My name is Fabiola Fiocco and I am a researcher and curator from Italy. I have a background in Museology, Art History, and Economy and Arts Management. I have worked in independent art spaces, museums and foundations, both in Italy and in the Netherlands. Until January 2020, I was Exhibition and Project Coordinator at AlbumArte, an independent and non-profit space for the visual arts in Rome. My practice has often entailed the analysis of infrastructures, both physical and immaterial, and the ways in which they shape and guide the way people interact with each other but also with space. My engagement with infrastructures has resulted in a series of projects on the relation between architecture and use, understandings of dwelling and belonging as well as practices of mutuality and self-organising.
From 2012 to 2015, I collaborated with S.a.L.E Docks, an independent space for visual and performing arts initiated in 2007 by a group of artists and activists. This was a pivotal experience as it led me to delve into the intersection of art and politics, and it still informs my practice and my approach to artistic and curatorial work. Following this, in March 2020 I joined Art Workers Italia, an informal group of contemporary art workers started in response to the social and health crisis generated by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was particularly inspiring to have been able to take part in the initial setting up of the group which involved both the formation of its inner structure and its relationship with external social structures, to have the opportunity to study forms already in use and collectively negotiate new ones.
In my academic path, having engaged in my undergraduate dissertation with theories drawn from socio-museology and institutional critique, I decided to deepen my focus on the economic and social role of the contemporary art museum, understood as an active urban and political agent. Specifically, I studied the motivations and conditions by and through which the concept of the commons was being implemented in the cultural sector. I looked at a range of case studies drawn from the independent sector. Furthermore, through an in-depth evaluation of Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid) and influenced by the experience of New Institutionalism, I assessed to what extent and how models arising from the practice of small and medium-sized groups outside mainstream circuits were being applied in a more formal and traditional setting to that of the museum of contemporary art. This work, combined with my experience and that of many colleagues, comrades and friends, brought into focus a number of limits and contradictions, some of which I decided to resume the study of within the scope of the FEINART Training Programme and to revisit with a different political awareness.
At the University of Edinburgh, where I am based for my doctoral research in the context of FEINART, I will focus specifically on gender and the sexual division of labour in the curating and production of socially engaged art. My project is titled A Labour of Love: Imagining New Forms of Work from a Relational Perspective and will encompass the analysis of forms of work that can potentially articulate an alternative organizational infrastructure, which acknowledges the value of social reproduction and affective labour as radical political practices.
By examining critically how feminized labour has shaped independent art spaces that have engaged with socially engaged art, even within more progressive and militant realms, I want to collect a number of examples, mainly from art and institutional contexts, that try to deconstruct this normative and hegemonic division and test viable alternatives. Furthermore, as these experiences largely rely on interpersonal relationships, it will be crucial to observe existing dynamics of the commodification and exploitation of affects, such as love and friendship, and the ways in which potential conflicts and negative outcomes are addressed and solved. Finally, the research plans to rethink the premises underlying the discourse around artistic work through the lens of sustainability and vulnerability, thus producing a paradigm shift that might open to new modes of evaluation and creating.
In this first month of my doctoral work, I started delving into the literature, reading books and articles on art, feminism, work sociology, and political economy. Some introduced new ideas while others approached long-known problems from a different angle. One of the first texts that I decided to revisit – and it could not have been otherwise – was Wages Against Housework (1975) by Silvia Federici, the text from which I borrowed the title of my research project and whose opening words I want to quote here as a guiding remark:
They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work.
They call it frigidity. We call it absenteeism.
Every miscarriage is a work accident.
Homosexuality and heterosexuality are both working conditions . . .
but homosexuality is workers’ control of production, not the end
More smiles? More money. Nothing will be so powerful in destroying
the healing virtues of a smile.
Neuroses, suicides, desexualisation: occupational diseases of the housewife.
I find that emotions and actions that have been historically framed as feminine, and thus as trivial, are particularly interesting and significant since they seem to simultaneously work as coping mechanisms as well as gestures of rupture. For this reason, in addition to the oft-mentioned references of love, friendship and vulnerability, I also began to explore three other concepts that might become part of the study: failure, complaint and gossip. This latter was brought to my attention by iLiana Fokianaki, curator and founder of State of Concept Athens, with whom I had the pleasure of having a conversation in the first month of my research and who recently presented her ideas as part of a lecture series hosted by Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. In a system of production based on reputation, niceness, and performativity, these small actions manage to produce short-circuits in shared norms and everyday relationships.
My research will draw on an interdisciplinary theoretical framework informed by intersectional feminist theory for the analysis of artworks, exhibitions and artistic experiences that relate to my study. Fieldwork will focus on socially engaged art projects in Europe, through the examination of specific case studies.
In addition to the already planned secondments at Zeppelin University (ZU), State of Concept, BAK – basis voor actuele kunst, and transit.ro, all representing extremely stimulating and diverse research and training contexts, I plan to get in touch with artists, curators and collectives from different parts of Europe, so as to compare and discuss their understanding of artistic work, social engagement, and care labour and the emotions associated with them.