Piscina: the trajectory of a platform for women artists
4 Feb 2021, 2:22 pm
It was June 2015, and I and two other friends – Ana Luiza Fortes and Nataly Callai – were chatting via Facebook chat about projects and ideas we had that ended up shelved. When the idea of creating a platform to gather and publicize the work of women we admire came up, we swore that this would no longer be a project that would end up in the drawer. That was how, in three days time, we had a name, a logo, a website on the Cargo Collective platform and an Instagram profile: Piscina was born into the world.
At first, we were inspired by existing international platforms. Here in Brazil, as far as we knew, there was still nothing like it. We started by inviting acquaintances and acquaintances of acquaintances, but the idea was to receive portfolios and works via email that would then be curated.
The premise was very simple: we created a page for each selected artist with images of their work and a link to their portfolio. And, every day, a job was posted on our Instagram profile. It didn’t take long for us to start gaining followers and receiving portfolios in our inbox. The movement increased even more when the platform was featured on some websites and magazines.
Back then, the platform’s profile was quite different from what it is today. Among the artists who passed through our curatorship were photographers, illustrators, designers, filmmakers and poets. It was in our interest to show the work of women who, in our eyes at the time, had some power, who communicated something or resonated in some way in ourselves. Sometimes, the choices were very personal, which generated heated debates between the three of us.
In the wake of the independent publishing fairs, in 2016 we launched our first zine, which featured the work of 56 female artists who were then part of the platform. We made an investment out of our own pocket and printed a print run of 250 copies that, fortunately, we managed to sell.
Although it’s not that long ago, in 2015 and 2016 the world was quite different. I see that in its beginning, Piscina did not have a concern with adopting more, say, vehement positions. We were getting to know artists from all over Brazil and outside of it, and that in itself was already something very powerful for us. Being able to make more people have access these works was the central pillar of the platform, something I believe, even today, remains extremely relevant.
Another important factor for the development of Piscina is that none of us, the three founders, had a background in visual arts: I am an architect, Ana Luiza is an actress and Nataly has a degree in cinema and, at that time, flirted with writing. Not for nothing, we became friends mainly after working together on a piece that Nataly wrote, Ana acted in and I did the art direction for.
Thus, we liked calling the process of choosing works for Piscina “wild curation”, because it was a process much more based on our perceptions and sensibilities towards the world, than on concepts and theories based on a specialized academic literature.
In 2017, there was a need to professionalize the way we presented ourselves, and also to delve deeper into the works developed by the artists. Thus, we created a new website, which featured quarterly curatorships, which we called “Fôlego” [Breath] and which were accompanied by a text of our authorship. There was also the blog, in which the idea was to deepen some of the content. It was through the blog that we started to visit artists’ studios.
Accustomed to acting almost exclusively in the virtual environment, a major milestone in the history of the platform was our first physical event. The first edition of “Mergulho da Piscina” [A Dive in the Pool] took place between November 27 and December 1, 2019 at CC.espaço, in São Paulo.
In collaboration with the curator and researcher Ana C. Roman, we held two face-to-face meetings and a group exhibition. At the first meeting, “Acting in a network – collectives and art platform”, we invited three collectives and art platforms to present their work and talk about the possibilities of artists and collectives acting together in a network. The invited collectives were YVY Mulheres da Imagem, Trovoa and Coletivo Amapoa.
On the second day, we brought together artists and curators to talk about the theme “Ways to create – artistic making and art exhibition in the age of instagram” and to reflect on their production and the influence of social networks in their creative processes. The invited artists were Alice Yura, Luisa Callegari, Jade Marra and Vitória Cribb, who had their works commented by curators Carollina Lauriano and Nathália Lavigne.
Closing the “Dives”, we present the collective exhibition “Ânima”, which brought together works by ten female artists: Anaïs Karenin, Angela Od, Brisa Noronha, Camila Fontenele, Daniela Paoliello, Gabriella Garcia, Heloisa Hariadne, Fernanda Vallois and Vitória Cribb.
This first physical event was the result of a movement to expand the platform, which ceased to occupy a passive place in relation to the artists – Piscina previously only divulged the work of female artists who reached out themselves and sent in their portfolios – to occupy a place more active in researching and publicizing the work of women artists.
During the pandemic, we saw an opportunity to expand our virtual platform to different formats. I carried out a series of lives and interviews with artists, who became part of a new section of the website – Profile –, in which, in addition to presenting their works, the artists can talk about their trajectories, main influences and the most important facts of their careers. This year we also made an open call to post works during the quarantine on our Instagram, and we wrote about some of them in the series of posts Arte na Quarantena [Art During Quarantine].
Given the very challenging moment presented by 2020, I realized that it was not enough to just research and publicize the work of women artists. It was necessary to create ways to make this production feasible. That was how, after many months of brainstorming, came the idea of creating a sales model for the works of some of our partner artists.
We want Piscina to be a facilitator so that artists can produce with freedom and autonomy, enabling and connecting their production with collectors and interested parties and other actors in the artistic world. Thus, the model we created is based on building a relationship of trust and mutual transparency between the platform and the artists, working in a collaborative and horizontal manner.
I believe that we learn as we move towards something that we aim to achieve. With the actions of Piscina and, in particular with this new model that we are creating, it is no different. We elaborated a term with all the points of how we intend to work and, little by little, we contacted some artists, asking what they thought and if they had any suggestions on the way we are proposing to work. This feedback is very important for us because it helps us grow as a platform and guides us on a path that we are still navigating, seeing what works best.
With the participation in commercial events – as was the case with the SP-Foto Viewing Room, in 2020 – we realized that there were things in our working term that needed to be adjusted, taking into account the peculiarities of each situation. As our performance has always been via the internet, it is natural that when we hold an event outside the digital context, different demands than what we are used to arise. Issues of production of work, infrastructure and transportation end up being posed, and a piece that is solved in a certain way on the internet presents different challenges when it migrates to the physical.
Another thing we noticed is that young artists – in this case, all the artists we work with – have practically grown up with the internet and have already become accustomed to a more autonomous rhythm, characteristic of this generation. So the artist herself seeks to solve everything: photograph her own work, post on social networks, write about her own work, make the portfolio website, talk to potential clients who reach out, etc. We know that putting yourself as an artist is, in itself, a lot of work. So we try to facilitate this dynamic taking on, for example, the roles of talking to customers who get in touch through instagram, centralizing the information of the works, creating a portfolio and, if a sale takes place, we take care of the production of the work, transportation, certificates, etc. There is a whole succession of demands and activities that, when carried out by the artist alone, leave very little time left for them to actually work on their art.
Thus, we do not place ourselves as a conventional gallery, and we do not offer the same things that a conventional gallery offers its artists. But, it is with the artists that we build, together, a model that makes sense for all involved and helps in the development of their careers as artists. And, working together, we continue to learn constantly, adapting to the needs and specificities of each artist.
Creating a platform for women artists was relatively new in 2015. But if you consider that fifty years ago Linda Nochlin was writing the essay “Why have there been no great women artists?” (1971), questioning the notion of male genius of the great masters, we see how long it took for this discussion to cross the academic world to become something common in the mainstream. And when we talk about different feminisms and the notion that women experience oppression in different degrees according to their class, race, sexuality, religion and physical abilities, we realize how much we still need to advance.
There is still much to be done and there are still many spaces to be occupied by women, but I feel optimistic. A lot has changed since 2015 and, although we are experiencing a challenging moment in different areas, it is possible to see an evolution and the sedimentation of these issues in a place of common sense. And, for me, the role of a platform like Piscina today is not only regarding paving the way, but also sedimenting, and create a solid ground for next generations to come.