Having worked with Olivia Plender on a book about a whole body of work, titled Rise Early, Be Industrious (2016), I am delighted to be working with her again. This time we’re thinking through what it may mean to build a website for a practice as diverse, but at the same time very consistent, as hers. We’ll be working with designers APFEL, thus bringing other people I’ve had the pleasure of engaging with in the past in another configuration. Currently we’re considering structures, access and how to work with projects that are less visual, and where conversation and collaboration are what ‘happens’. We’re also thinking about how to build an index that in and of itself is an embodiment of how Olivia works as an artist with a research-based approach – where everything is connected to longer arcs of interest that alternatively converge and diverge – and the inclusion of a variety of mediums, without medium becoming a focus in itself.
For a recent conversation with Olivia, you can listen to this podcast, titled Learning to Speak Sense (2016), in which which she talks about ‘productivity and care, about suffragettes and museums, and about adolescence and schools. She looks at groups without charismatic leaders, embodied education, and the possibility of transforming errors in honest discussions. And she tells us about women gaining authority through voice training – the material aspect of speech –, and about how, sometimes unconsciously, we adopt a voice for which we feel socially rewarded’. This quote (from Radio MACBA) gives a flavour of the breadth of her practice, and the challenge of documenting and gathering its diversity.
Olivia Plender, Learning to Speak Sense, sound piece with hand painted instructions, installation view, Ar/Ge Kunst, Bolzano (2015)
The publication following the conference ‘Humans of the Institution’, organised by Anne Szefer-Karlssen and Vivian Ziherl is now available for download here.
In November 2017, over 150 curators, artists, thinkers and students gathered in Amsterdam for a symposium and working session that asked ‘who makes the present’ by foregrounding the freelancer in the arts and within globalising dynamics more broadly. Having been a freelancer for over thirty years, a topic close to my heart!
The gathering was grounded in the figure of the freelance curator and the multi-vocal setting produced a series of statements with concrete proposals and in-depth analyses, resulting in the book Towards an Infrastructure of Humans. For videos of the various talks and workshops, see the project website.The ‘journal’ compiles the written record of Humans of the Institution and is co-published by the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, and the Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, University of Bergen.
A belated post, but Curating after the Global. Roadmaps for the Present, the third in the series of anthologies published by The MIT Press in collaboration with CCS Bard is out. In many ways more complex than the two previous books in the series – The Curatorial Conundrum (2016) and How Institutions Think (2017) – all three combined provide an interesting overview of concerns, histories and positions in the ever-expanding contemporary curatorial field and its discourse.
Coming to the end of the series – and thus to several years of close collaboration with various people involved, including the editors (Paul O’Neill, Simon Sheikh, Lucy Steeds and Mick Wilson) and the designers (Julia) – I wrote a short text that closes the book (below the start and end of it), in which I (finally!) have the last word…
Things may seem to be quiet on the editorial project front. There is, however, a good reason for that: having immersed myself rather wholeheartedly in several book projects last year – one of which was rather complex, see here and the next post – the plan is to focus more on my PhD, as that was somewhat on the back burner. I am now trying to accelerate and make up for lost time, which is not to say that I am not doing anything else at all: am currently in discussion about working as an editor of an artist’s website. Having immersed myself in recent months in writing about the space of the book in relation to curatorial discourse, this will force me to also engage with the digital space and its potential as an archive and space of display of an artist’s practice. Too early to name names, but watch this space…
The Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts at the University of Gothenburg hosted its third PARSE conference over the last coupe of days (13-15 November 2019) focusing on the theme of ‘Human’.
Politically, culturally and theoretically, it is impossible today to navigate through the dense lattice of emergencies and urgencies without addressing the question of what constitutes the human, and by extension the inhuman, subhuman and non-human, as well as formulating an adequate response to the anthropocenic threat posed by the human against the planet. Organised to be deliberately transdisciplinary, the discussions were divided across six themes or tracks – with keynotes by Barbara Albert, Joan Anim-Addo, Maaike Bleeker, Joanna Bourke and Zakiyyah Iman Jackson – which include:
the inhuman, the subhuman, the body and inscriptions of the human (the contested universality of the human across the divisions of class, race, gender, trans, queer, ableism, neurodiversity);
the imperiled non-human (the Anthropocene, nature, ecological catastrophe) and the technological non-human and objecthood (tools, machine, nature, world of objects, OOO, robotics, algorithms etc);
the posthuman, pedagogy and the institution (anti-humanism, anti-anthropocentrism, critique of the humanities, the human produced by the university, knowledge and distinction, disciplines of the human);
human mobility and nationhood (transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, migration, human rights, personhood);
biopolitics, necropolitics and the governance of the category of the human;
decoloniality, post- and neo-colonialism (slavery, indigeneity, empire, desegregation, white Suprematism, white privilege).
I’ve been told that an upcoming issue of PARSE Journal will be dedicated to the conference, so am looking forward to essays winging their way to me at some stage. In keeping with the transdisciplinary approach PARSE has espoused, there will of course connections to previous issues. Meanwhile the website has had a further revamp (can’t believe I’ve worked on 7 issues already, i.e. from No. 3…)
Last night I had the honour, and in many ways the privilege, to open the series of speeches at Books Works’ Jane Rolo’s leaving party. After 35 years at the helm of Book Works’ publishing strand, having founded the organisation with Rob Hadrill in 1984, Jane is now on to other things.
I remember Jane talking about wanting to maybe do something else, develop new ideas – tentatively, possibly alongside Book Works – over ten years ago, when I was editor of a series of publications at this unique organisation. Over a decade later, she is finally cutting the cord. Now I am a member of Book Works’ board, paying tribute to her immense legacy was the least I could do.
Tony White captured the proceedings and a key phrase from my short exploration of what for me characterises Jane unwavering dedication – ‘critical care’ – neatly. Karen di Franco rightly called Jane a legend, because a legend she is. Gallerist Lisa Panting, who was a guest editor before me in the mid-1990s, and artist Helen Cammock, one of the many artists who published with Book Works, flanking Jane in the last pic, echoing similar sentiments.
While New Contemporaries is celebrating its seventieth anniversary this year – having been initiated by the Arts Council in 1949 – as well as the fact that Bloomberg have supported the organisation for two full decades, this year is also the first in which new writing is properly embraced as a form of artistic practice. This is not me having a dig at the organisation, on the contrary: it is a sign that with the adoption of publishing as a whole as artistic practice, and the proliferation of courses dedicated to writing as art, writing by artists as (part of) their practice has indeed gone mainstream and is now fully acknowledged as such.
Once again, I am working on the publication as copy-editor (the sixth year in succession, for those who are counting), which by extension is becoming a more fully integrated part of the ever-expanding range of activities that New Contemporaries as an organisation is undertaking, all to nurture and make visible work by emerging artists. It’s been great to see how activities now comprise a wide range of partnerships for different strands of its programming, including studio bursaries, residencies, a mentoring scheme, engagement with The Syllabus, opening up submissions to artists from non-accredited courses, symposia, and, last but not least, a collaborative PhD that explores the organisation’s own history with Nottingham Trent University. This year the exhibition – with work by 45 artists selected by Rana Begum, Sonya Boyce and Ben Rivers – will open at Leeds Art Gallery in September, before travelling on to the South London Gallery, where it was shown for the first time last year. Like the last two years, Hato are the designers.