LIVING Foreword – Seonaid Daly
Introduction – Kirsteen Macdonald 2—5
Gordon Douglas 6
Correspondence between Maria Fusco and Claire Walsh & Katherine Murphy 7
Emmie McLuskey & Shireen Taylor 8 — 11
Gemma Lawrence 12 — 13
Correspondence between Anna McLauchlan and Kirsteen Macdonald 14 — 17
Grace Johnston 18 — 19
Claire Walsh 20 — 21
Conversation between Viviana Checchia and Gordon Douglas 22 — 23
Nick Thomas 24 — 25
Lauren Printy Currie commissioned by Katherine Murphy 26 — 27
Marcus Jack 28 — 29
Gordon Douglas 30
Conversation between Grant Watson and Cicely Farrer 31 — 33
Frances Davis 34 — 35
Rosie O’Grady 36 — 39
Frances Stacey 40 — 41
Correspondence between Jason E. Bowman and Kirsteen Macdonald 42 — 45
Gordon Douglas 46 — 47
Overview of Curatorial Studio Programme 48 — 49
SCAN is delighted to support this presentation of new writing and ideas, and to introduce the contributors as diverse voices within the curatorial field. We are proud to have been involved in establishing the Curatorial Studio peer learning programme and are committed to its development in the years to come. We would also like to thank Kirsteen Macdonald (Framework) for expertly supporting the participants, devising the structure and content of the programme and dedicating time above and beyond to ensure the projectâ€™s success. Scotland has a vibrant and unique contemporary art landscape; those who work here describe it as one of the most supportive they have experienced. This is often quoted as being principally down to strong peer to peer networks. However, the professional situation in Scotland is not without its limitations. Recent research focussing on curatorial practice in Scotland highlights significant professional development needs, a lack of national debate and the persistent lack of opportunities for career progression. The small scale of many of Scotlandâ€™s organisations (in terms of turnover, not ambition) means that few assistant curatorial posts exist and budgets rarely stretch to working with associate or invited independent curators. The demands on available funding often results in a lack of support for self-initiated curatorial projects. Curatorship is a vital aspect of public engagement with art and artists. Curators provide essential support for artists to develop work within diverse contexts. As contemporary practice evolves alongside our social and political lives, so too does the role of the curator. It is within this context and professional climate that SCAN and the other founding partners of Curatorial Studio acknowledge the importance of encouraging and supporting emerging voices, our future leaders, to establish their own practices and begin to realise their ambitions. Seonaid Daly, Scottish Contemporary Art Network
When we in the West, or in the industrialized, technologized countries congratulate ourselves on having an infrastructure â€“ properly functioning institutions, systems of classification and categorization, archives and traditions and professional training for these, funding pathways and educational pathways, excellence criteria, impartial juries and properly air-conditioned auditoria with good acoustics â€“ we forget the degree to which these have become protocols that bind and confine us in their demand to be conserved or in their demand to be resisted.1 So perhaps the necessary links between collectivity, infrastructure and contemporaneity within our expanded field of art are not performances of resistant engagement, but the ability to locate alternate points of departure, alternate archives, alternate circulations and alternate imaginaries. And it is the curatorial that has the capacity to bring these together, working simultaneously in several modalities, kidnapping knowledges and sensibilities and insights and melding them into an instantiation of our contemporary conditions.2 Irit Rogoff
Curatorial Studio was initiated around the question of how an artists’ peercrit model might apply to curatorial practices. The relationships between secondary or primary activity in the nexus of curating and art production mean that although they belong within the same supporting systems, they don’t necessarily become visible in the same way. With the group at the fore, rather than the curator as an author of cultural production, Curatorial Studio makes explicit the necessary social bonds that hold together much of the art infrastructure. Using different formats of activity – close reading, performance, writing, walking, discussion, lecture, workshop, screening, socialising – we have redrafted our
constituencies around one of the most prominent themes within the narrative of artistic production in Scotland: peer-organisation. Despite the connections between some of the individuals taking part, Curatorial Studio group was selected around a common interest rather than through pre-existing social ties. The pressure of performing together immediately after meeting meant that afterwards everyone felt like a team. It created a heightened emotional and intellectual experience that became a shared departure point. Before we could introduce our professional guises to one another we had already done something together that exposed everyone to an equal share of vulnerability.
The cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer asserted that in a room of individuals it is the collective spirit of everyone present that produces ideas; and that there is a distinction between groups in society that you don’t choose to join, for example your family, and those that rely on active participation from the individuals within them, like political or economic systems. In the latter category the ideas produced by the group have a life above and beyond its members.3 Accordingly, ‘the individual does generate and proclaim the idea, but it is the group that bears it and makes sure it is realised.’4 If we fail to notice the dominant structures influencing how we think and work together, our existing protocols, references and habits remain unidentified. Curatorial Studio acts as a circuit bypassing the rhetoric
Two hours after meeting one another they were hosting an event. They performed, unrehearsed, each in turn, reading aloud. The texts were selected in advance through email exchanges. The host’s instruction: everyone should suggest one critical and one creative text to form a propositional reading list. A short editorial process was undertaken. Four groups of four people had twenty minutes to decide on ten minutes’ worth of material. Titles were proposed by each group. No theatrical set-up. They sat around a large table, upon which a motley array of objects awaited the afternoon workshop – a light bulb, a rolled-up yoga mat, a gold digital watch with the straps spread flat, a thick bundle of photographs in a sealed processing lab envelope, a tin of Heinz spaghetti, a book. Friends, colleagues and others arrived in the room and were asked to sit around the circle to listen.
Kirsteen Macdonald Introduction
of curators as competitive subjects. Nevertheless, all groups inevitably form their own ‘elites’ from the social relations within them. When aiming for equality, a group might aspire to reach only consensus-based decisions or hold structureless meetings, but this often results in the group embodying the same kind of tyranny it set out to resist.5 The multiplicity of social relations that transforms ideas from thoughts into reality is complex and often hidden from the real-time experience of a group meeting. Based on an anthropological understanding of sociality and social relations within Western capitalism, Stephen Wright has contextualised artistic and social collaborations that describe art in terms of ‘competencies’ as leading towards ethical shortcomings through instrumentalisation. Working collaboratively should involve clarity of position and recognition of the limitations of conforming to the dominant, symbolic economy of art. As Wright says, to do this ‘we need an almost pre-modern understanding of art, breaking with the institutionalised trinity of author– work–public’.6 Collaborations often grow out of convivial relationships, yet questions of authorship hover over them. As producers of specialist knowledge, curators are involved in methods of production – exhibition, collection, publication, event, symposium – that are collaborative by nature. Many of the figures currently lauded as exemplary individuals in the curatorial field work within inherently collaborative contexts, while the names of their co-producers/co-authors are slowly erased from the records. In Curatorial Studio no-one expects
to occupy a fixed position or to seek agreement with one another, but through shared processes we have made tacit commitments to support and care for one another. The values and influences within our specific socio-geographic context have become visible.
The term ‘curatorial’ can be seen as a quintessential example of contemporary thought; the curatorial can be performed. Since the contemporary in curating relates to the contemporary in art, it is bound up with individual and collective experience of being. Like the contemporary, the curatorial is not exclusively rooted in the present but can be stratified into multi-temporal or atemporal forms to alter meanings.7 There are multiple variations in whether, or how, this applies to the work of the Curatorial Studio group, who represent a broad range of roles in institutions, academic research, and independent curatorial, artistic or writing practices. Few define themselves as ‘a curator’, and this is an important aspect of our approach, as it brings together different understandings and applications of the term ‘practice’. Here, the curatorial remains a field of potential, of both philosophical enquiry and practical methods. We haven’t produced any conclusions about what the curatorial is, but as contemporaries, in the traditional sense of existing in the same time period and working in the same field, we have shared modes of thinking that are said to define our work as contemporary curating. Curatorial thought is multi-temporal, while the
Our discussions began with the intersections between the curatorial, editing, writing, art making and organising. Maria Fusco introduced us to the gerund9 – a verb functioning as a noun. In English we can be curating, writing or editing, but we can’t be arting. Art requires supporting verbs: ‘making art’, ‘creating art’, ‘selling art’, ‘exhibiting art’ and so forth; therefore semantics cause art to become a noun. Fusco encouraged us to write through and with rather than writing about things. By introducing different tenses to our writing we inhabit different temporal contexts that are usually overlooked in curatorial language, tending as it does towards historiography or descriptiveness. Located conceptually within a discursive ‘studio’, the programme is an intimate space for shared learning; a place for processes and projects at various stages of development; the nascent given equal status to the accomplished. As each of us invoked the voices of specific thinkers – artists, art historians, philosophers, social theorists or curators – we began to hear and understand each others’ ways of thinking being played out within the references we made. The range of temporal, theoretical and geographical references appearing in our workshops piqued discussions about how to adapt and circulate external experiences and knowledge.
What are our responsibilities around referencing and how might we establish alternative forms of common ground from which to discuss practice? As our discursive space evolved into this publication, these concerns have been part of our preparatory conversations for what you are reading now. Some of these disparate voices have been written into being. Whether directly or indirectly influenced by our workshops and public events, these various approaches to writing, editing and collaborating also enfold other work happening around us. Here, now, we deposit and distribute a body of knowledge about our practices. Curatorial Studio supports a subtle, shifting register of individual voices, opinions and approaches. The contributions in Living Out Ideas reflect on different ways we’ve shared, supported and discovered as a group. It is a gesture towards new ways of thinking and working together.
Irit Rogoff, ‘The Expanded Field’ in The Curatorial: The Philosophy of Curating, London: Bloomsbury, 2013, p.46 2. Ibid, p.48 3. Siegfried Kracauer, ‘The Group As Bearer of Ideas’ in The mass ornament: Weimar essays, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Thomas Y. Levin, London: Harvard University Press, 1995, pp.143-170 4. Ibid, p.144 5. Jo Freeman, ‘The Tyranny of Structureless1.
ness’, various dates, accessed at http://struggle. ws/pdfs/tyranny.pdf 6. Stephen Wright, ‘The delicate essence of artistic collaboration’ in Third Text, 18:6, 2004, p.545 7. Terry Smith, ‘Thinking Contemporary Curating’, New York: Independent Curators International, 2012, p.30 8. Ibid, p.68 9. Curatorial Studio Object Writing workshop with Maria Fusco, 30 January 2016, CCA Glasgow
art system is slow-moving, in terms of institutional procedures, museological structures, organisational practices. It is constantly regenerated through the ‘fast proliferation of artworks and exhibitionary ideas’,8 which are increasingly described as emerging from curatorial work.
Kirsteen Macdonald Introduction
What have you read this year that has influenced your practice (i.e. your work/behavior/thinking), and why? Claire Walsh & Katherine Murphy
I’m about to travel to a remote area in Shetland for two weeks and have a tower of books to take with me. I suspect this intense period of reading (and re-reading, I usually re-read books at least twice) will affect my thinking more than what I’ve read so far. So, I’m just going to list what I’m taking -
Correspondence between Maria Fusco and Claire Walsh & Katherine Murphy
How can approaching as an amateur (as opposed to taking an amateur approach) be a positive creative process for a writing/editing/ curatorial practice? CW & KM
James Agee and Walker Evans Let Us Now Praise Famous Men Vahni Capildoe Measures of Expatriation Anne Devlin The Way-Paver Alan Garner The Weirdstone of Brisingamen Glenn Gray The Warriors Henry Green Loving, Living, Party Going Elfriede Jelinek Women as Lovers Thomas Lynch The Undertaking Máirtín Ó Cadhain Cré na Cille Flannery O’Connor Mystery and Manners Denise Riley Say Something Back & Impersonal Passion Saint Augustine Confessions Jean-Paul Sartre Being and Nothingness Gwynn Thomas All Things Betray Thee
Marshall McLuhan says that the professional is environmental and the amateur is anti-environmental. My understanding of this is that the amateur has enhanced mobility and the imagination to deny boundaries. Similarly Jacques Rancière, in his book The Ignorant Schoolmaster, speaks of intellectual emancipation through lack of localised knowledge. My understanding of this is that one should know the value of everything and the price of nothing. MF
You spoke about the concept of the ‘unreliable narrator’ in the session that you led with us. What do you think the role of the unreliable narrator is in a contemporary art context? CW & KM
The unreliable narrator is always sure, they are just pretending not to be. We as the reader/listener therefore, in their presence, are always not sure but are just pretending to be. This neatly illustrates that we must choose which we want to be. MF
How does the infrastructure that supports your practice here in Scotland compare to that of the other places you have lived and worked? CW & KM
This is hard for me to answer. As a writer I’m not sure how much I rely on an infrastructure to support what I do. All I require is a page and a pen. The best answer that I can give is that I chose to come to Scotland rather than to go anywhere else in the world. MF
Authority begins as a symptom or a reflex of comprehension Orit Gat
December 11th 2013 Cygnet, Tasmania Today I visited the South East Tasmania Aboriginal Corporation (SETAC) in Cygnet, Tasmania. For a month now I have been tracing the steps of Fanny Cochrane Smith, the last ‘full blooded’ Aboriginal Tasmanian. Using Smith’s biography I have been navigating a landscape completely new to me. Cygnet was Smith’s home in her later years. I was wary entering SETAC, having spoken to many Australians regarding Aboriginal history. I’d cometo realise this was a history in which many narratives remain in dispute and it is still considered a point of contention to even mention that you are of Aboriginal descent. I was interested in finding out more about Smith’s life in Cygnet, the location of her church and the historic Aboriginal sites in the area. The Centre itself offers many services such as health, education, and a community meeting point. Walking in I felt nervous. I explained my research and why I was interested in Fanny’s life. The worker at the centre led me to a back room and shut the door. ‘Many of us still don’t talk about our heritage, we have to protect ourselves and our community by making sure information doesn’t get into the hands of the wrong people.’ I looked at her, fearful I had come across wrong, ‘I didn’t mean to…’ She interrupted me, ‘There’s a hidden historic Aboriginal settlement site nearby. If you drive for an hour west and scramble across the high rocks you’ll come across a pattern that looks like this’. She grabbed a book from the side table and pointed at a photograph. ‘Move down towards the shoreline and you’ll see parts of the flat lying rocks have chipped…you’ll see sections of the rocks have been carved into tools, look for these.’ ‘Not many know of this site, it’s how we protect it.’
I’m making a wall drawing of a neolithic hand axe. I think you might be interested in how it relates to aesthetic intelligence. I really liked the approach you took to the text, an offer of another perspective and entry point for the work. It brought to mind an approach I took to creating a reader for one of my own shows, I wrote a fictional piece of writing in order to offer a lens in which to read the work through. I’ve always had a huge frustration with the art rhetoric that goes along with exhibitions, claims of what the work is supposed to achieve for you. I feel like we should be more trusting of aesthetic intelligence. Your approach to the text felt a lot more like it was adding rather than reducing and in doing so utilising writing as a form far more successfully. I liked your use of analogy with the graph and the way this allowed us to navigate and centre the text, in a way echoing the moment felt by the artist in front of the water. I learned to draw sketch graphs of equations, to estimate an answer to maths problems (shortcutting language or longform number work). I found I had some facility with this. I guess I’m interested in how we can position ideas visually or conceptually in a similar way. […] it’s interesting to me to think about the way language has structured and interfered with my practice (and) I’ve always been fascinated by the practice of others. Working in a curatorial context has, in some way, been an attempt to re-school myself in what practice can actually be. […] what you said about trusting aesthetic intelligence, this is the thing I think I have learned most about working alongside, even mimicking other artists and, by extension, is where i find myself struggling with my identity. I paraphrase...how language has structured and interfered […] there would be a lot of lofty conversation and at times it would get incredibly frustrating, I found an ally in my friend who also got annoyed at this (we didn’t really theorise it in this way at the time, hindsight is a beautiful thing!). We would communicate gesturally and sometimes become a little hysterical. It’s always really unacceptable and you have to continuously apologise for it. I wonder if it’s just another way of communicating a need.If language and the need to verbalise in this context allows louder voices to control, this leads me to the question, how can we allow all voices to be heard (in order to) undermine that form of expression. My live thoughts on this are that perhaps aesthetic language should belong to introverts.
I just got a phone call from my friend, he lives in London with his boyfriend and friends from university in a houseshare in Deptford. He was calling for a catch up. ‘How’s Jim?’ ‘Yea he’s good, I just left him to go to work.’ Kissing Jim goodbye on the corner of the New Cross Road, a loud horn sounded as the lights turned red. A large van with three workmen pulled up, they started to hurl abuse out the window at the two young lovers; words like ‘batty boys’ ‘fucking rank’ ‘gayboys’. Matthew walked towards the van window which had been rolled down to the bottom. He grabbed the window, pulling himself closer to the door he hissed with his eyes widened. There was a long pause as my friend stared at the men. The light had turned to amber. The men stared back. The light turned to green. They all erupted in laughter, the men exchanging glances of enjoyment and acceptance with Matthew. The van drove away.
May 7th 2015 Glasgow, United Kingdom I am sitting looking at Facebook on my laptop, my son comes through from the other room when he hears me laughing at a video online: “What are you laughing at?”. I show him the video, it’s the one where a woman’s son has just come out to her, and she puts on a big performance about how long she’s been waiting for him to ‘come out the closet’, she uses an actual closet, it’s pretty funny. My son laughs, but I know he doesn’t get the joke. I explain to him what it means for someone to ‘come out’; recognising as I do the responsibility in my hands to align the historical need for such an action, and the desire that such an action should no longer be required. I can’t remember what I said. I hope he understood.
We both seem to feel that there is an authority placed upon the verbal component or counterpart of a work, Orit Gat closes her essay Could Reading Be Looking (e-flux) with the words Authority begins as a symptom or a reflex of comprehension. Authority is what comprehension produces as a byproduct, almost, of the process of separating itself from confusion, I wonder what visual methods we can employ in order to redefine what this type of authority could be, and to whom it belongs. Authority begins as a symptom or a reflex of comprehension I may need to reply in questions, but I guess that’s ok...the above quote makes me think about which forms of incomprehension we might be ok with. I started to think about this in terms of religion offering a comprehension and in its widest meaning (this) could mean art, magic, church...and made we wonder if there was such a thing as being ok with a lack of comprehension. This led me to the word ‘belief’. What happens when you lack belief in anything… In terms of visual methods, I find this question incredibly interesting as it’s one I am asking myself whilst making some art work today. I’ve been looking at these ancient hammers and my research seems to be centring around the origins of language and what existed before. I have no idea how I’ll resolve it, but I might somehow through material exploration. I believe body language comes into it, I’m always very compelled to see ‘the hand’ in a work of art. I’m not sure why, the mark of that person I’ve always found incredibly confrontational and sometimes very scary...for example, I used to be terrified of watching footage of Andy Warhol, because to hear him speaking in a verbal language felt really intimidating. I guess when the person’s action comes before you hear them that’s maybe natural...I don’t know, have you ever felt this way? Your comments are interesting because they bring in a question of morality in the process of understanding. I have come up against the notion of a ‘fundamental truth’ when discussing ideas around philosophy or creativity with people with strongly held beliefs, which usually stops a promising conversation in its tracks. To suggest that it is ok for things to remain uncertain or multiplicitous can be interpreted as heresy, and when attached to something so personal as belief it can be felt as a personal attack or invasion of space. Conversely (from my understanding), the practices of magic embrace a sense of the unknown, chaos and creativity. This brings me to Sarah Schulman’s account of the static and closed narrative surrounding the New
March 23rd 2014 London, United Kingdom
Emmie McLuskey & Shireen Taylor
September 4th 2015 Isle of Eigg, Scotland I just created a series of objects and drawings whilst mentally piecing together strands of the practices of the artists Otto Piene and Baldvin Ringsted, who are in an exhibition I am organising next year. Later, I show them to Ringsted during a conversation about the show and he is enthusiastic. Yet, despite his encouragement to ‘do something’ with them I am hesitant. We do not know what this something is, these are not ‘works’, at least they are not mine. The conversation falters, the drawings move toward a graphic identity, a legitimate curatorial visuality. Two weeks before the show opens, the memory of these drawings enables me to articulate in text the dynamic between the artists that I feel, but cannot properly explain. These things then become what I can only describe as ‘research objects’, which have a kind of anthropological linguistic function that I can’t quite articulate.
June 12th 2016 Glasgow, Scotland As part of the Variations symposium at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), I’ve been programming as part of their Equality and Diversity activity, I wanted to promote conversations around who dance is for and what it can be. Specifically exploring access within the University. RCS’s Vikki Doig and I invited choreographer Janice Parker to lead a workshop with the participants of the symposium. Craig Simpson, a performer from Edinburgh led the warm up. Starting with both hands on our chests we moved slowly and with intent, mirroring Craig’s actions, no words were spoken. I started to notice. After some time I was brought back to my chest. My heart was racing.
York AIDS crisis. Our lack of understanding is written as a neatly closed portion of history, now finished, dealt with, ‘resolved’, which Schulman argues is far from the case. So, considering whether there is such a thing as being OK with a lack of comprehension, I would say that firstly we need to be aware of it. Secondly, perhaps we need to rethink the question, and forget about obtaining permission. [We were talking about how] it is incredibly hard to disentangle and quantify the labour of creative development from a daily experience of living: Maintenance and care of people seems to be a huge amount of the work I do but I wouldn’t want to think of that under the traditional forms of labour as it seems to put some sort of insincerity into the gesture. I thought this was really important, (and can apply to how we work as artists). For me, this raises two questions: 1) gestures from the heart, acts of sincerity, should we be able to seek a reward? 2) what if the differentiation of these types of labour was similarly fluid for people in all kinds of roles and professions? I really want to respond to that last part about visual methods. I think this is where we could really do something interesting. I would agree...I’m making a wall drawing of a neolithic hand axe. I think you might be interested in how it relates to aesthetic intelligence. […] they predate verbal communication and it is thought that the same part of the brain that you would use to make such an axe would have allowed you to create the first sentence, it’s the same in structure. They are also believed to have enabled travel as you could start to do activities that meant you weren’t tied to one place. This could be described as an emblem for what enabled us to create societies, or what we recognise them as now. [In the article you sent] Andrea Büttner’s re-use of Dieter Roth’s diaries to investigate the awkward relationship artists have with showing their work interests me because of his previous use of them to do just this. Her reading the diaries aloud, presenting them as recordings within an installation which includes references to her own body (in terms of voice and the shit-smeared grounds on the walls) seems to create some kind of void between how you read the relationship of the two artists’ to their work (I wonder whether this is where the magic of Büttner’s installation might lie). And considering Büttner’s beautifully crafted objects, would they occupy the same gap or silence as what I’ve attempted to articulate above? This is particularly interesting to me because I feel it connects
If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. Audre Lorde
with a compulsion I have when working with, or researching, other artists, which is to produce objects in order to articulate my thoughts around their practice. These objects are neither my work, nor a curatorial intervention, but somehow a process of visual or aesthetic contemplation. And this again relates to what you said about aesthetic intelligence. So I guess I’m thinking about the notion of a ‘research object’. Something that is produced as an outcome of visual articulation, but is not quite an artwork.
Emmie McLuskey & Shireen Taylor
After our talk about the hand axe, I was thinking about the hand’s connection to language, and the mobility that a tool provides. A few specific ideas cropped up.
Two weeks before passing his driving test, my brother bought himself an ancient Morris Minor for about £400. Over the next two years, he lovingly carried out repairs, eventually taking the whole thing apart and reassembling it. During this time, I hardly saw him. Eventually I decided the only way would be to go with him to the workshop and help in some way or other. We didn’t speak much about ourselves, he tried to teach me about how the engine of a car works, I only slightly understood. We were attempting to reattach the beautiful rear wings, resprayed a dark racing green, one of them didn’t fit. Discussing was getting us nowhere. I asked him to trust me as I removed my shoes, climbed up the side of the car, bare feet on curved painted steel. Holding the edge of the roof with my fingertips, I leant outward, hanging off the side of the car. The wing lined up perfectly, my brother riveted it back together and we never spoke of it again.
1. Language is a tool […] language could function outside of our experience of daily survival, and I wonder how this could be reflected in a contemporary context. 2. Language is characterised by movement We would communicate gesturally and sometimes become a little hysterical. I know at times when I feel a huge surge of misplaced energy I end up crying or in hysterical laughter. […] It’s always really unacceptable and you have to continuously apologise for it. I wonder if it’s just another way of communicating a need 3.To do a job well, we need the right tools The ideas and connections I wanted to explain to you were much clearer in my head, so it became necessary to include these images. [Images subsequently removed]
Summer, 1997 Devon, England
There is no place that the layers of the onions come to rest on some kind of foundation. Donna Haraway
Sheâ€™s using marble offcuts from previous works for her upcoming show. Heâ€™s started importing small quantities of alabaster, having recently learned some basic skills in stone carving from his studio neighbours.
Hers is a reductive, economical act, mining the remains for something left behind: exposing geomorphic layers. His is generative and gives life to translucent gypsum, reminding him that Barbara Hepworth had triplets.
The origin matters to each of them. He, drawn to the labour
implied by its presence in a studio: the excavation, the machinery, the emptiness defining the quarry, its weight as it is shipped across the sea from Italy to Scotland. She, alert to the process of renewal and the impossibility of the new.
They share the same spaces and tools, sometimes the same food, working by the same light.
* Lecture, â€˜Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planetâ€™, Aarhus University, Denmark (2014)
What have you read this year that has influenced your practice (i.e. your work/ behaviour/thinking), and why? Kirsteen Macdonald
I have to read a lot of texts and my gut reaction to this question was to be facetious and say that a sign on a toilet “PLEASE flush properly!” influenced my practice. I couldn’t tell whether the sign was directed at the person using the toilet (me) or was a plea to the toilet itself…
Correspondence between Anna McLauchlan and Kirsteen Macdonald
Which aspects from this analysis of bullshit within UK arts policy do you think could be adapted into ways of rethinking the infrastructure around arts practices? KM
policy practice and research: notes from the British case’. Drawing from the book ‘On bullshit’ by Harry G. Frankfurt (2005), the article sets out “the two central aspects to the notion of bullshit, namely, ‘mindlessness’, or a complete lack of concern with the truth on the part of the bullshitter (p.30), and the fact that behind any production of bullshit lies a bullshitter who is intentionally misleading his or her interlocutors so as to pursue his or her own interests and purposes (p.56)” (p.343). The article makes a convincing case that lots of claims for ‘the transformative powers of the arts’ are knee deep in bullshit. This is not to say that aspects of the arts are not valuable (whatever valuable means), but rather it problematizes the approaches to making a case for their value which resonates with me. The article ends by suggesting policy researchers need to possess “a built-in, shock-proof crap detector” (as cited in Postman 1969, p.1) – the debacle over ‘truthiness’ and Brexit indicates a broader need for these detectors across the UK.
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) bullshitting, and thus by extension there was more money ‘about’; whether through organisations commissioning work or employing people. However, very large amounts of capital funding (and you’ve talked about this before) were used to build (or remodel) and run iconic spaces requiring year-on-year grant funding for their continuation. So when you start to consider who and what attracted funding, the actual benefits for arts and many artists in relation to the overall spend appears more blurry (my perspective is based in visual arts rather than, for example, theatre). But, and I suppose this is the point, there is an idea that these larger spaces foster broader involvement in the arts, attracting new people, increasing the audience. Although this perhaps perpetuates the idea that art is made by special magical people and presented in a pristine space, it’s quite (sham) meritocratic, individualist and reductive. Alongside this, ‘style’ bars proliferate in arts venues and they seem to have little to do with art and more to do with high(ish)end consumerism. The solidity of some of those spaces meant that, in the face of subsequent cuts, they were likely to receive funding where organisations costing far less money but (and this may be assertion) having a more engaged role in propagating the arts, had their budgets cut completely.
Seriously tho, Susan Fitzpatrick just alerted me to a text by Eleonora Belfiore (2009) ‘On Bullshit in cultural
The article revolves around bullshitting as a way to leverage central government funding: many people involved in arts are completely engaged in their practice but don’t, and may never, make much money from it. So when funding is seen to be allocated to the arts my gut reaction is it’s ‘a good thing’. Undoubtedly, as Belfiore’s (2009) article identifies, many arts organisations were better off as a result of Chris Smith (former AM
However, the interdependencies between artists, artist run spaces and larger galleries are complex; certainly there are more places for work to be shown and all of this activity has had broader intangible influences. There are also questions of differing aspirations of particular organisations or artists – not being tied to certain policies or funding can be freeing. Indeed, many artists make so called ‘socially engaged’ work in associations with museums and other publicly funded spaces. As a result, I find ‘infrastructure’ a strange word and I can’t comfortably put
I’ve been thinking about the requirement for ‘attitude’ within curatorial practice even if it is inherently contradictory or ironic: i.e. global mega-exhibition critiquing social and environmental concerns whilst consuming massive quantities of resources and encouraging art audiences to fly in from far and wide; or the staging of the subjectively selected, institutionally restrained ‘overview’ exhibition of 25 years of Scottish art in Generation (2014-2015) that was bound by narratives of celebrating grassroots/self-organised KM
I find ‘infrastructure’ a strange word and I can’t comfortably put forward some grand plan for how things could be better
forward some grand plan for how things could be better. I suppose that brings us to a literal ‘rethinking’, a rethinking of how people are talked about in relation to cultural policy (in particular the pejorative framing of ‘deprived’ communities who are notionally the target of funding); alongside serious consideration of where money is directed to and why. But that takes honest self-reflection, and institutionally we may be too enrobed in bullshit for that to manifest in any substantial way. Also, the link between thinking (or rethinking) and action is questionable because, by definition, changing practice requires a lot of conscious effort.
practices. Is this something you recognize?
This opens up lots of lines of inquiry. Firstly, it parallels the tendency in mainstream politics to celebrate tangible grand projects, involving ‘tie-ins’ and huge amounts of money... ‘Olympics’. Or to proclaim the ‘world leading’ nature of policy initiatives. Gestures of greatness or ‘impact’ are also something increasingly encouraged in academia in part because Research Excellence Framework funding is based on school or departmental capacities to deliver relative quantities of (again) ‘world leading’ research. This can limit the ability of researchers to freely explore what’s actually going on because of pressures to determine (and declare) the importance of work in advance of actually doing it. Perhaps we need to “PUT THE ‘SEARCH’ BACK INTO RESEARCH”, Ha! AM
Secondly, your question illustrates the survey-centred or taxonomic orientation to select artists and position them as being relatively more important or historically worthy. Generally, this is associated with having huge amounts of information available, generating a perceived need to log and index all kinds of things, to sort them out. This classificatory approach is directly associated with the Enlightenment (I’ve also, perhaps ill-advisedly, taken this approach in my study of swimming pools) - it’s one way of organising material but there are other ways.
– but it’s too much to get into that right now.
You’ve spoken before about the problematic situation by which ‘the artist’ (and by extension the curator/writer/etc.) exists outside of conventional notions of ‘work’ and ‘labour’ leading to an identity that operates as a mode of ‘being’. Could you expand on that idea? KM
I think that I (and we) are formed from the practices that we undertake day to day. Those practices, what we do, are mediated by spaces, objects and other beings (people, animals, the stand off with the large spider as AM
I lay in bed last night…). Interactions are also guided by what others think (and what they think they know) about us, even where such ‘priors’ are a projection based on looks (particularly through growing digital archives), sound, how we move, smell. For me, thinking in terms of ‘modes of being’ changes my understanding of and allows me to question broader classificatory processes. It counters cynical discourses, and indeed a lot of academic commentary, that imply all artists are striving for a ‘success’ fantasy which involves making lots of money, naively thinking they’re somehow going to ‘make it’. Many people I know are actually involved in reconfiguring, sometimes in a quiet way, traditional understandings of work and labour in and through how they live. Invoking ‘modes of being’ perhaps acts as a reminder for me to do things I enjoy, or to learn to enjoy the things I do: then as much as possible I am formed from enjoyment. Enjoying moving my hands to make, and physically thinking through making: baking, puttying the kitchen windows at my mum’s house, typing, the spate of eating and sharing vegan food with my flatmate (Curatorial Studio’s) Katherine Murphy… OR being involved in whole body movement, whether cycling, swimming or yoga, DANCING WITH FRIENDS. So – and this may be because I’m in a luxurious position – life can be about an intense physical engagement in the world, being with people, but also not being with people and getting into it. Somehow all of this seems to be disregarded by categorisations of ‘work’ and ‘labour’.
Thirdly, there’s ‘piggybacking’ or the opportunistic linking to other high profile events. Generation opened up spaces for artists and work all across Scotland, but the framing is strange; the 25 years tag line seems to suggest that there is some sort of inception date and that 1989 was an especially significant. That doesn’t tally with ‘events’ in Scottish (Glasgow) contemporary art such as The Third Eye Centre opening in 1974 or Transmission in 1983. So the prime motivator for this survey seems to be the Commonwealth Games 2014 in Glasgow. And that gets us to yet another question, the relationship between art in Glasgow and art in Scotland
Correspondence between Anna McLauchlan and Kirsteen Macdonald
There’s an interesting unfinished David painting in the palace - “Sermon in the Jeu de Paume”. The figures are all drawn with great care in the nude - if you look carefully, you can see faint indications of elaborate clothing that would cover up all but head and hands.
This description was written by Ted Odling in a letter to his friend Harry. The painting ‘Le Serment du Jeu de Paume’ (c.1790-1794) by Jacques Louis David, is part of the collection at the Château de Versailles, Paris. Known in English as ‘The Tennis Court Oath’, the painting is an example of ébauche; a technique where the preliminary sketch is drafted in detail although it vanishes in the making of the work.
She is born on April 6, 1917 in Lancashire, England. She says that after Max Ernst is interned by the French and then by the Nazis, she has a nervous breakdown, refuses to eat and flees to Spain, where she is incarcerated in an asylum.1 She is given convulsive therapy and treated with the drugs Cardiazol, a powerful anxiolytic drug, and Luminal, a barbiturate. She is released into the care of a nurse who takes her to Lisbon. She runs away and seeks refuge in the Mexican Embassy. As she cleans herself obsessively, she becomes more certain that she has metaphysical power over the world.2
Nusch arrived in France as a stage performer, variously described as a small-time actress, a traveling acrobat, and a "hypnotist's stooge". She met Paul Éluard in 1930 while working as a model, married him in 1934, produced Surrealist photomontages and other work, and is the subject of Facile, a collection of Éluard's poetry published as a photogravure book, illustrated with Man Ray's nude photographs of her. Nusch worked for the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. She died in 1946 in Paris, collapsing in the street due to a massive stroke.6
One of her early paintings is the mysterious ‘Self-Portrait’ (c. 1937–1938), where the artist depicts herself in a domestic interior, extending an open hand to a female hyena. In her painting ‘The House Opposite’ (1945) female figures move through floors, change into trees, and mix a mysterious potion in a cauldron.3
Born in 1906 as Maria Benz in Mulhouse, she moved to Paris in 1928 and worked as a hypnotist's helper to earn a living. In 1930, while wandering through central Paris, she was approached by the Surrealist poets René Char and Paul Éluard – whom she married four years later. She is believed to have made Surrealist collages while battling with insomnia – works described by Timothy Baum, a New York-based art dealer, as "exquisite".7
In the 1970’s she is a founding member of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Mexico. Her novella ‘The Hearing Trumpet’ (1974) is set in a home for (disgraceful) old ladies; its 92-year-old heroine has a “short grey beard which conventional people would find repulsive” but which she personally finds “gallant”.4 She is a performance artist of domestic Surrealism indulging in such stunts as serving guests with an omelette made from their own hair, cut while they slept. She continues these experiments in domestic performance Surrealism in Mexico, inviting random strangers to dinner, picked blindly from the phone book.5 She died on May 25, 2011 in Mexico City.
Valentine Penrose wrote surrealist poetry, although she is perhaps best known for her biography of the serial killer Erzébet Báthory. Her poetry reflects her experience of automatic writing8, collage and painting techniques such as Max Ernst’s frottage9 and Wolfgang Paalen’s fumage10. Penrose was interested in female mysticism, alchemy and the occult. She met Count Galarza Santa Clara11 in Egypt, a master of the esoteric, and made several visits to his ashram12 in India. In 1936 she made an extended visit to India with the poet and painter Alice Paalen. They become very close and their relationship is shown in their poetry from 1936 to about 1945. From 1937 she started writing on lesbianism, always with the same lovers: Emily and Rubia. Penrose made surrealist collages. She joined the French Army in 1940. She died on 7 August 1978 in Chiddingly, East Sussex, England, in the house of her ex-husband.13
Her childhood nanny is said to have been sent to Spain by submarine (her father knew Churchill) to check on her 2. ‘“I have no delusions. I am playing”—Leonora Carrington’s Madness and Art’, Joanna Walsh, Verso Books blog, 09 October 2015, http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2275-i-have-no-delusions-i-amplaying-leonora-carrington-s-madness-and-art 3. https://www.nationalgalleries.org/whatson/exhibitions/surreal-encounters/highlights-23677 4. ‘Leonora Carrington: wild at heart’, Charlotte Higgins, the Guardian, 28 January 2014 5. “I have no delusions. I am playing”—Leonora Carrington’s Madness and Art’, Joanna Walsh, Verso Books blog, 09 October 2015, http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2275-i-have-no-delusions-i-amplaying-leonora-carrington-s-madness-and-art 6. ‘Nusch Éluard, horoscope for birth date 21 June 1906’, http://www.astro.com/astro-databank/%C3%89luard,_Nusch 1.
These short biographical texts come from research on the theme of ‘Women in Surrealism’ for a curatorial project I am working on at the archive of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. I am interested in how identity is constructed from scarce information and how spectacular details from the lives of these and other female artists (Carrington’s childhood nanny travels to Spain on a submarine to find her during the Second World War; Éluard grows up in the circus; Penrose chronicles the life of Hungarian countess Erzébet Báthory (1560-1614), a mass murderer who bathed in the blood of her murder victims hundreds of young peasant girls - in the hope of preventing the aging process) are used as a means of preserving and perpetuating their legacies; as opposed to discussions of how their work is situated within art historical narratives. Haunted by the ghosts of famous men and the surrealist romanticism of female madness, these texts (a patchwork of existing biographical narratives) explore ideas discussed at Curatorial Studio; of voice, perpetuation through referencing, and biography.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nusch_%C3%89luard 8. Automatic writing is said to be produced by a spiritual, occult, or subconscious agency rather than by the conscious intention of the writer. 9. Frottage is the technique or process of taking a rubbing from an uneven surface to form the basis of a work of art 10. Fumage is a surrealist art technique popularized by Wolfgang Paalen in which impressions are made by the smoke of a candle or kerosene lamp on a piece of paper or canvas. 11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Count_Galarza_Santa_Clara 12. Traditionally, an ashram (or ashramam) is a spiritual hermitage or a monastery in Indian religions. Today the term ashram often denotes a locus of Indian cultural activity such as yoga, music study or religious instruction 13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine_Penrose 7.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the metaphor of diving that you use to describe your research practice, in relation to the context or aether, of the water and the sea. What struck me is that if we were going through water, we’d experience a slowing down through the resistance that builds up. Maybe the sea resists agency and maintains its force in the field; everything at the mercy of the waves, and the conditions. As an alternative I’ve been trying to develop a metaphor that can dislocate these things from an aether and try to think about them as spheres, planets, orbits performing gravity in a cosmic fashion. Can you talk to me a little about where the metaphor of diving came from, and the relationship your practice has to the context of the ocean? Is this aether important to the way in which you work, for example in the research you develop and connections you make between spaces? Gordon Douglas
Conversation between Viviana Checchia and Gordon Douglas
The ocean as a metaphor for the contemporary art system comes from a description by sociologist, Pascal Gielen. He describes the art system as a flat land, a wet flat land where people are surfing. When he describes it, it’s rather negative; the surfers are just using the waves in order to get to a specific point. Then once they get there, they leave because they want to catch another wave; they surf around, and they don’t know where they are, because they have forgotten where they were before. Gielen not only describes a dysfunctional contemporary art system, but also the habitual human attitude of only caring about the wave when you are surfing it. Once the wave subsides, you’re not trying to think about what that wave was, and what really happened. My point is that if we want to use the water and the sea as the metaphorical context, then I’d say I was a diver. I don’t want to be a surfer and I don’t want to operate as a surfer. Like everyone, I’m covering different jobs and working different profiles, which is a bit like a surfer. I understand that. The reality of the work I do as a curator though is rooted in research, diving into data, people and culture. The in-between spaces, those points between destinations are the most interesting to me. I don’t understand that idea of forgetting about the wave you were just using, that sort of connection to the context is the thing that makes my work what it is. So I operate in exactly the opposite way to the surfer. I value where I am, how I got there, and the forces at play in that. So it’s definitely important to understand where I’m diving and where I’m going. Of course the water is still moving, it is not a fixed object - the water is interesting as a context in this way. Its currents are moving round globally, you try to fix your point, orient yourself and be very specific about diving several times in that part of the sea. Of course, the sea moves, and sometimes you find things that you weren’t looking for, and that’s part of it too. The diver is the versus of Gielen’s surfer, it’s the navigation beyond his flat, wet surface. The parallel you’re suggesting, a parallel more connected with the light and stars, is different because it doesn’t provide a resistance. There’s nothing to push against, things don’t sit next to each other, and because of this, energy isn’t passed on the same way, there’s no friction! What is the position of the curator in outer space, in a vacuum? Is it even possible to have any kind of position in a vacuum? It reminds me of something from my teenage years, from middle school. Religion was not compulsory, but I was doing it. During the second year of that school, the priest explained to us how teenagers ‘should’ behave. He described the teenage years as a period where we would start to develop friendships, satellites around a central planet which of course represented our families. And all of these orbits change, as we progress through life, but we should never lose that central planet because family is the single most important thing. Of course, this was all indoctrination and I know that now. But what I was more questioning of at the time was why we needed to be an astronomic entity at all, why contain ourselves to a planet or a satellite. Something like that is kind of fixed, locked into an orbit, into a trajectory. Maybe that is the position that you would take if you were to apply this metaphor, one in a universal network of gravity. Rather than being a physical aether, there’s an influence, or physical laws on movement built on weight. Why not appreciate our lives as a rogue star which is out of sync, sometimes it’s there but you don’t see it, or a comet even? The planet and its gravity, seem to undermine the potentiality of the light, the luminosity, the passage, a different perception of the interaction that you have in the contemporary art system. But still I would say the metaphor of the diver is much more useful in helping me to position my practice: the context, the conditions, the circumstances of research and thinking about how we relate to these things. Viviana Checchia
Yutani Hisae had forgotten her notes. She felt lost without them, the hazy impressions she had of the past weeks work wholly inadequate, not just because of her own high standards but in practical terms. It set the research back and would annoy her colleagues. She was supposed to type them up as she went, but in the light of recent events a lot of things had fallen by the wayside. She stifled her frustration as she transited through Taipei Airport, suppressing anything that might mark her out as anxious or agitated, willing herself through security. Sit in your chair with your legs up and crossed. Place your arms on the rests and, using your core, lift yourself out of the chair. Hold your body in this position for up to 20 seconds or longer before slowly lowering yourself back down. In the lab the slime mould had spread significantly further in the night and its thin film of plasmodium had reached nearly all the oat flakes placed at strategic points on the petri dish. A delicate network of yellow tubes had begun to define themselves, branched out like capillaries, though if there was a logic she couldn’t see it yet. There were tentative lateral veins that might have been links between the oat flakes, but the tubes were mostly radial, reaching out in every direction. WE WILL FABULATE ENDLESSLY, MUDDYING THE WATERS WITH OUR SPECULATION, PRODUCING MODELS OF SUCH SEDUCTIVE POWER THAT YOU WILL LOSE SIGHT OF OBJECTS AND ACTIONS. WE WILL SEDUCE YOU WITH NONLITERAL FIGURATIONS, PRODUCING TERRITORIES SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH THEIR MAPS, CONSUMING YOUR LOGIC WITH BEAUTY.
Yesterday’s milk was sour and it had curdled in Hisae’s coffee. Caffeine-deprived, she made her way to work from her home in the outskirts of Sapporo by train. Taking the journey daily, she had to remind herself to notice things along to way, to appreciate the details. She thought about her fellow commuters in other cities, making parallel journeys, with similar routines. Her mind drifted to Tokyo, the daily patterns of travel from Kimitsu, Asahi, Atami into the centre of the metropolis and out again. Her neck was stiff from an awkward night’s sleep. She bent it until her ear touched her left shoulder and held it there for a few seconds, before bending it the other way. The man opposite lowered his gaze when Hisae caught his eye. Stand up. Support your lower back with your hands and gently arch back. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. 16 hours into the experiment, the network was visibly establishing itself. Having successfully foraged for food, Physarum polycephalum had resolved into a tubular network linking the oat flakes through direct connections, intermediate junctions and the formation of occasional crosslinks, improving the efficiency and resilience of the system. Strategically placed illumination simulated difficult terrain such as mountains, valleys and lakes, the plasmodium avoiding bright light. The distributed intelligence of the slime mould was there to see: an adaptive network. After countless successive rounds of evolutionary selection, the organism had reached a point where energy expended, efficiency, and resilience were balanced in a way that mimicked the anthropogenic efforts of Tokyo’s town planners. WE WILL BLINDLY GENERATE COMPLEX FRAMEWORKS OF THOUGHT, FORMING PROBLEMATIC MODELS WHICH DICTATE FUTURE DIRECTIONS OF TRAVEL.
Hold onto the chair with hands either side. Straighten one leg and lift your foot a few centimetres off floor. Rotate your foot and ankle both ways (point toes up) and extend (point toes down). Repeat several times per foot. Having recently transited through Tokyo, she was taken to one side and scanned for radiation, particles from the disaster at Fukushima hopelessly clinging to her, depositing themselves through the transport network as she travelled. She was stuck with this radiation. She could only wait as the airport staff confirmed the dose she had absorbed had been low enough for her to continue, stony-faced personnel consulting the data on her blood chemistry. Charts and readouts of her toxin levels cast a blue-white light on their faces as they scrolled. Eventually she was allowed through, her annoyance bubbling under the surface as she headed for the bar in the departure lounge.
She felt an overwhelming urge to eat the mould.
Nick Thomas Foraging
~~~ sources: Jenna Sutela, Timothy Morton, Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Physarum polycephalum
Sit up straight, face forward and repeat this sequence several times without moving your head. Look up, then down. Look left, then right. Taking off her glasses, she crouched down at the level of the petri dish, looking out over its alien topography. It was a strange way to make an architectural model, she thought, though she liked its abstraction. The mould was almost parodically monstrous, its tendrils sprawling out from the central node representing Tokyo. She imagined the tubes splitting open, whitish-yellow fluid spilling out over Shimbashi, through the streets of Roppongi, flooding the Buddhist temple in Anakusa. She stood up quickly and interlocked her fingers behind her back, pushing both arms backward to stretch her chest, then held her hips and bent over slowly, first to her left and then to her right. She still felt a little pain in her chest. WE WILL SCATTER INNUMERABLE SPORES OF INADEQUATE INTELLECTUAL PARABLES, INFESTING YOU WITH SUB-PAR THESES AND HALF-BAKED BLOG POSTS.
blues or bleus
It begins with an object. Positioned on the floor, poised on a shelf, lost in your bag – empty clothes shed from a body, bundles of paper read and written on, a photograph of someone when they were young, that shocking echo of your voice on a bad phone line. Suddenly, I see these things. I really see them. Ready-mades, finds, specifically commissioned, conjured by accident, poured things, tied, dried, folded with words attached for added dimension. Everyone describes experience differently. Your moment is not my moment. Even if we are all describing the same thing it might not be recognisable at all. In my mind things are always in the ‘right now’. That is not always the case for everyone. Every efficient cause acts through its own power, which it exercises on the adjacent matter, as the light of the sun exercises its power on the air. And this power is called “likeness”, “image” and “species”.1 It’s so easy to get carried away with language when looking. Words come more naturally than other things, come and go and take over. Pairings of objects and things with words have the power to manufacture the most peculiar machines of meaning. A dense sound-object can be created from the simplest means - by my interest in the word blue as it is spoken, “blue”; like blow with a different mouthfeel. Then typed fanatically, furiously. This performance is utmost in its attempt to be not so. My fingers hurt, my neck was stiff, my head was vague. What was I thinking? The mistakes were frequent and funny; a zigzagging score with recurring motifs or an alphabet of new letters that remain meaningless till we name them with words. I can offer you something here; transient residues make the notion of possibility, small gestures aid the process of recognition. A sense of distance offers a puzzle. Inside for outside, right for left, up for down, flat for round. We don’t look at each other in the eye for too long because we like the distance. Distance can renew the influence of the imagination in the absence of objects. Material emanates like light from the objects of our imaginings. The images broadcast by objects influence our senses forever. Sense is a species of sorts. This species produces every action in the world, for it acts on sense, on the intellect, and on all matter of the world for the generation of things.2
Robert Bacon, quoted from David C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago University Press, 1976), 113 2. As above 1.
Lauren Printy Currie commissioned by Katherine Murphy
An offering Conversation between Lauren Printy Currie and Katherine Murphy. Glasgow Sculpture Studios 13th September 2016
In order to articulate and demonstrate my understanding of the curatorial, I called upon artist Lauren Printy Currie to engage in intimate conversation. Openly we discussed embedded practice, revealing moments, objects and sculpture, materiality, poetry, performance, literature references, reflective writing, indiscernibility, feminism and femininity. We shared moments of professional and personal reflection. Laurenâ€™s ideas and approach to practice resonate with my interests and concerns. I was keen to collaborate with Lauren and following our discussion she responded with an offering of blues or bleus. We both felt this text performed an insight into our conversation and promise for future exchanges. Katherine Murphy
Warrington Bank Quay 29/07/16, 20:22 (10 minutes delayed) I’m looking out this train window, dragging in to Warrington Bank Quay. I’m travelling backwards on the quiet coach, seat A40, on route to Glasgow Central from London Euston. There are no unreserved seats in this carriage. The Unilever detergent manufacturing plant leans over the station, a monument to industry, its design is international; five silos tower overhead, each decorated with a constellation of blue Matisse-like cut-outs. Hans Ulrich Obrist writes about trans-European train journeys, as though they are some romantic respite from his ceaseless productivity; a caesura in doing that opens the gates for thinking. The worst part is that he might not be wrong, though I’m fairly confident the train from Zürich to Sils Maria is a wholly more transcendental experience. Nietzsche did not have a summer home on the West Coast Main Line.
Wigan North Western I’m looking out this train window at other windows: the features in a row of two-up two-downs pressed cheek to cheek, the UPVC eyes on a Blair-era new build, the rare oculi on unending planes of corrugated steel. I’m thinking about windows, I’m thinking about these punctures in an infrastructure. Attempts at invisibility. Moments of reveal. Punctures. Lenses. Gaps.
Preston I’m looking out this train window at the windows above. The building was built in 1880, using the technologies of iron, steel, and glass; natural light streams from panes in the roof, patternating the now-concrete platform. In 1880, 632 years after construction began, Cologne Cathedral was also completed. Completion, however, is a scalable notion; the vast architecture of the cathedral is never closed, it continues to invite addition; in 2007, Gerhard Richter designed a new 1220 sq ft window for the south transept. The belief in flux once extended to the fabric of the building. Until very recently, it was thought that glass is a slow-moving liquid. Scholars observed that antique windowpanes are thicker at the bottom because, over several centuries, the glass had flowed. Reasons of constructional practicality are now alleged to account for this phenomenon; glass was produced unevenly and would be installed respectively. This reasoning, however, does not attest to a binary understanding of materiality; the non-liquid state of glass does not imply solidity.
Lancaster, Oxenholme For now there is another binary: Of the amorphous and the crystalline. Rhizomatic-arborescent primary In the image of polymer design.
Marcus Jack Live action allegory construction, edited.
When liquids cool they may crystallise But glass, the reflector, remains unformed. I too, the curator, soliloquize, Occupying a labour-shaped space adorned. To crystallise is to fix geometry, To create limits and limited functions, To impose inadequate orthography. The amorphe instead empties assumptions. Vitrum an ineffigiatus solidum. Two myths: Ghatanothoa and Der Golem.
Penrith North Lakes Break
Carlisle reveal protect magnify frame be framed attempt transparency (after Walter Hopps)
In August 2016, Curatorial Studio asked curator Grant Watson to screen and form a discussion around his ongoing project How We Behave (HWB). Watson wasn’t part of the discussion but we interviewed him both prior to and after the workshops.
The How We Behave interview by Michel Foucault in Vanity Fair in 1983 which I first read around Grant Watson
4/5 years ago, was the text that really influenced and generated the How We Behave project that you showed as part of your curatorial discussions in August. This interview encapsulates a whole body of work by Foucault from the early 1980s which was concerned with the ‘care of the self’. It is interesting because in it he gave a schematic presentation of his ideas around the ‘care of the self’, concerning ethics, around questions of contemporary subjectivity and also in terms of politics – a contemporary form of what he calls a ‘politics of friendship’. The question I am concerned with in How We Behave is how do people define a sense of their politics from their subject position? There’s a line in a lecture by activist and academic Angela Davis where she talks about how, despite feeling very disconnected from political agency, the particularities of our life always open up the possibility of political action. It is an inspiring thought, that if you look at your life and can make an analysis of it, you can see where you might be effective politically. There’s another interview that was important for me which is called ‘Friendship as a Way of Life’; an interview in Le Gai Pied French gay magazine in 1981. This was one of the first interviews where Foucault starts to talk about homosexuality and gay politics. He reflects on the gay liberation movement that he was observing in San Francisco. He questions normative impulse to do with
integrating homosexuals into society or defining them in a certain kind of way so that they become a distinct subculture. He observed that immediately after the gay liberation movement there were no templates for how to live your life or for how you might relate to other people. These things had to be invented. What happens in that situation is that people start to form completely unexpected kinds of relationships with each other. This was coming out of social movements in the 1960s where new family structures were being developed, people could live in different combinations but also in terms of race and class and income categories. A characteristic of gay culture is that relationships often form between people from very different backgrounds and Foucault thought those friendships had the most political potential, that they could activate new kinds of relationships that would de-stabilise society in interesting ways. So his emphasis is on the idea of the invention and the becoming that those friendships enabled. Subsequently one of the texts that has influenced my thinking comes from Leela Gandhi,who talks about friendship politics in relation to anti-colonial struggles. She makes an interesting link between certain kinds of politics to do with people’s position in the world. For instance, a feminist politics or a queer politics, heretical spirituality, food politics and other alternative ways of life, and she links this to how at the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th Century you had a lot of individuals who identified with anti-imperial struggles out of their own particular situation.
What have you read this year that has influenced your practice (i.e. your work/ behavior/ thinking), and why? Cicely Farrer
Conversation between Grant Watson and Cicely Farrer
During one of Curatorial Studio’s discussions around the project, while thinking about how we might consider the curatorial as a political act, we came to think more about the ethics of the How We Behave project alongside the politics of it… CF
I think that there is an ethics inside of politics. There is an ethical question of how to live your life which I think is also there in art projects and curating. The question of how do you relate to people? GW
Normally there is this situation where you have all these different people that you’re bringing into a project, and it is an important element of curatorial work, to think about those relations in an ethical way. It’s not that you’re just instrumentalising everybody – the artist, the assistant curator, the technician, the PR person, the audience – but you’re trying to form and think about these transversal connections between different positions. This is a little bit in this ‘politics of friendship’ mode, the idea that you don’t harden relations but you open them up to experimentation. Maybe that can segway that idea a little bit into the curatorial as opposed to the textual focus. Did you talk about that in your discussions, about relations in curatorial work?
We did bring it up - especially the relationships between you and the interviewees. We spoke about the idea that you proposed in advance of our workshop, that the HWB project set up a different set of relations between you, the interviewees, the institutions, the people within those institutions... How might you think about this in relation to the contexts of curatorial practice – did it mean that you navigated infrastructures differently? CF
All of them were a little bit unknown, so they weren’t pre-given relationships. GW
So to start with there was the relationship with the commissioning organisation If I Can’t Dance; who contracted me to be a ‘researcher in residence’. My commission was to find some document from the recent past and to explore it and this was when I identified the Foucault How We Behave interview. In the beginning we performed the interview at a conference and then we thought, why don’t
we do interviews with people, looking at the questions in the original interview, and asking the interviewees similar kinds of things. So we took the central question arising in the interview which is ‘Is it possible to think of life as a work of art as in antiquity - today?’ and somehow try to engage people in that question, not in abstract terms but really in terms of their own life. Frederique Bergholtz, the Director of If I Cant Dance, came with me and we did interviews together. Immediately this set up a different kind of relationship from a normal director to commissioned artist/curator relationship. The two of us collaborated; she took time out of her job as IICD Director to come to San Francisco, Sao Paulo, New York, Los Angeles and we would spend days interviewing people. Perhaps for her it also produced a new relationship to her work practice. In terms of the relations between the interviewees: at first we interviewed 82 people, and those relationships were open and complex in the sense that we didn’t really have a very clear or easily communicable agenda. It was again a slightly open structure and allowing something to happen with this. It was an experimental space. It was complicated because we had to convince people to participate and to take it seriously, and we had to have the confidence ourselves that even though it was open and experimental, it was also worthwhile. It was a learning process. By the third round of interviews we kind of understood what we were doing. At a certain moment the interviews really started to come together. Then there was the commission with the 10 people to make films which became one-on-one collaborations. Again it was a situation where we didn’t have a specific idea of what would happen – we had an open possibility of how it would ensue. It was this strange contractual relationship where we both decided that we would go ahead and make a short film together without a clear agenda. Then with the presentation of the material, the audience comes into play. Was there any discussion of the audience in your workshop?
We talked about how the videos would initially be experienced in a gallery context (for instance its presentation at the Showroom or If I Can’t Dance) and their installation. It was also important that CS member Fran Stacey had come across the videos in a different scenario because she had watched Kirk’s interview during a sex-workers’ workshop with Petra Bauer as part of a project at Collective Gallery. This led us to consider how the videos had been used again when you’ve been working with activist groups recently. There was also analytical and critical discussion around the aesthetic . Everyone in the group is an artist or curator so that’s almost a given; they’ll start questioning the constructed situation, the edit, the blue, the adlib nature, the position of the interviewees... CF
I think that’s our four questions used up! What I might do with the edit is play up certain elements or ideas that could be transposed into different situations. So for instance, engaging people in questions that require non-abstract responses, considering the relations of working and practice in an ethical way, or ideas of constructing an experimental situation where you don’t necessarily know what the outcome is but as you work through it you learn more about what it is… CF
Conversation between Grant Watson and Cicely Farrer
David Dibosa had a really nice term for it. He spoke about the project and the way that If I Can’t Dance handled it as an ‘unrestricted economy’ without an end point or product in mind. GW
Another question was in relation to this idea or term ‘peer-learning’ – a word that institutionally frames the Curatorial Studio project. I initially felt quite reluctant towards what it actually means and how it could be interpreted, but as we’ve moved further ahead with the project I’ve come to have a more tangible understanding of its potential. I was thinking about how you might interpret this idea of peer-learning in the HWB project?
The project was very much peer-learning though I never thought of that term exactly – it was part of my doctoral research, it was a pedagogic tool. I felt like I was learning from the interviewee/participants. GW
It was a political question, I was really interested to know how people formulate a political practice. It comes through these intimate stories and accounts of daily life, but nevertheless within those stories there is often this ethical and political dimension so I was learning from that. I supposed that’s something that an audience can also engage with. Through the interviewee’s techniques and ways of life, their particular bodies of knowledge and experience, they present useful tools to think about certain questions. Then when I show them publicly, there’s always a seminar or discussion in which its presented as ‘this is the material – what kind of discussion does it provoke?’. It’s dense complex material with many different interpretations so I think that it allows for this notion of ‘peer-learning’ to occur.
Thinking with the geological;* finding ways in which we can exist at difference.
At Siccar Point, gently angled strata of 370-million-year-old red sandstone and conglomerate overlie near vertical layers of 435-million-year-old greywacke. It is a geological phenomenon where rock formations created at different times and by different forces adjoin. Such Huttonâ€™s Unconformities are geologically significant sites where this junction between two types of rock formations can be seen. They hold a significant position in the history of geology following their identification by Scottish geologist James Hutton. For Hutton, Siccar Point provided evidence for a geological time that stretched beyond the biblical.
*at a time when the context in which I work is often defined in relation to an area delineated by a geological fault line.
Frances Davis Siccar Point
~~~ In Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape2 artist Andy Holden delivers an index of physics-defying behaviours common to the animated cast of cartoons. Whether rabbit, mouse, bird or coyote, familiar characters repeatedly take liberties with the impact of forces in their fictional reality; a cat in pursuit of mouse leaves a hollow silhouette, complete with whiskers, prismcut through solid matter; feathered prey use trompe l’oeil painted escape routes to evade their predators who invariably run themselves unconscious into flat rock faces, while halos of bluebirds remain the only physical sign of damage temporarily incurred. Presenting the video lecture, an animated Holden argues that cartoons were borne of the assembly line. Repeated acetate slides required animation artists to work on isolated frames to collectively feign motion. However, Holden further asserts that cartoon slapstick tropes are a product of factory workers’ broken association from objects, and uncanny encounters with anthropomorphic machines. The repetitive and episodic industry behind animation is revealed in Holden’s first law of motion; Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation. Adhering to this law, Mickey, Donald, Taz and Sylvester follow a well-trodden route beyond the precipice, through blue skies, until
elevated above a sheer chasm. In so doing, they inadvertently abide by the methods of production which brought them into being, as short repeated sequences layered over background. The animated body reveals a momentary glitch in its mechanics and dissociates from context as it continues to flicker through habitual gesture, to treacherous end. In the transition that follows, from waltzing forward – oblivious to the abyss of a canyon – to noticing their departure from the cliff, cartoon figures encounter the anamorphic. In this moment of acknowledgement, diametric perspectives collapse as the cartoon regains its internal logic; the audience shift their attention from the flat surface over which the figure skids, to the forces that pull the character back into a three-dimensional cartoon reality. Visually this is enacted as flat body stretches, feet drawn down by gravity suddenly acting and having effect, while regret holds their head alert, suspended in delay. Torso is spread like skull in Holbein’s The Ambassadors, a smudge over landscape abstracted from picture plane. Road Runner plays this trope to his advantage, managing in one episode to lure a sleepwalking Wile E. Coyote over the escarpment, before waking him with a chiming alarm clock at the opportune moment.
A term from quantum computing and quantum mechanics which refers to Schrödinger’s cat and the act of simultaneously occupying opposing states. 2. Animated video by Andy Holden for Glasgow International Festival 2016 at Hanson Street Project Space, Wasps Studios, based on a lecture performance by Andy Holden with Tyler Woolcott developed between 2011-2015 See: http://www. andyholdenartist.com 1.
Rosie O’Grady Cat State1
Egyptian hieroglyphs depicting a figure lucid dreaming attest that it can be mastered without gadgets and external stimuli. A skill innate to some, lucid dreaming can also be learned. The grammar of some indigenous South American languages makes inherent to speech the source and reliability of a report. The simplest distinguish between that which is first-hand knowledge and that which is overheard; the most complex specify how information was obtained – through visual or sensory experience, inference, assumption or hearsay. In a similar mindset used to employ patterns of speech which constantly determine relationship to source, the prospective lucid dreamer develops a capacity for this skill by exercising critical and specific analyses of how present experience relates to direct perception, memory, or imagination. Language can be used as a reality check by reading a short passage repeatedly and being attentive to whether it changes between each recitation. In ninety-five percent of dream cases, sentences will slur by third attempt.3 Other methods include recording a dream journal, reflecting critically on the content to identify recurring features, patterns and traits. Recognising and associating these signals with dreaming similarly alerts the sleeper to their situation.
Contrary to concerns that sleep is compromised by wakeful attention within dreams, lucid dreamers report feeling better rested as a result of shaping their dream tableau. Though consciousness is aroused and heeds the dream, it takes place in shallow sleep while the brain is already stimulated. With heightened perception, lucid dreamers acknowledge their surroundings as malleable and fictitious, and can exercise authorship over situations, actions and narrative. Existence in a world that doesn’t adhere to usual external constraints such as physics, etiquette and consequence enables the dreamer to explore uninhibited. A common activity in lucid dreaming is harnessing a natural instinct for flight. The dreamer effortlessly glides or swims through the air; sleep leading simultaneously to paralysis in reality and simulated flight. Dreams are built from secondary source; by acknowledging traits that commonly occur in dreams, the sleeper is able to recognise, manipulate and dismiss biased perceptions which colour their experiences while awake. Characterised by abstract narratives, dreams can be steered by the lucid dreamer to solve problems and rehearse real-life situations, such as public speaking, athletic trial, creative action and confrontation. Remarkably, dreamed activity uses the same neuron routes within the brain as if it were enacted in reality. Thus by occupying the contradictory asleep-but-conscious state of the lucid dream, imagined practice can be undertaken in ideal conditions and procure improved performance once awake.
http://www.lucidity.com/LucidDreamingFAQ2. html#realitytest 3.
Lucid dreaming can be induced through adopted daytime habits such as checking a wristwatch and asking if the time aligns with reality. This eventually filters into sleep; the habit a prompt to identify dream state. A market otherwise dominated by advances in memory foam, sleep quality is capitalised by designs such as the NovaDreamer, an eye mask with inbuilt REM detector, in which lights flashing through eyelids stimulate lucid dreaming in the sleeper who is trained to recognise this signal. The design develops upon research into potential methods of communication across different states of consciousness, and ways to trigger recognition in the sleeper.
~~~ Habits in practice can be challenged by adopting the antidote. Cultivating patterns of restoration, whether in posture, language, pace, hierarchy or social dynamic, makes us alert to conventions and conceit. Farmers let a field lie fallow for a season, in order to restore the soil from exhaustion, working formal patterns of crop – potato, oat, pea and rye – in rotation to alleviate the land of vegetable demands. Just as the perfect host is poised for employment (attentive, receptive, relaxed), the curator should be aware of their deep-furrowed modes and routines, and aim to be elastic. It can be easier to discern fixed habits and faults at a distance, by removal from professional context, though it is not easy to do so alone. Amateur pursuits provide strategies for being active and productive, aside from a professional state. The amateur gets bad press; the cohort are awkward, and unrefined. Shrilltoned trombones, pantomime disasters and wide shots on the sports court, amateurism conjures the baggage of haphazard practice in an expert field. While these associations may not be unfounded, amateurs might equally be credited as nurturing in their ranks some of history’s most significant innovators, activists and inventors. Many technological advancements are owed to the pioneering amateur who dedicates time, beyond the working day, to satisfying their querying mind. One recurrent feature of amateur practice is the social. While a group of friends may undertake collective amateur activity, more
commonly, companions are actively sought around a predetermined pursuit. In resistance to prevalent theory, which calls upon producers to recognise friendship as a structure that scaffolds their practice, an alternative strategy relieves existing friends of this burden, instead forming groups around the sole motive to contribute and reciprocate. No doubt friendships are formed within these networks, but intention is clear at the outset – meeting to build model rockets, to edit and address the content gender gap in Wikipedia, to read Finnegan’s Wake. Often amateur activity sits distinct from professional operations, occupying time available to pursue amusements and sidelines. However, making a habit of convening with peers in an amateur setting on subjects entangled in professional practice enables a group to rehearse for behaviours in work. There is pleasure in such group activity and, aside from any ambitions, coming together regularly, the group bears witness to the shifts that occur in the time lapsed between meeting. Ritual and commitment enable the group to focus and reference between sessions, making independent space in which to recognise and wrangle with assumptions and infrastructure. The challenge is to retain and deliver considered intentions from the informal and abstract, to the specifics of a professional context.
Rosie Oâ€™Grady Cat State
George Perec’s 1976 text ‘Notes Concerning the Objects that are on my Work-Table’ begins: ‘There are lots of objects on my work-table. The oldest is no doubt my pen; the most recent is a small round ashtray that I bought last week’. Observing the objects that occupy his cluttered desk, Perec studies them not as materials but as markers of his working habits. Paying attention to the rituals of rearranging, cleaning and clearing the stuff set upon the 1.4-metre glass table, he traces both the preparations for, and distractions from, a daily writing practice. He says ‘this rearrangement of my territory rarely takes place at random’, but bookends and punctuates others tasks. These private acts of maintenance are intimately connected to the work (writing) that will eventually become public. He contends at the onset that this study is ‘a way of marking out a space, a somewhat oblique approach to my daily practice… an attempt to grasp something pertaining to my experience, not at the level of its remote reflections, but at the very point where it emerges.’1 Today I am working on a laptop at my kitchen table. Its warm, teak surface is scattered with photocopied texts, a lolly stick, my mobile, house keys, a plant I frequently forget to water and a mottled placemat given as a gift that covers a water mark left by a leaky jug. I also have a smattering of notepads, which I carry around often, fearful of forgetting their contents. My work setting is tempered by distractions from a distance, as described by Mercedes Bunz: ‘today the global no longer needs importing from elsewhere… Despite being uninvited it happily visits us in the home office, where it sprawls unpleasantly on our laps: our work competes with visitors from the entire world.’2 Unlike Perec, the snatching of time to write between emails, cleaning, meetings,
cooking, and so on is a constant for me and other workers who take work home or for whom the idea of a shift has entirely disintegrated. In artist Frances Stark’s text, The Architecture and The House Wife from 1999 (which I have copied on pale green paper and sits by my laptop), a picture of a practice emerging within a domestic setting is articulated at length. Formed out of a description of her ‘home, office, studio’, which I have always assumed nods to ‘Notes Concerning the Objects that are on my Work-Table’, two characters – architect and house wife – operate as a schema to map different modes of artistic production and consumption, wherein the house is ‘a site of a series of simultaneous productions which bear no evidence of productivity – save for the fact that the home isn’t falling apart’3. Taking note of my own setting and the objects close at hand is not to posit an affirmative position on the domestic. To borrow the words of two other women, Maggie Nelson quoting Susan Fraiman: ‘Many feminists have argued for the decline of the domestic as a separate, inherently female sphere and the vindication of domesticity as an ethic, an affect, an aesthetic, and a public. I am not sure what this vindication would mean, exactly, though I think… I was angling for something of the same.’4 In Kathi Weeks’ essay Life Within and Against Work, she goes further, arguing against the collapsing of femininity and the domestic, articulating the ways in which work shapes subjectivity, moving beyond a struggle to expand the notion of work and untether it from the productive (and waged) subject, to state: ‘Once we recognize that work produces subjects, the borders that would contain it are called into question. It is not only that work and life cannot, be confined to particular sites, from the perspective of the production of subjectivity, work and life are thoroughly interpenetrated.’5
George Perec, ‘Notes Concerning the Objects that are on my Work-Table’, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, London: Penguin, 1998/1974, p.147 2. Mercedes Bunz, ‘The Power of Information: A Journey Back in Time to the Faultlines of Globalization, Art, and Media in the Early 1990s’, in The Whole Earth: California and the Disappearance of the Outside, London: Sternberg Press, 2013, p.172 3. Frances Stark, The Architecture and The House Wife, London: Book Works, 1999, p.12 4. Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts, London: Meville House, 2016, p.14 5. Kathi Weeks, ‘Life Within and Against Work: Affective Labor, Feminist Critique, and Post-Fordist Politics’, ephemera 7(1), 2007, p.246 6. Here I am paraphrasing Irit Rogoff, ‘Smuggling – an Embodied Criticality’, eipcp transform, 2006: http://eipcp.net/transversal/0806/rogoff1/en 7. Grant Watson, How We Behave, 2013 and ongoing – watched together at Curatorial Studio in August and discussed elsewhere in this volume as a conversation between Watson and Cicely Farrer. 1.
To return to my attempt to grasp experience ‘at the very point in which it emerges’ I am no longer sure that this kitchen-desk comprises the site of emergence, at least it’s not fixed here. My work is constituted in relation to others – be that artists, colleagues, friends – and emerges through dialogue and negotiation, often as a form of support. Mapping this would involve a longer study and like Perec who notices four objects that stick around over three years of writing, it would be important to take note of the ideas, artworks, texts, and struggles that remain constant or continually return – both the stuff at hand that is easily overlooked and that which holds attention or I live with. It would also mean noticing what falls away, what has been replaced in the process of learning something new. From attempting to sketch the objects on my work table, provisionally and in a few words, I realised quickly that I cannot separate everyday experiences from remote reflections, as Perec calls for in his initial conceit – where the emergence of a practice, in his case writing, is understood as processional with reflections following observations of lived experience. If we contend that our material surroundings and social, political consciousness are continually shaped by each other, a (critical) practice emerges as a mode of embodiment; a marriage of knowledge and experience.6 In fact, a politics emerges in the collapsing of the two or as Michelle Dizon says in ‘How We Behave’: ‘discourse has a material effect on our lives’.7
What have you read this year that has influenced your practice (i.e. your work/ behaviour/thinking), and why? Kirsteen Macdonald
The majority of texts I have been at work with in the past year or so – inclusive of artworks & exhibitions; archives & collections; conferences, symposia, seminars, talks & interviews; cinema & performances; and publications & journals – are related to my role as co-researcher on the three-year long enquiry entitled, Stretched, at the Valand Academy at the University of Gothenburg, where I work. Jason Bowman
The originating research questions were: What divergent modes and models, constellations and assemblages are perceived as constitutive of artistic practice when generated in, through, for, and by the field of artist-led cultures? What effects do these modes of practice generate? And, how may the intricacies and nuances of such artists’ actions, as stretched or stretching practices, be articulated via exhibition making, and described by publication? Its genesis attempts to identify and think through the dimensions by which the systems, claims and conditions of the artist-led can invoke and struggle for, but also with, artistic practice that has been expanded, extended and dispersed by hybridised species such as the artist-founder-administrator-curator-educator-organiser-activist-publisher-distributor etc. (I don’t yet know how to consider the artist-audience as it may perform in this equation). Overall, what I’ve promiscuously been looking at is a diverse ‘reading’ list ranging from the developing literature on ‘the curatorial’, informed by the work of Mick Wilson, Paul O’Neill, J.P. Martinon, Marion von Osten, Irit Rogoff et al, alongside similar endeavours like the developing literature on ‘the choreographic’ (Jenn Joy, Stefan Hölscher and Gerald Siegmund, Catherine Wood etc.). The latter is of interest to me in terms of the politics of work made visible in the present. I have read broadly, and perhaps too sweepingly to date on labour politics, cooperation and collectivism, but also psychoanalytic writing, such as Wilfred Bion’s work on the group as therapy and recently some initial literature from critical organisation studies. It has been meandering, but let me try to offer some examples and explanation. I’ve considered production, legitimacy, material conditions and reproduction, and the neoliberalism of work, life and institution through reading, amongst others, Walter Benjamin, Pierre Bourdieu, Wendy Brown, David Graeber, Bojana Kunst, Yates Mckee, Stevphen Shukaitis and Stephen Wright. A constant question is the
potential role for exhibition-making in researching the complexities and problematics of artist-organisation, its formations, administration and its effects. I began by questioning why the alternative and independent impulses of the artist-led (alternative space movement of the late 1950s-70s) are no longer seen as viable strategies, despite discontent with the commercialisation of art and its systems as an effect of the neoliberal project. I read a great deal of literature from and about the artist-run and artist-initiated particularly from the late 1950s to the mid 1990s to gain a periodic eye on its manifestation but also to counter any argument for the recuperation of secessionism. As I was paying attention to the question of ‘work’ and the neoliberal project, I thus wanted the research to become entangled with current discourse including the shift towards self-organisation, but also claims of art’s global systems further reaching towards relational, inter-dependent, pedagogical, socialised, collaborative and possibly politicised frameworks, including via the propositional nature of ‘the curatorial’. And yet, despite the constructive possibilities of these, their applications are also susceptible to being circumscribed amidst the pervasiveness of neoliberalism.
My thinking has shifted from the institution to the notion of organising.
In reading the literature on the curatorial, I thought it was being principally discussed in institutional-centric terms and, with a few exceptions, scant attention paid to possible precedents and current work in artists-organisation despite the impulses it purports in terms of socialities, pedagogies, discursiveness and politics. I began to wonder how this genealogical argument could be stretched, not just in terms of the future-centric position, but also backwards. I gained a moment of clarity at The Future Curatorial: What Not and Study What? Conundrum1 symposia at CCA, Bard (NY) . Curator João Ribas presented on the genealogy of the solo exhibition, revealing to me that when Nathaniel Horne took a shop in 1775 to display his art that the Academy had rejected, a complex entanglement of the artist-led, the pop-up, solipsism and the individuation of neoliberalism was inscribed, but long before the alternative space movement occurred. It was an influential moment that effected a transhistorical turn in my process from the Nazerenes to Black Lives Matter as it lead me to examine a series of potential prefigurations of what we may term, artist-organisation, such as the artist colony movement, the guilds, exhibition societies, intentional communities and artists associations that preceded the alternative space movement.
There are three primary researchers involved in Stretched: myself, an artist who curates; artist, researcher and educator Mick Wilson; and Julie Crawshaw who tentatively describes herself as a ‘planner-anthropologist’, with whom I worked on a project, Midwest, for almost six years, looking at artist-led infrastructure. Whilst I’m not trained, in any formal sense, in terms of the discourses of infrastructure Crawshaw is, since her PhD is in planning. We are currently employed at the Valand Academy, with varying hours dedicated to the project. We come to it with differing methodologies. Of different backgrounds and career trajectories, with colleagues from different places and of differing practices, in and outside of institutions and across disciplines, we have each presented at conferences and seminars whilst conducting the research. Stretched is funded with 3.75 million Swedish Kronor for three years by the Swedish Research Council. The grant covers staff time, institutional overheads and some production and receives internal administrative support. Crawshaw has been conducting ethnographic research with three artist-initiated projects in Sweden, which has also been informing some of the ways that I can be stretched by the thinking she uncovers, as an anthropologist working collaboratively, and thus open to the question of whether this may be a curatorial premise. None of her fieldwork is engaged with standard exhibition spaces or in major urban centres, one being a coalition of art and farming, another a film collective working inside a scrapyard, and the last being both a physical gallery space and a system for intergenerational feminist work. Wilson has been working dialectically on institution/ non-institution, exhibition/non-exhibition and toward various typologies of withdrawal, negation, retraction, strike and disappearance in art which is useful in terms of the question of the visibility/diffusion of labour and the hyper-temporalities of cessation, pausing, or genesis that ‘withdrawal’ implicates. It also raises significant questions about the nature of exhibition. Both their work is about to become even more prescient as we think more towards the question of exhibition. Kjell Caminha, who conducted an initial literature search for me, coordinates aspects of the project including our public seminars and cares for documentation. Caminha has also been convening seminars at Valand on Decolonialism, which I hope will also inform the project more. JB
I gain through Valand Academy’s research cultures, public events, conferences and seminars. After years of freelancing and being a projectarian the benefits of having a community of colleagues and researchers, highly experienced and nascent, is a privilege. The work of other colleagues, outside the Stretched team, such as Mary Coble’s on the organisation of defiant gestures in queer life and protest; Dave Beech’s on art and its institutions, economies and labour and Andrea Phillips’
scholarship on questions of administration, devaluation, and co-working is constantly stimulating. Phillips has also been supporting my thinking on the choreographic and dramaturgical aspects of exhibition making and the presenteeism of spectatorship, as an interest we have shared for many years. She’s also seen enough of my work, as both an artist and curator, over the years, as has Crawshaw, to have a sense of its strengths and flaws, but also as nodes that, at times, inform or confuse my work on this.
Valand Academy has been hugely resourceful overall, with its action in global networks including EARN (The European Artistic Research Network) and ELIA (the European League of Institutes of Art), the former supporting us to hold a seminar in the first research pavilion at the Venice Biennale. A current partnership, investigating curating via three symposia Co-organised between the LUMA Foundation with Paul O’Neill and Tom Eccles (CCS Bard, New York), with Mick Wilson (Valand Academy of Arts, Univerity of Gothenburg); Charles Esche, Alison Green, and Lucy Steeds (Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London); Simon Sheikh (Department of Art, Goldsmiths, University of London); Maria Mkrtycheva (the V-A-C Foundation, Moscow); and Guus van Engelshoven (de Appel arts centre, Amsterdam) has had major impact on my work on Stretched as I attended the first two of these symposia (the third is yet to come). In Arles, at the second of these, How Institutions Think? you and I began the dialogue we are now pursuing towards a forthcoming, shared colloquy in Glasgow. As I said, João Ribas’ presentation opened my thinking out, beyond the limitations of the artist-led, to this wider premise of artist-organisation. This shifted my attention to art historic literature on the Nazarenes, artists’ associations of the 18th-21st centuries, intentional arts communities via the artists’ colonies of the 19th century, artist-run exhibition societies of the 19th century, the artists’ guilds etc. This also allows for consideration of the organisation and administrative strategies of Occupy and Black Lives Matter, and the unsanctioned creative actions and interventions of Liberate Tate or Gulf Labor Artist Coalition etc. As I was revisiting Benjamin’s ‘Artist as Producer’, Wilson pointed to the ways in which artists are assembled around technological possibility. Whilst we know the histories of the Sony Video Rover Portapac in relation to artists-led initiatives, or the impact of the Kodak carousel on the tape-slide movement, or the Gestetner to activism, I wouldn’t necessarily have anticipated – without his probe – moving to investigate how the advent of the metal tube for oil paint interfaced with the development of the artists’ colonies of the nineteenth century, a point already considered by art historians.
Could you describe the infrastructure around this project and how this influences how you work? KM
Correspondence between Jason E. Bowman and Kirsteen Macdonald
Thinking about the Kodak slide projector revealed how Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency, in its early iterations as performances in dive bars, amidst communities represented in the images, involved the live shuffling, by Goldin, of slides and music as a possible form of organisational administration. This moment with Goldin was useful in going beyond some of the dominant work already done on the notion of organisation, and allowed me to think through some queer positions that could also inform the project such as Pepe Espaliu’s processional works, whereby he catalysed people to become informal and unconscious carriers of his HIV+ body in public space. From there, I took a lateral route to an interrogation of the notion of ‘grouping’, including considering the increased socialities of meeting that punctuates contemporary art globally. I rarely went to these, sort of purposefully, but looked at many videos and photographs of them in order to consider the modes of desire they invoke as negotiations between presence and absence, inclusion and exclusion. Informal moments have also been influential. A brief conversation with Lucy Steeds in a taxi really made me think about whether I thought there was any viability in arguing for the recuperation of secessionary tactics via the artist-led. I concluded not, but it still lingers – usefully as Wilson shifts his research towards withdrawal. Other meaningful serendipities have taken place. At a seminar I convened, curator Annie Fletcher discussed the complex infrastructural politics of realising Khaled Hourani’s Picasso in Palestine project. Months later Wilson invited artist Michael Baers to present his related graphic novel, An Oral History of Picasso in Palestine. The imaginative temporal formatting of these two presentations led to the invocation of a curatorial mise-en-abyme, reflective also of the actual situation of production for Baers’ work. This led to thoughts on the potential of mise-en-abyme as a mode of micro-organisation, of which I think this work by Baers is interesting. Friendship also informs and there are many examples, but after her attendance at our seminar in Venice, the Canadian artist Shelley Ouellet sent me a YouTube clip of Lucille Ball working on and collapsing the production line of a chocolate factory, which led me back to the class politics of time and motion studies and Taylorism, the fear of which I was raised amidst in a family history of mining and factory workers This tiny clip has also spurred some very initial research on the whistle, both as a technology of control but also of protest, the manufacturing of which in the UK still takes place, but in one lone factory.
What balance of focus do you give between the collaborative activity and the archival material involved in the process of research? KM
This is contingent on the nature of the project, but also in terms of what definition of collaboration we choose to employ. Crawshaw has actually been developing processes of collaboratively defining the scope of her research with the three groups she has been working with, which indicates an experimental and speculative approach towards an anthropology of artist-organisation, and its description. As a team, we next need to consolidate how we further co-inform. We have exhibition opportunities that are forthcoming that may provide catalysts for that. JB
In terms of ‘case-studies’ I have been ploughing through the collection of over 3000 pieces of ephemera of the disbanded UK inter-disciplinary collective, The Theatre of Mistakes (1974-81), which will constitute an exhibition at Raven Row in London in Summer 2017, which I am curating as part of Stretched. This has allowed me an in-depth interrogation not only of their works, but also of their modi between their generation of ideas and public manifestations including co-working that took place in isolation at a farm. This peer working resulted in self-generated manifestos, constant notation of the processes of brining works from inception to completion, but also correspondence that reveals arts’ infrastructure at their time of working. In my relationships with these differing forms of text, there are shifts between how I think of them as primary, secondary or tertiary sources. They often shift registers, directing and re-directing through their application to the research questions and in response to findings or further questions generated. My approach to artworks has been akin to using them as spoors towards the expansion of typologies rather than as direct content. Stretched perhaps started from a misguided assumption, or with the wrong parameters. A problem, identifiable retrospectively, was this engagement of the term ‘artist-led’, which circumscribed the initial premise, and awkwardly located it as relative to the alternative space movement. Within our current research, I am the only person, so far, who’s really working with archival material. So, let me also attempt to answer this in relation to the work I have been doing towards the exhibition entitled Accidentally on Purpose of the works and practices of The Theatre of Mistakes. This process also began via happenstance when I re-discovered their sole publication, Elements of Performance Art,2 as I moved home and unpacked books that had resided in storage. I personally knew one of its authors, Fiona Templeton, so initial contact was made. I hadn’t foreseen the significant ephemera that exists between the associates and core membership of The The-
atre of Mistakes. This ephemera includes many elements not just in the form of visual documentation of art works but also notational processes; manifestos as constitutions; documents laying out specific roles and responsibilities in relation to specific works; publicity materials and price listings for sale of works or performance fees; correspondence between the members of the group and external actors; objects, props and costumes; extensive editorial notes, corrections and alterations on scripts; and years of documentation of projects conducted at a farm in Hampshire where they experimented on new processes and honed existing ones. Here, they discovered ways to collectivise and institute socialities. This ‘stuff’ is plentiful and complex and demands immersion in order to even survey its contents and meaningfulness. With Marie-Anne Mancio, who is an art historian, several years of incremental cataloguing and scanning of this material has taken place prior to Stretched, where it is now incorporated.
My approach to artworks has been akin to using them as spoors towards the expansion of topologies rather than as direct content
The research is made public through a mesh of nodal activities amidst an infrastructural web of co-contribution. As Bojana Kunst has identified; that is in itself a condition of the increased role of meeting as art’s current work. Stretched will incur three exhibitions and I am thinking through how these may actually be propagative of research, whilst sustaining a contribution beyond some of the more introspective modes of artistic research. I aim to to develop methods and concepts by which to articulate the problematics in making public ‘the work’ that is, and of, artist-organisation. To get there, exhibitions I’m thinking about: potential formations of live, buried and disguised spectatorship via thinking through art and passivity, activity and proneness. I want to know how temporalities in curating can interface with absence, visibility and indiscernibility of artistic life and organisation, its coercions, misgivings and struggles. I need to find out by stretching taxonomies, typologies and genealogies multi-directionally through an axial of art and its administrations.
I chose to begin mostly with the remnants, as a way to be open to what may inform the making public again of their practices. And, it is purposeful that I say practices, as opposed to artwork, as the practices may include the artworks they made, but should not necessarily be limited to them. That’s a complex question in terms of curating itself – how do we make public the practices of artists that are inclusive of artworks, but not always limited by them? What forms of exhibition can make that possible? I can also suggest that the agency of the gallery, in this case London’s Raven Row, the artefacts at play and the members of the company and its associates, alongside periodic research are a mesh of actors that inform collaborative decision-making. That collaboration is considered as a human activity can be challenged by the role of things in exhibition-making.
The Future Curatorial What Not and Study What? Conundrum, 6-8 November 2014 organized by LUMA Foundation and CCS Bard in partnership with Valand Art Academy, University of Gothenburg; Afterall Books: Exhibition 1.
Histories and Central Saint Martins, University of Arts London; and de Appel Arts Centre. 2. Howell, Anthony and Fiona Templeton. Elements of Performance Art. The Theatre of Mistakes. London, 1976.
A challenge of making this exhibition is that I am curating live performances which I have had only limited access to, as the collective disbanded in 1981 and there have only been a few iterations of their work since, which I have been fortunate to attend. Our Faculty organises PARSE (Platform for Artistic Research Sweden) and at the inaugural conference Time, it hosted a workshop led by The Theatre of Mistakes instigator Anthony Howell, with creative participants from across the University and beyond. Howell re-activated exercises from Elements of Performance Art, in which I also participated and then performed at the conference. Thus for those few days and hours, the curator co-performed the artwork, whilst attempting to understand it, under the direction of the artist, and with co-participants.
Curatorial Studio Programme - 2016
Frances Davis Gordon Douglas Cicely Farrer Rachel Grant Marcus Jack Grace Johnston Maria Lanko Gemma Lawrence Emmie McLuskey Katherine Murphy Rosie O’Grady Frances Stacey Shireen Taylor Nick Thomas Claire Walsh
The Common Guild / CCA, Glasgow
Object Writing: performance, editing and curatorial practice
Anamorphosis: exhibition-making and interruption of art history
Group Reading / Taming the Elements: Object Writing workshop led by Maria Fusco / Case Study: Dahn Vo exhibitions led by Nick Thomas / Walk to Necropolis and Glasgow Cathedral led by Emmie McLuskey/ Roundtable discussion
Mihnea Mircan A Biography of Daphne research seminar at University of Glasgow / Group writing exercise / Roundtable discussion with Mihnea Mircan / Spiral Shots screening programme curated by Mihnea Mircan / Exhibition visits and performances at Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art / Group discussion
Defining a lexicon: translation, locality and organisational form Presentation on Curatorial Dictionary and Case Study: Yona Friedman (Architecture Without Building) exhibition at the Ludwig Museum, Budapest led by Nikolett Erőss / Individual and group presentations of new case studies written in response to Curatorial Dictionary / Public event on the politics and place of large scale reoccurring exhibitions with presentations by Nikolett Erőss, Sarah McCrory and Anna McLauchlan / Evaluation session / Movement workshop led by Anna McLauchlan / Writing exercises / Group discussion
FIELDWORK 2016: Not Every Tent is the Same Hospitalfield Summer School, Arboath programmed with artist Bisan Abu Eisheh, with contributions from Michael Rakowitz, Neil Cummings, Andrea Thal and her team at Contemporary Image Collective Cairo, Egypt and Curatorial Studio
Glasgow School of Art / Glasgow Sculpture Studio / Cove Park, Argyll Collective Imagination: The Social and the Civil Group discussion led by Shireen Taylor and Nick Thomas / Footnoting the Archive, event produced by Suzanne van der Lingen and Claire Walsh and workshop by Kirsty Henry and Debi Banerjee / Tour of Cove Park from Alexia Holt / Lunch with residents / Group reflection and planning August Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop
Dialogues and Monologues: Interviews and Conversation Shit Biography writing exercise led by Frances Stacey / Case Study: Grant Watson, How We Behave, 2013-14 led by Cicely Farrer / Close reading of Listening to Yourself by Lawrence Abu Hamdan led by Grace Johnson / Tour of ESW facilities with Dan Brown / Exhibitions by Sian Robinson Davis, Ralph Rubenstein with Maeve Redmond & Sophie Dyer and Kenny Hunter / Group annotation exercise led by Rosie O’Grady and Frances Stacey / Publication Planning Session
Living Out Ideas – Scratch Night with Curatorial Studio programmed by Gordon Douglas as part of Practice Makes Practice – A Social Residency at The Newbridge Project, Newcastle
September/October Pearce Institute / Glasgow School of Art / The Old Hairdressers, Glasgow Parting Shots On a Par?: colloquy on enquiry, working together and curating with Jason E Bowman, Mick Wilson, Andrea Phillips, Julie Crawshaw (Valand Academy of Arts, University of Gothenburg), Megs Morley (ParaInstitute), Ben Cranfield (Birkbeck, University of London), Curatorial Studio and Parallel Lines / Book Launch: The Curatorial Conundrum: What to Study? What to Research? What to Practice? with Mick Wilson / Living Out Ideas launch event with readings and performances from Curatorial Studio and Vanessa Brito (ESADMM, Marseille)
COLOPHON Curatorial Studio Advisory Group: Viviana Checchia CCA Glasgow Seonaid Daly Scottish Contemporary Art Network Kirsteen Macdonald Framework Mónica Núñez Laiseca Glagow School of Art
Publisher Curatorial Studio http://framework.parallellines.org.uk/ Editors Kirsteen Macdonald Rosie O’Grady Claire Walsh Design Romulus Studio http://www.romulusstudio.com Distribution Good Press http://www.goodpressgallery.co.uk
Licenced under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA Supported by Scottish Contemporary Art Network
Publication by Curatorial Studio with contributions from: Anna McLauchlan, Cicely Farrer, Claire Walsh, Emmie McLuskey, Frances Davis, Franc...
Published on Oct 24, 2016
Publication by Curatorial Studio with contributions from: Anna McLauchlan, Cicely Farrer, Claire Walsh, Emmie McLuskey, Frances Davis, Franc...