CURAE 2023/24 Alumni's Perspective on the Curatorial Practice Masterclass

As we welcome applications for the 3rd edition, participants from CURAE 2023/24 reflect on how the program broadened their perception of curation, and helped in finding their own voice.

PhMuseum's Online Masterclass on Curatorial Practice, now in its 3rd edition, aims at exploring the wide-open field of contemporary photography curation. Over 8 months, artist and curator Erik Kessels has guided participants into creating the best possible exhibition of their own or somebody else's work, inspiring them to push boundaries and cultivate personal visions.

As the enrollment phase is open until 20 June, with the possibility to apply for a fully-funded scholarship and access the early bird fee until 23 May, we spoke with Evgeniya Strygina, Katrina Whitehead, Sara Poli, Francesco Pennacchio, and Katrin Greiner to provide honest insights into their experiences on how to edit, present, and communicate photography.

You can deepen in their works by joining CURAE's year-end live presentation this Thursday, 16 May at 4pm CEST.

Can you give us a glimpse of the curatorial project you have been developing during CURAE?

Francesco Pennacchio: Building on my personal work, principally based on family narratives, I developed a curatorial project called Family Trip, where I want to build a broader representation of families, than the stereotypical one we are presented in society. I am bringing in work dealing with grief, pain, and memory on one side, and on the other, I am including the representation of queer families. It is not going to be a militant experience. I rather want the public to enter the topics smoothly, and somewhat normalise the experience of pain and the representation of queer families, in order to welcome it in the viewers' vision.

Katrin Greiner: I developed my own work further and looked for a way to present it in an exhibition so that it could be experienced even more intensively. I work with both photographs and sculptures and incorporate the entire space. I have also created a dummy for an artist's book to accompany the series.

Evgeniya Strygina: Home from Home is a story about a home and its significance for those who have become immigrants either forcibly or by their own choice. The project involved Ukrainians and Russians who left their homes in their native countries after February 2022 and moved to live abroad, either temporarily or permanently. Through photography, I aimed to tell the stories of these individuals, capturing them in places or with objects that give them a sense of home, and to understand what home is made of. For me, this project is more about exploring personal experiences and immersing myself in the story of each hero. It's also about exploring myself as someone who recently left their home, I keenly realize the need to find that place where one "feels at home," and I continue to search for that place myself.

Sara Poli: My curatorial project combined photographic art together with the world of wine, engaging the visitor with a sensory experience that combines the taste of wine with photographic aesthetics.

Did the experience with CURAE help you in better finding your own voice as a curator?

Sara Poli: The whole masterclass was of great help because, with the help of Studio Visits hosting professionals in the field, I was able to take away my doubts and have a broader outlook.

Francesco Pennacchio: Yes. I believe I have found in the process of working with the other artists my personal voice as a "translational curator". I understood that curating, in my own view, is bridging some work to the space and the public, allowing the depth of the work to emerge and to be communicated in its whole.

Evgeniya Strygina: When I first joined, I was a bit lost. I had tons of material but didn't know how to shape it into something cohesive. It was my own project, so I struggled with deciding what to keep and what to cut. But as the program progressed, I got some fresh ideas that clarified things for me. Now, I have a clear concept for the exhibition and I'm also working on a photobook. This experience has really helped me understand how to be a curator while staying true to my identity as an artist.

Katrina Whitehead: The Masterclass has helped me to find my own voice as a curator of my own work in an exhibition. I was drawn to the speaker who talked about ‘alternative’ spaces to a traditional gallery space and this has really helped to inform my own exhibition ideas.    

Katrin Greiner: Yes, now it's a matter of putting the theoretical knowledge into practice.

Has the way you conceive curation changed, or evolved in any way, since taking part in the Masterclass?

Evgeniya Strygina: I tried to step back and look at my work from a viewer's perspective. This helped me understand what was missing, add to the project, and create a more coherent visual narrative. Taking this detached approach allowed me to grow as an artist. I pushed beyond my usual boundaries, and the result turned out to be quite intriguing.

Sara Poli: Yes, I have realized that the curatorial craft is very liquid and evolves depending on a personal and professional background. 

Francesco Pennacchio: I didn't really have a strong conception of curatorship before this masterclass. Probably I had a more monolithic stereotyped idea, but CURAE allowed me to develop it into a more comprehensive and multifaceted one. Also, I was able to surface this concept of "translational curatorship" which I think will be key for my future development.

Katrina Whitehead: It has opened my eyes to the complexities behind-the-scenes of curating an exhibition. The visiting speakers have really helped me to understand the complexities and amount of work necessary to undertake curation, particularly if working with a diverse group of artists and also the finance, planning and logistics involved. 

What did you find the most effective in Erik’s approach and teaching method?

Katrina Whitehead: Erik has been an excellent mentor. He has a wealth of experience and will share his knowledge to help each student on their specialist pathway. His sense of humor and continuous encouragement have enabled us all to progress in developing confidence in our projects over the course of the Masterclass.  

Evgeniya Strygina: I think he's not trying to please. He speaks the truth. Honestly - this is good, this is bad. And you also have to be real. As a result, the project you're working on also turns out to be sincere.

Francesco Pennacchio: His gigantic example repertoires and his "hands on" approach. As well, his ability to facilitate the development of our ideas is very useful. I have also benefited from his choices for the Studio Visits, which were very diverse and super interesting.

Katrin Greiner: Erik has an incredible amount of experience in curating and a great network. You can really ask him anything and he always looks for an unusual approach to get the best out of an artistic work. He thinks outside the box and pushes you.

Sara Poli: Erik has been a wonderful teacher, his attitude to creatively critique your work helps to stimulate and ignite your approach.

What do you think CURAE brought to your educational path, as compared to more traditional courses?

Sara Poli: Having the opportunity to engage with people from different parts of the world and with different backgrounds than yours is a plus, it enriches your way of thinking and working.

Evgeniya Strygina: I would highlight Studio Visits where professionals didn't act as mature lecturers, keeping a distance from the students, but rather engaged with us on the same wavelength, sharing insights.

Katrina Whitehead: The peer group support has been excellent and really helped to shape and form my own project with lots of suggestions and examples. It has also given me more confidence in discussing my work due to the supportive feedback throughout. 

Katrin Greiner: The intensity and internationality are great. CURAE brings people from all over the world together in a virtual space. That is incredibly inspiring and the exchange is wonderful. The Studio Visits are also great. The challenge, however, is to realize all the projects. We are then left to our own devices.

Francesco Pennacchio: An international and multifaceted approach to curatorship, and more in general a broader experience. Having participants and speakers joining from different countries and continents, allowed me to expand my experiences and perspectives. 

What impression do you now have of online education? How was it like to interact with the rest of the group?

Evgeniya Strygina: I feel incredibly lucky with the group I've been working with. Each of them is incredibly talented, with their own artistic flair and style. It's very important that everyone voices their thoughts, as it has helped me view my project from new angles. I hope we can meet in person someday.

Katrina Whitehead: I looked forward to the meetings and after the initial introductions we quickly all got to know each other and also liaised with each other via social media in between the online sessions with further information, links to other artists, exhibitions or just to send photos of our cats! 

Sara Poli: There has been a wonderful synergy of support and formative criticism in our group that has helped us advance our work.

What advice would you give to future students to make the most out of their experience in the program? 

Francesco Pennacchio: Interact more with the peers, from the very beginning and try to find a fixed amount of time you can dedicate to the program weekly. Due to work and other endeavors I didn't manage to do it super consistently, and I am regretting it a bit now.

Katrin Greiner: Stay curious, ask all your questions and have a great time.

Katrina Whitehead: Try not to start with any preconceived ideas about what your exhibition will look like. It is a privilege to have been chosen for this Masterclass and it really opens up a new world in understanding how best to present your work in an exhibition, or how to curate the work of other artists. To have so much dedicated time to discuss your projects, with like-minded people and the skills of Erik Kessels has been invaluable in shaping my exhibition idea. 

Sara Poli: Be generous in what you want to communicate, show the study group not only your positive improvements but also doubts and perplexities that can be dissolved with everyone's support.

Evgeniya Strygina: I would advise experimenting and taking a course to surprise yourself.

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CURAE Online Masterclass On Curatorial Practice is part of the PhMuseum new educational program, comprising four different masterclasses that will all share a single intake period running until 20 June, with classes beginning in October 2024. Each course is tailored to meet the needs of emerging photographers, artists, curators, and contemporary storytellers looking to bring their methods to the next level. Check out which program suits you best at phmuseum.com/education

APPLICATION KEY DATES:

23 May - If you apply by this date you can be eligible for the full scholarship, and will automatically access the Early Bird Fee of €1,750. 

20 June - If you apply by this date you can join the program by paying the Regular Fee of €2,000.