Programme: Contemporary Art Theory - MA

Year: 2016

A scholarship allowed independent curator and writer Eliel Jones the opportunity to study Contemporary Art Theory at ECA. Eliel fondly remembers the chance to 'jostle' with his classmates during seminars and offers his advice for aspiring curators.

Tell us about your time at ECA

I chose the MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Edinburgh College of Art as one of two specialist courses on the subject within the UK. I was awarded a full postgraduate scholarship from the University of Edinburgh and this was key to pursue further study; I wouldn’t have been able to afford a Masters otherwise. As a student at ECA what I loved the most was the seminar time – the day, once or twice a week, when we would all get together to discuss, provoke, challenge and ‘jostle’, as John Beagles (following Bourdieu) might have said. The staff on this programme were superb. In some instances, the kind of support I received for my writing and the nurturing of my thoughts and ideas went above and beyond my expectations. This was the case while I was writing my MA dissertation, which I got to present as a paper as part of the Arts in Society Conference at the University of California, Los Angeles as a graduate scholar. Not only did ECA help make this happen financially with another scholarship that went towards the costs of my travel, but my tutors provided invaluable encouragement and advice throughout the process.

"[T]he kind of support I received for my writing and the nurturing of my thoughts and ideas went above and beyond my expectations..my tutors provided invaluable encouragement and advice throughout the process."

Eliel Jones, Contemporary Art Theory - MA alumnus

Tell us about your experiences since leaving ECA

While I was writing my masters’ dissertation I moved to Berlin to work with New York-based artist Ei Arakawa as part of the 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. As I was finishing the position I found out that I had been one of the internationally-selected participants for the 5th Curatorial Summer School organised by V-A-C Foundation in Moscow, Russia, where I spent most of the summer. Then I went to Los Angeles to present a paper as a Graduate Scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, which ECA supported with an Andrew Grant Bequest Scholarship. All this happened before I graduated.

Towards the end of my time in Los Angeles I was offered the position of Curatorial Assistant: Commissions at Chisenhale Gallery in London, where I worked for about two years as part of a two-person curatorial team realising exhibitions of new work by artists including Peter Wächtler, Maeve Brennan, Alex Baczynski-Jenkins, Luke Willis Thompson, Hannah Black and Lydia Ourahmane. Chisenhale was the ultimate training ground – most of what I know and practice today I learnt hands-on on the job.

Currently, I’m an independent curator and writer. My research interests and methodologies stem from intersectional approaches to queer and feminist discourse. My writing and projects have a particular focus on performance and performativity in relation to strangeness, the use of the anecdotal in knowledge production and strategies of care as modes of resistance. Some recent curatorial projects include Acts of Translation, MMAG Foundation, Jordan; do you host?, Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, Poland; and besides, in tangent, Chisenhale Gallery/Genesis, London (all 2018). My writing has appeared in various artists’ catalogues and publications, including the New Museum, New York, South London Gallery, London and 13th Baltic Triennial, as well as in Artforum, Frieze, Elephant and MAP. Most recently I was awarded a curatorial residency at Ujazdowski Castle Center for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, Poland.

Alumni wisdom

My advice would be to make the most of being a full-time student. Read, watch and listen as much as you can. A Master's provides you with the structure to dig deep into your interests and research. Space and time to explore them openly and generously (with room to test and fail) is perhaps one of the most valuable things you will gain as a student.

If you are about to graduate I recommend that you start the ‘separation process’ sooner rather than later. Once you finish all your taught modules I encourage everyone to seek work, residencies and other opportunities in and out of the city. This will allow you to put your thoughts and ideas into practice and to really materialise how exactly to move forward and progress beyond your course of study. There is great funding available during your studies so make the most of it.

If you want to pursue a career as a writer/curator (for me they are both very much tied together), I would also advise you to start early, and pursue opportunities wherever possible. In my opinion, curating is something that you learn, to a big extent, on the job. I never trained as a curator per se, but I engaged with discourse and practices that undoubtedly informed my curatorial interests and methodologies. After a good amount of experience, you will feel confident to apply for a variety of positions and hopefully secure a job where you will be able to grow professionally. A network of peers is intrinsic to this process; meeting people, nurturing your curiosity and pushing forth for the things you want to see happen is equally as important. It is not easy, so, ultimately, you need a lot of passion and patience!


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