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An Interview with Aaron Cezar, Director of Delfina Foundation

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An Interview with Aaron Cezar, Director of Delfina Foundation
Aaron Cezar. Photo: Tim Bowditch. Courtesy Delfina Foundation.

 

Based in London, Delfina Foundation is an independent, non-profit foundation dedicated to facilitating artistic exchange and developing creative practice through artist residencies, exhibitions and public programmes. As the founding Director, Aaron Cezar has positioned Delfina Foundation as a convergence point for creative talent to flourish, working closely with leading instituitions all over the world. The Artling Team speaks with Aaron to find out more!

Tell us a little more about your background. What led you to the position of Founding Director of Delfina Foundation?

I was born and grew up in the United States. I originally moved to UK to pursue a Master’s Creative and Cultural Industries at King's College London, and have been here ever since. My entry in the wider visual arts arose through my interest in performance - alongside Economics, I studied Dance at Princeton. 

Once in London I began working with artists producing independent projects and then I met Jude Kelly CBE and joined her artistic laboratory space called Metal, where I managed residencies as well as commercial projects with artists. It was there that I met Delfina Entrecanales, the founder of Delfina Studios. She visited us when she was looking for ideas to set up a new Foundation, which I now run.

 

What is a typical day at the foundation like for you?

To be cliché ‘there is no typical day’. But the cliché is true in the sense that a lot depends on the particular artists in residence and the public programme we are running. Individual meetings with residents past and present to discuss their practice and plans is one component, and a particularly enjoyable part of my days.

Shared meals have always been a corner stone of the foundation, so staff, residents and guests are often to be found in the kitchen cooking and eating. It is these times that our most are often the most fruitful in terms of discussions and sharing ideas, which range from the sublime to the ridiculous!

I am also fortunate to be able to frequently travel to speak at or attend events abroad, and on these trips I get the chance to reunite with past residents and also see how our work has and can further contribute to art internationally.

Obviously, there are also the much less appealing tasks that come with running such an organisation too, including the mountains of emails and bureaucracy that has to be tended to.

 

Aaron Cezar introducing a panel discussion with The Otolith Group. Image credit: Tim Bowditch.

 

What is the mission of Delfina Foundation? What makes it different from other residency programs and spaces available in London?

Delfina Foundation exists to facilitate artistic exchange and develop creative practice. We do this through our residencies and public programmes of talks and exhibitions. Our residency programme seeks to give space and time for emerging artists from across the world to focus on their practice and to develop it through peer-to-peer exchange with the other artists in the house, through meeting our wider Delfina Family and through experiencing the rich array of cultural events that are on offer here in London. This latter part is an important element as many of our residents come from places where they have not been able to have access to anything similar to the variety and volume of opportunities that London presents. Recently, for example, one of our artists who came to us from a smaller city in Saudi Arabia spent almost a week of their residency in the Tate, having not had the chance before to see such a huge variety of works in the flesh.

Our public programmes are important to us as they help ensure that we remain an outward facing organisation and that are able share and exchange what goes on within the walls of our house with a wider public and vice-versa. The regular talks and discussions we hold invite an array of artists, arts professionals and experts across civic society to engage and collaborate through discussions, exhibitions, and performances. These events are largely organised around our seasonal themes that explore salient issues and ideas.

One obvious thing that differentiates our residency programme is also our size. Having the facilities to be able to host 8 residents at a time makes us London’s largest residency provider and since our founding in 2007 we have hosted over 300 residents. Our house is another distinguishing feature of our programme. Located in a residential street in a converted family home at the centre of London, the residency has a very particular atmosphere, where residents live together as a kind of family - with bedrooms upstairs, and a family kitchen and dinning and lounge spaces on the lower floor facilitating this dynamic. Another element that distinguishes us is that our residencies are open to a variety of art practitioners, as opposed to just artists. Alongside artists we have hosted, writers, curators, and, as part of our most recent programme, collectors.

 

Delfina-Geumhyung Jeong exhibition. Dan Weill Photography.

Since 2007, Delfina Foundation has been a converging point for artists around the world with an initial focus on the Middle East and North Africa. Could you elaborate on why and how that changed?

In 2014 we expanded our space and doubled in size. Our re-opening marked a shift from our previous specific geographical focus on the Middle East to a theme-based programme. While we still maintain and continue to develop our close connections we forged with artists, practitioners, and institutions in and from the Middle East and North Africa - and still host many artists who emanate from there - we now provide residencies for practitioners from all corners of the globe. Our residencies are now much more guided by our seasonal thematic programmes, which enables artists who have related practices and who would benefit from exchange with their counterparts from other places to come together. We continue though to draw inspiration from the MENA region; in fact, our most popular thematic programme The Politics of Food emerged from some of then demands by protesters during the Arab Spring in relation to other global events.

 

Artist presentations in Delfina Foundation, 2014. Image courtesy of Delfina Foundation.

 

What do you look for in the artists that come on board?

We try to look for those who are at a particular threshold in their artistic journey, for example, this might be that they have a particular project they need time to develop, or they may have had a number of smaller exhibitions and looking to make the next step in their career. There are of course also practical considerations, so through interviews we hope to get a sense of whether that artist will cope, or hopefully even thrive in the communal experience that our residencies at Delfina are.

 

Delfina Foundation has its headquarters in London. How has the foundation’s artistic endeavours contributed to the rich art and culture scene in London and vice versa?

The foundation is very embedded within the ecosystem of the art world in London, but also due to our remit, internationally too. We see ourselves as a hub that can connect the often-disparate corners of the art scene, be this academics, patrons, students, commercial galleries, public galleries, art fairs, as well as of course artists. We think our residents really benefit from the exposure to this diversity.

Another contribution is that many of our residents go on to have exhibitions with London-based institutions.  We have also partnered with many of our colleagues, at Tate, ICA, Chisenhale Gallery, The Showroom, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, among others.

In addition to our international programme we also run a UK-associates programme, facilitating locally-based artists to enter into a more of a dialogue with our international residents, and ensure that we are fully enmeshed with what local practitioners in London are up to.

 

Delfina Foundation Space in London designed by Studio Octopi and Shahira Fahmy. Image Courtesy of Wallpaper. 

 

Artistic engagement and awareness with the general public is important in creating a more well-connected art world ecosystem. What are some of the other relationships and networks in the art world that are equally vital?

One of these which we have perceived to be somewhat neglected, is relationships between collectors and artists. There is often little direct interaction between these two groups, especially outside of commercial relationships, and in the spirit of mutual, honest exchange. This is something that we have tried to address and explore in our thematic programme titled Collecting as Practice. As part of this we have invited over half a dozen collectors to come and be in residence at the foundation alongside artists. This, as far as we know unique, project has helped to provide this space for a much more in-depth relationships to be formed and discussions to take place over meals and activities about the philosophy, politics and phycology behind collecting.

 

Geumhyung Jeong in her Delfina Foundation exhibition, Private Collection Unperformed Objects, 2017.

What is the next step for Delfina Foundation? Are there any major plans or projects coming up in the next few years?

We hope to publish more about our work. Over the last ten years, we have realised some amazing projects and seen our residents go on to have great success. For example, in the last Venice Biennale, 12 former resident artists were featured. Our thematic programmes have also resulted in amazing outcomes and lines of enquiry that we would like to document and develop further through publications.

 

 


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.



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