Having just returned from Los Angeles and the opening of her show at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Carla Zaccagnini agrees to answer a few questions about her visions for her new position as professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. The official beginning of the autumn semester on 2 October also marks the implementation of a range of structural changes which include the creation of a new school – the School of Conceptual and Contextual Practices – that Zaccagnini will not only head, but also help build.
The new school will constitute one of the four new three-year MFA programmes that replace the six so-called “professor schools”. This means that Zaccagnini takes over after Katya Sander (professor of the now-defunct School of Language, Space and Scale) and Nils Norman (professor of the former School of Walls and Space). The School of Media Art will continue to be headed by Angela Melitopoulus, just as the School of Sculpture Charlottenborg will still be headed by Martin Erik Andersen. The School of Painting will be run by another freshly appointed professor, Ferdinand Ahm Krag, replacing Anette Abrahamson.
Carla Zaccagnini (b. 1973) lives in Malmö but grew up in Brazil, where she graduated from Universidade de São Paolo. She works in a conceptual manner, incorporating a wide range of media that include video, performance and photography, and is also a curator and critic – a versatile, fluid practice that reflects a recurring interest in the boundaries of representations and the transnational. She has previously taught at Pontifícia Universidade Católica in São Paulo and Capacete in Rio de Janeiro and has most recently exhibited her work at the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands, Malmö Konsthall (with her partner Runo Lagomarsino) and Museu de Arte de São Paolo.
What brought you to Scandinavia, or more specifically to Malmö?
Love. And the Welfare State. My partner is from Malmö and I was living in São Paulo when we met. We lived in Brazil for three years and in 2015 we came to spend a few months in Malmö, our son started day-care and we stayed. It wasn’t a big decision really – nor did it end up being an easy one.
Which qualities do you find in The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts?
So far, I only know what I have read and heard, and the very little I have seen. But an important point is the active role of the students in the definition of the schools’ programmes and how they are in charge of their own learning processes. Besides, I really like the fact that the central room in the School of Conceptual and Contextual Practices is a communal kitchen. Spaces define the relations we can establish and the ways in which we can become a group, and the kind of thinking and discussions that can take form around a table with food are the ones I want to encourage and to be involved in.
Could you elaborate on your role as a professor? Which values does your teaching build upon?
I see my role as a professor as that of someone who proposes paths of thought that are then journeyed together; ready to adjust the route, but also open to wondering together with the students. The knowledge I am interested in does not exist beforehand; it is not in the books, but in our reading of books. It happens when the words we read encounter the experiences we remember and take on new meaning. Doing this as a group multiplies the experiences and previous references; it forms chains of thought that are impossible to predict or to repeat.
The School of Conceptual and Contextual Practices partly replaces the former School of Language, Space and Scale which – led by Katya Sander – had a strong emphasis on a queer-feministic discourse. Do you wish to pursue this profile?
It is a bit early to talk about the profile the school will take on. But I can say I am interested in power structures and how they determine our actions, our language and our understandings; and in the ways in which we can try to deconstruct hegemonic conceptions and the behaviours that accompany them. This is a queer-feminist position, but it is also non-Eurocentric, post-colonial and anti-imperialist. I find it very important to insist on this position within the academic territory.
You curate and write as well – how has your practice taken this versatile form?
I initially thought I would be an art critic or an art historian (I didn’t really know curators existed back in high school), but as there was no school for art theory in Brazil at that time I first enrolled in an art school. Then I realised I could be an artist – that it was also a way of thinking about art.
Later I spent some years working both as an artist and as curator, and writing is still one of the things I like better, be it as part of my own work or about other artists. I am very interested in the different fields and cracks that can be occupied by an artist, all the different ways in which artistic thinking and practice can become public, all the roles and positions we can exercise and the voices they allow.
If you were to name artists or perhaps former teachers who have had significant influence on your practice, who would they be?
I could name Cildo Meireles, for example. Or I could mention the writings of Andrea Fraser and Helio Oiticica, conversations with Raquel Garbelotti and Simon Goldin and classes given by Nelson Leirner and Carmela Gross, to name but a few. And I am sure the interaction with faculty and students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts is going to be inspiring as well.