Min(d)ing the Gaps

A couple of years ago artist Anthony Shrag and I walked and talked for an entire day (see a previous post). The upshot of that extended conversation was a collaboration around a text, which is now a blog.

The text reflects on an artist-in-residence project that Anthony did, and that, despite all best intentions from everyone involved, for him was a ‘failure’. While failure is something we’d rather ignore or not talk about, doing the kind of in-depth soul-searching about why the project failed that Anthony does here ended up being very productive. It is, as he underlines, not a matter of pointing a blaming finger to individual people or organisations, but trying to really put a finger on how systemic underlying factors and mechanisms, or lack thereof, contribute to projects actually never standing a chance of reaching their potential. Rather than writing a manual on how to do it better, he ends with a series of ‘questions to ask yourself’.

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The text that sits on the blog is written by Anthony but it is one that evolved through shifting ideas of what the text could or should (not) contain and how they could be written up as they emerged and solidified over time. In addition, questions as to who the text was for and how it could be disseminated, and of course what the ultimate aim was weighed in too. The essay as you can now read it was also strongly influenced by our close collaboration through ongoing conversations and editing rounds, the introduction of metaphors, which led to drawings, which in turn pushed the text in new directions. In its final form it is also very much the blog as medium, with its range of mechanisms of interaction and display, that has allowed the different narrative strands to be accessible in multiple ways.


Another PARSE issue online

Meanwhile PARSE issue 7 on Speculation has also gone online.


This issue explores how and why speculative thinking and speculative activity have obtained a new topicality, especially in philosophy, culture and politics, in a condition marked by the absence of certainty, the crisis of the crisis of metaphysics, the dominance of finance capital and the re-emergence of utopianism in the absence of revolution. Philosophically the reassertion of speculation coincides with the exploration of different practices of knowledge in the development of critical, conceptual and pragmatic tools by which the contested past, present and future can be navigated. Economically and politically, speculation represents both the incontrovertible structuring principle of neoliberal capitalism and the imaginative force that must be deployed against it.

With contributions by Didies Debaise and Isabelle Stengers, an interview by Dave Beech with Costas Lapavitsas, a reflection on one of his own works by Krzysztof Wodiczko, an extensive exploration of the notion of speculation in musical composition by Ming Tsao, and a conversation about speculation as an educational apporach between Valerie Pihet, Katrin Solhdju, Didies Debaise and Fabrizio Terranova. With an introduction by Dave Beech, Katrin Soldhju and Valerie Pihet.

You can find a link to all essays and the full PDF here.

How Institutions Think – launch

The year 2018 will kick off with the launch of the book How Institutions Think on Monday 15 January, at 6.30 – 8.30 pm, during which I will be in conversation with Paul O’Neill, Lucy Steeds and Mick Wilson, the editors. The event will be hosted by The Showroom, which also hosted the launch of The Curatorial Conundrum, published in 2016, and which was the first in a series of three books on current curatorial practice and discourse, published by CCS Bard and The MIT Press. Emily Pethick, The Showroom’s director, contributed an essay to the new book and will join us in conversation. More information on the book, see below and here:


Contemporary art and curatorial work, and the institutions that house them, have often been centers of power, hierarchy, control, value, and discipline. Even the most progressive among them face the dilemma of existing as institutionalized anti-institutions. This anthology–taking its title from Mary Douglas’s 1986 book, How Institutions Think reconsiders the practices, habits, models, and rhetoric of the institution and the anti-institution in contemporary art and curating. Contributors reflect upon how institutions inform art, curatorial, educational, and research practices as much as they shape the world around us. They consider the institution as an object ofienquiry across many disciplines, including political theory, organisational science, and sociology.

Bringing together an international and multidisciplinary group of writers, How Institutions Think addresses such questions as whether institution building is still possible, feasible, or desirable; if there are emergent institutional models for progressive art and curatorial research practices; and how we can establish ethical principles and build our institutions accordingly. The first part, ‘Thinking via Institution’, moves from the particular to the general; the second part, ‘Thinking about Institution’, considers broader questions about the nature of institutional frameworks.


How Institutions Think – book and launch

Coinciding with the third conference titled ‘Curating After the Global: Roadmaps for the Present’, organised by a range of partners, including CCS Bard and the LUMA Foundation, the book following the second symposium, How Institutions Think, was released.

Only receiving copies last week, I was surprised by the sheer pleasure of seeing and holding the final product, which this time was designed by Julia. Although I know the book probably better than anyone because I’ve read the texts so many times, feeling the weight and the texture of the cover and the paper, as well taking in the dimensions of the objects was a real surprise. Working with the designers, specifically Valerio di Lucente, was a real treat, as they seem to take such pleasure themselves in dealing with the objects in all their material intricacies. For an interview with Valerio about how it all came together (and a broader and better range of images) see here.

The following quote underlines the connection between the project’s concept, the diversity of content and the various forms, in terms of layout, the texts have been given.

To begin we decided upon an A4 format for the book. It seemed appropriate to start from a standard format used by almost every country in the world – apart from American influenced countries – and in some ways it represents the epitome of an institutionalised sheet of paper. The design expands on the symposium identity, whereby the book is built on a grid displaying different ‘constructs’. The essays’ layout changes throughout book, from one to two columns, from side-notes to footnotes. This variety reinforces the idea of a breadth of positions, rather than fixed conclusions. This design approach also allowed to better represent the tone and typology of the contributions. A longer column for deeper reads, a two-column system for more ‘narrative’ essays, and alternating widths for conversations.

It’s always a pleasure working with designers who work in this way, rather than simply ‘give shape’ to material. Although Valerio claims that Julia don’t design ‘by committee’, working from the content and the concept is by definition collaborative, and thus doesn’t feel hierarchical.


Taking its title from Mary Douglas’s 1986 book, How Institutions Think, the texts in this anthology explore contemporary possibilities and limitations of institutional formats, practices and imaginaries, starting from a different place, namely from categories of knowledge, cognition and the social. Authors were invited to reconsider the practices, habits, models, revisions and rhetoric of institution and anti-institution in contemporary art and curating by considering practice, cognition and social bond, power/knowledge, and institution as an object of enquiry across many disciplines including political theory, organisational science and sociology.

Contributors are: Dave Beech, Mélanie Bouteloup, Nikita Yingqian Cai, Céline Condorelli, Binna Choi and Annette Kraus, Pip Day, Clémentine Deliss, Keller Easterling and Andrea Phillips, Bassam El Baroni, Charles Esche, Patricia Falguières, Patrick D. Flores, Marina Gržinić, Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, Alhena Katsof, Emily Pethick, Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, Sarah Pierce, Moses Serubiri, Simon Sheikh, and Mick Wilson.

The book will be launched in London in January 2018 at The Showroom. Watch this space… In the meantime you can find it in a bookshop near you, or order it from the publishers MIT.





I recently received paper copies of the PARSE journals I’ve worked on, including the latest one on Secularity, which doubles as a catalogue for the Goteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art 2017, curated by Nav Haq, which is titled WheredoIandyoubegin.

Edited by Andrea Phillips, Nav Haq and Ola Sigurdson, the issue contains a wide range of texts that approach the notion of secularity from different angels. The journal and individual articles can be found on the PARSE website. PARSE is published by Valand Academy, University of Goteborg.Parse

More talk

I will be speaking at the upcoming John Berger Now conference in Canterbury on 12 September. The invitation for submission of abstracts was preceded by the following statement.

‘The death of the artist is a dividing line’ wrote John Berger in 1966. ‘Every artist’s work changes when he dies. And finally no one remembers what his work was like when he was alive … [His work] will have become evidence from the past, instead of being … a possible preparation for something to come.’

I will try and do justice to Berger’s legacy by approaching the seminal book Ways of Seeing – a book made by five of us, as the credits page states, and which followed the eponymous television programme in 1972 – from a curatorial perspective.



For more information about the conference see the CCCU webpage and the facebook page. There is also a wordpress page for the event.

Last talk

Three times lucky for me: I’ll be talking at Birkbeck again this morning. Drawing on notions of authorship and translation, and making connections with ‘the curatorial’ and ‘the translational’ I will consider some case studies that I’ve been looking at recently, including the book Ways of Seeing.