Monday, July 26, 2010

Images from 'redress state - questions imagined'

redress state - questions imagined

A durational performance by Dominic Thorpe

126, Artist-run Gallery, Galway


12th May – 5th June, 2010





All photos courtesy Jonathan Sammon and the artist.

Redress Board: www.rirb.ie

A Model For Collective Change

A Model For Collective Change

Dorm


The Model, Sligo

1st May – 3rd July, 2010


by Joanne Laws


May Day saw the long awaited re-opening of The Model after a two year renovation project. The event aimed to re-affirm Sligo’s position as a cultural centre for the North West, and was a night packed with nostalgia and optimism for the arts. The first exhibition was a show called Dorm, which showcased Irish and international art collectives, presented as an art fair parody. The opening night was an elaborate, inter-active art event, which invited the public to ‘sleep over’ in the gallery on custom made balloon beds.

The concept of ‘Art Collective’ is not a new one. The belief that artists can make valuable contributions to socio-political discourse is authentic and contemporary, but has a well documented historical legacy. All of the collectives represented in Dorm, regardless of their group ethos or approach, appeared to challenge traditional bureaucratic structures by highlighting disparate institutional practices and re-assessing their function in the public sphere. On the one hand Dorm showcased polished, finished and recognised gallery works and on the other improvisational performances or strong anti-capitalist statements. Is a collective simply an organisation that has a life span beyond an individual? Utopian vision engaged with a progressive and experimental approach, which was often anti-establishment and quite cohesively political. Historical references to the Situationalist endeavour to destroy ‘the spectacle’ of alienation in a capitalist society, aligned with contemporary events such as the anti-globalisation protests of 1999.

The Manifesto

Freee is a U.K based collective, with activist concerns, who show-case the power of words through the creation of slogans, facilitating their display in public arenas using billboards, posters, leaflets and other publications. In Dorm they presented a printed manifesto, ‘The Freee Manifesto for the Alter-Globalisation of Art’. In the publicity material the group pay homage to the historical concept of ‘manifesto’. Using emotive language, this publication urges the reader to resist the globalisation of the art market, which is managed by bureaucrats and capitalist hierarchies. Alter-Globalisation is a movement conceived by creative thinkers, which calls for the revolutionary alliance of artists, forming an organisation which is based on equality and peer learning, aiming to subvert the art market’s commercial agendas.

The Publication

The Belfast Collective Factotum, publishers of The Vacuum newspaper, also provided the audience with textual offerings. Free newspapers were the medium, the cultural landscape was the message, presented with a discernible Northern accent. The bi-monthly paper is thematically constructed; previous issues include ‘Art’, ‘Satan’, ‘Security’, ‘God’, ‘Nostalgia’ and ‘Sorry’ (to apologise for ‘God’ and ‘Satan’!)

The newspaper format cropped up routinely in Dorm, and the use of text was more dominant than in any show I have seen in a while. The increasing dominance of theory in art has created a rising trend for the ‘explanatory’ in contemporary practice; The labels which once relayed the title and medium have expanded considerably into artist statements, archival snippets or documentary analysis. Could it be that the ever increasing diversity and pluralism of practice is creating a void of understanding? Do these texts function to explain, translate or even justify the work being shown? Is the visual experience simply not enough any more? In a society which experiences a saturation of visual culture perhaps text is a welcome relief. The political overtones of these collective formats seem to request a political form of communication; queue the placard-style statements and the informative posters, in keeping with propaganda strategies and campaign agendas. In general text is more prescriptive than interpretive, although there are occasions when the use of text just deepens the mystery or confusion.

The Institution

Dorm forms part of a global institutional curiosity about the notion of art collectivism. The Tate Modern, for example, hosted a similar event 14th to 16th May. The weekend long festival of independents, No Soul For Sale, filled the Turbine Hall with an epic array of international artist collectives, installations, projections interventions and performances, with an emphasis on experimentation and interactivity. The event continued the discourse which was established last year in New York’s ‘X Initiative’, the former Dia Art Foundation headquarters. ‘No Soul for Sale: A Festival of Independents’ aimed to create an ‘anti-exhibition’ format, which was widely recognised as a platform for art collectives working out of alternative spaces, more recently termed as ‘slack spaces’. A spirit of ‘hanging out’ challenged the formal museum aesthetic, and the event was received with an air of excitement because of the nature of ‘exchange’ which ultimately occurs when creative thinkers converge to devise new strategies of resisting contemporary definitions of art. Both Dorm and No Soul for Sale seem to inform an institutional critique which questions the validity of the conventional art fair. The contemporary artist is habitually torn between creative freedom and those financial decisions which may undermine the integrity of their practice. The arts fairs, commercial galleries and art dealers are viewed as part of a market which commodifies artworks, a distasteful concept for many, especially those who view art as a form of social intervention or a political catalyst. So if the intention is to no longer compromise the artist, how about the institution? Why has it become necessary or even relevant for these groups to be presented in this context, when it is apparent that art collectives were generally borne out of a desire to resist institutional endorsement at every level? Can this be seen as a move to make amends, to address the void and get the emerging art community back on side? As the exhibition took the form of an art ‘fair’ it should be asked: How successful was this as a critique? Or did it just become a formal consideration? Additionally, the Anti-Catalogue, outside of design, appeared little different than just another catalogue. Has the Model just followed current trends of self-reflexivity and institutionalised the institutional critique?

Or is it a case of genuine curiosity and a curatorial desire to show-case what is really happening outside of the institutional filter? It could be viewed by writer/curators such as Boris Groyce, for example, that the gallery/museum/institution is emerging as the real site for contemporary innovation. A converse reaction to this would be a view which affirms that by the time the energy of artistic endeavour filters down into the gallery context, it is already passé, and the myth of ‘cutting-edge’ practice is merely propagated by the gallery’s administrators and theorised by the curatorial vision. I must concede that the idea of these ‘independents’ being show-cased by an entity which essentially represents (or is an extension of) the establishment that they politically oppose, is a concept which does not sit comfortably with me. However this uneasiness is out-weighed for me when I consider the benefits of such a venture.

The opportunity for these art collectives to meet, display work and share ideas, provides a valuable platform for debate around common issues and shared objectives. Perhaps more significant is the chance to engage the audience in this debate, and to introduce them to progressive concepts and emerging practices which challenge the boundaries of traditional art appreciation. I believe it can only be beneficial that the collectives raise those questions which can provoke unlimited scope for change. The best outcome, as I understand it, would be that art collectives have the ability to expose a need for political and commercial re-organisation, and through innovative practice can lead by example.

The 126 gallery in Galway have become increasingly present in the on-going debate surrounding non-commercial art spaces in Ireland. On the 2nd of May, Dr. Neil Mulholland facilitated a symposium of the various collectives, which provoked some interesting dialogue on the nature of emerging alternative formats to the present and restrictive art market. The 126 gallery discussed their own management structure which consists of an alternating committee (no-one on the board stays for longer than 2 years), so in this way the gallery essentially belongs to no-one individual. This spirit of generosity, equality and peer inter-dependence can offer a powerful dynamic to a group who are working towards the same ultimate goal. In theory, it eliminates the problematic hierarchies which relate to power, and the egotistical dimension which comes with ‘owning’. New formats are emerging in commercial sectors to address the restrictive nature of ‘ownership’ and to extend the boundaries of ‘frontier space’ which occurs when transactions are about more than just the acquisition of material goods. Perhaps now is actually the perfect time for art institutions to be showing work of this nature - progressive and lateral thinkers can navigate this ‘frontier space’ in ways that can benefit us all, and it is re-assuring to know that this sort of activity is going on.

monochrom's "Climate Training Camp", photo courtesy James Connolly and The Model.

Photo courtesy The Model
126 and Catalyst, photo courtesy The Model
BGL project, Photo courtesy James Connolly and The Model

IRWIN, photo courtesy James Connolly and The Model.

Photo courtesy James Connolly and The Model.

Fastwurms, photo courtesy The Model

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Iceland (Dis)Connection

The Iceland (Dis)Connection

By Michaële Cutaya

Not long ago, much fun was made of the comparison between the names and economic fates of Ireland and Iceland. It is possible, however, to extend the parallels between the two countries further, which can also reveal telling contrasts.

Beyond names, geography and spectacular economic growth dependent on inflated financial and construction sectors, the two islands have also, in defiance to what the establishment was urging them to do, voted No to a recent referendum; the first Lisbon treaty for Ireland, the Icesave terms of repayment for Iceland. Both populations were warned that all hell would break loose on their country if they did vote No. And both results were somehow circumvented and their symbolic force belittled: the Irish had to vote again over some cosmetic changes and the modalities of the Icesave repayments had already been renegotiated by the time the referendum took place, making it, de facto, obsolete.

These similarities also highlight the differences; Ireland voted no when it was still flourishing and convinced it will last forever, Iceland when it had the most urgent need for international financial support and knowing the referendum results could jeopardize its happening – or not, as the terms of the Referendum could leave all interpretations open. That a couple of months after it had defied the financial markets, its volcano, the now infamous Eyjafjallajökull, had the cheek to ground European air traffic for a week, added a piquant twist to its rebel image.

There are also stark contrasts between the popular responses following the revelation of the extent of the financial meltdown. The Icelandic government directly responsible for the mess, were driven out of office by mass protests –the Kitchenware Revolution - whereas its Irish counterpart is still in office and likely to remain so to the end of its term. Admittedly the Irish situation was not quite as bad as the Icelandic one but this was largely due, ironically, to its EU membership and not by any particular superior wisdom in governance.

The latest news from Iceland was the election of the Best Party, Besti Flokkurinn, to the Reykjavik city council. Founded six months ago by actor and comedian Jón Gnarr in response to the growing distrust toward politicians, Besti Flokkurinn regroups actors, artists, housewives and architects all new to politics. Its program was mostly based on making fun of the establishment and the way politics is practiced*. On May 30, it won six seats out of 15 at the city council and its leader has become the mayor of Reykjavik. Whether they will keep up to their “non-promises” and manage to subvert the political thinking or whether it will be more of the same remains to be seen. But it is nonetheless refreshing that these kinds of actions can take place and challenge the political agenda.

Now, there are many in Ireland, and particularly in the arts sector, that feel that they should play a more decisive role at policy level especially in view of the none too successful job made by politicians, economists, bankers and other developers. However the terms of engagement are difficult to determine and agree on as became clear in the two discussions that took place in Galway on Thursday 24 June. The first discussion workshop, in the Town Hall, was organized by the National Campaign for the Arts. The focus of the meeting was the coordination of the lobbying of politicians on a National Day of Action for the arts. However the discussion quickly turned to the question of the need to adopt the politico/economical lingo to be audible and achieve results. Also raised was the issue of defending the organizations that are in place when it might be a good time to reconsider the way the arts are organized and subsidized as well as their respective place in public considerations. Nevertheless the bottom line remained that if funding for the arts are to be saved, never mind increased, lobbying and economical justifications are what pays.

The second discussion happening on that day was part of the Dock Discourse series of events and took place in 126. It aimed to question the role of artists in urban planning and their proposal for alternative urban thinking with the re-development of the docks in mind. If it was local in focus and more radical in content, the Dock Discourse discussion ultimately revolved around the same issues than the NCFA’s. Should artists learn and use the language of planers, city officials and administrative or should they stick to an artistic modus operandi at the risk of isolation?

Both discussions further begged the question whether artists have a way of thinking and making that can be exported to other realms of society. Whatever the answer, it feels like now is the time to find out before business as usual resumes. What is currently happening in Iceland does not provide any answers, but the situation nonetheless suggests possibilities and gives us food for thought.

* See The Irish Times, Saturday, June 5, 2010; Revolution rocks Reykjavík as local elections take a funny turn by Steinunn Jakobsdottir