This Corner Office interview with a silicon valley tech CEO has stayed with me for a long time. Basically he reckons everyone says something stupid in a meeting occasionally and this guy has a rule that you can say – That thing I just said was stupid. Let’s move on. Otherwise politics kicks in, people defend their positions, etc. He’s also good on teams. Worth having a look at some of the other Corner Office interviews too.
Andrew Ormston recently blogged on the two types of innovation and the need for a theory of innovation that is more than just positivistic is very provocative. It resonates with Elizabeth Hallam and Tim Ingold’s observation that innovation can only be identified in retrospect, and that in the ‘now’ we are actually improvising. It also resonates with the work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, who for 50 years have been making works about places. They say,
We hold that every place is telling the story of its own becoming, which is another way of saying that it is continually creating its own history and we join that conversation of place.
All of this requires at least a concept of ‘responsible innovation’ if not a much deeper discussion of the stories we want to tell of our futures. Andrew’s blog is here: imagivation – drewwylie.net.
Slides of a paper on failure co-authored with Dr Gemma Kearney and presented at the NSEAD/iJade conference in Liverpool.
The two other speakers at the London LASER took us on a tour of the edge of two different human experiences.
Los Ferronautas, who are currently working with Arts Catalyst, took us on a journey of exploration of the railroads of Mexico, largely abandoned post the neoliberal-driven privatisation in the mid 90s. An extensive passenger network now lies in ruins because it was not ‘financially viable’. It only provided a means for Mexicans to get around their large and mountainous country. Somehow you know that the automotive industry had something to do with this. Los Ferronautas built a hybrid vehicle (SEFT1), an “abandoned railway exploration probe” that could travel on road and rail, and used this to explore what remains of the network. They found that it also acted as a “transmitter of stories.” In parallel they explored the visual representation of the network including early 20th Century paintings celebrating the engineering (initially exported from Britain and Ireland).
Cristina Miranda de Almeida took us on a journey around our increasing hybridity as the internet of things emerges. She explored the emerging interval space between ‘here and there’, ‘you and me’, the past, present and future, different scales and durations. She started with the beautiful analogy of data emerging from under water (behind a screen) to become part of our everyday lives, quoting Manuel Castells saying that soon computing will be paint on the walls.
For me the real moment of joy was when she show an image of a CAD rendering of a building entitled ‘spam architecture.’ As I’m sure we all have, I’ve notices the ‘flows’ of subject lines in my spam folder and wondered what could be done by exploring the patterns that lie in amongst this waste material. The way Alex Dragulescu has worked with this aspect of ‘big data,’ turning it into a proposal for architecture, put a big smile on my face.
We also had a good, if too short, discussion on multi-, inter- and trans-disciplinarity which I found really helpful in pushing my thinking further, so thanks to those who asked really good questions. My presentation is below. Thanks again to Heather Barnett for putting the programme together and continuing to make the London LASERs well worth the trip.
I met Townley and Bradby at a Collaborate Creatively seminar at firstsite in Colchester, part of a-n’s Granted! programme. They were Associate Artists with firstsite working on social practice projects. One of the projects they presented was Turf Twinning, and they just sent me the publication. Jonathan P Watts’ excellent essay, Six Cuts, takes us on a journey that encompasses Durer and Haacke as well as Nash to position Turf Twinning in a longer field of practice. The publication should be available from firstsite.
My proposal for a paper “Scottish artists bring nature into healthcare” has been accepted for the Global Alliance for Arts & Health 25th Conference in Houston, Texas in April.
The abstract is,
Scotland has a strong portfolio of arts and health projects including both public art installations within healthcare buildings and participatory programmes, in particular with people with long term conditions. This presentation will focus on public art installations by artists and designers which use biophilic and other design approaches to bringing nature into buildings. It addresses the conference themes of Patient Care, Healing Environments and Caring for Caregivers.
It is well known thanks to the work of Robert Ulrich that views of nature contribute to patient recover, and it is clear from the work of Stephen Kaplan that views of nature can play a role in restoring our ability to give our attention. OPENspace Research at Edinburgh College of Art (http://openspace.eca.ac.uk/ ) has further substantiated the connections between nature and wellbeing focusing on inclusive access to the outdoors.
In Scotland there have been a number of projects in the context of Healthcare where artists and designers have specifically sought to use art and design to bring nature into buildings in addition to what the architects and landscape designers are able to achieve.
Four key examples are:
Thomas A Clark’s (http://thomasaclarkblog.blogspot.co.uk/) project with the architects Reiach & Hall, ‘A Grove of Larch in a Forest of Birch,’ for the New Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow integrated poetry and visual arts into what the architects described as the architecture of waiting. The Aim was to create spaces in which users of the hospital could wait for appointments in “a place apart having the brightness and stillness of a woodland glade.”
Alexander Hamilton’s (http://www.alexanderhamilton.co.uk/) Designing for Dignity (http://designingfordignity.co.uk/Inspired-by-Nature) is an approach that draws on a deep understanding of the Victorian poet and artist John Ruskin and of the more recent Biophilia Hypothesis. Hamilton is currently developing designs including furniture and art for the Quiet or Family rooms in the New South Glasgow Hospitals based on an extensive programme of creative engagement. Hamilton is also working on the design of a healthcentre in Glasgow.
Dalziel + Scullion’s (http://www.dalzielscullion.com/) practice is increasingly focused on addressing nature deficit disorder. Their work encompasses exhibitions and public art. Their scheme for the wards of the New South Glasgow Hospitals will bring the whole landscape of Scotland into one building. Their project Rosnes Benches, currently being installed in the landscape of Dumfries and Galloway, they have also contributed work to the Vale of Leven Health Centre (http://www.wide-open.net/index.php?page=vale-of-leven)
Donald Urquhart has completed public art projects for four mental health hospitals including most recently Midpark Acute Mental Health Hospital (http://www.wide-open.net/index.php?page=healing-spaces) and developed Sanctuary spaces for both hospitals and universities. His award winning design for the Sanctuary at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary has become a benchmark (http://www.ginkgoprojects.co.uk/projects/royal-infirmary-edinburgh).
These artists and others demonstrate key aspects of the role of art in bringing nature into healthcare contexts including focus on characteristics of nature such as colour, pattern and movement. As artists they use attention, framing and synthesis.
In addition to sharing these developments with the conference audience I hope to identify other artists exploring similar issues.
I’m very much hoping to find other artists and designers working along these lines with the depth of thinking as well as the quality of work.
One of the earliest entries in this blog, back in 2004, resulted from reading a text by Tim Rollins that formed part of the Civil Arts Enquiry at the City Arts Centre in Dublin.
I had the privilege of attending a workshop at the Talbot Rice in Edinburgh with Tim Rollins and some of the Kids of Survival in August 2012.
Now Brooklyn Rail has published an excellent article, Two Days in the Lives of Art as Social Action, which name checks the event in Edinburgh.
Over the past year I’ve been working with Prof Paul Harris and Prof Anne Douglas to explore common issues across art, design, architecture and media/Web 2.0 focusing on issues of co-creativity and participation. This short video made for a presentation at the Moving Targets Conference earlier this month highlights a few key thoughts and the paper will be published imminently in Participations Journal. I’ll post a link in due course.
I just finish posting up this link to work we’ve been doing on participation and co-creativity, go back into my email and there is an Art&Education announcement of a major conference in Montreal entitled The Participatory Condition http://www.pcond.ca/ . Interestingly they have in their blurb aligned participation with democracy, something which we seek to question in our paper, and although they use the term relational, they don’t raise questions of the aesthetic of participation, questions which are critical within the art discourse but have not impacted on the discourse in design, architecture let alone media/Web 2.0.
The Financial Times at the end of 2012 carried a review of an exhibition by Zeng Fanzhi at the Gagosian Gallery. The review opens with the following couple of sentences,
It has finally happened – a solo exhibition of a Chinese artist whose power and interest does not depend on Chinese themes or subject matter. Since the 1990s, China has been the promised land of the global arts scene, but not one of the numerous group shows staged in the past decade – at Tate Liverpool, the Saatchi Gallery, the Hayward – has been able to make a case that artists from the region are of more than local concern.
The image that accompanied the review is of one of Zeng’s paintings, a reworking of Durer’s ubiquitous Hare some 4m square, the surface appearing to be deeply cracked. Whether this was an ironic statement on the import of the canonical tradition of Western Art from the perspective of the East, or an aesthetic judgement, or the quality of the reproduction on pink paper, I don’t know. I didn’t see the exhibition and I haven’t read the press release.
It may be that in the ambit of art criticism published in the FT and moving elegantly between the transnational art fairs and galleries that construct value through those environments, this artist is significant. It may be that because this artist reworks iconic images from canonical western art that they are therefore of ‘power and interest.’ Their ‘power and interest’ might perhaps lie in the exquisite development of the surface of the canvas through brilliant brushwork, or their use of colour, seeming to soak the hare in the night-time neon lights of Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York or LA.
This painting, and the others in the exhibition, and in fact all the work for sale in Gagosian, or in any of the other key galleries and art fairs, only exists at the global level. As the review rightly states what is important at this level is that the work cannot be of local concern, it must speak to The Universal, the abstracted, deterritorialised. It will exist in no-place because thanks to the hard work of the FT reviewer and the hard work of the Gagosian curatorial team ensuring that their merch is only seen in the right places, it’s value has nothing to do with an specific locality, any personal intimate space, any town or region. It might hang in a domestic interior for a period, but it is more likely to go into storage in a warehouse somewhere as an investment: value stored for future exchange.
The reviewer wouldn’t have to highlight this point reviewing a Richard Serra exhibition (such as the one that opened Gagosian’s London space). It would be taken for granted that Serra was of global interest and power, an important element moving in the circuits of value of the international art world. A Chinese artist has now been allowed into this club.
Claire Pentecost, in her essay (pdf: Pentecost Notes on Continental Drift) Notes on the Project Called Continental Drift offers an alternative structure for thinking about art. Her structure, and the wider structure of the book Deep Routes: The Midwest In All Directions (Compass Collaborators, 2012 see bottom for ways to get a copy), precisely values an analysis which is interested in multiple levels (p.17),
We aim to explore the five scales of contemporary existence: the intimate, the local, the national, the continental and the global. Within the mesh of scales, we want to understand the extent of our interdependence, how any action we may take has effects on and is shaped by all these scales at once. We attempt to understand these dynamics so that we can understand the meaning of our own actions, the basis for an ethical life.
But for Pentecost, global is not the exclusive realm of ‘power and interest’. Rather her global is a scale at which it is necessary to look to see the entwined flows that articulate our everyday lives. She wants to look at the food on our table (perhaps the jugged hare) and through following the lines of connection to see that we are connected to the workers making ceramics in China for sale in IKEA in Long Island City (cf Ai WeiWei perhaps). And through that examination to see the Phillippino crews of container ships continuously circumnavigating the planet (cf for instance Allan Sekula). For her the global simply cannot exist in isolation. No artist’s interest and power should be divorced from local themes and subject matters. It is simply not possible – those elements can be ignored, but they still exist – practically speaking iron ore is mined, corten steel is produced in foundries, barges, trucks and planes move sculptures. There are social and environmental interactions. A sculpture can be a sign separated from all the realities that are involved in it’s production and presentation – deracinated – separated from all considerations except value to enable it to circulate freely in this global space.
And where the exhibition at Gagosian and the review in the FT are elements in the urgent construction of capital, Pentecost takes us on a detour into a mis-remembered quote trying to latch onto an articulation of a different way of dealing with signs and the value they convey, or actually deferring dealing with signs and value (p.23),
… to the point where many of us aspire to practice an intricate, processual, and research-motivated version of art that resists evaluation by the prescriptive teams of institutions and markets.
Where for the critic and the gallery the essential acts are focused on the carefully orchestrated production and affirmation of the sign as value, Pentecost following the French artist Francois Deck, suggests that the most important act is to operate at the point before the sign is ‘finalised’ and value is conferred. So the artwork is always unfinished, it is always a project, precisely because at the point we confer value, that thing, whatever it is, whether food or art, moves into warehouses and other structures designed to enable and enhance the mobility of capital.
Pentecost’s essay is one of two that open up Deep Routes. Pentecost establishes some key points in a landscape characterised by the financial crisis and the occupy movement. The themes and contexts of the book are focused by the specificity of the midwest of the United States of America. Reading the book we get to know particular places such as Beardstown, IL, exploring through Ryan Griffis and Sarah Ross’ glossary of terms the ‘vertical integration’ of a small town into global commodities markets through ‘the cold chain,’ ‘engineered tiling,’ GMO, chemical fertilizers and GPS mapping. Matthias Regan’s narrative offers a different trajectory, of a Greyhound bus journey from Chicago to Detroit. This is a gentle, reflective meditation on breakdown in which (p.188),
The future does not emerge from amongst the technocratic elite; it will not be driven by new inventions in digital media. We should seek it instead in what is meager and humble, tentative and transitioning. Not rushing away from breakdown, but opening ourselves to its after effects.
The other key trajectory established from the outset in Deep Routes takes us into indigenous experience, practice, pedagogy and critique. Alongside the spatial, economic and experiential journeys of the other authors, Dylan AT Miner’s interviews with First People’s organisers punctuate the book. Miner has been pursuing a project of imagining that we can all be indigenous – it’s not a condition restricted by genealogy, but rather a practice and a philosophy – a way of making sense of the world.
Near the end of the book, in the last interview, Jill Doerfler and Miner discuss tribalography, a methodology developed by by LeAnne Howe. Jill studied with LeAnne and explains the emergence of tribalography (p.228),
LeAnne has explained that tribalography grew out of the Native propensity to connect things together. It is the idea that Native writers often tell stories that combine autobiography, history, and fiction; we tell stories that include all these elements and also work in collaboration with the past, present, and future. …
Jill goes on to say,
These stories are not generally about finding out what really happened but are meant to teach us something and show us our place within our families, communities, nations, and the world. I found that in addition to serving as a critical lens for literary study and as a theoretical framework for cultural analysis, tribalography can also serve as an abundantly fruitful methodological approach relevant across the interdisciplinary field of American Indian studies.
I happened across Deep Routes staying with Sarah Ross and Ryan Griffis in Chicago in the autumn of 2012 (I was introduced to them by Brett Bloom when I asked him for help finding somewhere to stay in Chicago). They had just received delivery of a number of boxes from the printers. There was one on the coffee table. I picked it up and started reading. I realised it was the sequel to MidWest Radical Culture Corridor: A Call to Farms, which I had come across a few years ago. I was in Chicago for the International Sculpture Conference, but in many respects this book is better art than much of what I saw in the conference presentations. Not only did I meet Sarah and Ryan, but also Claire and Brian Holmes who came up with the concept of Continental Drift, and is the ’embedded’ critical theorist.
We ate preserved pears from the tree in their back garden and Sarah articulated some of the stress of working as a volunteer artist in a maximum security prison on her days off from teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
For me the description of tribalography tallies with my experience as an associate of a practice-led research programme. Practice-led research in the arts is autobiography. It is often history (contextualising practices in relation to precedents). It moves across the past, present and future (it has been said that practice-led PhDs are ways for artists to reinvent their practices). Truth in the sense of replicable experiment is not at the heart of practice-led research. But most provocatively fiction is sometimes there too (Sophie Hope’s work Participating in the Wrong Way certainly brings ‘fictionalising’ to bear on research).
Methods, whether Pentecost’s revisiting of the Modern School movement of the early part of the last century or tribalography, positively radiate out of this volume. It is built on the experience of a creative community that exists in a particular territory. Their art is research motivated, processual and intricately interwoven at different scales and with different collaborators. Ironically this work is of global power and interest even if it is all about the Midwest.
You can order a copy here, or if you are in Scotland and we can meet, then I’ll lend you one.
Harry Giles’ excellent twenty (?) questions on the cultural economy in relation to its own inconsistencies and in relation to certain other economics that we all might have experienced (4 months working for London Electricity in their call centre in Victoria in about 1990-1; 6 months working as an outdoor clerk for a firm of solicitors; 4 years working as an amanuensis for a paraplegic philosophy professor whilst at University; 10 weeks as an unpaid intern at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York one summer during University).
I wrote this brain-dump for Andy Field, who was asked to prepare a presentation on “how artists can think about new financial models for themselves and for audiences”. He collected 150 bits of advice, sold them for £1 each, and used the proceeds to pay a violinist to play music for the length of the presentation: hurrah for the meeting of form and content! I keep attempting to write something long and thoughtful on art and money and how it all fits together, or maybe organise a conference about it, or a piece of action-research, or… well, none of that has happened yet. Maybe it will. In the mean time, two very nice people recently reminded me that I’d written this, so I reread it, and it turns out I’d already said most of the things I’ve been thinking about. So here it is. it’s a start, anyway.
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