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March 3, 2012

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Making the art of curating look easy

CURATOR Biljana Ciric is a major player in the city's contemporary art scene, working with both local and international artists on various exhibitions. Although she considers the art scene small for such a big metropolis, she hopes this will change, writes Nie Xin.

Like some expatriates in the city, independent curator Biljana Ciric feels as though fate has brought her and kept her in Shanghai.

Arriving in 2000 from her native Serbia to study art, Ciric says her life just changed in Shanghai. "Things moved very fast," Ciric says. "I really had never thought of chosing Shanghai."

Since embarking on her career in 2004, Ciric has worked on numerous projects including Yoko Ono's solo exhibition in Shanghai in 2007 at the Ke Center for Contemporary Art, and a project for Venice Biennale.

Recent projects include "Contemporaneity," which features contemporary art from Indonesia at the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai, and "Body As a Museum" at Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm, Sweden. Her resume also boasts curator of "History in the Making: Shanghai 1979-2009, 30 Years Retrospective of Shanghai Contemporary Culture" in 2009 and co-curator of Asia Triennale Manchester 2011.

"As a curator, I think you need to be very much aware of social, economical and other changes as well as how they affect the cultural field," says Ciric, who speaks Mandarin.

Curators need time to think, need to be open to the unexpected and spend a lot of time in discussion with artists, she says, adding that these conversations are great for "testing" her ideas.

"I see the role of a curator as someone who produces and organizes knowledge through exhibitions," the 33-year-old says. "Projects that I usually initiate are very much reflections on current conditions and changes in our society seen through the visual art field."

As she works independently she has to deal with everything from fundraising, locating a venue, working with artists on the final display, design and media promotion.

The Serbian says she and others in the field prefer the term "exhibition maker" over curator as they do much more than take care of a collection.

Ciric also says she spends a great deal of time trying to think of how to make an exhibition connecting with Chinese audience. It makes sense. Conveying the importance and meaning of an exhibition is crucial, otherwise there's not much point in doing it.

"I always organize talks and lectures where artists, regardless whether they are local or from other countries, explain their work in front of an audience and answer questions," she says.

As for the Shanghai art scene she laments the fact that there are only a few international shows in town.

"Although I think it is a very small scene and there are few curators working in the field, I hope that will change in the future," she says.

As a graduate of East China Normal University with a master's degree in art history, Ciric was offered a job at Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art in 2004.

"At that time Duolun was the only museum showing contemporary art in town. It was a very important experience for me," Ciric says.

She started working in the academic department and later she established the museum's curatorial department.

As an independent curator in China since 2007, Ciric can pick and choose the museums and non-profit institutions she works with. She likes to mix it up, working with museums both in China and abroad.

Although artists need to sell their work to earn a living, Ciric says it is the ideas behind their art that she finds most attractive. Thus, she avoids creating an exhibit to push sales.

"I am not interested in the market and my work has never been related to it," she says. "I think my work is always a few steps in front of the market."

Once an exhibition concept is set, figuring out how to present it becomes the next challenge.

Ciric says she always tries to challenge artists in regards to how they present their work and at the same time give audience a different experience.

Ciric is now working on Shanghai Art Archive, a small organization scheduled to open by the end of July.

She describes it as a dynamic organization that will include a library, exhibition space and offices. It will support public art projects.

The address hasn't been confirmed yet as they are still involved in negotiations.

The organization has a strong link to the exhibition "History in the Making: Shanghai 1979-2009."

Ciric says the city doesn't have a contemporary art archive and people don't know where to start research on the subject.

"I hope Shanghai Art Archive will raise awareness of the importance of history and its connection with the future," Ciric says. "As Hans Ulrich Obrist says, 'it is an urgent protest against forgetting'."


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