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Interview with Sasha Burkhanova-Khabadze, the director of Exposed Arts Projects

By Ramiro Camelo

Exposed Outside_

The myriad of alternative or artist-run art spaces operating in the art world has to experiment with different approaches and models in order to subsist.  Artists-run spaces are looking to gain relevance while creating strategies for entering into more diverse forms of contention with their particular surroundings. Through interviews and discussion with curators and artist-managers, Myymälä2 tries to examine what are their biggest challenges and difficulties that artists-run spaces face and how they navigate, issues of financing overhead cost, fundraising, waves of gentrification, and where their function lies in relation to the crushing art market.

In this post, we present an interview with curator Sasha Burkhanova-Khabadze, founder and director of Art Exposed Projects an independent space in London that our curator in residence Ramiro Camelo visited during London’s Frieze art week last year.

Ramiro: Sasha, please tell us when did you first become interested in art, and how did it lead you into the role of managing an independent art space?

Sasha: In my mid-twenties I came to London to get the MA in Fashion History (I was enjoying working as a fashion journalist back then). Through the number of internships and encounters with some inspiring individuals, I found my way into fashion curating: I helped at fashion houses’ archives, organised and catalogued private collections, and finally got engaged in fashion exhibition-making. As I started an independent career as a curator, I discovered the joy of making interdisciplinary projects and public programmes. I developed a passion for exhibitions that would merry fashion objects with archival and heritage materials, subjects of humanities and natural sciences, artifacts of critical design — and contemporary arts. The experience one gets by attending this kind of projects — the rare chance to simultaneously see the contemporary human condition through the prism of different systems of values, agendas, ways of thinking and expertise specific to each discipline — was something that I wanted to create and nurture through my own work. And this is where an idea came to start Exposed Arts Projects.

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Ramiro: How would you describe the ethos and vision which Exposed Arts Projects is founded on? What sets your projects apart in the context of London’s art scene?

Sasha: Exposed exists on some meta-level: it is an organisation that researches how research is defined and performed by practitioners, working on the intersection of contemporary arts and other disciplines. We investigate how they differently define “information”, what methods they use as they deal with it; what questions are asked, what knowledge is obtained and how it is then made public, etc. We never show polished, “ready-to-go” projects — preferring instead to showcase the Research & Development stage of art-making; and to have a discussion with the artist in real-time as she works. We are particularly interested in collaborating with practitioners who themselves refer to their activities as “arts-based” or “artistic” research: this allows us to start the conversation by asking how they define artistic research… frankly, I didn’t find a space in London (or elsewhere) that would work with similar objectives as Exposed; so I started it myself.

Ramiro: Could you elaborate on what that compelling concept of “Think-and-do-thank” implies, and might you describe that concept on a specific exhibition project?

Sasha: I took the format of “think-and-do tank” from the field of policy-making: there it stands for a publicly run organisation that conducts research independently from the government and academia; it is (arguably) not subject to the agendas of government institutions and is therefore capable of providing a third — independent— perspective on things.

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In regard to Exposed, the THINK format captures our two key activities. In line with the “THINK” part, each year our research programme departs from an ethically complex question and brings together a diverse group of artist-researchers to maintain an inclusive, interdisciplinary mode of knowledge production. It is literally an invitation to think together that we share with our collaborators. In this way, for example, In 2018 we interrogated the contemporary condition of authorship; in 2019, we explore the contemporary practices of “self-empowerment”; in 2020, we will be investigating if and how the notion of “intelligence” can be debiased from anthropomorphism. The “DO” part reflects the way of how we choose to make our research process and findings public: i.e. organising various kinds of participatory, highly engaging educational activities that are relevant to people of different ages and backgrounds. We run reading groups, workshops, q&a’s and study days; there are volunteering and mentoring schemes in place for those who seeks deeper engagement. Each year, the aspiration is to demonstrate how the same common questions provoke multiple antagonistic responses, exposing the differences in people’s values — that are always already co-present “in real life”, but are rarely activated simultaneously in the artificial space of an art/research lab. Exposing this simultaneity on different levels, through a variety of orchestrated situations and encounters, is the mission of Exposed Arts Projects. Hence the choice of the name.

Ramiro: What do you consider the biggest challenges of managing and keeping an independent art space in London?

Sasha: Funding. I am still struggling to come up with a sustainable long-term plan to support the space.

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Ramiro: How would you like to see Exposed Art Projects to develop in the future? Do you have any specific goals you would like to attain in the long term for the space?

Sasha: I am currently working on two new branches of activities: translating our values, methods and objectives into a contemporary art course for families, and into a library of published arts-based research projects. Both are now in the stage of formation, and I am excited to see how they turn out.

Exposed Art Projects website https://www.exposedartsprojects.com/

Exposed Art projects on Instagram: @e_artsprojects

Sasha Picture

Sasha Burkhanova-Khabadze is the founder and director of Exposed Arts Projects. She is an independent curator and art writer. A graduate of MA History and Culture of Fashion at London College of Fashion and MFA Curating at Goldsmiths, she is currently completing her PhD at Central Saint Martins (subject: Ethics of Contemporary Art Curating). Since 2014, she exhibited with museums and biennials in the UK, Switzerland and Russia, and published her texts in Sleek, GARAGE, Interview, Moscow Art Magazine, and 1Granary. Since 2017, she guest-lectured on the topics of curatorial ethics and practice at Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins in London.

Image credits:
1. One need not be a chamber, exhibition view (artworks by Lara Smithson), 25Jan – 10Mar 2018. Courtesy of Exposed Arts Projects.
2. One need not be a chamber, exhibition view (artworks by Simona Sharafudinov), 25Jan – 10Mar 2018. Courtesy of Exposed Arts Projects.
3. Equinox: Light Cure, exhibition view (artworks by Margo Trushina), 21Mar-20May 2019.
4. New Work, exhibition view (artworks by Candida Powell-Williams), 3Nov – 14Dec 2018. Courtesy of Exposed Arts Projects.
5. Exposed Arts Library, library view (curated by BlankSpace Library). Courtesy of Exposed Arts Projects.
6. Exposed Arts Library, research room view (curated by BlankSpace Library). Courtesy of Exposed Arts Projects.
Pictures: Courtesy of Exposed Arts Projects.