Cultivating spaces for extraordinary artists

Curatorial Residency: Aidan Moesby reflects on his experiences so far

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a white knuckle ride. So much and so little seems to have happened – almost like those summer days as a kid that lasted forever. But we aren’t there and the reality of the situation is all too vivid. In the last couple of weeks everything has changed. Today is Tuesday. I should have been up at 6am to head down the A1 to Middlesbrough for my regular day at MIMA as part of the Curatorial Associateship with DASH. Instead I take the stairs at 9am to my ‘home office’ and have a video check-in with Elinor Morgan, Head of Programme at MIMA.

I haven’t seen Elinor in person for 3 weeks. Not since I left after work to head to Birmingham for Anna Berry’s ‘Slaughtering Sacred Cows’ event at MAC as her end of residency symposium. Back then, on the 11th of March, people were still talking about floods. It was a really good event and I enjoyed being on a panel with Sonia Boue and Trish Wheatley as we took it in turn to slaughter our disability ‘sacred cow’ of choice. Two people from MIMA came, it was their first foray in to the disability arts world and because of how things have panned out I haven’t had the chance to get their ‘outsiders’ view on it.

The following week I should have been at MIMA to see the opening of Otobong Nkanga’s exhibition ‘From Where I Stand‘ but ‘social distancing’ had come in on the Monday and MIMA decided to delay the opening event. I should also have been in Birmingham that week for a Curatorial DASH Network meeting but the cancellation e-mails were flooding into my inbox and it was clear things were changing. MIMA took the decision to close for health and safety reasons even before the lockdown was announced on the 23rd March.

It had been interesting to see the change-over in the galleries and the preparation for Otobong’s exhibition. I got to wander around the galleries as they were transformed into a new large scale exhibition, filling the whole of the 4 ground floor spaces. I saw the crates arrive, the condition reports, the transport queries, the remedial work from the previous exhibition and the preparation leading up to Otobong’s arrival. Despite being busy installing, Otobong was incredibly generous with her time as she answered my questions, satisfied my curiosity and engaged in some idle chat.

I love my Tuesdays at MIMA. They have been anchoring me this year in so many ways. I am so fortunate to be working with such a brilliant team. I still feel incredibly welcome and not like a visitor at all. Elinor knows when to support, structure things a bit tighter, let me go off on my own and when to push and challenge me. She is incredibly perceptive. She lets me chat – enough that I feel listened to and not shut down and short enough to keep us on track.

Not being at MIMA has been strange. I initially felt a little adrift within my own structures but always kept in the loop and Elinor and I have continued to talk. We have not rushed in to fill the space. We have used the space to think and reflect. How can we adapt the residency to reflect the current situation in a useful and meaningful way which is not just a knee jerk reaction but a more considered approach; that will maintain its relevancy beyond the immediate.

I have written a longer text in response to the situation and we have co-devised a plan ahead. This needs developing and fine tuning to make it a realistic proposition which allows me to develop within the remit of the MIMA DASH partnership. We are not rushing though. I feel no desire to fill the world with spurious digital content for the sake of it or join the clamour to have my voice heard. The ship is steadied and we have set the sails.