Q&A with “Home Land Security” Curator Cheryl Haines
Field Notes recently talked with FOR-SITE Executive Director Cheryl Haines about her latest site-responsive project in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Home Land Security.
Field Notes: Which came first: the site or the curatorial thesis?
Cheryl Haines: One of the most engaging aspects of doing site-related projects is that they don’t occur in a linear way. I don’t necessarily find the site first or come up with the thesis first — it’s more an amalgam of the two.
In this case, my past experience working on the exhibition @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz was the springboard. One of the things I found most fulfilling about curating that exhibition was using my practice to engage an artist interested in social issues.
FN: How did you select the site?
CH: I have a pretty deep understanding of the physical location of the Presidio and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area — this is our fourth temporal project there. I’ve spent many hours walking through the park, and I’m always looking for places that have not been activated. One of the great things about partnering with the National Park Service is that our visions are aligned: we’re both thinking about how to activate the cultural and natural resources of the park in new and innovative ways.
I became interested in furthering the dialogue around basic human rights and the plight of immigrants in particular after having spoken to Ai Weiwei about his work with Syrian refugees on the Greek Island of Lesbos. This led to pondering factors in place, and greater societal and personal concerns, such as what is home?, what is safety?, and what relevance does that have to notions of defense and security? As a former military base, the Presidio presents all kinds of opportunities to explore those ideas.
FN: What motivates/inspires you to undertake projects like this?
CH: One of the things I’m discovering as I continue down this path is what a great gift it is to bring together my personal and professional interests. Thirty years ago I became involved with the Tibetan community and became acutely aware of the Tibetan diaspora. That was a personal pursuit for many years. Since that time I have broadened my awareness to include the social injustices in other communities, but it wasn’t until @Large that I began to expand my professional practice to focus on human rights.
I still do have a curatorial interest in ideas and pure aesthetic, but one of the most enriching and engaging aspects of these projects for me is working with artists who might initiate a dialogue that could result in social change.
FN: What do you hope visitors will take away from the exhibition?
CH: I’m hoping they’ll be able to take a look at work from many different regions around the world and begin to understand the commonality of human experience. Though we might have diverse ideologies or backgrounds, at the end of day we want the same things. The base line concern I have that I’d love to see brought forth is how prevalent the fear of “other” is. If there’s even a small glimmer of understanding that others have the same struggles and concerns and needs that we do, that would be a very positive outcome.
FN: Do you have a favorite piece in the exhibition, or one you’re most looking forward to seeing installed at the site?
CH: Many of the selected artists I’ve been familiar with for a long time. A few of their pieces are iconic works I haven’t seen in person, or not in many years. I’m looking forward to seeing Do Ho Suh’s work in Battery Godfrey, as well as the Propeller Group’s installation. There are so many that are completely on point regarding the curatorial thesis and the site. I’m also excited about the commissions. It takes a certain amount of courage on the part of the artists to make a piece for a site they haven’t seen before.
There are always things you can’t anticipate. The physicality of a specific artwork in a site is often more powerful than you could have imagined. I’m particularly excited about this exhibition because of the opportunity to weave together such a diversity of voices — the materiality is diverse, the works are psychologically diverse, yet we see that there is a certain alignment in the positions presented here.