New works and art galleries: Nicole Lattuca
curated by Daniela Veneri
“Figure out multiple ways to speak to audiences and people with different levels of understanding. This is some of the most meaningful feedback I've received that has translated across my work in museums and with remote communities. It’s really been about paying attention to individuals and their needs, interests and to what they're saying."
- Nicole Lattuca
Nicole, do you identify yourself more as an artist or more as a curator?
I would say I oscillate between the two. I try to find places where they can overlap.
In 2016, I co-founded an art space called Practice Space in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a hybrid model storefront in a busy part of the city. We curated exhibitions, but we also hosted workshops and produced publications. In the front of the space, we had a small shop where we sold works by artists and other small women-owned businesses.
I've also been an art teacher for 20 years, teaching at museums, schools, and nonprofits. When I think about myself as a curator, I think about how learning processes and pedagogy are important to me, in terms of theories and practices. And that’s a trajectory I’m interested in continuing. I’m also interested in the work of curating as “exhibition making” or thinking of all the ways curating can be a creative practice within itself.
I have a very social practice, teaching and having the storefront. By not being able to have a social practice for the last couple of years, I've really been turning back to my foundations of art making and trying to get back to the things I did when I was 19. My undergraduate degree focused on photography and painting, and right now I am just trying to get back into working with my hands; that was my practice during the pandemic lockdown. This summer my boyfriend Matt and I were at MIDI residency in the south of France, and I spent every day just drawing for 3 to 4 hours in the garden. I’m trying to capture that spirit of the love of art-making back into my own life, because it's evolved over the last 20 years, since I was an undergrad always experimenting and making things. Art practices evolve through making, selling, or exhibiting, and I am just trying to get more comfortable back into that messy studio space of making work that doesn't go anywhere or that doesn't have an agenda. I’m trying to find fun again in the art-making process.
What projects are you currently working on, and what excites you most about them?
There are quite a few artists I'm really interested in collaborating with here in New York. In one idea, I am interested in working in the curatorial role with artists that I've met while I was an artist-in-residence, or through my space Practice Space, in Cambridge. The three women artists in particular that I’m thinking of all work with body movement, but also pedagogy, education, learning. I'm really fascinated by the idea of body movement and exchange of knowledge. I was a figure skater as a child and teenager and so I'm always interested in body movement and how the body learns, and also this idea that maybe we learn information better with body movements attached to learning processes. What potential is there for children if there was less sitting during the school day and more movement?
What was your role in the exhibition at Gallery Gundula Gruber?
Matt Mottel, the invited artist of Burnt Truth, is my partner and he decided his role in this exhibition would be as the “band leader” meaning, he invited different collaborators to exhibit alongside him in a collaborative and emergent spirit. He invited me to participate as well, specifically commissioning a piece, which was a drawing and watercolor I made from a screenshot of the Google search “how babies are affected by the music of Mozart” He asked me to do this drawing for the show, because we have a baby due this April! He wanted a piece in the show that spoke to life, to what was next in our personal life.
What drives you in your work?
Curiosity. As someone interested in learning and education, I’ve always been interested in self-education. I view teaching as reciprocal learning, and always being a learner just as part of my personality.
And now in terms of life someday getting back to normal following a global pandemic, the curiosity and the fascination of being out in the world - around color and texture, and finding the joy of working with those things. I like the idea of a re-emergence and seeing things anew after this moment in our collective history.
What are your most important objectives as an artist as a curator?
Nurturing a regular art making practice in my life. I really strive to work regularly and make that space to just be creative, if not every day then as much a week as possible. It's a practice. Just this idea of fulfilling that aspect of myself by making sure that I have an in-home art studio and the goal is to keep that studio organized so that I can work regularly, to find that routine at home, but also in traveling when possible. Also, seeing new work by fellow creatives. Making sure I don’t become complacent, making the effort to see what other artists are making.
Who are the most important partners and interlocutors in the unfolding of your own creative process?
It changes with the context of where I'm at geographically. When I did a residency in 2014 on Fogo Island in Newfoundland, the partners and interlocutors were the local community. I was in a residency there and I worked with the local school and a variety of community members some of whom were former fishermen, others, older women who made quilts, and all sorts of interesting people. It's an older community that lives on the island, and it became a big part of my practice while I was there to get to know these people over daily tea - their everyday life and what interests them, and then work on the art project with them in collaboration.
Right now being in Newburgh, outside of the city of New York City, this place has become a kind of artists enclave, a city seeing many artists move here because of affordability and a “blank space aspect” in the sense that there is a lot of physical room and interest in new projects. I meet many creative types working on new initiatives, starting up a new gallery or a new shop, learning about my neighbors is a way to collaborate with them, and things develop from there. Wherever I live or in places I'm invited to, I make a real effort to get to know the people and really consider the audience and the collaborators in a holistic art making process.
Which of the feedback that you have received over the years have been particularly meaningful for you, or surprised you the most?
Some of the best feedback I received was when I was a middle-school art teacher. Figure out multiple ways to speak to audiences and people with different levels of understanding. This is some of the most meaningful feedback I've received that has translated across my work in museums and with remote communities. It’s really been about paying attention to individuals and their needs, interests and to what they're saying. When I teach, I aim to know each student and to what drives them, what impacts them, and what might hold them back. I take the same approach when collaborating, as well, not just approaching a community as one entity, but thinking of the community being made up of many different types of characters and personalities, and how to speak to those different characters and personalities. I learn to find out what's needed from different people, and how to change the language when necessary.
In your personal experience, what do you notice about how the arts and culture field relates to the expanded social field? What do you feel needs some attention or change?
I see a lot of institutions claim a focus on audience engagement and connecting with communities, and I see digital expansion with institutional collections. The issue is I don’t see much follow through or support being given to the departments who work with the public.
At Practice Space, like many artist run spaces, we considered our various audiences constantly. Because we were in a neighborhood of shops and restaurants we had foot traffic and because of that we were able to engage people with our ideas, research, and art work. With a lot of museums or other institutions that are a destination, there is a “threshold issue” you have to make an effort to get there and then pay to get in, and it becomes a whole bunch of things that become blockades to being accessible. Many nonprofits or for-profits in the U.S. are trying to expand their outreach, but there is still plenty of room for rethinking how to engage audiences.
As for what would need some attention or change, probably things like a whole restructuring of where the money in institutions goes. Just knowing, when I ran an education department in Montreal, how a lot of our funds went to superfluous things. The education department brought in a significant amount of money but the money we were allowed to spend as our budget was significantly less. A reallocating of funds that could happen at foundational level first, thinking about the outreach, the visitor services, the education departments, could lead to more change in terms of accessibility and who is actually getting exposed to art and culture, especially in the States, where budget-wise arts are always the first thing to get cut and there isn't a budget for working artists like there is in Europe or Canada for example. Respect for art and the respect for creative life would be, speaking specifically about the United States, something that could really change the whole culture.
What kind of contribution would you like your work to have?
Impacting individuals; when possible, something as simple as impacting a child or a classroom, to value art making and culture and the ways art is expressed in culture, also in terms of working with people interested in seeing their own creativity and their own role within creative culture.
Because there's such a lack of funding for the arts in the States, you hear so often young people say they are not artists or that they are not creative, and I think that can be really detrimental because then you grow a culture of people who view themselves as separate from the arts, and from music. They think they can't do it, that they don't understand it, and then they don't value it and that becomes a whole circular chain of how children grow into adults who don’t value creativity. This is how we lose money for the arts and lose respect for the arts. Working at this kind of small group or individual level with kids and community members, it is enough for me at this moment.
What kind of impact do you see emerging from this pandemic? How do you feel or sense this experience is affecting our ways of producing, sharing and experiencing art?
The pandemic has been an extraordinary experience. Living through it and seeing what systematically was able to change and what didn’t, in terms of government assistance or support in general, I think just helps us turn a magnifying glass on different social systems, like the public school system.
Having every child going remote on to Zoom school maybe was a good short-term solution but a year later, having children just sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day, just thinking about how they could have really used an opportunity to rethink how learning happens in this country. This also goes back to the idea of pushing people, especially Americans, into creative thinking, so that when there are these kind of massive issues, like a year into a Zoom school for children, people can think differently about how children can learn, instead of having a real mind block as to how to make their learning experiences better than just sitting in front of a computer. With all the children at home, maybe it could have been a great opportunity to learn things around the house, it could have been a gap year in some ways, where children everywhere could have been learning about their neighborhood, their environment, the outdoors, homework and repairs and just different things that could have been a more fruitful time.
What do you feel needs attention now? What are the most relevant emerging questions, where do you sense the presence of seeds of future in this moment in time?
It would be great if the United States could look more at creative thinkers for solutions, if we could think about what were the missed opportunities during this whole pandemic, what kind of things we can have in place, what kind of troubleshooting and how can artists be part of that, how a creative mindset can change, how we deal with structural issues, where the troubleshooting can be.
Is there anything that you would like to do differently in your own artistic practice?
Especially after all this isolated time or working with people through screens, and teaching through screens, the simplicity of being in the presence of people again, and working with children and making art, this is just where I would like to get back to on a regular basis. There is still this constant negotiation with the fear of the virus that really puts a barrier between human interactions. In warmer months you get to that place again, but as we enter late fall and winter, we see again the insular fear of going to places and everyone's again backed off.
It would be nice, in not such a distant future, to return to coexisting with people, moving around with people, making artwork with kids.
What are three keywords that resonate with you right now, at the end of this conversation?
Kids, is one, Systemic change; thinking about the needs for change, but also of the awareness, and maybe the global awareness of those systems. And "in-person" too, the goal of being back and coexisting with people and collaborating, being together with other humans without this looming fear or barrier.
Nicole Lattuca is an Artist-Educator and Curator based in New York, USA. Nicole has been an artist in residence at Fogo Island Arts, The Banff Centre for Creativity, and Santa Fe Art Institute in New Mexico. She holds a Masters Degree in Exhibition and Museum Studies from the San Francisco Art Institute in California.
Note: This interview was published on Rondò Pilot, issue no. 2.0, 2021.