T.R.A.C.E.S. Transcultural Research Artist Curator Exchange
(untangling*) Interdisciplinary T.R.A.C.E.S.
Sample… Infect… Connect… Transmit
TRACES started with a shared desire to bring together cultural workers who have adapted to increasingly high levels of professional mobility as a necessity for economic survival, in order to exchange skills, knowledge and experiences that we have accumulated through our personal journeys. Allowing a space for interaction outside the frenzied rush of relentless cultural production, we hoped to provide opportunities for a deeper exchange and understanding between participants and places, opening to inhabit the world in and through all our senses.
Experience the world through the archive of the feet
Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory
Artists, curators and researchers are highly skilled in developing personal strategies for surviving and re-inventing our professional profiles whilst remaining constantly in motion. Adapting to new places, exploring the cultural landscape and transmitting the remnants and echoes of these experiences across geographical and disciplinary horizons and boundaries is something at which we become particularly adept.
Be someplace, not just any place, and not everywhere. Be where you are, look deep into the world from your point of view, and into the self, and out to the Other. Share what you experience.
John Hopkins tech-no-mad
In a time of rapidly evolving social and urban diversity, technology, mutation and migration, we are cultural migrants, always moving between places and contexts; sampling, infecting and transmitting nodes of contact between communities and individuals, cities and their inhabitants. We had high hopes of both creating and reflecting on the experiences of transcultural exchange through TRACES, with a focus on interdisciplinary and transnational practices. Our aim was to explore artistic, research and curatorial responses to urban & social contexts, through creative strategies in contemporary art and research.
Adapting something so intangible to a bureaucratic process with six partners was always going to be a challenge. Based on a degree of personal experience as a culturally nomadic artist/researcher, connecting and experiencing place through longer visits than the fly-in-fly-out make-my-presentation-and-then-leave approach, or being led on a tour of brief visits to the approved artist studios for curators. We wanted to share a way of being in the world that connects more deeply and randomly with the way people actually live in the place, but realised through the process of forming the partnerships, this experience doesn’t readily adapt to a group format. Keeping the space ‘open’ was itself problematic, and it is nearly impossible to translate something inherently spontaneous into a formalised structure.
Although the questions raised and the themes delineated have enough resilience to carry the content further towards interesting and relevant discussion, the success of translating those ideas into actuality through the process depends on the level of engagement and commitment from all concerned. Studies on the most effective collaboration process have found that the traditional approach to brainstorming, that of giving uncritical praise, is far less productive than we have been led to believe. Instead it is the opportunity for chance meetings and spontaneous discussion, along with robust critical debate and being exposed to different perspectives that combine to enhance creativity. Group Think: The Brainstorming Myth, Johan Lehrer. The New Yorker, January 30th 2012 p22-29
The experience of taking part in the Nida Art Colony both as an artist in residence and co-curator of Inter-Format Symposium was one that challenged my own concept of identity and realigned some of my boundaries, I hope ultimately in a positive way. This event was for me, most aligned with the original inspiration and spirit of the TRACES project.
Everyone has their own methodologies for survival and resistance in these constantly shifting and re-oriented cultural landscapes. One of our common goals was to compile information relevant to highly mobile cultural practitioners and transmit the spirit of these events through the publication. The participants have bonded and exchanged their ideas and methods into untraceable patterns, with a blend of artistic endeavours, philosophical reflections and exploratory workshops. In this publication we attempt a tracing of these intangibles, the inter-contamination and cross-breeding of ideas, knowledge and creative works, with interrelated video and audio material available through the QR-Code.
“How do ideas travel and evolve?” Part One takes an in-depth look at specific places, with philosophical and artistic approaches that reflect and expand on ideas about location and mobility, an integral part of TRACES. The way in which artists/researchers/philosophers and curators experience and transmit meaning from one place to another in various layers and codes is detailed through these Invisible Histories: Places, Maps & Stories.
Vytautas Michelkevičius introduces the Inter-Format Symposium and the philosophy of Nida Art Colony on the Curonian Spit, reflecting on underlying Fluxus aspects of the educational framework and realities of blurring the boundaries between disciplines and places real or imagined. By giving names to places, the first act on arriving in a previously uninhabited or newly conquered territory, we claim to symbolically own them. How many places can a site hold? asks Jurij Dobriakov.
In the Subjective Atlas of Hungary, Kitchen Budapest posed the questions: “Is it possible to draw a portrait of contemporary Hungary with only one pencil, held by many?” Fifty young visual authors were invited by new media lab Kitchen Budapest and Dutch designer Annelys de Vet to put their homeland into perspective.
The TRACES project started with a common desire to be responsible for inventing our own Creative Utopias. In Part Two you will find diverse philosophical, personal and theoretical texts about creative realities, politics and economics articulated through the approaches, methods and practices employed in artistic & curatorial research.
“As air, art consists of nothing in particular.” Discussing her research on Meteorological Utopias, Hanna Husberg attempts to grasp the immaterial, discovering the impalpable yet immersive qualities of art and air, apprehending a condition of “next to nothing”. In the process, her research brings to life a new perception about the very air we breathe.
Marko Stamenkovic explores the complex meanings and ambiguities of professional positions in the contemporary art world. Questioning what it is to be a contemporary art curator, artist or cultural researcher in No Single Word: Cultural Subjectivities in Contemporary Visual Arts – The Contradiction of Interpretation, Stamenkovic discusses the Inter-Format Symposium in Lithuania. He notes that the whole program was labelled perverse in terms of its being imagined as an event that is all about pleasure. Indeed, pleasure itself has become a perversion in these times of excessive overwork and compulsory production. Referring perhaps to the cards that I handed out (as one of the symposium curators) to all participants, a “free pass” that entitled the bearer to skip any one session at their discretion.
Reclamation keep it short and sweet, as they ask: Would You Like to Join with Art? An anonymous forum for critical discourse, Reclamation’s surveys are distributed to Inter-Format participants each evening and collected in the morning, providing an opportunity for all Symposium contributors to cooperate in the collection of statistical data.
Finding these sometimes nonsensical, reflective and provocative questions hanging on the door adds another dimension to the pleasure of waking up every morning. “Is art natural, is love natural? Where have you been all my life, what are you looking for?”
Ironically for a project based on the idea of taking a collective approach and finding ways to slow down our never-ending enslavement to production and the constant rush from one thing to the next, there was and is still a noticeable lack of time for the kind of deeper engagement that was the aspiration. However, the project established ongoing connections and expanded the participants existing networks through the series of events and meetings. Many of our participants have gone on to develop collaborations, performance and workshops in festivals and events organised by the partner networks.
Part Three examines cooperative knowledge sharing practices through the combined practical and conceptual activities and approaches of the TRACES associated partners. This section emerged naturally through the content, rather than a decision to group them together, as one of the project aims was to share our knowledge and experience.
The possibility of unlearning and starting afresh is examined in the creative proposal workshop Not Knowing Something (as a good start for cultural production?) by Andrew Paterson. Mindaugas Gapševičius introduces Migrating Art Academies (MigAA), which seeks to challenge traditional artistic routines of students and inspire continued creative development.
Writing from the perspective of an artist-organiser in the cultural field, Andrew Paterson argues for local knowledge-sharing work-parties in addition to transnational knowledge sharing, positing direct experience, getting involved and actual doing as key forms of learning. Paterson discusses cooperative research, creative & practice-based approaches to pedagogy in the framework of Pixelversity, examining practices and values that challenge the status quo, dynamic examples to create alternative modes of economic, cultural, social, technological and political processes.
How do we survive?
As precarious culture workers with really nothing to hold onto, we are used to adapting our cloth to fit our circumstances. Resistance and Survival are two of the key terms that recurred in our discussions while developing the project. We wanted to bring together people with a particular range of skills and experiences in an open space that could be both challenging and inspiring, to engage in critical reflection and playful interaction. This turned out to be even more difficult than one may imagine, as the very openness itself was a contentious issue. One place where this fluidity worked in practice was the Open Zone, curated by Ela Kagel for transmediale11.
Open Zone Slow Culture: Traces Tea & Radio Lounge explores ideas and practices that are grounded in free and open culture. This section is highly fluid and invites the reader to sample part of the wider context in which TRACES takes place. TRACES Tea and Radio Lounge at The Open Zone, transmediale.11 offered a space for slow culture, open to relaxed interaction and deeper exchange with a live radio show, on-site collaborative publication, tea made from wild Lithuanian herbs, and cake!
Listen to the archive of conversations, as TRACES & radioCona invited guests to join in daily programs streamed live from the foyer of Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt, and made available on Artisttalk.eu, an initiative by MoTA Museum of Transitory Art.
Originally intended as a journal made by guests in the tea lounge, during the course of the festival this became more a responsive and personal sampling of my idiosyncratic trajectory through the transmediale.11 program, wandering the corridors, drifting through the open zone and reflecting in the artists’ green room.
Ela Kagel describes the Open Zone as a networked experiment with different social territories occupied by artists and media activists. The network is here and now, it is live.
The strategic requirements of Open Culture are examined and experienced by visitors in project labs, exchange centres and experimental spaces in the foyer of Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures). The daily thematic focus of the Open Zone engaged through conversations and events with these key questions and concerns:
Response: Activities – Strategies of Political Participation
Lost in the Open? – Navigating the Open Web & Free Culture
The Currency of the Commons – The Value and Price of Free Culture
“Are you around tomorrow?” I ask in Content vs. Conversation, reflecting on the nature of reality vs. utopia and how in imagination the tea lounge really was a place for relaxed interaction and deeper exchange. Over a cup of tea. Reality is another country.
Dunja Kukovec talks of the revolution of the everyday, in which only art with its transitory nature can facilitate the understanding of ever new realities. Transitory stands for flexible, mobile, passing, unsteady or even adaptable; in formal terms it may represent an event, an impression, a change in thinking or a gesture not necessarily tied to an object of art.
“Collaboration on a book is the ultimate unnatural act” said Tom Clancy.
We’ll drink to that.
In Collaborative Futures, Mushon Zer-Aviv, Michael Mandiberg, Mike Linksvayer, Marta Peirano, Alan Toner, Aleksandar Erkalovic and Adam Hyde propose a set of criteria for assessing the strength of a collaboration, while acknowledging the hierarchies of collaboration that exist. Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a structureless group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. Jo Freeman warns in The Tyranny of Structurelessness that to strive for a structureless group is as useful, and as deceptive, as to aim at an objective news story, value-free social science, or a free economy.
It quickly became apparent throughout our process that hardly anyone actively involved in organising the project really had the slow time we imagined – time to reflect, think through and experience together. Almost everyone involved wanted a clear structure, to frame it as something already known and defined. This level of openness and flexibility was an incredibly uneasy place to inhabit, since it was deliberately challenging the roles and hierarchies implicit within the exchange between artists/curators/researchers and cultural organisers. Despite our apparently common aims and some shared beliefs, even small non-governmental and independent non-institutions have their own politics to negotiate.
It turns out these “aims and beliefs” are perhaps not so well aligned or common after all. This only becomes evident through the co-organisation and co-curating process, as different levels of engagement and power manifest themselves in the act of collaboration.
The idea of taking away all those boundaries and actually having an open space to engage, talk, play, bring ideas and interact made the people trying to organise things very uncomfortable, to say the least – and immediately there was a push from every direction, trying to create a structure, to implement boundaries, to define and impose the philosophical beliefs, values and approaches that made the most sense to each person, the absence of restrictions somehow being an unbearable weight.
All I knew about Franco Berardi was his nickname Bifo and that he writes about the attention economy. This naturally intrigued me, as the entire TRACES project was designed to open a place for a deeper, slower space of reflection and interaction than the usual hectic art/media frenzy.
A beginner’s guide to… Bifo is a conversation between Franco Berardi (Bifo) & Jodi Rose. I sat down in the green room with this charmingly eloquent activist philosopher and asked “Why are you called Bifo?” His response takes us on a wonderful discussion through the joys of painting, the development of his thought and politics in the context of Bologna (and its infamous Process), the psychopathology of the net generation and the networking condition. Finally as the announcement of his keynote conversation for Transmediale: Life at Work: Bioeconomy and the Crisis of Cognitive Capitalism, comes over the loudspeaker, Bifo and I reached the Age of Exhaustion.
We trust that sharing this blend of artistic, cultural and philosophical research will inspire further explorations, contribute to wider discussion and offer traces towards various forms of collective engagement, collaborative invention and shared cultural knowledge.
We hope to continue to evolve in constantly mutating exchange with you on our travels along new and unimagined paths, beyond exhaustion to a creative and personal renewal.
TRACES Editor & co-curator / co-initiator with Transcultures
Nida Art Colony AIR & Inter-Format Symposium co-curator
on behalf of Traces Partners
*Sadly, due to circumstances beyond our control, this book remains unpublished.
I am trying to find the last proofreading file to give the project another life as an ebook / PDF.