TEXTS IN & OUT: EVERYTHING YOU DO IS A BALLOON BY DANIELA CASTRO
Resident curator in May, Daniela Castro, wrote the text In & Out: Everything You Do Is a Balloon for Kunstkritikk.no. Published 25.06.2010.
On the 23rd of May Hordaland Art Centre became a picnic site where artists, critics and writers were invited for an evening of eating and drinking, displaying and discussing art works of their own or of other artists, critics and writers.
It wasn’t that sunny or that warm, but the picnic nevertheless stood for a symbolic…
“Daniela? This is Jonas, from Kunstkritikk in Oslo.”
“Jonas, hi! I’m glad you phoned as I just got started on the text. We should talk about my proposal before I go on. I don’t speak Norwegian and can’t get a real sense of the magazine’s profile…I wonder if the format I thought of for the text fits within the scope of the editorial mandate you’re carrying out…”
“Well, Anne Szefer Karlsen, the director of Hordaland Art Centre invited me to be the writer/curator in residence this May so I could conduct research and come up with a fact-based fictional piece. Basically, it employs the inventive potential of language and writing as a literary strategy to engage critically with contemporary art works, practices, thoughts.”
“Yes, she told me about your work. That’s why I thought it could be interesting to have your view or feelings about what you see in Bergen.”
“Well, that’s the thing. I feel I can’t really do much from observation, since one month is too short of a time in order to draft anything conclusive without risking a superficial read of what operations may underlie the local art scene. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I am Brazilian, which makes me kind of allergic to constructing an easy access based on loose - even if theoretically careful - notions of otherness in order to justify generalized measurements of judgement about complex cultural structures. It is not infrequent that articles in foreign magazines use the term “Brazilian Art” or even “Latin American Art” to describe a supposedly a homogeneous body of work to be scrutinized by the European/North-American gaze and to meet their agenda of identity politics for academic purposes and international press-releasing. This approach is charged with the epistemological violence inherited from colonialist times disguised as artistic/intellectual discourse. I guess it is a matter of an ethical choice. In daring to affirm anything, writing always is – at each choice of verb, noun, adverb or adjective – a matter of performing ethics (which is different from a performance of morality). Therefore, if I am to write anything about Bergen, I feel it should be from a participatory experience.”
“Yes, I know what you mean. We used to have a similar experience with such terms as ‘Nordic Art’, which were just not accurate. Nowaday, for better or worse, that category has flallen into oblivion. Nevertheless it is different from what you’re describing since we are part of Europe, although we have been left out of the canon of Western Art History for the longest time, except perhaps for Munch.”
“Yes. I noticed in the literature available in English I could find at the Bergen Art Museum, for instance, that their approach to contemporary art can be extremely formalist. Clearly, the discourse is still the one borrowed from a conservative art historical approach. It’s thus curious to see that the same model from which one was previously excluded gets applied when the demands of the globalized economy puts a former ‘periphery’ in the VIP list of party Central.”
“Totally. During the boom of “Nordic Art” in the nineties, the most interesting artists and curators challenged precisely that: the forced discourse of a regional identity. On the other hand, this opposition made them depend on exactly that internationalism that made the foundation for late modernist art discourse. I’d assume that Brazil is not immune to that logic either.”
“No, it isn’t... you’re right... anyway, I’ll try to bring this discussion into the text. I think it’s important. But I was telling you about writing the piece based on participatory experience, rather than on observation… Last week I hosted a picnic art party at Hordaland Art Centre. To have a picnic as the format for the event wasn’t a random choice; the idea was to “curate” a circumstance that I saw already existing, but latent. For example, one thing that I could gather from conversations with my colleagues was that Bergen is a one-of-a-kind-culture: one Kunsthall, one Art Museum, one Art Centre, one major gallery, and so forth. However, due to the incredibly organized and unstinting governmental support to the arts, every artist I’ve met has his/her own studio in a building – or artists’ collective, as they call it – together with other 20 or 30 artists…It seems like the present infrastructure of the local art system is not able to accommodate all the art that’s being produced.
This issue makes me think that accessibility might have substituted visibility in the logic of production and display of contemporary visual culture.
I see that beneath the small, albeit ordered and munificent, institutional and market spaces in Bergen, there is an exponential growth of working artists whose production risks not extrapolate the boundaries of the studio, except for posting documentation of works on websites. I tend to think, though, that such form of circulation of artworks is insufficient to feed or grant new values to contemporary art production. The myth about the emancipated access of useful information that the net has brought up, together with the fairy tale of global networking and sharing knowledge have proven to be just that: a myth…I think that what some people call digital culture (which is really another name for speculative capitalism) actually has deprived us of emotions and raised anxiety in having individuals deal with an incommensurable notion of globalised internationalism. The proliferation of biennials is an example of that in the art world.
Apparently there will be a triennial in Bergen, correct? Do you know how this has been dealt with? Through the Arts Council or the Hordaland tourism board? Both?
Getting back to the proposal for Kunstkritkk…after noticing that there is a healthy number of art practice inside the studios, I then asked someone if it is a habit that artists conduct any kind of activities amongst them – say, studio visits, artists’ talks, informal short exhibitions, lectures – anything, really, to get that production circulated outside of its production space. Apparently there’s been studio opening parties, but nothing more consistent or regular.
The intention of hosting the picnic – a collectively organized event – was to encourage this movement from inside to outside; but moreover, it was a symbolic initiative of togetherness; of perhaps inaugurating new possibilities or formats where art – practice, writing, curating and displaying – could interact beyond the traditional exhibition format. That’s what I want to write about.”
…celebration of togetherness, as critics presented their artistic work, artists ‘curated’ the work of other artists or brought their own work to be temporarily installed at Hordaland Art Center. More than a “curatorial happening”, the picnic functioned as the first draft for the present article. What prompted an event to be the preparatory outline for a text, instead of being the subject matter to be discussed in the text, …
“Dear Anne, hello.”
“Hi, can you see me?”
“No, not yet. I guess you have to turn your camera on…There, I can see you now…”
“How’s your day been? Are you finally a ‘writer on a deadline’? How’s the text coming along?”
“Oh, it’s coming. I didn’t get to talk to Jonas until last night. So I just got started, really. I was just about to write, before you called, that the traditional form of art criticism lacks the spontaneity with which some aspects of contemporary art and culture get manifested. I am so glad to have done the picnic! From start to finish, both personally and as a professional, it has been a great experience of relief, I should say, to know that there still is space for spontaneity and risk in contemporary art. I have to thank you, Petra, Eva and Mari for trusting me and working towards the realization of the event. I mean, I didn’t foresee it as part of my residency and – what was it? – only ten days after I first mentioned the idea to the staff we had an event happen totally off the beaten track.”
“Yes, I’m glad too. If we think about it, pretty much ever since the late 1800’s, contemporary art has been about taking risks and being spontaneous. Take Gustave Courbet, for instance. He was rejected by the academy and even at the Salon des Refusés. As a reaction, he opened his own studio for public visitation to what may have been the first solo show in history. Following that, we had a few decades in the beginning to mid 20th century with the avant-gardes’ strong force of artistic originality. But from the early 90’s on – the post Thatcher-Reagan era, post-industrial life, post-wall divide– we see an enormous arsenal of bureaucratic and extremely safeguarded measures carried out by large institutions in an effort to guarantee that risk and spontaneity are carefully presented and even glamorized.”
“Yes, I agree. I tried to get Benet Rossell’s 1975 film Ceremonials screened at the picnic but couldn’t. The film is absolutely beautiful and it would have been perfect to screen at the event. It is an experimental documentary that randomly discloses footage of varied kinds of rituals and ceremonies taking place both publically, in urban settings, as well as privately, in more domestic environments. It is the soundtrack, however, that grants the film the quality of ritual in its own right: throughout the 16-minute projection, we hear a high-pitched monotonic sound, which suspends the notion of time in a time-based media. As any ritual is a particular kind of rite of passage, the sound positions the film in that space where symbolic transformation is going at a high speed, but suspended, for it is happening in the space between the before and after; a space with its particular rules of duration set by the participants: a gap, a whole in the tissue of the common, everyday life experiences.
I sent the artist an email asking for permission to screen it, since the film is part of the MACBA collection in Barcelona. I was trying to avoid the hassle of having to go through institutional loans, contracts, etc. Everything happened so fast that I thought an artist working in the counter-culture scenario of the 60’s and 70’s – which was marked by sentiments of radical freedom of experimentation – could relate to the sense of urge for something more spontaneous, like what we were going for with the picnic in a (art) world haunted by restraint and predictability.
I mean, I got his email address through a common friend who had already mentioned to him the content of my message even before I sent it. It wasn’t an act of last-minute nostalgia for a hippie past, no. It was a serious request by a young curator who saw the opportunity in Bergen – due to the particularities of this place which we’ve been talking about this month – to collaboratively construct meaning for the arts in a more inventive way. I didn’t get a reply.
Maybe that was innocent of my part; maybe neoliberalism went full circle and bit the neck of the risky and spontaneous so as to negotiate them at high rates at the stock exchange. At HKS, though, amongst us, almost without noticing it, an unpredictable possibility for a truly spontaneous action arose in between other priorities, in between fixed schedules, in between overcasts, which set a number of non-linear and non-hierarchical contingencies for new ways to construct meaning.”
… was the overall understanding that discourse cannot precede artistic knowledge that emerges out of lived experiences. However obvious this might sound, it nevertheless points towards the difference between institutionalized discourse and language. The first bulldozes the subjects of knowledge; the second instrumentalizes its viability…
“Hey, Anne. Sorry for ringing you back right after we hung up. Quick question: do you think Jonas would publish the film-still I ripped off MACBA’s website? The one we used to illustrate the picnic’s invite we sent out everywhere without caring for copyright? I don’t know if I’d suggest that, though. Well, maybe…Anyway, I’m getting back to the text otherwise I’ll never get it done.”