A Space of Abundance Interview with Binna Choi
Why did you want to become director of CASCO?
I found the potential in Casco to move beyond the discourse or rhetoric of the “politically and socially engaged art institution or practice” and focus more on how we do that, not solely relying on whether we are dealing with the news headlines or not. Casco has shown the values and possibilities of what one might call a revised constructivist practice and a sense of collective resilience, which manifests itself at every corner of its activities and with all the people involved.
Some people are surprised to see a curator of BAK becoming director of CASCO. What do you say when asked about this move?
As someone who is from Seoul and worked at BAK in Utrecht for some years I must bring a rather peculiar mixture of closeness and distance to Casco. Casco and I can both benefit from this condition, I believe. In fact, it was interesting to learn about how dynamically people -who are now all active across the Dutch art scene- moved from one organization to another and in and out of the Utrecht cultural sphere for last a few decades. Especially in the public sector, such a transfer can be nourishing for the common growth. One should not think in terms of competitive territorialization or equate an institution with an individual. Also, running an institution requires different types of responsibility and performativity than curating does, and for me this is an exciting process of “becoming,” as BAK also would say. The chance to engage in this process motivated me to move to Utrecht, after years of commuting!
What do you consider to be the main focus of CASCO in general and within the broader field of research/presentation centers?
As Casco’s sub-name, “Office for Art, Design and Theory” indicates, it cares about the interdisciplinary nature of practice, and advocates an operative, constructive and open-ended mindset so that these three disciplines can fertilize each other. It’s not simply presenting artworks, design objects (both quickly becoming fetishized by market forces), and theoretical comments (which can easily become glorified sales-talk) in parallel to each other. Rather, Casco has been striving to find and articulate areas where making art, designing and theorizing as conceptual activities, not just as separate disciplines, challenge, penetrate, and stimulate each other—and gather in their tangent points. An example of the kind of question that Casco seeks to address, together with various practitioners, is: how can our designed world be understood, re-imagined and re-formalized?
CASCO has a good reputation as a research centre, a little less as a presentation centre. Are there enough artists to work with, audience to address in and out of Utrecht?
I think there is a substantial community (if I may use that word) of people who are genuinely enthusiastic about Casco, including a lot of art and design students. I am interested in expanding Casco’s audience while keeping in mind that this is a form of publicness that is distinct from the broad and/or general public that big institutions and media address. The mode of presentation of course reflects this. It has been said that the presentation at Casco is often “dry.” I could not really understand it at the beginning since I’ve experienced Casco as a convivial but critically articulated place, in which every project readopts the “office” element and the bright yellow structure (built by ifau + Jesko Fezer). It’s not a typical white cube, which is still the dominant form. However I am starting to regard this critical point about Casco’s “dryness” as a call for the necessity to embrace more fully the untranslatable aesthetic potential of the practices we present—finding and re-finding the elusive balance between seeing and acting, thinking and doing.
Do you already have an idea what direction your program will take? I hear something about a continued co-operation with Emily Pethick in London?
There is no intent to break with the past or expand dramatically. Casco does not appear to me to be in a phase of radical change but of intensification. The aim is to further articulate its intentions and types of practice. Let’s say that it’s about working with the legacy of the past to make it proliferate. I am hoping to strengthen Casco’s accessibility, not in the way of making Casco spectacular but in the way of making it more hospitable. Concretely it would include a detail like improving the function of website—not making a new website but fine-tuning. Both in its physical space as well as online, Casco should be a space of abundance, which is more useable and open to appropriation by different individuals and groups. As part of this approach, I would like to experiment with the temporality of the program, to have different projects with different time spans running next to each other: to be, in other words more (idiosyncratically) polyphonic, and also initiate more collaborative forms of research and production. An international collaborative platform, which I am working on now with Emily Pethick (The Showroom, London) and a third institution, is an example of that. More about all of this in the near future!
What kind of art interests you most at this moment in time?
Forms of doing nothing, or doing less, have been ideologized as critical, political and poetical gestures against global capitalism’s mega-productive and pan-territorializing gestures (mega art fairs and biennales) for the last decade. I think it is problematical when this kind of Bartleby-esque ethical stance becomes hyped and instrumentalized in this way. As an ethical stance it should stay with us, itself in a state of latency, while we once more try to create meanings and attempt to construct a new assemblage of forms as a tool in order to shape our society. In that sense, ideas of utopia and of constructive abstract modeling and performing out of our world’s overflow of materials and information should play a more visible role. However, in contrast to modernist dogma, such models should always be ready to be contested and reconstructed, and to engage in a dialogue—which some artists and designers call storytelling.