Zoe Buckman and Rujeko Hockley on Fair Pay and Taking a Leap of Faith

Curator Rujeko Hockley and artist Zoe Buckman are friends in and beyond the art world.
Curator Rujeko Hockley and artist Zoe Buckman are friends in and beyond the art world.

Rujeko Hockley: Zoe, how are you? What are you working on at the moment?

Zoe Buckman: Hi Ru! At the moment I’m working on new embroidered text pieces. I’ve been collecting vintage tea towels and creating these banner-like works. The texts I’m using are snippets of things I’ve said, written, heard or read in the past year pertaining to sexual violence, bleeding or BDSM. This work is part of a new series in which I’m using the same fabrics to create clusters of boxing gloves. It’s very much coming out of a time of reflection and introspection for me around my own experiences with violence as well as the experiences of those around me.

Ru, tell me about curating the Biennial! Is there anything that has come out of all this hard work you’ve been doing that you didn’t foresee and expect? What have some of the challenges and highlights been?

RH: Your new work sounds amazing, Zoe! Definitely timely—though I kind of hate how that descriptor is used for any work that engages the contemporary, especially on sociopolitical terms. It’s never not been “timely” to address much of what you consider in your work, and this is true of most political art—our issues as a society are not new. In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing where the work goes. As always, I appreciate your voice and perspective! We need it.

As far as the Biennial goes, it’s kind of hard to talk about with any clarity because it’s ongoing! There have been many incredible highlights, chief among them the same as is true of almost every exhibition I’ve ever worked on: spending time with artists, talking about their work, and then thinking together about how best to present it. It’s an immense privilege and one I hold very dear—the best part of my job and the best part of my biennial year! The depth of attention and generosity of spirit that artists bring to bear is always both humbling and arresting. The challenges are mundane and to be expected—being on the road and away from home a lot is hard; juggling multiple projects on similar timelines is hard; having to make difficult, sometimes impossible choices is hard; and—surprise!— being pregnant while doing all of the above is hard! But, none of it is impossible and I’m never doing it alone, which makes a huge difference. I’m very lucky to have an incredibly smart, kind and generous collaborator on this project—Jane Panetta. We work really hard and we have fun and that’s as it should be.

Something I’ve thought a lot about in this process is what our historical moment requires, both on the macro and micro scales. So, what does the world need/ask of us, but also what do our communities—and thinking especially of artists here—need/ask of us? How would you answer those questions, Zoe?

ZB: Ah Ru... I’m so proud of you. The sensitive, compassionate way you receive and respond to work is an artist’s dream (believe!), and on top of that you bring such vast knowledge and a brave way of drawing new parallels. I’m so glad you’re here doing what you’re doing—thank you. And on top of that, you’re growing a human. As we speak. It’s amazing!

Getting to your question... it’s a big one, and my feelings change daily on the matter. I think we need to make space for the new, and for that we need freedom. We need to fully accept that the systems and judgments and ways of being that we’ve accepted and even taken part in, are broken and not serving us as a whole. But for real change to take place we have to shed the old, and that could mean the comfortable and familiar. And so it’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to incremental. What do you think?

RH: Thanks so much for the votes of confidence! It means the world. As we know, real life is hard and things are sometimes fraught—complete with moments of doubt, burnout, failure and disillusion (no matter what Instagram might have us believe!), so it’s encouraging to hear. Especially from someone like you, Zoe, who is the epitome of #momgoals for me, especially in terms of your relationship with your child and balancing parenting, work and your own needs—tryna get like you in 2019 and beyond!

I think you’re absolutely right re: what’s required for real (and lasting) change. Lately, I have been thinking in really concrete terms, especially in relation to compensation and security—maybe because the big picture is so overwhelming and insecure and frankly scary right now. So for example, among other things artists need affordable studio space and to be paid for their work (because they have families and expenses just like everyone else and “exposure” is not a thing). Art professionals need to be paid decently and to not have there be this assumption that we do our work out of altruism (or that we are independently wealthy and so salary doesn’t matter). Women need equal pay, and the work of all women (including in their own or others’ homes) needs to be valued equally. These aren’t small or easy things to fix necessarily, but they are tangible—like we can change them in our own lives for and with the people we work with.

ZB: Precisely! “Exposure” is not income. I can’t tell you how many lessons I’ve learned to that effect since starting out. The lack of support and decent pay for most art professionals (particularly women) is bewildering to me, Ru. I think we’re going to have to start refusing to do things for free and let that start a new model for the next generation of female artists and curators. Basically: let’s hold hands and jump. It’s time.

RH: What else is there to say? It’s time.