Interview with Alice Bonnot

Alice Bonnot is an independent curator interested in the development of environmentally sustainable curatorial and artistic practices with a drive towards eco solutions. She is currently developing a sustainable art residency programme in the countryside of Lisbon. In this interview, Bonnot talks about the importance of green practices and earnestly shares here ambitions and vision for creating a new socially and environmentally sustainable art residency model.


Josseline Black: In tracing your work over the past years, what led you to address pressing issues such as the environmental and climate crisis?

Alice Bonnot: I have always been interested in curating exhibitions that address societal concerns. Acts of disruption, the exhibition I curated in January 2018 at The Concept Space in London is a good example as it invited the public to question existing social structures and values. The exhibition responded to the idea that engagement, resistance and disruption are some the first steps in building an alternative society and in disrupting the status quo. The eight artists I selected were addressing sociopolitical issues through different aspects including the impacts of capitalism, mass consumption and imposed authority on both people and the planet. Lately, the impacts of climate change and human activity have become so blatant that it was impossible not to include these issues in my curatorial investigations.

JB: Today an important part of your work is to lower the environmental impact of contemporary art exhibitions. Do you follow specific strategies?

AB: Reducing the environmental impact of contemporary art exhibitions requires a collective reconsideration of the way we operate as art workers. This is true for curators, artists, collectors, galleries, transporters, etc. We all share this responsibility and every decision must be made with an awareness of the impact that we have on the environment. In 2019, I developed a four-step methodology to understand the environmental challenges associated with curation, to measure these impacts, and to know how to reduce them. I first created this method for myself, to help me navigate this new way of working, but also for other art practitioners, as I realised that more and more curators were questioning the impact of their practice, but did not know where to start. This research led to the creation of the short course ‘Sustainable Exhibition Management’ that I developed for Central Saint Martins, London. Due to the current situation, I was unable to start teaching it at CSM, therefore I decided to share this research online. Over the last six months, I was invited to host a workshop for Ki Culture ‘Curating an Ecologically Sensitive Exhibition’, to present my work ‘How Art Curators Can Lower the Environmental Impact of Contemporary Art Exhibitions’ at a conference organised by Art Switch, and to contribute to the post-graduate programme ‘Politics of Curating Contemporary Art’ at Universidade Católica de Lisboa, by leading a masterclass on ‘Environmentally Sustainable Curatorial Practices’.

JB: This requires rigorous discipline; this is not an easy way of going. Do you have the sense that you have alliances now, in allegiance with other art workers, in a network?

AB: About three years ago, when I started questioning the impact of my own practice, I couldn’t find much research on this topic. More recently, numerous initiatives have started to pop out around the globe in favour of reducing the carbon footprint of the arts and culture industry, and this is a very positive trend. Today, many allies are creating opportunities for art professionals to participate in this greening movement. I recently started working with Ki Culture, a non-profit organisation providing sustainable solutions for cultural heritage, to help cultural institutions embrace the challenges and opportunities associated with the adoption of sustainable practices. This Ki Futures programme is designed to support museums, institutions, galleries and other cultural organisations become more sustainable in compliance with Agenda 2023, the UN SDGs and the Paris Agreement. We offer training, resources, networking and support that are vital to addressing environmental and social issues.

JB: Jérôme Bel, who at some point in his career boycotted the use of planes, speaks of how important it is to remember why you are doing this because you are setting a precedent and many institutions don’t want to change or adjust to consider the environment. How can you maintain this approach?

AB: That’s very true, it is essential to remember the reasons behind decisions that can be as difficult as boycotting the use of planes, in order to maintain these efforts. On the other hand, I understand the difficulties that this might create for people involved in such projects, as the alternatives to flying involves longer and more expansive routes. But overall, I see this as a positive challenge to work with people who might not understand or might disagree with certain decisions that could appear for some as too radical, as that’s where constructive discussions can arise.

JB: Your forthcoming project is VILLA VILLA, a new sustainable art residency programme. I would love to know how this is being structured in time?

AB: One of the reasons for me to move to Portugal, two years ago, was to launch a sustainable art residency programme in the countryside of Lisbon dedicated to supporting contemporary artists, curators, writers and thinkers. I am interested in facilitating research, production and presentation of artistic practices outside of the urban context, while fostering relationships and collaborations both nationally and internationally. In order to do so, we are currently looking for the perfect farmhouse to host this programme of open-ended art residencies, exhibitions, talks, workshops, and culinary food-based research, with the idea of creating a safe and sustainable place for art practitioners to engage with ideas of contemporary sustainability and to grow as a community that care for people and planet. Alongside this, as part of our online programme, we are developing a practical guide generated through open-source discussions with artists and art professionals about sustainable studio practices, in order to identify the tools and systems required for lower-impact artistic practices.

JB: What texts are influencing the articulation of the mission for this project?

AB: There are many different sources of inspiration. On one hand, the ’going back to the land’ movements, philosophies that nurture a connection to the earth, principles coming from permaculture, and how ancestral knowledge can be used today. And on the other hand, ideas of deep ecology, intersectional environmentalism, ecofeminisms, and other timely movements that contribute to the creation of environmental sustainability and environmental justice.

JB: Why the name VILLA VILLA?

AB:  I always like the exercise of choosing a name for a new project or for an exhibition. Although it was difficult to find a name that reflected all the multi-faceted aspects of VILLA VILLA, I knew I wanted a name that was accessible and easy to understand. Something that immediately creates a positive visual image in people’s minds and conveys good feelings. Since eventually our physical programme will take place in a farmhouse in a rural environment, with studios and accommodations surrounded by hectares of land, a vegetable garden, an orchard, a well, henhouses, and a micro-bakery, I wanted the name to embody this physicality and, ultimately, inspire people to feel sheltered and protected to participate in the creation of new contemporary experiences built on social and environmental interaction.

Josseline Black is a contemporary curator, writer, and researcher. She holds an M.A. in time-based media from the Kunst Universität Linz and a B.A. in Anthropology (specialization Cotsen Institute of Archaeology) from the University of California Los Angeles. She operated for five years as in-house curator of the international artistic residency program at the Atelierhaus Salzamt (Austria) wherein she had the privilege of working closely with a number of brilliant artists. Included in her duties within the institution she allocated and directed the Salzamt hosting of the E.U. CreArt mobility for artists program. As a writer, she has reviewed exhibitions and co-edited texts for Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado, Portugal, Madre Museum Naples, the Museums Quartier Vienna, MUMOK, Guimarães Gallery, Gallery Michaela Stock. She is regular theoretical contributor to the Contemporary Art Magazine Droste Effect. In addition, she has published with Interartive Malta, OnMaps Tirana, Albania, and L.A.C.E (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions). In tandem to her curatorial practice and writing, she has for the past decade used choreography as a research tool inquiring into the ontology of the performing body with a focus on embodied cartographies of public memory and space. She has held research residencies at the East Ugandan Arts Trust, the Centrum Kultury w Lublinie, the University of Arts Tirana Albania, and the Upper Austrian Architectural Forum. It is her privilege to continue developing her approach to curatorship which derives from an anthropological reading of art production and an ethnological dialectic in working with cultural content generated by art makers. Currently, she is developing the methodology which supports the foundation of a performance-based trans-disciplinary platform for a spectral critique on art production.

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