Curator Spotlight | Erin Stout

NoHo Arts District was fortunate enough to have a ‘sit-down’ with University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) Curatorial and Research Associate, Erin Stout, PhD.

Prior to our Q&A with Stout, UCI received some fantastic news in December 2021 – a generous gift will herald a new home for the Institute and Museum of California Art (IMCA) and its respective collection! This gift from Jack and Shanaz Langson to UCI means that the important California art at the IMCA will now have a home, which ensures enjoyment for art lovers and historians alike.

With a robust background as an art historian, Stout illuminated not only her own curatorial background and touchstone to the art world, but likewise the collaborative IMCA curatorial process. Believe it’s safe to say we hope to one day see her dream project take flight.

NoHo Arts District was fortunate enough to have a ‘sit-down’ with University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) Curatorial and Research Associate, Erin Stout, PhD.

Q:      What is your relationship to the art world, and how did you first become interested in the arts?

I’m an art historian. My research is centered on interdisciplinary formations in the arts around embodiment, interaction, and intersections of art and technology. I wrote my dissertation on the emergence of electronic art in the postwar period and its relationship with music, dance, and exhibitionary practices. Currently I’m a curatorial and research associate at Langson IMCA, so I spend a lot of time communicating and engaging with other curators, researchers, scholars, and artists. 

Like many people, art offered a transformative way for me to understand the world. I had an unconventional and highly interdisciplinary undergraduate education in which art was fully integrated into the curriculum. Art was treated as a mode of practice that could help us think about scientific and natural phenomena in different ways, but also as a means to access historical and political movements and theoretical concepts. Early on, I studied physics and art in tandem—one of my courses, for example, was team-taught by a string theorist and ceramic artist. This interdisciplinary approach later played out in my focused research on the intersections of art and technology.  

Q:      How are programs at IMCA conceived/curated?

The curatorial process at Langson IMCA is highly collaborative. The Curatorial department works closely with colleagues in Education and Visitor Experience to conceive and implement exhibitions and public programs. We also try to extend this collaborative process outward by including scholars, guest curators, and artists. For the current exhibition, The Resonant Surface: Movement, Image, and Sound in California Painting, which I curated, I wanted to work with an interdisciplinary artist to implement the exhibition’s central themes. Odeya Nini, Langson IMCA’s artist in residence for the duration of the exhibition, is a contemporary vocalist and composer who addresses notions of embodiment, interconnection, and multisensory engagement. Drawing on these, the programs that we’ve put on with Odeya have so far included a filmic Voice Bath, a Free the Voice workshop, and a Voice Talk workshop. She will soon perform an improvisatory piece that has been evolving over the course of a decade called A Solo Voice on January 20. I love these programs because of the way they create a relationship between the audience, the artwork, and the exhibition.

Odeya Nini. Photo credit :Adeline Newman
Odeya Nini. Photo credit :Adeline Newman

Q:     What message do you hope people glean while experiencing exhibitions/shows?

The message I want to communicate is that art is a dialogue. It can be a space for criticism, experimentation, pleasure, or healing but fundamentally it involves an exchange between the object or experience and the viewer. I think that on some level the artwork is actually incomplete without audience participation. I also hope for surprise—that people’s awareness about something in the world or themselves is altered in some way.  

Q:      How do you curate and select rotating exhibitions?

My exhibitionary work is based in collections research. I practice deep dives into these objects and artists to find what sort of historical or thematic narratives can be produced—or challenged. Some of the things I look for are artist networks, underrepresented artists, and alternative interpretive frameworks. Ultimately, it’s a process of following threads and seeing the different stories that take shape.

Q:      What has been a curating challenge you have faced and how did you overcome this?

The pandemic has presented enormous and unprecedented challenges for everyone. Shifting to virtual programs for The Resonant Surface due to restrictions around public gatherings was particularly challenging because of the exhibition’s conceptual emphasis on embodied, tactile connection. And because my work as a scholar largely focuses on questions of what is lost or gained in technologically mediated interactions, I strongly wanted programmatic options that would still facilitate the sense of presence and embodied awareness that is central to the exhibition. We adjusted to virtual formats that we felt could provide the sort of experiences we wanted and learned a lot about how to use these digital spaces as programming tools. 

NoHo Arts District was fortunate enough to have a ‘sit-down’ with University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) Curatorial and Research Associate, Erin Stout, PhD.
M0497,John Bond Francisco,Scrub Oak,Date unknown. Oil on canvas. 26 x 34 in. UC Irvine Institute and Museum of California Art. Gift of The Irvine Museum.

Q:      How has the pandemic shaped your work?

One thing I’ve been thinking more about is art’s relation to healing. How can art address collective trauma? How can it help us cope with pain and loss? And how can we create spaces that are safe and accessible to as many people as possible wherein we can have these conversations? These are some of the questions I’d like to explore more going forward.

Q:      What show are you most proud of to date?

It has been incredibly rewarding to see The Resonant Surface, which was in the ideation phase before the pandemic and then planned during its peak, come to fruition. Most gratifying has been working with colleagues who are committed to creating change in the field and engaging authentically with audiences.

Q:      What is your dream project?

I would love to do an exhibition that looks at early experiments between electronic music composers, dancers, and visual artists. Think photocells, high-intensity light bulbs, slide projectors, and tape machines!


UCI Jack and Shanaz Langson Institute and Museum of California Art
18881 Von Karman Avenue, Suite 100
Irvine, CA 92612