Former Walthall and Hambidge fellow Iman Person stepped aside from her own work to curate “Through and Felt,” on view at Eyedrum through June 30. The show, which is focused on the body and ways in which artists represent and use their bodies, gathers together works by artists from Atlanta, London, China, and elsewhere. I sat down with Person to discuss “Through and Felt” and how she navigated the transition between artistic and curatorial roles.
Logan Lockner: Have you curated a show before? What has that process been like?
Iman Person: No, this is my first time curating. I just started with an idea—I’m very interested in the body, I’m kind of obsessed with it. When the idea came to mind I was in a little bit of a rut with my own work and a little exhausted from always doing group shows. I wanted to take a break from that and not focus on my work as much but still put something into my practice through meeting people, showcasing work … I’d seen other people curate shows and I thought, “Maybe I could do that.”
The first artist [in the show] whose work I saw was Rita Minissi. She’s an artist working out of New York—and I found her Instagram. I was immediately taken by her work: how striking it is, and the perfect curation of these images. I was really interested in the way her models were using contortionist shapes; they were very similar to drawings that I had been working on at the time. I knew that if I curated a show I wanted her work to be in it, so I kind of kept it in the back of my mind.
LL: When did you find her work?
IP: This was about two years ago, but I didn’t reach out to her at the time. I didn’t want to force artists to fit in that mold of her work. I just wanted it to happen, and I wanted to get to a place where I felt comfortable and like I could maybe actually do this. [laughs] It’s something I’ve never done before, so there’s a lot of talking yourself out of it and then talking yourself back into it.
Last year, in 2015, when I was at a residency at Elsewhere in North Carolina, I met Lu Xu, a Chinese artist. She was finishing up a fellowship at a sister space, and her project involved the cups that are displayed in her photos in the show. Cupping is a traditional healing method similar to acupuncture, playing on meridian points and things like that. There was a flyer at Elsewhere about this cupping workshop that was her final project, where she had taken two of the cups and fused them together so that two people could experience cupping at the same time. I went and was so amazed! It was beautiful: this glass object that is very organic, round, and sensual in a way. It was so intimate, especially to include another person in that experience. What she was doing was like nothing I had ever seen before.
I told her I wanted to curate a show and possibly include her work, and we immediately hit it off. She’s an amazing person. She was like, “Do you want to be pen pals?” [laughs] I appreciate that about this experience: getting to know artists on a different level has been really nice, and allowing myself to come out more, because I’m pretty shy until I get to know someone.
LL: Dana Haugaard’s piece in this show, though it’s very different, is laid out similarly to the work in his show at Eyedrum earlier this year. Did you see that show?
IP: Yes, I did. I think he was the next person I reached out to, because I felt that if the show was about the body there should be a physical experience that the viewer could go through. I think it laid the space out very nicely and created another boundary and situation for the body and how it interacts with Eyedrum. In the typical gallery setup, there’s an open space in the middle and you encounter each piece separately on the walls. Here, you are forced to navigate around the gallery in an interesting way and always encounter his work.
LL: Part of what’s striking about “Through and Felt” is that it’s an international group show. I love Eyedrum, but I’m not used to seeing this sort of international diversity in a show there. In Atlanta, we get to see a lot of great work, but sometimes we tend to see the same artists and similar work again and again. Can you talk about how this show and its curation fits within the landscape—and the future—of spaces like Eyedrum and its peers?
IP: I reached out to a few galleries about hosting this show, and either I didn’t get a response or, without even really seeing the work, they told me the work wouldn’t be sellable. I basically got shut down, which is not to say anything bad about these other galleries. I reached out to them for a reason, because I respect the work and the artists they show. Eyedrum is willing to take risks that other spaces aren’t, and I totally understand that galleries have to make money, but I also think part of their job is to take risks and bring something new to the table and new to Atlanta, and to make a name for themselves in that way also. I love local art, but I would love to see more international art in Atlanta.
LL: As someone who’s a practicing artist who’s also interested in curation, how did you make that leap? Not that there are sacred boundaries between those roles, but there aren’t always templates for making that transition. I think a lot of artists, even if they had the desire to curate a show, would hesitate, or wait to be asked, or wait until they had several other artists committed to the idea.
IP: I feel like I’m the sort of person who, if I meditate on something for a while, I just have to do it. If you wait for people to ask you, you’ll be waiting for a very long time. I get to the point where I’m like, “If I fuck up, then I fuck up.” But maybe I won’t. Being an artist is about being bold, otherwise you’re just fumbling around in your house or whatever. You have to say, “This is what I have to offer,” and hopefully someone responds to that. You have to believe in something enough to take that step and possibly fail.
The closing reception for “Through and Felt” will be on Thursday, June 30 from 7-10 pm.
Logan Lockner is Assistant Editor of BURNAWAY. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Art Papers, WUSSY, Oxford American and elsewhere. He lives in Atlanta.