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Where's the frame

Maribelle Bierens

March 13, 2023 4:19 PM


With a main focus on emerging art and feminism, Joséphine May Bailey is a London-based curator and writer. She recently started as a gallery director of Pictorum, a gallery based in Marylebone. wtf? had the pleasure to speak to Joséphine about her background, how she finds the artists she works with, and upcoming projects. ‍

I would like to start with your personal background, what is your academic background and curatorial focus? 

I am a Curator, Arts Writer and Feminist. My interest and research into intersectional feminism influences all that I do and create, and as a result I work most often with women and non binary artists.

I studied Art History (BA) at Oxford University, with an (attempted) focus on feminist studies and contemporary theory. I say attempted as, unsurprisingly, it was pretty hard to focus on anything more contemporary than the 1970s under the Oxford-guise. After this, I worked in a series of different contemporary galleries and auction houses before deciding to complete a 2 year MFA in Curating at Goldsmiths. 

I am now Director and Curator of Pictorum Gallery, where I ensure my curatorial focus remains one routed in research, with a particular focus again on supporting women artists in a feminist context. Alongside my gallery work, I still write and curate independent projects‍.

Joséphine at Pictorum Gallery's inaugural exhibition TAKING A BROOM TO THE WASPS’ NEST

Can you tell me a bit more about your role as the gallery director and curator of Pictorum Gallery?

At the core of my role at Pictorum Gallery, is the idea of mutual support. The word ‘incubate’ is thrown around a lot at the gallery, which is a fancy word that ultimately just means that I intend to work alongside our artists to ensure the longevity of their practices and careers - trying to build really strong relationships with each artist, and work with them often and regularly, with different exhibitions and opportunities. As a gallery that works with emerging artists, this is especially important. There is a lot of talk around collecting and ‘finding’ new emerging artists, but sometimes this simply creates a culture that is so fast moving and often erratic, that after just one show an artist is forgotten. As curator, I try stop that from happening, and ensure that artists are included every step of the way, and placing their works with collectors who really truly love their work.

As soon as I came to Pictorum as Director, I knew that a focus on women artists would be a cornerstone of our programming. Of our 9 shows we have planned for 2023, 7 of them are women-only exhibitions. Importantly, these exhibitions aren’t simply groups of women lumped together as ‘great women artists’ (to borrow from Linda Nochlin) or a revisionist attempt at generating a female centred history of art, but rather highly researched and curated exhibitions focusing on topics and themes that are deeply routed in each of the chosen artists practices.

Kate Burling's work produced at Pictorum’s residency

How do you find the artists for the programming of the gallery or your own curatorial projects?

It’s a really organic process for me. I spend a lot of time visiting other galleries, or going to art school graduate shows, which is often where I am introduced to artists, but I also use instagram a lot. It’s a really great platform to showcase what I am about as a curator, and also to learn more about artists. It also means that when I do reach out to artists, they already have a bit of context as to who I am, and what my curatorial style is. 

Before you started at Picturom, you organised a unique curatorial project called ‘I FELT THAT’, on the topic of ‘gendered pain’. Can you share a bit about it? 

I decided to do an open call to find the artists included in I FELT THAT. Mainly, it was because I wanted to widen my own pool of artists, as well as encourage people who may not have otherwise applied to take part. For example - Mhairi - she is a fantastic documentary photographer, and I honestly do not think I would have been able to find her work or research without the open call. It also meant that I was able to find artists who were interested in the gender pain gap but who had not had the opportunity to focus on the subject previously. I was a really difficult selection process, as I had hundreds of applications by the end, but I was so thrilled by the final selection.

Installation shot I Felt That. From right to left: Louise Benton, The Twelve Labours (2022), Glazed Earthenware, 45 x 30 x 30 cm, Lucy Cade, Installation of 'Bedside Manners', Oil on Velvet, Denim and Canvas, with Hospital Blanket. Dims Variable, Lucienne O'Mara, Space Like Glass, I Sit Quiet (2022), Oil and Wood On Panel, 92 x 64 cm

I was keen to have a collective, care-centered curatorial focus throughout the project, given the personal subject matter. I also really wanted to try to use friendship as a tool for understanding and research, which is exactly what the meetings facilitated. Being given a safe space (weekly) to discuss and share opinions and experiences, it really created an extremely trusting environment that aided the intensity and honesty of the final works.

Installation shot I Felt That. Left to right: Polina Pak, A Piercing Embrace (2022), Oil on Canvas, 120 x 105 cm, Lucienne O'Mara, Space Like Glass, I Sit Quiet (2022), Oil and Wood On Panel, 92 x 64 cm

Have you been inspired by other curators, artists, scholars, or projects to pursue this project on gendered pain? 

There is a huge amount of fascinating research on the gender pain gap that was fascinating to read and ended up having a huge impact on the project. For example, Johanna Hedva's Sick Woman Theory or Leonora Carrington's The Hearing Trumpet.  I also intentionally looked back a lot at previous women artists who had focused on pain, such as Tracey Emin, Alina Schpovnikov, Helen Chadwick, and Frida Khalo. All of the wider art historical context added to the intensity of I felt that, as it definitely allowed for us to feel that we were building on an already established history and powerful dialogue.

Generally speaking, what’s your favourite aspect of curating a show? And what’s your least favourite part?

My favourite part of putting on a show is working with the artists. It is the main reason I love what I do. Organising studio visits, learning more about each artists’ practice and research, it’s a brilliantly exciting and fascinating aspect to an exhibition. It also comes with a huge sense of achievement at the end of the show, as I am honestly incredibly proud of each artists’ work and I am aware of the time, energy and effort that is put in. I also do really enjoy the writing aspect - exhibition texts are an opportunity to kind of ‘nerd out’ on subjects that I find interesting, and an excuse to read more around the subject.

My least favourite part is taking the works down at the end of the show. Obviously this is quite a predictable answer (sorry!) but it is quite a strange feeling taking down a show that has become my every day environment for the past 5 weeks, or however long the show is on for. Each exhibition creates its own aura, or feeling, and I become very accustomed to it - it really is a shock taking it down each time, and being suddenly engulfed by the plain white walls of the gallery!

Pictorum Gallery’s current show: BETWEEN THE BRIDGE AND THE DOOR

Through your own curatorial projects and now as a gallery director, you come into contact with many different artists in London. How would you describe the London art scene today?

The London art scene is incredibly fast paced. People are always looking out for what the next ‘movement’ is, or who the next big artist is. This can sometimes mean that there’s a bit of hype that follows specific shows or exhibitions, and as a result can greatly impact the trajectory of many artists’ careers. This is obviously a bit of a double edged sword. However, it does make the London art scene incredibly exciting to be a part of. It’s wonderful to meet so many artists, and have access to some of the best art schools, and art school graduates, in the world. 

Are there any upcoming projects you are excited about that you can share? 

Coming up later in March is an exhibition titled The Songs of Hecate at Pictorum Gallery. It showcases works by six women artists (​​Ornella Pocetti, Chantal Powell, Renin Bilginer  Maddie Yuille, Johanna Seidel, and Rithika Pandey) working across painting, drawing, sculpture and installation. The works all present a unique perspective to cultural and spiritual knowledge sharing, within a feminist care-centred context.

Taking the writings of feminist critic and author Sylvia Federici as the basis for the exhibition, Songs of Hecate looks at how knowledge-sharing, rituals and dreamscapes are a powerful tool used to create a sense of community and support amoungst women. Drawing on medieval, classical, magical realism, and cultural practices, the exhibitions shines a light on the power of community amongst women, and the feminist context of storytelling, spiritualism and cultural heritage. 

Melding and morphing each individual story, the exhibition reinterprets and sometimes subverts shared understandings of cultural stories, mythology and dreams to create a world in which women are central, and given a voice. 

You can follow Joséphine on Instagram and her website

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