You Set the Scene

Staci Bu Shea is arranging to take curatorial arts to the next level

(Staci Bu Shea photographed at Bold Bean Coffee on Sunday, Nov. 25.)

(Staci Bu Shea photographed at Bold Bean Coffee on Sunday, Nov. 25.)

Social media, radical aesthetics and organizational savvy are mixed like alien colors on the conceptual palette of Staci Bu Shea. Since graduating from University of North Florida last year, the 24 year old South Florida native has channeled her youthful exuberance into an inventive and focused presence on the Northeast Florida arts scene. In roughly a year’s time, Bu Shea has arranged and presented seven shows featuring both local and national artists while also landing a notable gig as the personal assistant to artist-educator-environmentalist Jim Draper. And while her contemporaries explore better-known disciplines such as painting, photography or sculpture, Bu Shea finds her calling in the specialized realm of curatorial arts. Yet within that highly academic field’s seemingly mundane demands of organization, overseeing, management and inventorying, Bu Shea uncovers new strategies and solves compositional problems, armed with highly 21st century ideas like pluralism, relational art and social formations. And while most curators are almost bound to be associated with one organization such as a museum or gallery, Bu Shea seems most excited in taking the curatorial arts figuratively and literally to the streets; in her piece “Subsidence on Forbes,” Bu Shea turned a Riverside sinkhole into a temporary art exhibit and an organic commentary on themes like impermanence and government hypocrisy. Bu Shea is most inspired by the blur that occurs when philosophy merges with art theory, yet she is also as enamored of the traditionally tactile pleasures of producing catalogs or even custom-made, letter pressed business cards.

Most refreshingly is the fact that Bu Shea’s earnestness and humility act as almost a failsafe in keeping her from succumbing to contemporary art “cult speak.” In conversation, Bu Shea’s passion and excitement are palpable and she is as likely to reference a European performance artist as she is to trumpet the ever-rising tide of the Jacksonville art scene, a wave she is both helping to generate as she also enjoys the ride.

Riverside’s Bold Bean Coffee on Stockton Street has hosted previous shows curated by Bu Shea and is currently home to “Chasing Nostalgia / Subconscious Assimilation” a collection of ten photographs by Edison William. On Park Street in Five Points, Hawthorn Salon is also hosting work arranged by Bu Shea. Inspired by the writings of Joseph Campbell, “The Roar and the Silence of Things” features seven original new works by painter-arts writer Madeleine Peck-Wagner.

Yet in the past months, most of Bu Shea’s energies have been directed in assisting Jim Draper in a deliberate and ongoing unveiling of his epic work, “Feast of Flowers” whose upcoming January opening at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens has been heralded with a series of multimedia events ranging from artists talks to environmentalist workshops.

And if all of that hasn’t kept Bu Shea on her toes, on Dec 21st at Draper’s studio in CoRK , the elder pedagogue and his twentysomething sidekick plan on exhibiting (in Bu Shea’s words) “the next calendar that will distinguish the next end of the world.”

What follows are highlights from a two hour conversation with Bu Shea that happened on Sunday, Nov. 25 on the back patio at Bold Bean Coffee.


Starehouse: Is this okay? (motions around to back garden area at Bold Bean) Are you sure that it’s cool if we sit out here for a long time?

Staci Bu Shea: Yeah it’s totally cool.

S.: I also borrowed my girlfriend’s expensive camera, which I promised not to break, so now on my fourth interview with this I have gone completely legitimate. So we also have our legal stimulants laid out (points to coffees on table) so let’s roll this. So how long have you been doing shows here at Bold Bean?

S.B.: Since April.

S.: They should be giving you stock in the company … so who owns this place?

S.B.: Jay Burnett.

S.: Is he an arts enthusiast?

S.B.: He is.

S.: Did you contact him or?

S.B.: Yeah, I just kind of asked him, “Well do you need someone to organize or curate some things” and he said “yeah.” It’s pretty informal but then I started to make it very formal.

S.: What do you want to talk about? I’m pretty loose with this.

S.B.: Cool, yeah I don’t really have anything.

S.: I’m not really a journalist so don’t be disappointed.

S.B.: There’s something I’d like to read because I don’t know if it could be said any better (…) you know, at some point.

S.: What? What is it? No man, read it. Let’s just roll – there’s no format or something.

S.B.: Okay. So this is basically in regards to the difference between curating and the curatorial.

S.: Yeah? Good, because this might answer my top question, so –

S.B.: Cool. This woman has done a lot of work on the curatorial and “to show and not to show” and that kind of thing.

S.: Who is it? What’s her name?

S.B.: Her name is Lind. I think that’s the last name. (looks down at book) Maria Lind. Reads Lind’s words aloud: “I mean a practice that goes beyond curating, which I see as the technical modality of making art go public in various ways. ‘Curating’ is ‘business as usual’ in terms of putting together an exhibition, organizing a commission, programming a screening series, et cetera. “The curatorial” goes further,” – (interjects) and I think this is what really applies to me – “implying a methodology that takes art as its starting point but then situates it in relation to specific contexts, times, and questions in order to challenge the status quo. And it does so from various positions, such as that of a curator, an editor, an educator, a communications person, and so on. This means that the curatorial can be employed, or performed, by people in a number of different capacities within the ecosystem of art. For me there is a qualitative difference between curating and the curatorial. The latter, like Chantal Mouffe’s notion of the political in relation to politics, carries a potential for change.” [Taken from “To Show or Not To Show,” a discussion between Jens Hoffmann and Maria Lind from Mousse Magazine #31]

S.: So what in that statement do you think defines what you do? What do you find so alluring in that?

S.B.:  Well I think a lot of people have a misconception about what curating is.

S.: I have no conception of what curating is (laughs)  – I mean I have a general “art school dropout” conception.

S.B.: Yeah.

S.: So let’s do that – give me the academic, clinical definition and give me your own definition.

S.B.: Okay. Well, I’m learning too how to define it, especially, like I told you earlier, doing independent curating.

S.: Right.

S.B.: Because usually you’re usually most respected when you have that title working with an institution.

S.: As in the curator of a museum.

S.B.: Mmmmm hmmm.

S.: And I imagine that you would still be essentially tethered to that museum, whether or not it is the hippest, most cutting-edge museum of gallery?

S.B.: Yeah, right.  The still have a mission. But when I explain it to people here in Jacksonville they just go “what? So you just put shows together?” but it is so much more than that. But curating in the formal sense, the “business as usual”  that she [Lind] is talking about is really like organizing a show.  It is down to the very detailed work of getting together artists, developing a theme, working with these artists, doing like insurance agreements (…) all that kind of stuff. That’s not the most fun.

S.: It’s probably considered from the “outside” like it would be sterile, bureaucratic  (…) like you are the “adult” in the kid band. The curator is the suit. The artists are The Beatles and you’re Brian Epstein. But how did you become interested in this? I want to talk about your youth (…) if you could reflect back at age 24 (laughs) and tell us about your sordid past.

S.B.:  Well…um, so I graduated from UNF in Art History.

S.: When was this?

S.B.: 2011. I wasn’t really sure exactly which part of Art History that I really fit into because I’m not really a history buff.

S.: Was it a case of you getting a degree and realizing “I don’t even care about this!” – like a really expensive epiphany? (laughs) “Dear God, what have I done?”

S.B.:  No, no – it was actually from studying abroad, which was really thing that put the seed in my mind, like “okay, this is what you’re interested in.”

S.: This was Sophia University?

S.B.: Yeah, in Tokyo. It’s the only Jesuit school in Japan.

S.: Wow.

S.B.: Yeah (chuckles) it was really interesting. So I took Art History over there and Japanese and Chinese Art History but I was just surrounded by so many incredible institutions and galleries and fun art things (…)

S.: I imagine it was more like contemporary things instead of “let’s check out this collection of Ming-era ashtrays”?

S.B.:  Yeah, it was really exciting and Tokyo is just really exciting.

S.: Let me ask you as an aside, going to the Jesuit school (…) was that like a “faith” kind of thing or-

S.B.: No it was actually the partner school to UNF, which meant I paid the same tuition as I did at UNF. And what made my time there really lovely was that I got this incredible scholarship from the Japanese government right before I left so I was just (…) I had no responsibility other than to grow personally and to learn things and to grow (…) and be foreign (laughs).

S.: Like a healthy distance, healthy detachment.

S.B.:  Privileged white girl in Japan (laughs). So I want to tell you that the thing that started it all, even though I took Museum Studies courses at UNF, was that I saw an exhibition by Rebecca Horn. She’s a German artist.

S.: What kind of media does she work in? You gotta forgive my stupidity.

S.B.:  No, no it’s okay, there’s so many names (…) but Rebecca Horn creates lots of kinetic sculpture, she does some drawings too (…) a lot of it is kinetic. It’s so beautiful and so conceptual too.

S.: Oh, didn’t she do like the “body art” stuff? Almost like a performance deal?

S.B.: Yeah.  So there was one piece with this grand piano hanging upside down and every fifteen minutes or so, all of the keys and everything would just drop. And it would make this most horrific sound and I was so attracted to how this space and this work were engaged. It was just perfect (laughs).

S.: So what got you (…) it was between the piece, the gallery (…) it was everything?

S.B.:  Everything – the wood floors to the white walls, just the space in general.

S.: I know some of this stuff can be hard to articulate and you might be talking about this even bigger organizational process. But was it the perfect marriage of all of it or cause the work was so intense, with this loud sound as well?

S.B.:  It was intense and there were a lot of things going on. It was a really giant space but there was a lot of work in that space but it was curated so well (…) just everything (…) that’s when I realized “there’s someone behind all of this, creating this space to be so engaging.” The fact that this piano can have enough space to not be distractive until this sound is made, then all of the keys fall out (…) but it was just perfect spatially. It was a space and time thing.

S.: So really, your interest in curating is fairly recent. I mean, you’ve actually done a lot in a short amount of time and I want to get to that, but this has all been fairly recent. That was a recent epiphany. Did you originally think of being an art teacher or professor?

S.B.:  Not really.

S.: No? What were you, just like an angry drifter that stomped into a bunch of art history classes (laughs)? I mean, you have an art history degree.

S.B.: I was thinking something with the museum. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be curating or not. And I didn’t know that my view of curating would become so radical – and untraditional.

S.: And ultimately accepted too, locally.

S.B.: Yeah, and I think that’s really interesting (laughs).

S.: Is that why in an earlier exchange you said that you were “sensitive” about that word [curator]? Do you think people hear that word and just immediately smell moth balls and think of a velvet rope, like stuffiness?

S.B.: Going back to what a curator is, it is the person that looks over and oversees a collection of objects, taking care of something. And I really like that part of the definition, “taking care” of objects or ideas, at this point, where I have taken it.

S.: But also you do shows, like here, but you’re not tied to some organization.

S.B.: Right.

S.: Do you want to be?

S.B.: I think eventually.

S.: I mean I don’t know, is that feasible? Can you be a “rogue curator”?

S.B.: Yeah, there are many people who do it but I don’t know if I want to be so rogue, you know?

S.: I got you. Not so rogue that you don’t have a paycheck. Rogue to the point of poverty.

S.B. (laughs) well yeah I do this now for nothing.

S.: Hear, hear! (laughs)

S.B.: (laughs) But I’ve made it so my costs are covered. I figure out ways to do that. And that’s the fun part of curating as well, you can figure out events and programming and a publication. I’m really interested in the catalog aspect of curating.

S.: I want to talk about this, because I actually have questions for you, I went to (…) but you are really aware of the digital realm, social media(…) I feel old just using those terms.

S.B.: No, no I am very aware of those things and use those things.

S.: But you and I have talked before about our shared love of tactile stuff. I mean, you brought books with you today.

S.B.: Oh, that reminds me, I have something for you too (…)

S.: Oh good, this is the bribing of the interviewer. Everybody wins with a bribe.

S.B.:  (laughs, reaching into bag) which you will probably like. So, this is actually the only thing of its kind in town (produces a small stack of 3” x 3.5” cards) Stephanie Shieldhouse has a letterpress shop and it’s so wonderful. So anyways, she’s doing my business cards that I designed. So this is the proof (showing cards) and she wanted to make sure it was the 80% black that I wanted and then there are these embossed icons of a light bulb, a magnifying glass and a nail. So you’ll just be able to feel it. They’re going to be trimmed to but she said “just take these” (…)

S.: And they’re numbered, so this is like your limited edition business card?

S.B.: (laughs) Yeah.

S.: So case in point: you just gave me a tactile, tangible object. So why do you (…)

S.B.: This is nice, I like how you are so unstructured and we are just talking (laughs).

(Bu Shea with limited edition, letter-pressed cards.)

(Bu Shea with limited edition, letter-pressed cards.)

S.: Me? Oh, I’m a just a straight up bullshitter from the word go. I’m from the Hillbilly School of Uneducated Journalism.

S.B.: Awesome. Well this is great because this is my first interview.

S.: It’s all good. I’m wearing the Staci Bu Shea headband. Your curatorial style is very progressive, so why do you like having a catalog?

S.B.: I think what is fluid throughout my whole entire practice is just thoughtfulness (…)  attention to detail. So even if I can be so inspired by the most conceptual thing that people are so angry that they are like (scowls) “what?!” or say “can’t you see? It’s absolutely beautiful.”

S.: Plus it’s kind of the manifestation of the idea, not to sound too lofty, but it’s like, “here it is. It came to fruition. We have a show, the art is on the wall, and here’s the catalog.”  It has moved beyond the fantasy stage. It’s actualized.

S.B.:  The catalog makes it live better, it’s real. I just care about paper (…) its quality; that’s what it is.

S.: Do you collect things as well? Are you a collector of things? Not necessarily art but just stuff?

S.B.:  Actually no, not really. But I will tell you more of my personal, or artistic curatorial practice is that right now I’m interested in inventorying. So, I have these check lists and those are aspects of curating that people think are mundane.

S.: Well, they think it is mundane. Why do you like that?

S.B.: I do think that it’s amazing that we collect things. And just the objecthood of works or things that are not art too. Right now, one of the pieces that I’m working on, is I am collecting all of my fallen eyelashes in little vials. So in a way I’m collecting something.

S.: Right.

S.B.: But it’s very precise. I was thinking about how beautiful the shape an eyelash is and I was thinking about like “lashing” and whips and whiplash (…)

S.: So you get these kinds of creative associations from doing it.

S.B.: Yeah. (pauses) Absolutely.

S.: I gotcha. I know some of this stuff is hard to articulate. And I think that’s why I like to talking to artists because it helps me articulate it. You know? Instead of talking “around something” I think it’s worth talking through it. Let me ask you this: so you have social media and tangible things like a catalog. Because you use them in tandem; you’re doing stuff with Draper that uses both. What do you believe are the benefits and shortcomings of each?

S.B.:  They’re just entirely different experiences, directly with the thing I’m doing with Draper. The fact that we’re creating the digital publication, it’s because we can’t experience that information in print. It’s just impossible.

S.: So are you saying you are going to have a physical catalog, or no?

S.B.: Um, we might. But right now, Jim and I more so interested in all of the responses that are held in this document. Because it helps answer a lot of the questions that Jim has about Florida and different ways of seeing Florida.

S.: You mean as far as the interaction he is getting, since you couldn’t get this kind of response if it was just a painting on a wall.

S.B.: Yeah, he couldn’t get that response before.

S.: Now if an artist poses a question, they can get an answer. If Van Gogh had asked “how can a starry night look like this?” he’d get a thousand instantaneous replies, “It’s because of this.”  So it changes the sense of engagement in art.

S.B.: Right. So about the digital and physical part  – they’re just two different experiences that are very important to maintain. Because we can’t help our increasingly digital world and how we experience things that way and then also, we have to maintain that physical part because at the end of it all, we are physical (laughs)

S.: Right. And even the most outré, conceptual artists are probably going to use some kind of tangible material. Until they can just transmit thoughts like a Zen ceremony.

S.B.: Yeah and that’s where the art comes in. You know, taking something (…) it doesn’t necessarily have to be a visual representation of an idea but just artistically being able to represent something that represents an idea or a concept.

S.: Are you a visual artist, originally?

S.B.: No. Well, I mean I’ve always had a sense of it.

S.: Well, that’s what kind of fascinates me about you – that you are pulled and then driven by this unique path in the arts, of curating. And you seem pretty on the ball for being 24. When I was 24 I was just learning to get drunk every day (laughs).

S.B.: Well I think that has to do with a lot of huge life-changing things.

S.: I don’t want to put you on a pedestal because then I have to knock you down. But I guess I mean you have a drive that isn’t aggressive or cocky. It’s just natural. Your interest seems disarmingly sincere.

S.B.: I guess it’s just pure ambition.

S.: So can we talk about this? Let me step back a bit. How did you get into art history?

S.B.: Just an interest in art from the get-go; nothing else seemed to pull me as much.  I am really interested in other fields and sometimes they are more interesting than art. But that is the medium that I work in.

S.: You’re from South Florida?

S.B.: I was born in Miami. But I moved around a lot.

S.: But were you like “the kid who drew”?

S.B.: Yeah I guess so. But I was more so just the weird kid.

S.: That counts (laughs).

S.B.: We also didn’t have cable TV in Miami and it’s Homestead so it’s just like the woods.

S.: Well was your family supportive of your burgeoning weirdness?

S.B.:  Oh yeah (laughs).  My whole family is like, “always be a leader, never be a follower” …(laughs)

S.: That’s toxic advice (laughs).

S.B.:  Yeah (laughs). When I was little my Dad would just set a video camera up on a tripod, then when we were playing he would just tape us.

S.: He was just inventorying the kids.

S.B.: Yeah and I saw one recently where I was just sitting – and this is like “baby” Staci – and I was just sitting on a porch by myself and I was just watching a bird in front of me just bounce around (…) so simply, and I didn’t have to be entertained (…) I don’t know.

S.: What – do you think that is kind of like a pure moment of “you”?

S.B.: Yeah, I’ve just always been very serious (laughs) with everything.

S.: When you were a teenager were you like a punk rock kid? How did you get pulled into the arts? I mean, I don’t think a strong wind blew you into art history classes.

S.B.: It’s funny because I got in school and went right for it and stayed with it. In high school, I dunno (…) it sounds so weird to say, but I was in the “cool group” I guess (…)

S.: I’ve heard of them.

S.B.: (laughs) yeah, I don’t know what that even means but I guess when you’re aware and realize things that are happening around you. But I was always in the Art Club, and then I was in the Drama Club (laughs).

S.: Were you a good student?

S.B.: Yeah but I went to really shitty high school in Royal Palm Beach.

S.: Do you wanna name them in the interview? A little shout out? “Go Woodchucks!”

S.B.: (laughs) Yeah, sure.

S.: Lemme ask you this: in the same way that you had the “white light” moment in seeing Horn’s work in Japan, did you have the similar moment while you were in high school that led you to the arts?

S.B.:  No. I guess it would make more sense if I told you that I was also really into philosophy. So it was like the two things were the ways to mediate life.

S.: Right.

S.B.: And so I’ve really been interested in existence (pauses as police cars roar by) (…) it was an answer Dan.

S.: What? (not hearing over sirens) There is no answer?

S.B.: It was an answer. It just made sense. I guess I’ve been pretty aware of what is going on in the moment. I may not always understand why some things are happening but I feel right where I need to be. So right, I’m still feeling incredibly young.

S.: So how long have you been here in this area?

S.B.: Originally for school; so five years. Six, I think (…)

S.: Did you have family up here or was it just for UNF?

S.B.: Strictly to go to school.  I wanted to go to a smaller school.

S.: You said philosophy and there were some things you had mentioned in an e-mail. You seem very aware of these things (…) you’re an art history major – so I brought a knife to a gunfight! But you seem really mindful of theory and aesthetics. And I have gotta plead ignorance – I’m not too knowledgeable of all of that. But are you guided by a strict sense or idea of aesthetic or is it a means to an end?  Do you have a rigid code you apply or will you explore concepts in the way a visual artist might explore different media?

S.B.:  I don’t believe I have a strict code, in regards to settings.  But there’s a reoccurring thing going on between what I am doing and the work that I really appreciate and admire.

S.: What is it?

S.B.: (pauses) Just deep consideration I think, for your position, within whatever context. Like we were talking about before, the curator’s job not only is to oversee objects and care for them, but it’s also to deem significance and relevance. So like I explained in my e-mail to you, I’m really interested in relational art and social practice (…) because it’s so considerate of the human experience and kind of this thing that’s greater than you. Not so much in a spiritual sense but, um, (…)

S.: More like systems?

S.B.: Yeah, I’m really interested in work that has to do with social and political concerns because I think that art is so powerful that it can make change. But the reoccurring thing is that I think that we all just need to care a little bit more. And I am attracted to artists that care a lot about what they do – and also how they are perceived by the audience.

S.: When you say “care” about what they do, you mean –

S.B.: Just fucking in general – just to care.

S.: Not being fulltime nihilists, being solution-based? I mean, I’ve known you a year maybe, but I mean you are pretty active and engaged in the arts (…) so artists that are involved, in bigger causes?

S.B.:  Yes. It’s not all for yourself. And I understand nihilism.

S.: Well, I probably should have just said “bellyaching.” Nihilism gives it a bigger title than it deserves. Some people just don’t give shit. And now it’s time to care.

S.B.: Yeah. But I think speaking of nihilism; you have to go there (…) in order to get out (laughs).  Because, sure you can shed of all the ideologies and get to that point, “well none of this matters” but then you have to get out of that. And then you are redefining your priorities and values in life.

S.: You gotta find a reason to light the fuse but you have to do something after the bomb has exploded. Something positive.

S.B.: Yeah and there’s a lot of, and this is what I want to be careful because I don’t want to offend anybody (…)

S.: (dismissively) Eh. Name names sister!

S.B.:  (laughs) But organizers of art, when you really question their intent, because they’re sales people. And I think that’s something I want to be clear about: I’m not a sales woman.

S.: I don’t think you are. Quite frankly, I don’t think the things you pick are necessarily “priced to move.” You know what I mean, it’s the intent, the volition is not about a fast buck.

S.B.: But you can see that, you can see how people will hang these things and then you think “why am I supposed to care about this?” And the curator’s job is to situate something to be cared about.

S.: Well, you can correct me if I am wrong, since you do have the degree in art history (laughs) but you’re talking about a system that is so entrenched (…) like strong art commerce. Because it is a fucking big business. In fact, if you are on the right side of favor of the “art gods” it’s a great business. But, in a way it’s all they know. Whether local, national or global, people can probably begin with a different or even altruistic intention but a lot comes down to money.

S.B.: But it comes down to level of taste too and there are some people out there that are just cheap. And they use these buzz words to talk about art and to sell art.

S.: What are some of the buzz words?  Can you use any without feeling like you are branding or criticizing someone in particular?  Just say their names in Pig Latin. Let me say this, could be some of my own insecurities – which I am sure are rampant, but if I have an aesthetic, this is it: I think there’s an element in fine arts where they like it to be cloistered. The velvet rope is made of barbwire. You know what I am saying? Even something like Juxtapoz Magazine soon became its own set of rules, like you gotta have Betty Page, pinstriped kitsch (…) but my whole thing is storming the palace gates of art. Do you think there is that element there, in curating and other levels of this, where they want a distance, it is not inclusive?

S.B.:  I kind of understand your question. Could you kind of rephrase it?

S.: Oh I don’t know if that was I question. That’s just me ranting (both laugh) on a Sunday about prestige envy and imagined unfairness (…)

S.B.: Well that’s the part that stinks is because there’s nothing to “set to,” there’s no substance and that’s the love issue here is that people have style without substance. And it’s not very good art (laughs).

S.: I once did a record with this producer David Briggs and he told me “be wary of anyone in the music industry that doesn’t play music” which is pretty sage-like for that scene but I don’t think one could say the same deal about art. Because you have so many art lovers and patrons who don’t make art, and no one is at fault and it’s not even their responsibility (…) lemme shift gears here. How are you using social media, specifically through Draper’s new thing?

S.B.: Well, its lots of hashtags. Which I’m not even sure if that even works so much because I don’t know who is going onto Twitter and plugging in hashtag to see what comes up. I think it’s mostly from Jim’s fan base. He has a lot of friends on Facebook and he’s very admired and respected. So when we give out a little information about this project, then everybody is able to have this all-inclusive experience. And with the tiniest bit of information it becomes bigger and there’s more connectivity between the people.

S.: So people are participating?

S.B.: Yeah.

S.: Well give me a specific example.

S.B.: We’ve done a couple of things called “conversations” and this is our form of social practice that we kind of put into “Feast of Flowers.” It’s something I was organizing and basically invite people through e-mail and we would invite people to the studio and have a very democratic talking session, about different issues we would handle artistically. So it’s a way of combining artistic expression and social existence. Some of them were really funny. The first conversation was about environmental aesthetics, just kind of, you know – “why grow a lawn?”  So we got patches of sod from Lowe’s and just spread it out like a rug, so everyone could take their shoes off and put their feet on the grass. And we talked about why we keep up our lawns and “is it neglect if we just let things grow? Is it being irresponsible?”

(While Bu Shea is guided by contemporary aesthetics she is equally enamored of the tactile experience of curating.)

(While Bu Shea is guided by contemporary aesthetics she is equally enamored of the tactile experience of curating.)

S.: So just that in itself is bringing up more ideas (…)

S.B.: Yeah, right.

S.: So it’s like people in a gallery are looking at a painting, they turn to each other to talk about what they are seeing (…) you are taking that experience and making it bigger.

S.B.: Absolutely but with something that directly affects all of us. We all have to drive down these streets and see these certain codes that are sometimes really ridiculous. Like subdivisions are the worst.

S.: So did people seem into the experience?

S.B.: Yeah. And so for the second one, we addressed water and bottling water. Not that bottled water is necessarily bad, but water is free in Florida. We did a taste test. We blindfolded three people and we had three different bottles of water: Smartwater, Zephyrhills and the Fountain of Youth water. It was really fun. We had liquids one, two and three.

S.: Which brand won? Could you lean into the mic? Maybe I can get a banner ad out of this.

S.B.: It was just a guessing game. Well the person who won was the assistant curator from the Cummer Museum. But when it was over, Jim asked “Out of liquids one, two and three, which one made you feel the smartest?”  So it was really funny and sparked a great conversation between all sorts of art people and environmental people. Then we did one on vermicomposting, about worms eating our trash. And it’s very symbolic. You know a lot of earthworms were brought over here by the colonizers because they were weighing down the ships.

S.: Is that right?

S.B.: Yeah, there were earthworms that were already native to the country but they brought a lot over that were invasive and had been used to weigh down the ships. But it’s kind of funny thinking about, symbolically, the European worms eating up the land.

S.: You know with using social media in art, do you think it’s almost an outgrowth of the happenings or performance art? It’s almost an evolution of those ideas.

S.B.: It’s an experience.

S.: How did you wind up working with Draper? Were you a student of his?

S.B.: No, I never actually took any of his courses. But when I graduated, Dr. Heuer, who inspired me a lot because of how seriously she takes this, said to me “So I hear Jim Draper is looking for someone to do some curatorial work for him.” So I thought, really? And then I hounded him down (laughs). I kept calling him until he caved.

S.: What was the clincher? How did you finally break his will?

S.B.: Well I think that he realized, “Well, it’s finally time; this person is really eager to catalog my work.”

S.: He’s a good soul but I don’t think he would just pick you out of pure charity. So he must have recognized some qualities in you.

S.B.: Yeah and he’s really helped me grow. He was the one that told me, “Staci, there comes a point when you just have to stop talking about the thing that you want to be and you have to just be it.”

S.: Damn. He’s dropping some Zen on you. Zen Draper!

S.B.: (laughs) I know. Jim’s a special person.

S.: What do you think you’re gleaning from that experience of working with him?

S.B.: It’s rewarding all of the time and I think I’m helping him, too with things like social media and social practice and how to simply just do that “thing.” If you don’t, no one else will.

S.: It took me a long time to get to that realization. I have accomplished some things creative but I also made my personal atmosphere so heavy from twenty years of complaining – a twenty year staring contest with myself. Yet I see here in Jacksonville, there’s so much going on but people will forever just complain down the moon. And it’s more work to complain than just take the chance.

S.B.: Yes. I agree. And this is probably the perfect moment for me to talk about how much great art is happening in Jacksonville and the things growing. But I think now that we have a lot going on, content needs to be curated. There has to be some sort of standard met because you just can’t put up with bullshit if people (…) I don’t know, I get a little strong-minded about this.

S.: Well, I’m with you and I think where you are coming from is a place where the “standard” is really about unity, not military orders. I mean, art is a big table but I don’t want to sit in every fucking chair.  It’s not elitist, it’s just true.

S.B.: It is true. We need some honest discourse about this.

S.: We can all be wrong. I come from this punk rock thing with art and I am wrong about many things so that could be inhibitive, too. There should be some calibrating frequencies we can tap into.

S.B.: Totally. Well what I’m interested in the future and after “Feast of Flowers” is finished is creating kind of a platform to have critical discussions about art and focus on professional development, too. Artists really need to know how to talk about their work. And I’m interested in things like “how to apply for grants,” “how to submit work into shows,” because to be honest, I don’t know too much about the economics of art. That’s something that baffles me.

S.: I hear they are making money on this somewhere (laughs).

S.B.: Yeah. But I’m more so interested in the power that it has to stimulate people. When art makes people realize things about themselves or their situations.

S.: I think you have a healthy, strong sense of what you want to do. But when you are working with artists, how do you, for lack of a better word, sublimate your ego and sense of what you want, for the greater good of the final project or exhibit?

S.B.: Dan I think always, always, always, putting the artist first will result in a wonderful show (…) a wonderful presentation. So I am definitely secondary.

S.: So you try to stay out of the way? Is that hard to do? Is that part of your personality?

S.B.: No, because I have my other things. I know with the catalog, that is what I bring. And that’s the thing that is kind of crazy because that is the thing that sales. People want to have a souvenir of something. So in a way, I just say I’m going to curate the show, do all of the writing and produce the catalog. That’s what I do. And I hope that someone is inspired too by this entire conception.

S.: So you’re kind of getting your voice heard too by way of the catalog.

S.B.: True, but I also don’t mind if I’m just in the dark and I can just do all of this and nobody sees me. And if people are interested in the details of a presentation (…) that’s why I put the words up on the wall here at Bold Bean. Hopefully somebody wants to know more about this work.


S.: Have you done shows primarily here at Bold Bean?

S.B.: I had a group show, you actually wrote about with Devin [Balara], at CoRK.

S.: Was that “On Mediation”?

S.B.: Yeah.

S.: Let’s go through each show you’ve done.

S.B.: Okay.

S.: What was “Subsidence on Forbes”?

S.B.: Well I was thinking, “Wow, I could probably curate without artists” (…)

S.: (laughs) Yeah let’s get them out of the picture!

S.B.: This is what I was talking about, where I could still apply a curatorial idea, this methodology. The “Subsidence on Forbes” is literally that – a sinkhole in the street. I observed, for about three months, the slow evolution of this sinkhole. It became the curatorial project, where I was working within this exhibition space that construction workers created for me with tape. They marked off the scene. So everything about it became this curator-as-investigator.

S.: Did you yell to the workers, “Hey, you are all part of a conceptual art experiment?”

S.B.: (laughs) Well what was really funny was that I was going to have an opening for it. I was going to be there in a hardhat and orange vest and I was going to read my curatorial statement to everyone who showed up. And one day, driving down the road, I stopped right in front of it when this dump truck was filling it with sand.

S.: So was that the end of the run? The exhibit formally closed?

S.B.: It did. But it opened up a lot of doors.

S.: So it showed you that you could use your-

S.B.: My way of seeing – own themes and concepts. Because I was so bothered with the fact that was the last thing on the city’s “to do list.” They were so slow to fix it. But there was that thing at Memorial Park. Someone did this guerilla sculpture thing in the park and it was removed (snaps fingers) just like that. But there’s not a government agency in Florida that takes care of sinkholes. It becomes somebody else’s jobs and if they half-ass fill it (…) it just sinks again. So I just think conceptually it’s great. This cavity that forms, the collapsing (…) so do you see how that these things, these landscapes, literally can provide exhibitions for you?

(Bu Shea took her curatorial aesthetic to the streets with "Subsidence on Forbes")

(Bu Shea took her curatorial aesthetic to the streets with “Subsidence on Forbes”)

S.: So you feel like you are literally seeing the world with this sensibility?

S.B.: Absolutely Dan.

S.: I know I am recapping much of what we have talked about but a sculptor sees something inside of a block of stone, after you experienced the Horn show in Japan, the switch clicked. There was recognition of yourself at that moment. You are seeing life in visual or purely conceptual arrangements.

S.B.: Absolutely.  And like with that piece, I am really interested in construction and infrastructure and territory. I think it’s wonderful when some officials roll tape off of something, because it gets me so excited. Yeah (…) public space (laughs).

S.: Let’s move on to “On Mediation.” Was that the biggest show you have done with the actual amount of artists?

S.B.: Yeah. And it was my first one. All together seven, but two of them worked in collaboration as a duo, so really six.

S.: Were these all younger artists?

S.B.: Sort of my age group. I’m really impressed with how it went because I made some really wonderful connections this way.

S.: I’m sure you didn’t with them, but since you are young do you ever feel any resistance to that or some ageist vibes from people in the arts?

S.B.: I realize being a young pup that you don’t really want to try and curate an artist that’s like an older dog (laughs).

S.: No? What about Jim Draper? He’s not headed for that Dog Park in the Sky just yet, but still…

S.B.: (laughs) Yeah but Jim has got a young heart, he really does. More so there are people who are really experienced. I’m not. I think I just really want to work with my time.

S.: Well, you are also focusing on the new. So at some level it’s like the “killing of the king,” or at least taking them down a notch. “On Mediation” was incredibly current and fresh. What was the theme you picked?

S.B.:  It was my first stab at exploring what curating is because the curator is the mediator between the artist and the audience. So I thought, “You have a hand in exactly how the audience can interpret something” and from that kind of possibility you are naturally going to have a style – or like this code that you were talking about earlier. In my nature, and from what I do, I had all of the artists create work specifically for the show. Three of the artists were outside of Jacksonville and three were residing in Jacksonville. And I really asked them to create something that distinctly displays their process and intention of doing; even if it is just for themselves, or if they have this deep consideration for the audience and how they will experience something. I wanted them to just create based on intention (…) display an intention in a way. So it turned out so beautifully. It was great and that amount of focus and quality, something so beautiful happens from that.

S.: So you must have walked away from that with several things, least of which was “I can do this successfully.”

S.B.: Oh yeah. And I broke even. I sold all of the catalogs. And now I have people from outside who say, “I collect things on Christine Sun Kim. Can I you send me a copy of your publication?”  And I thought, “Oh my god I have to print a second edition.”  Through that experience, I’m starting to understand that art books are very valuable. Even for booklets and papers.

(Bu Shea's first show as a curator was last year's "On Mediation" at CoRK. The show featured six local and national artists, including Christine Sun Kim.)

(Bu Shea’s first show as a curator was last year’s “On Mediation” at CoRK. The show featured six local and national artists, including Christine Sun Kim.)

S.: Okay, let’s talk about Madeleine Peck-Wagner, a great artist and arts writer. Where was that and how many pieces?

S.B.: It was at Hawthorn Salon and there were seven pieces.

S.: Was there a theme?

S.B.: There wasn’t a theme. There’s this one person thing that I do in Bold Bean (…) which I’m interested in getting some group things going on here, like a three person show?

S.: Madeleine is pretty well established so did that change your approach and the dynamic?

S.B.: Well, I thought “we don’t really know each other” but I like her work. And Hawthorn did too. So being the mediator there (…) it’s funny all of this has only happened in the last eight or seven months.

S.: Yeah – you’ve done a lot in a short time. Catch your breath, dude.

S.B.: (laughs) What have I been doing? I’m just pushing out these shows like a factory over here (laughs). So with Madeleine, these solo things have been just a complete analysis of the particular artist’s work. And trying to understand and try to be very “real” and deliberate. I love information, so I would hope that anyone reading a curatorial statement of mine would feel more enlightened about the thing that they’re experiencing. So it was basically that. I just wrote about Madeleine’s work – and thankfully, she really liked it (laughs).

S.: In a previous e-mail you had talked about things like pluralism and relational art, those are like conceptual terms, I guess, right?  But regarding a curatorial statement, do you like just a direct statement some times?

S.B.: Yeah and that’s what I try to do.

S.: I can be intimidated by conceptual work. Do you think people are sometimes put off by concepts, like it’s –

S.B.: Like it’s forceful or something?

S.: Yeah.

S.B.: I don’t want to make anyone feel dumb. Ever.

S.: That’s what I mean. Do you think people are frightened by the terminology?

S.B.: Possibly and if so that stinks – because that’s not what I am trying to do. I just want things to be more accessible.

S.: I think that with art people will go as deep at it will take them. You could use a term like “pluralism” and alienate one person and convert the next one. You know what I mean? And from personally knowing you, I think you are very direct. You don’t just talk in art jargon.

S.B.: Well, I’m not very good at it to be honest (laughs). I’m not good at art jargon. And with these things like at Bold Bean and Hawthorn, who are also going to have me curate their space from now here on out – or until whenever (…) but these things have been very direct, where it’s not this lofty concept that I create. It’s very direct about the artist because these places are not art spaces – first. They become that because of what’s in here. So I’m not trying to blow people’s minds in these small businesses.

S.: So you’re real mindful of the venue.

S.B.: Yeah and it should be visual and engaging in that way. But they can look further and find more. On my own stuff that is independent and not affiliated with anyone, I can go as conceptual as I’d like to. I mean like here, I gotta be mindful of Jay’s taste and we had talked about it beforehand. They want stuff that fits well in the space. It doesn’t have to be, you know, a picture of someone throwing up paint (laughs) (…) it’s knowing the space.

S.: Okay, let’s talk about someone who knows space: Creegan. Tell me about working with Mark Creegan.

S.B.: He’s so great to work with.

S.: Mark’s definitely like a, what’s the word, “higher mind” thinker with this stuff. And he’s way into the space and environment.

S.B.: I love how he puts a playful spin on it.

S.: He’s another old punk rock dude. Don’t let him hide it from you. Do you use the same wall here with each show?

S.B.: Yeah. Edison William’s was the first show where I went onto the brick. It was just necessary. But with Mark he just worked on that gallery wall with watercolor pans and created this brilliant composition specifically for that wall, keeping in mind the colors and the way that they’ll fall when he sprays it.

S.: Now was there a chosen theme to that?

S.B.: No, it was just very much Mark Creegan. But he was just very particular about that wall and just made this completely new composition for it. But was fun. We left it up for two weeks without being sprayed. So it was just this line drawing of watercolor pans and then we just wrote on it “October 6” which was the opening and on October 5th he came in and sprayed the thing and it was just like – activated. So that’s what we were thinking about: activating the space.

S.: You christened it. Okay, Courtney McCracken.

S.B.: That was really beautiful too. That was before Mark. She’s really great. She’s still at UNF and graduating soon. She created this giant embroidery hoop.

(October 6, 2012: Mark Creegan works on his installation at Bold Bean Coffee. The popular Stockton St. coffeehouse has given Bu Shea creative carte blanche to host works by local artists.)

(October 6, 2012: Mark Creegan works on his installation at Bold Bean Coffee. The popular Stockton St. coffeehouse has given Bu Shea creative carte blanche to present works by local artists.)

S.: Is she a fabric artist?

S.B.: She works with fabric stuff, fibrous stuff and also empty eggs. She fills them with expandable foam. So there were lots of pins and needles and this wonderful composition inside the hoop with these wonderfully placed eggs. And then once she put it onto the wall, that same spool of yarn, she just pulled out so there were voids inside of the hoop but she was able to bring out this mass out onto the wall (…) it was great.

S.:  Have you had a chance to come in here anonymously and see people reacting to the work or have you had any feedback from the employees here at how these works are received? Do you think it’s working?

S.B.:  I think so. I enjoy seeing people when I’m just there and it’s not an opening and I can see people go up to the work and really look it.

S.: Okay, uh (…) now the illustrious Dennis Ho: bon vivant, photographer extraordinaire, poster of psychotic Facebook status updates.

S.B.: Yeah he was really great too.

S.: What was it called – “Spaces”?

S.B.: Yeah, “Spaces.” He went out in the early hours of the morning and took photos of places around Jacksonville. That was really fun too. When these artists have individual works, and it’s not an installation, that’s where I can really come in and “place” things. I can direct when someone’s doing something  like Courtney, I can say “move the hoop out here so it can expand this way” but when people like Edison William and Dennis (…)

S.: Let’s talk about that for a second. With all of the stuff you are doing, and how you bring those criteria to a show (…) “I’ve got six paintings.” What are you looking at – the physical space?

S.B.: Physical space and of course the works, too (…)

S.: I truly don’t know, so this isn’t some challenge. How do you do that?

S.B.: It depends. This is where I guess my stylistic thing will come in. I like clean lines

S.: How do you mean “clean lines”?

S.B.: Placement. Weight, I like balance.

S.: How do you mean “weight”?

S.B.: Well, like especially with Edison William’s work and these frames. The visual weight; if something is just like hanging and it’s so off-putting or too bulky. Something can’t be floating across the top with all of this weaker stuff below it. And it’s also the actual works. Which one needs to be seen a little bit more? It being such a huge wall; which works can kind of be placed on the top and still be seen from afar?

S.: My only criticism, well I guess the place isn’t a gallery so I’ll be more understanding, but it’s such a tight space in there to show so much (…) I mean, I know you can’t say “Hey man, let’s knock down this wall for the Staci Bu Shea gallery” so how do you (…)  working in such a finite space, is it kind of healthy thing too? Does it kind of force you to solve that problem?

S.B.: Yeah, it is. Plus I also don’t like clutter, so I’m not interested in covering that wall from end to end.

S.: So in turn to you like a limited amount of pieces for any show?

S.B.: Yeah, the strongest ones, put ‘em up. Plus you can just get lost too, if there’s too much.

S.: Right. Okay, how about Judith Gammons? She is a painter, correct?

S.B.: Yeah and printmaker. Judith’s was the first show here so I did that show and “On Mediation” at the same time.

S.: Was that kind of test do both at once?

S.B.: Yeah, I dunno I kind of put myself through these things. I guess maybe they are ways to feel more alive? When I have a lot to do and it’s so scary and fun.

S.: Was there a theme or idea behind Gammons’ show?

S.B.: Not exactly. Like I said, it was very much about the artist but I had a really great time composing that. You know, a curator can be like a composer too.

S.: What did you enjoy specifically about that show?

S.B.: There were lots of things. I explored arrangements with framed work and unframed work. So some stuff I used clamps or maybe magnets (…) as long as some place is temperature controlled I love just paper, hanging. Really raw and that’s probably a more contemporary method too, because framing can be (…) excessive. But framing can also be incredible. We are framing Draper’s paintings right now and it’s like, these are really powerful. And it’s almost like you put the frame on a certain piece and it immediately seems finally finished.

S.: And now, most recently, Edison William. Now did you know him? You didn’t know Madeleine.

S.B.: I didn’t know Madeleine, I didn’t know Dennis.

S.: Were you familiar with each person’s work, was it matter or different media?

S.B.: Yeah. It’s been different ways and mediums to present here at Bold Bean, so it’s not just the same thing. In the end, you know when I go to graduate school, I will be able to put them all in one space, in one folder basically. Because even though they are all distinctly different things, this has all been working within limitations, like in the way we were talking about the size of that wall (…) a particular audience, like people who hang here (…) so it’s almost become one project.

S.: Do you think your shows are becoming increasingly better received?

S.B.: I think so. People are starting to realize that I do really care and they’ll know that I’ll have something there. I think that’s the difference there. I think that people are starting to see what I am trying to do with the actual art of curating. What’s really sweet, is that [painter] Thony Aiuppy has made it a point to have collected all of my catalogs.

S.: You already have created your own groupie fan base. World domination awaits. So graduate school is the next goal?

S.B.: Yep.

S.: Where do you think you would like to go?

S.B.: What I’m going to do is apply in the spring but I really don’t want to start in the fall. I just want to start applying because that’s an art form in itself. I’ve thought about Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies.

S.: Man, we can’t afford to lose you. Do they have a correspondence course you can take?

S.B.: (laughs) Yeah that would be nice, huh?

S.: There’s a lot going on here. Would anything sway your heart to hang around?

S.B.: I have an idea Dan Brown. I have a plan. That’s all I will say. I don’t want to say too much.

S.: So it’s top secret?

S.B.: Yeah.

S.:  Okay. I can get with that (…) now’s the time. Well, can we talk about your apartment project? Is that top secret or –

S.B.: Yeah of course we can and I appreciate your interest in it, too.

S.: When is the tentative opening for this?

S.B.: I’m thinking February [2013] as long as Sterling Cox is back home from the ship. So this would be with Edison William, Sterling Cox, Lily Kuonen and Thony Aiuppy.

S.: When we talked about this a while ago, you said this would be an environment-type thing. Would they have to live there?

S.B.: No, no but since the inception of the idea I have kind of seen the four of them as roommates. When I act as curator I think it’s really democratic and there’s not this hierarchy thing, especially since I’m not paid by any institution. That’s the part of that world where the curator is paid $50,000 a year and the artist isn’t.

S.: Sounds like you’re in the right business (laughs).

S.B.: (laughs) And so with this we are kind of like roommates. And we are just taking a spin on this ode – I’m calling it “An Ode to Hans Ulrich Obrist”who is a brilliant curator. He’s actually interested in the interview as a curatorial experience too. I admire him a lot.

S.: Why is it an ode to him?

S.B.: Well he did the first “kitchen” exhibition in 1990 or ’92.  Maybe 1991?

S.: And he was kind of your age at that time?

S.B.: Yeah. [ In July through September of 1991, the then 23 year old Obrist curated the “Kitchen Show” in the kitchen of his home in St. Gallen, Switzerland.] So he invited these artists to create art in his kitchen and he would operate in his kitchen for this duration of exhibition time. It was great from like weird, mini installations inside the cupboard and fridge (…) he had some pretty important artists in the show and in the three month time he had so many visitors.

S.: So your issue was securing a space, in Avondale, right?

S.B.: Mmmm-hmmm. It’s Sterling Cox’s mother-in-law suite.

S.: So how big is the place?

S.B.: It’s like a one bedroom with a bathroom, dining room, kitchen (…)

S.: So would each artist have a room? Would they collaborate?

S.B.: Well, the thing is that it’s not collaboration.  It’s more like partnering.

S.: Is it about the experience of cohabitation and living together?

S.B.: It’s more like the renters experience, having a term or a lease. It’s a lot about territory and public and private space (…) and ownership. It’s very much pulled from my inspiration by Obrist. But the spin on it is, our place has renters. We are all constantly renting. I mean Sterling actually owns that home but we are all very familiar with terms of renting. You don’t own the place you cohabitate in with other people.

S.: So you want to take this mundane or universal experience and blow it up to bigger things and questions, like impermanence, uncertainty, the irresponsibility of sneaking out on a lease (…)

S.B.: Absolutely and it would be site specific because it would be contained in the apartment. I think it’s going to be lovely. Of course, I’m going to have some kind of “takeaway.” I’m thinking about this Chinese Restaurant menu as the catalog. So we’ll see. I think it will be neat. People can take their shoes off and just kick back.

S.: Which is a pretty universal experience.

S.B.: Yeah. I guess I’m really inspired in many ways by Joseph Beuys, who said that we “are all artists and we are all curators.”  And I guess I would like to for people to realize that there is a certain way to see things that is very much curatorial and that anyone can do it.

S.: So do you feel like this is a new dawn of curating, with things like social media, holding exhibits in an apartment, not being tethered to one organization?

S.B.: That’s what’s really exciting about it. I feel like I am in this really fresh and elastic field, that’s really kind of hot right now. I just would like for more people in Jacksonville to realize that the way art is displayed and the way that art and ideas are mediated is really important. And you have to really start caring and putting importance on anything that you do, for anyone else to really feel it. At least feel it in a way that matters.

(Staci Bu Shea in Nara, Japan. 2010. Photo by David Bu Shea, Sr.)

(Staci Bu Shea in Nara, Japan. 2010. Photo by David Bu Shea, Sr.)

Daniel A. Brown

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