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"Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm)", Juliana Huxtable
"Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm)", 2015 Courtesy of Juliana Huxtable, with special thanks to Mihail Lari and Scott Murray

The curator switching it up for female artists

Lauren Cornell, curator of this year’s New Museum Triennial, on how she flipped the tables on gender representation in exhibitions

This article is part of a series on art today to support the Dazed x Converse Emerging Artists Award  Check out the rest of content here and make sure to visit the Royal Academy in London before 17th May to see all the work IRL. 

Champion of web-savvy artists, with an sharp eye for young talent and an incredible career to date, curator Lauren Cornell is our latest female art crush. Born and bred in NYC, she transformed Rhizome into the art and tech icon it is today before moving on to the iconic New Museum to put together their third generational Triennial.

Working collaboratively with artist Ryan Trecartin, Cornell curated Surround Audience an exhibition exploring the future of culture though the art of today. A game changing show, it features this generation’s most exciting names from DIS and K-HOLE, to Rachel Lord and Aleksandra Domanović. The epic group exhibition features 51 artists which remarkably includes more female names than male. In association with our Emerging Artists Award we talk to Cornell about tech, gender and how she made this sadly unusual statistic happen.

What interests you about art/tech crossovers?

Lauren Cornell: I got into art through a passion for avant-garde film and experimental video. I used to run a small cinema space in Brooklyn in the early 00s. At that time, I became particularly interested in artists like Nam June Paik, the Video Freex, and the magazine Radical Software – all artists and projects of the 1960s/early 70s that were embracing video and television as new media – considering how their potential for mass communication could change the shape and operation of art and culture. It was a utopian moment that faded, in one part, due to the privatisation of cable. Studying this period helped me articulate why I was so interested in the work of my peers, such as Cory Arcangel, Seth Price, Wynne Greenwood, and Paul Chan: they were tangling with these same questions within new cultural parameters.

This interest led me to Rhizome, an organisation I directed for nearly eight years. Rhizome was founded in 1996 by the artist Mark Tribe. When I took over in 2005, artists were exploring the web not as a new medium but as a mass medium. This so-called “second generation” is the focus of a forthcoming anthology that Ed Halter and I edited called Mass Effect that looks at art engaged with technology since roughly 2003. It’s important to recognise this field (whatever you want to call it, internet, post-internet, media art or simply art) isn’t about illustrating effects of the latest gadgets, but about questioning cultural change, imagining it differently, or creating dissonance with the process of innovation.

There are more female artists than male in the Triennial – how did that happen?

Lauren Cornell: As the list developed throughout the course of the exhibition, there were always more women (or female-identified artists) than men and, also, always many artists living or born outside of the west. I think this just reflects our interests and research priorities. Our desire was to present artists who were lesser-known within New York’s art conversation, which still primarily focuses on artists from the U.S. and Western Europe.

“Good curators don’t just show established artists or reiterate well-trodden art histories but work to expand, complicate and critique these narratives and open the doors of art to lesser-known or new voices” – Lauren Cornell

How do you address gender equality in the arts?

Lauren Cornell: I came of age – professionally and personally – in feminist and queer communities. These were/are comprised of people whose work and ideas I was passionate about, and synced with my own. For instance, in my early 20s, much of my social life centred on artists, poets and writers involved with the journal LTTR. I believe I carry forward values hashed out during this time that prioritise concern not just for gender equality but employ feminism as a critical lens to examine a broader matrix of class, gender and race structures. I think, I hope, my work acts on these values in many ways by, for instance, writing about these issues, by helping advance, whenever possible, the careers of younger women, and by supporting a spectrum of artists, many of whom are not guys! I think it seems especially hard or frustrating to come up as a young artist now in an art world that seems to think of itself as ‘over’ inequality, while consistently rewarding white men more than anyone else. In this context, it’s important to create spaces for ongoing inequalities to be named and dealt with constructively.

Why is it an important issue?

Lauren Cornell: Because the art world isn’t exceptional: it reflects broader social biases and injustices that are endemic to every field. And, because culture isn’t healthy or relevant if it’s being made only by a privileged elite. Good curators don’t just show established artists or reiterate well-trodden art histories but work to expand, complicate and critique these narratives and open the doors of art to lesser-known or new voices.

Why do your exhibitions tap into the really urgent topics of today?

Lauren Cornell: Because urgent issues are often embedded in art. Whether a work presents a clear-eyed view on political events or a more oblique one, looks forward, mines the past, or tries to withdraw completely, one can always find something meaningful about the world we live in and the conditions in which art is made.

The Emerging Artists Award 2015 is free entry and is open from 18 April to 17 May at Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts