Anna Frost | Interview
Beast On Its Back | vacant shed | image by John Garcia
Interview with Anna Frost, curator in residence
Anna Frost is a Danish curator based in Los Angeles. Her practice focuses on nomadic, multi-purpose, and artist-initiated projects. During her residency at SEA Foundation, Anna Frost works on an extensive project of research that is accompanied by an exhibition series. Her most recent project was the exhibition in the vacant shed on a Malibu Hillside titled Beast On Its Back. It ran from February 23 and ended 8 March 2020, just before the pandemic caused the world to shelter in place, effectively making it the last exhibition for the artists included for the foreseeable future. Via all means of digital media, we contacted Anna and asked her a few questions about her curatorial approach and about ‘the Beast’ in particular.
As a Danish curator you live and work between the USA and Europe and you have a nomadic curatorial practice. Can you explain in more detail how you define a nomadic curatorial practice?
My curatorial practice has been focused on multi-purpose space and nomadic exhibition formats for the past decade. In this time I have had the chance to work with many different artist-run initiatives and launch a number of projects, most of which have a nomadic nature or incorporate multi-purpose space.
A good example of a nomadic project is the series I organized with Pretty Days in Miami. Pretty Days is an exhibition platform in a retrofitted industrial grow tent by artists Gregory Kalliche and Harry Gould Harvey IV. They present exhibitions in remote locations that usually are only visited in person by a small group of people and the artists. Each project is then thoroughly documented and circulated online.
We collaborated with BFI – a non-profit artist run space directed by Naomi Fisher. At the time BFI had just given up their brick and mortar space and was expanding into a nomadic modus themselves. For the exhibition series in Miami another two tents; a Faraday tent and an infrared tent, were added for a total of four exhibitions. We put a lot of thought into where to place each tent to make it correspond with its intended usage, the artist’s work, and its new function as exhibition space.
For the first show, the grow tent was placed inside a toy store presenting works by Flannery Silva and Joshua Abelow. Frozen Jail dealt with themes of adolescence and included childlike drawings by Abelow and haunting doll boxes by Silva. Rune Collection was set inside the infrared tent that is normally used for lab test distillation. We placed this directly on the ice at a local ice skating rink. Artist Michael Assiff presented a series of hand carved activated charcoal figurines intended to cleanse and sanctify melted ice as a resource in case of a natural disaster, which is common in the coastal area of south Florida. The second show in the grow tent EDITS unfolded at a botanical research center and featured works by Loney Abrams and Johnny Stanish about CRISPR technology and mutated plants. The final project was installed in a shopping mall parking structure inside the faraday tent. A faraday tent is constructed of material that shields off electromagnetic fields and artist Edward Marshall Shenk repurposed this structure as a safe and charging station for targeted individuals – people who feel especially vulnerable in public spaces fearing invasive surveillance usually from government bodies. The nomadic nature of Pretty Days provided a different framework for the artists to show their work in and became an integral part of the presentation.
And in particular explain more about your curatorial approach?
In 2011, when I still lived in Copenhagen, I started working with a group of artists who ran an exhibition program inside the mostly defunct shopping arcade Toves Galleri. TOVES, named after the mall that was named after a famous local author, became home for a number of my projects in collaboration with the other members. We started working as a production unit beyond the exhibition space, considering what it means to operate as a post institution, professionalizing while remaining flexible, lending from corporate strategies to develop sustainable models circulating art. In 2014 we began a series of presentation models based on TOVES’ Annual Report – which in a company setting is a document used to evaluate and present the results and trajectory of a company’s portfolio. For the curatorial project LOVELACE, that was made in collaboration with TOVES, Import Projects and Elena Gilbert, we distilled TOVES’ fifty-some exhibitions into categories such as participation by gender, age, country, details about exhibition funding, work hours etc. We commissioned artist Uffe Isolotto to work this info into a graphic novel invoking the strange overlap of two historical personalities: Linda Lovelace (a celebrated/tragic porn actress) and Ada Lovelace (the first computer programmer) to explore the sovereignty of the professional image and the (corporate) body.
Working with artist-led initiatives and project spaces has always been a main imperative of mine, not as a stepping-stone into an institutional position but as a way to keep carving out space for nonconventional exhibition making. My work with multi-purpose spaces follows in this thread. It’s a way to circumvent traditional exhibition formats set in white cube spaces and institutional contexts. A recent example is my work as curator and co-founder of Atrium – a curatorial project set inside the neo-futuristic architecture of The Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The building, famous for its iconic and confusing architecture features a shopping mall, a food court and indoor running track and glass elevators shooting up through the roof, gives way to many types of usage. Together with creative director Jordan Richman we have presented a video series by dis in collaboration with Semiotext(e) and Ada O’Higgens inside a pizza parlor and launched the algae based nutrition bar Nonfood, a culinary initiative by the artist Sean Raspet and Lucy Chinen inside a bodega. Most recently we collaborated with the architecture magazine Pin-Up for their cover story – a portrait of The Bonaventure with text by Fiona Duncan and a visual portfolio by Torso.
By presenting art in spaces that have another primary function the artists get to expand the usage beyond its original intent and insert art into unexpected venues that in turn can inform their work and present new aspects of a practice. This has been the case with my recent exhibition Beast On Its Back that takes place in a vacant sheep enclosure in Malibu.
With respect to “Beast On Its Back” was it the place that spurned ideas for the exhibition or is it the vision or theme of the project which you then relate to this specific place?
The idea to use the enclosure and surrounding property for an exhibition came when I did a studio visit with artist John Garcia. Since last winter he has lived and worked in Malibu in preparation for an exhibition at the artist run space Insect. John took me around the property that used to be home to his mother and her husband before the Woolsey fires destroyed their home in 2018. John, who lives in New York, happened to attend my opening at Hotel Art Pavilion in Brooklyn – an artist run exhibition space in a pre-fab tool shed, so he has experienced my work first hand and knew about my curatorial practice outside conventional spaces. We quickly agreed that the sheep enclosure and surrounding hillside would be an exciting backdrop for an exhibition. All the artists, the majority of which are LA locals, made works specifically for the space, many of them after an initial site visit that inspired their work for the show. Even the New York duo Irina Jasnowski Pascual and Tyler Berrier traveled to Malibu and made their pieces on site.
Beast On Its Back is the title of your most recent curated exhibition on a Malibu Hillside. It evokes the story of an animal that was defeated. In the light of this exhibition how to interpret “the Beast”
To me, it is less about defeating the beast and more about showing that the beast as trope is more nuanced. Perhaps we shouldn’t fear the beast, but simply try and understand it, perhaps even nurture it.