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Art World Insiders: Camille Moreno

Camille Moreno is a Costa Rican American curator based in London with an MA in Art Business at Sotheby's Institute. In late 2023, Camille transformed an abandoned structure into the Camberwell Kabinett - a cabinet of curiosity founded out of necessity and resilience, embodying a spirit of autonomy and freedom for artists to exhibit without traditional barriers.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your journey with the arts.

I studied curating at Goldsmiths, which is where my curatorial journey really began. However, I withdrew from the program during the second year due to ongoing strikes. Because I am an international student, I found myself paying twice as much tuition as the British kids, yet left without a class to go to. I felt as though I had sacrificed so much – my job, my family, my friends – just to be locked inside my flat in a city where I knew practically no one. A significant downside to my foreign status meant that my working allowance on the student visa was extremely limited. The MFA program was essentially preparing us to be freelance curators, but my visa strictly forbade any freelance work. Limited to only 20 hours/week, even finding a part time job was difficult because most of the part time jobs conveniently start around 25 hours/week. I once had to turn down a job at Tate because of a two-hour contractual stalmate. I began to experience firsthand how, no matter how creative, talented, or driven one is, at the end of the day we are subject to market constraints and the bureaucracy of our environment, which usually means that the only people who can afford to be creative are those whose logistical circumstances fall into place. That can mean privilege, luck, or strategy. In an unexpected pivot, I decided instead to study Art Business at Sotheby's Institute. While I have little interest in working in the commercial art world, and much prefer the public sector, having this experience helped me situate my practice in the “real world” and understand the kinds of realities and challenges that public institutions face. I became inspired by the ground-up regeneration of cultural districts and the ways in which residents play a really critical role in the development of an area. After graduating and finally being allowed to work full time, I continued to experience pushback. I would receive an invitation for a job interview only to have it rescinded when the employer found out that I was on a work visa. Despite the fact that it was valid through 2025, the prospect of potentially having to sponsor me two years into the future was often enough to eliminate me as a candidate altogether. It was during this period of unemployment and losing hope that I discovered the abandoned structure that would become the Kabinett. Located not far from my house, I passed this funny little cabin twice a day on my commute to the gym. I believe it was that kind of dismal desperation and despair that inspired me to make something out of it. In a way, I saw myself in that pile of forgotten waste. I was not only reviving the structure but also my spirit, and most importantly my practice. It’s like I had been abandoned too, and the process of restoration was therefore hugely cathartic.

Photo 1: Slut Plant by Gabrielle Zemaityte-Travis, Photo 2: Pain Refresh, Photo 3: What's Gonna Happen To All My Stuff Once I Die by Mark McGowan Photo 4: Invigilators Interim Exhbition Anonymous, Photo 5: Freedom From Torture Photo 6: Rope by Charlotte Tydeman

What inspired you to initiate Camberwell Kabinett?

I think it often feels like, in the art world, we need permission or validation from some kind of authority before we are “allowed” to forge ahead. One of the biggest obstacles for artists looking for opportunities is that without a robust portfolio or established connections, nobody will give you a platform. However, without being given a chance, there is no space to build that portfolio or experiment with anything. It’s really a vicious cycle that favors privilege and opportunity. Since I felt like I was in a place with doors being closed in my face, I think that initiating something like the Kabinett, completely on my terms and on my timeline, gave me back a sense of autonomy. The Kabinett doesn't have any doors. It literally has no door.

Urban environments especially leave creative practitioners often feeling powerless and at the mercy of the gatekeepers. In terms of the built environment, the metropolis has very few spaces that are undefined. The cost per square meter means there is no space for that anymore. It’s like those art squats that slowly but surely cease to exist. The Kabinett is an art squat, just a really small one.

Even having a studio space in London is expensive, nevermind an exhibition platform. This kind of pressure makes us question the value of our work, wondering if it is good enough. We should spend more time thinking about our ideas, but nobody can afford to. All I knew was that anything would be better than a pile of rubbish, which is essentially what the Kabinett was when I found it. Because anything I did to it was an improvement, I was kind of free from any expectations of standards that would usually be creative inhibitors.

Photo: Slut Plant by Gabriel Zemaitye-Travis

How do you balance the desire to allow artists creative freedom within the Camberwell Kabinett with the public aspect of that space?

In terms of curating the Kabinett, I try to do as little as possible. My biggest job is to maintain its conservation: clean it regularly, scrape the chipping paint, and make sure it is looked after. Aside from enforcing material preferences, such as using water-based paint and not causing irreversible damage to the structure, I try not to have any creative influence on the artist's vision. I save that for the marketing and the copywriting.

My main focus is to make the artists aware of the circumstances and keep the public safe. That means sometimes reminding the artists that the installation will likely be tampered with, or that we don't really know how long it will last. Sometimes people want to put something heavy on the roof or light candles or install electricity. These are things that could potentially be dangerous, and in these instances I have to say no or find some kind of alternative. I am also aware of how many children comprise our primary audience, and so everything needs to be appropriate and not offensive.


How do you see the Camberwell Kabinett impacting the local community, especially considering its location in front of a massive council estate? Can you share any feedback or interactions that have been particularly meaningful?

The local community has been extremely helpful in piecing together the history of the Kabinett. I went from thinking it was a bathroom to a newspaper kiosk to a security shelter until finally discovering that it was an outpost for the transit authority. This is thanks to a local resident who has lived in one of the towers for over thirty years. He remembers 10-15 years back when the structure was still in operation. As rewarding as the experience has been for me, I recognized that it also meant something to him. He explained to me that he has been saying for years that someone should do something with this abandoned box, and watched as it slowly filled with rubbish. When I heard this story, I started to feel more responsibility. The fact that this had brought happiness and satisfaction to someone whose life had been so integrated with it was very moving.

Photo: Balloons Interim Exhibit Anonymous

Then there are all the small instances. A few months ago I installed several dozen balloons inside the Kabinett, just because it was a sunny Saturday and I thought it would be nice to have something there in between shows. The balloons were partly inspired by this enormous bauble sculpture at the Hayward Gallery that’s part of the exhibition “When Forms Come Alive.” I knew I had been inspired by the sculpture, so when children passed by and were excited to see the balloons, it felt like bringing a little bit of the energy from the original sculpture to them. That’s what street art does, it provides an encounter for an audience who is not seeking it.

For me the children are a big motivation because they walk past the Kabinett regularly on their way to and from school. I have seen young boys get frisked by the police just in front of it as well. These two boys were just minding their own business and within seconds were in handcuffs. It was obviously an instance of racial profiling, and despite standing feet away from them I felt a world away. These are the kinds of scenes that happen right in front of the Kabinett all the time, which makes it feel like a kind of island or sanctuary.

Photo: Shelter

It has also been a shelter for people sleeping rough. On multiple occasions I have found belongings from people who slept inside it, including bedding, signage, and personal belongings. I am happy that it was there for them when they needed it.

How do you select artists and artworks for the Camberwell Kabinett?

The programming has come from a combination of invited artists and applications. I want it to be a platform that is available to everyone, and for the most part if you have an idea and have the endurance and enthusiasm to see it through, I will do my best to support you to make it happen. Applications come via social media or the submission form on the website.

The Camberwell Kabinett is subject to intervention by the public due to its open nature. Can you share any memorable instances where the public interaction significantly impacted an installation?

We were tagged by the prolific street writer Fatso and I was ecstatic! I saw it as a major compliment, like a gesture of commradery. Usually there is an understandable amount of tampering, but on the whole I have been impressed with how much respect the public has shown for the art. Apart from a few scribbles here and there, there really has not been any major vandalism.

Photo: Fatso Tag

However, I was surprised with how quickly someone managed to steal a collection of large sculptures that were installed at the Kabinett a few months back. They were made of heavy duty plastic and were huge – really huge. It was like a modular set of metallic red shapes that resembled worms and squiggles. There were so many of them and they were so large that I could not fit them all into a van for transportation, so we had to make multiple trips.

Photo: Early Bird Interim Exhibition Anonymous

A few days after install, I went to the Kabinett and every last one of them was gone. I wasn't upset, but just fascinated. How did someone even move them? Where did they put them? I don't know anyone who would have the space to even house such massive objects. So wherever they are, I hope someone is enjoying them.

Photo 1: Detail or the Early Bird, Photo 2: Artist Taxi Driver, Photo 3: Drawing of the Kabinett

What have been the biggest challenges in managing and maintaining an art project in a derelict space?

The initial cleaning of the Kabinett was pretty repulsive. Fortunately I did not do it alone, as I had the support from a few friends. This process took a few weeks, and was hands down the more challenging part. Also the floor has a drainage problem. I have tried several times to finish the floor, but because of water retention, it has not become fully dry. I am hoping that the warmer weather will help this, and that perhaps we can make a strategic drainage hole to mitigate the situation. Because of the sitting water, it can be really gross.

Funding is always a critical question, and I hope to get more serious about it in the future. Again there is this recurring cycle, where the production needs funding but the funding necessitates a track record of production. We have been managing the production on a shoesstring, and trying to be as resourceful as possible. This is always the job of the artist though, so regardless of how much funding we have or will one day have, I think being resourceful is invaluable.

How do you view the role of projects like the Camberwell Kabinett in the broader context of cultural and urban regeneration, especially in areas experiencing rapid development like Elephant and Castle?

I hope that projects like this will continue to have a place as the rest of the area continues to be developed top-down. We have started to develop partnerships with other local projects, like a community garden and the record store Dash the Henge Store. I feel like the more we collaborate, the stronger we will all be and the more successful at building an actual community, as opposed to just the template for one.

Photo: Opening of the Slut Plant by Gabrielle Zemaityte-Travis

What are your long-term goals for the Camberwell Kabinett and how do you plan to evolve the project to continue engaging the community and supporting artists?

I am looking to expand the team. I would like more people to be involved, to host more events, and to work with people who have more experience with grant writing. I want to also allow it to develop on its own trajectory, so I am just taking it one day at a time. As I said, my biggest concern is that it stays clean and intact.

I know that there is a preexisting genre of renovating kiosks and turning them into creative spaces, so I think it could be interesting to one day organize a network of these micro institutions, or perhaps generate funding to save more of them. They are not only great opportunities for community building, but a really important part of architectural salvage and cultural heritage.

What advice would you give to emerging curators interested in pursuing similar interdisciplinary projects?

One of the most liberating and exciting realizations I had when I first started studying curating was that most, if not all, curators have to be (or get to be, depending on how you want to look at it) a curator-slash-something . You have to be something else too. We are not just curators. For instance, I see myself as a curator-slash-writer. My writing is my curatorial practice and vice versa. Sure, I do other things too, but everything else just comes with the territory. I do those things in order to furnish the writing. Having this distinction helps keep me motivated during times of lull, burnout, or despair. I also think that steering yourself towards a niche will be what helps you make difficult decisions, establish priorities, and invariably become a specialist who derives joy from their work.

Photo: Burnt sub by Anonymous

Do you have any other projects or exhibitions planned?

I have been speaking with one street artist who is interested in incorporating a nearby abandoned phone booth, but at the moment it’s just an idea.


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