João Mourão and Luis Silva
interview Samuel Leuenberger

SALTS, Birsfelden

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João Mourão and Luis Silva: As a young curator, why did you create your own exhibition space/institution instead of finding a curatorial position in an already existing infrastructure?

Samuel Leuenberger:  I sort of worked backwards, I had my first experience in an international gallery, then I went on to work at Christie's auction house before starting to get into curatorial work at Kunsthalle Zürich. But it was only when I started my own space, that I could really figure out what is important to me, the idea of exhibition making and what curating means to me. Only after running the space for a few years, I started as a freelance curator; it’s interesting that I needed this sequence of things.

J&L : We tend to perceive institutions as immutable and eternal, which is not the case. How did SALTS change and evolve over time? Was it a planned or an intuitive process? Were those changes positive or negative and what would you say were the main ones?

SL : The whole thing was an intuitive process; it was originally one of not feeling the pressure to perform for someone else's ideas and frame-work. SALTS started as an Art Salon – almost classical – set in our flat and inviting friends over, it then grew to what it is today, a small institution in its own right. The biggest change over time I think is the concentration.

J&L : In ten years of activity how has SALTS impacted upon the local scene? Is Basel a different place because of SALTS? And how does one respond to a context that is home to the most important art fair in the world?

SL : It's hard to say from where I am sitting but I think it gives some sort of direction to a lot of creatives in the scene, and our space is vividly visited by artists and cultural creators. Basel has a strong history of project or artist-run spaces so we fit into a nice lineage but we were also one of the first curatorial run spaces besides all the shorter-termed artist-run ones. Art Basel is only one important institution, together with the Kunstmuseum Basel, the Schaulager and the Fondation Beyeler, we are living in a city where the arts is playing at the top of the global game. So what does a space like ours do in contrast to these large organisms? It nestles itself well into what is needed the most, supporting the emerging artists.

J&L : Is SALTS an extension of your work and consequently of yourself, or does it have an existence of its own? Can there be a SALTS without you and if so is that something you have considered?

CRUISING with Nina Beier & Marie Lund, Michele Di Menna Sylvie Fleury, Arthur Fouray Bruno Jakob, Peter Püntener, Prem Sahib, Courtesy of SALTS 
Nicolas Party, Courtesy of SALTS 
A FRESH BURN LIKE A DOUBLE TREE, Mélodie Mousset, Courtesy of SALTS 
ADRENARCHY, Jumana Manna Curated by Samuel Leuenberger, Courtesy of SALTS 
MY HISTORY OF FLOW, Lena Henke, Courtesy of SALTS 

SL : SALTS is to a large degree an extension of myself mainly since I also live here and share my private home with artists working here. For the last five years, I have been co-curating the program with Elise Lammer and so, by extension, I can imagine it running without me one day. But it would become something different very quickly. The idea of hospitality and congeniality would not be guaranteed anymore.

J&L : You (as well as us) are celebrating the tenth anniversary of something you created. How do you imagine the future? What will SALTS look like in ten years? What questions will we be asking each other when we celebrate the twentieth anniversary?

SL : I have a hard time imaging the future of SALTS. On the one hand it’s at the beginning of its life with its 10 years, on the other I always question what should come next. I think the platform to discuss themes and topics at hand via the format of exhibition making is doubtful, I think something else needs to come to expand on that. SALTS will definitely change direction from 11 onwards...

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Samuel Leuenberger interviews João Mourão and Luis Silva
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