part of the pre-planning for the project and is a major consideration behind the exhibitions being event based – an opening a two day run over the weekend. As the exhibitions are very one on one between me and the artists it is run very conversationally. Often artists from interstate have lived with me for a week or so in the lead up to the exhibition, so a lot happens at odd times, i.e. at breakfast etc As in many ways it is autonomous I didn’t feel the need to replicate the structures and procedures of institutions, so have allowed it to respond more to the artists I am working with etc and different ways of working – there is definitely a level of shared vulnerability in the way of working.

—Domeniek RuytersCan you say something about the program?

—Susan GibbFor me the program forms some sort of whole, though I don’t know if this translates or how important it is. Though for me the program is sort of the sum of parts of certain things I was thinking about and investigating, minus the one exhibition that wasn’t able to happen due to an artist’s availability. The program was also conceived in two stages. The exhibitions from 2011 following certain lines of enquiries through artists practices, and the exhibitions in 2012 being responsive to conversations in and reflective of aspects of the project, i.e. recording conversations with the artists and considering the role of the curator, in the second.

—Domeniek RuytersCould you tell someting about your presentation in Amsterdam?

—Susan GibbIn Amsterdam I will be presenting a project with the artist Agatha Gothe-Snape. I have worked with Agatha on numerous projects since 2009. My relationship with her is really important to my practice as a curator and I am very interested in how it has built, changed and deepened over the years we have worked together. The project will obviously respond to this in someway, but at the moment its exact shape is still taking form.

INexactly THIS/Kunstvlaai 2012
Sint Nicolaas Lyceum (Prinses Irenestraat 21), Amsterdam
23 November - 2 December

A shorter version of this article has been published in Dutch in Metropolis M nr. 5-2012.  Buy it here.

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 2 — 2019