From a curatorial life to another
When Dana Friis-Hansen left the post of Austin Museum of Art executive director in January, many Austinites feared the lack of a venue would mean an end to his gifted curatorial work in the city's art scene. But five months later, Friis-Hansen is enjoying his first local exhibition as an independent curator, courtesy of Fluent~Collaborative, the visual arts nonprofit that sponsors the experimental art exhibition space testsite and the online contemporary art journal ... might be good.
Fluent~Collaborative co-founder Laurence Miller (himself a director of AMOA back in its Laguna Gloria Art Museum days) invited Friis-Hansen to develop a project in the Adams-Hemphill Park neighborhood residence that's home to testsite, suggesting that the curator select an artist with whom he's long wanted to collaborate but hasn't had the chance. That brought to mind Doug Fitch, a prodigiously versatile artist that Friis-Hansen has known for almost 25 years but never really worked with. Fitch's interests run the gamut from two-dimensional visual art to animation to puppetry to architecture and interior design to designing and directing opera productions to the culinary arts, and Friis-Hansen wanted the show to tap into the diverse creative fields in which his friend makes work while revealing something about his process. The resulting installation, From a Life to an Other, pulls together images and storyboards from various projects of Fitch's – past, present, and future – to explore the artist's journey through life and explore what is for him the "obsessive problem" of "What is the function of art?".
In an interview by phone, Fitch describes his longtime interest in chairs, objects that are, he says, anthropomorphic by nature, can be made of interesting material, great in terms of scale, and useful. "You sit on it," he notes. "But where does the line between the objects that we use and the objects that we don't land?" He recalls visiting a museum where an ancient African spoon and pipe were on display. "Their lives as usefulness had come to an end, but their lives as art had just started." Noting that testsite is actually a home, he adds, "Art in a home seemed like a great place to carry on this dialogue, a dialogue that Dana and I had been carrying on for years."
The exhibition opened on Sunday, May 22, to what Fitch describes as a very "engaged" crowd, one much more involved in the work than what he's accustomed to in, say, an art gallery in Chelsea. Friis-Hansen is pleased to share that local enthusiasm and interest with his friend. And how does it feel to be curating outside of an institution for the first time in a dozen years? "The goals are the same. It's just a different venue," he insists. Mostly, he is just glad to be curating, period. "I like rolling up my sleeves and hanging art." And many people in Austin like it when he does.
"testsite 11.2: Doug Fitch & Dana Friis-Hansen: From a Life to an Other" continues through June 26, Sundays, 2-5pm and by appointment, at testsite, 502 W. 33rd. For more information, visit www.fluentcollab.org/testsite.