Nadim Samman

June 11th, 2017

In April I attended CultureSummit Abu Dhabi, an international summit hosted by Abu Dhabi Tourism, Foreign Policy Magazine, and The Canales Project Ventures. The Summit brought together leaders from the worlds of government, the arts, and the media from 80 countries to address the role culture can play in addressing some of the great challenges of our time.

One of the remarkable attendees was curator Nadim Samman. Just named one of 7 Rising Curators to Watch in 2017, Nadim’s approach is collective, audacious, irreverent, and pushes the boundaries of the role of curator, artist, and the arts in shaping contemporary culture.

Question One:
This past March, you curated the inaugural Antarctic Biennial – an international group of artists, scientists, architects and philosophers that has been described as “a paradigm-shifting phenomenon in biennale culture”. How do you think the function of the arts is changing today and why is your role as curator crucial to that paradigm-shift?
 We are living through a Fourth Industrial Revolution that is altering every facet of life, from economics and politics, right down to biology. The impact and potential of this upheaval needs to be addressed. To do so effectively, to encompass the multifarious conditions of the contemporary, requires a new regime of interdisciplinary image making – one that employs both emerging technologies and historically ‘artistic’ strategies. We also need to approach any given cultural project as the actualization of a network in which institutions are mere nodes, rather than central control regimes.

Truly revolutionary art stitches together different constituencies, social and economic organs into new bodies – creating hybrid organisms that are capable of more than their individual parts.

My challenge, as a curator, is to facilitate artists who are already working within this rubric, and to develop collectives that operate both within and beyond the artworld – to ‘curate in the expanded field’; to commission images that, in visualizing otherwise unpictured complexities, change the space around them. The Antarctic Biennale was one such network; one that sought to reimagine the stakes of south polar enterprise, exploring the question of (global) Antarctic culture and perhaps even a new model for political subjectivity.

Question Two:
You have said in past interviews that there is a need to widen the scope of what is considered ‘cultural’ and that relevant art must cultivate deep engagement with cutting edge science. Can you speak more to that need
? How should what is considered ‘cultural’ expand and why?

The march of scientific achievement is such that previously untouchable things are now grasped. Moreover, things that were once unseen (or unthinkable) now stand on full view. In opening up new spheres of action/design, in developing new media (including biological media), science sets the scene for creations that will define our cultural life. But questions regarding the human self-image, desire and structures of belief, are peripheral to this enterprise – afterthoughts, most of the time. Art is the historical repository of such questions. We need artists to help us better visualize the topography of this new landscape, to inspire us with visions of what we can create, what we should create, and what we must never create.

Answering neither to national commissioning programs nor industrial agendas artists can, at the very least, offer independent perspectives that are not confined to standard interpretive frames.

The alternative is art as mere decoration, to embellish corporate lobbies or serve as a speculative financial vehicle. I think we want more than this. If you believe in such a thing, i’d say the soul demands it. We need to lead the way in fashioning a new language for our times – not just one that reflects our current excesses or anxieties, but one that speaks to our greatest opportunities, despite the challenges that we face.
Question Three:
In addition to the Antarctic Biennial and the pavilion at the Venice Biennale, you have pushed the bounds of exhibitions globally with projects including music festivals, the Marrakech Biennale; a site-specific exhibition of “buried treasure” on the remote Pacific island of Isla del Coco; and the Moscow International Biennale for Young Art focusing on works dealing with ecological collapse. What is next and why?

It behooves cultural agents to develop visions that address society and ecology as connected. As part of this, to draw visions of an outside, a beyond, into the analysis of everyday life

We need to lead the way in fashioning a new language for our times – not just one that reflects our current excesses or anxieties, but one that speaks to our greatest opportunities, despite the challenges that we face.

As we know – a change of scene can be extremely helpful in stimulating a creative mindset. Radically new contexts can allow you to look at problems – or what you think you know – using fresh parameters. Sometimes the new context may supply those parameters. After Antarctica, where next? I think, for me, it is time to take on the great big outside – space. I am looking to develop a project investigating the utopian hopes and dystopian potential of space colonization – critically examining humanity’s ability to remake the environment, and the question of how its needs and desires develop in tandem with this remaking. I’d like to program an exhibition or performance in a prototype Mars base, to picture our planet from the ‘outside’ supplied by a technological interface – an exhibition asking what we learn about living on earth by imagining what it would take to live in space.

One More Thing…
Who, (aside, of course, from you) do you think is doing the most innovative, interesting, disruptive work right now and why?

The Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), in Berlin, under the curatorship of Anselm Franke, has been extremely ambitious in recent years. Their program of exhibitions and events is truly interdisciplinary, and has engendered – to a large degree – the current interest in the concept of the Anthropocene in contemporary art circles. Beyond this, their exhibitions have explored the image of animals in contemporary cultural life and, more generally, the post-digital turn. I would urge your readers to check out their recent exhibition catalogues. In the sphere of philosophy and media theory Benjamin Bratton’s recent book, The Stack, offers the first comprehensive analysis of political sovereignty in the age of planetary computing. It is an incredibly important analysis.