Power, governance, mediation, learning
Seminar at Intermediae
12 May 2016, 4pm – 8pm
Script for conversation with Aida Sánchez de Serdio, Nora Sternfeld and ECM students
Zoe López Mediero – Intermediae
We would like to design this meeting around a question that we all have, which is: “How do we curate it?” We arrived at Intermediae eight years ago with this question, and right now may be the time to seize the opportunity to open the debate to different voices.
This question, in the context of Intermediae, entails repositioning the notions of power and governance in reference to those of mediation and learning.
Artistic research, creation and institutional transformation, mediation, production and cultural agency, as well as rotation, learning, relief, reproducibility, code and self-representation… all of these terms must, on one hand, be deployed conceptually and, on the other, be grounded in specific cases and practices gleaned from experience and past history.
Intermediae can conceive of itself as a “project of projects”, a project in its own right that groups together and encompasses a vast array of other projects that are currently underway in the city. One of the most fitting questions, and one of the questions most frequently asked by anyone visiting, discovering or considering entering into a relationship with Intermediae, is “How do I take part?”
It may seem paradoxical that, in a project whose basis and aim is participation (in many forms), there is no clear or obvious formula for how to participate. The idea of emptying can help me to explain it. For participation to occur, first everyone must decide how to participate. Moreover, one way to facilitate participation is to allow the individual modes of participation and interaction between the project, artist, curator, facilitator and the institution to take shape as needed over the course of a process of contact and contagion; a mode of participation that’s customised rather than prescribed. A mode that is open to unforeseen formulas. It is in this context, when the formula for participation is determined in common, that an impact, a change, a transformation is produced.
Although this explanation is rooted in methodological obviousness, implementing it is complex. This may be because it is not the most typical practice. The first step is to question its possibility, and several challenges arise. The first is that a separate block of time is needed to make this process of joint participation design possible. The time required has nothing to do with the usual pace of the vast majority of cultural production processes, which tend to be highly standardised and must be organised in phases which are generally regimented. Design-conceptualisation, preproduction, dissemination-communication, production-event, documentation, filing … The times and places in which each of the actors can be involved are regimented.
Apart from this time-related challenge, other factors also come into play. If each of the projects, artists and processes decides and co-designs how it will participate in the programme and in the life of one project composed of various, like Intermediae, it becomes difficult to know with any accuracy or simplicity how to participate. Because each project, in this process, also designs its own contact methodologies. Each project arrives in its own fashion and is based on its own experiences. The ways in which each project interacts with the others are very diverse, ranging from amateurism or self-teaching to a high degree of professionalism, and, moreover, each has a life that is very different to those of other possible projects. Projects that can end up converging are:
-Those that have existed for as long as Intermediae has existed
-Those that interact with each other for a period of time and then move on (in very different ways)
-And those that interact with each other occasionally in the form of events (sometimes intermittent and sometimes cyclical), and so on and so forth.
Furthermore, the processes themselves are of different natures. Some are completely closed and have even already occurred, but some consist of pre-projects, outlines, ideas and desires which have barely taken shape.
Each project or group asks questions in some manner. From the most protocol-based and formal to those aimed at the institution via an institutional email contact address, or by sending a very specific project. Personal contact can also be established by holding an interview or making a visit. And, lastly, many of the groups or artists establish contact with each other for the purpose of a project, often as guest artists or even as participants, and then upon discovering the space and its possibilities they do it again with the idea of developing a new, different project.
Again, in relation to time, there is a commitment and defining characteristic that has been little mentioned, which is inherent to a philosophy of operation like the one I am describing: long-term commitment. Being there to listen to the needs of a community of creative artists and critical activists to accompany them along the journey is connected with this long-term approach; without considering the originality and hectic productive pace typical to the art economy: always new ideas, new names, new projects.
This diversity in terms of modes of contact led me to seek out references for a metaphor to describe and thereby further analyse the ‘hows’, and not only those of participation. This gave me the idea of “one hundred methodologies”. Mika Hannula describes it, much more appropriately, as “methodological abundance”. I felt far from alone when I discovered that this idea of diverse methods, in contrast to standardisation of methods, had also been used in an investigation of the definitional nature of “artistic research”. With one hundred methodologies, I would like to sketch a scheme in which each project would implement a certain type of intelligence and a set of relationships. A selection of various could serve to illustrate the diversity of approaches, methods and perspectives that it is actually easy to come across participative artistic projects in practice.
I’m interested in how any invited project interacts with Intermediae from the particular perspective of their protagonist in regard to the experience. The hypothesis is that every practice, whether in the area of creation, research, mediation, teaching, production or curating, generate a contrast that is essential to understand to what extent a project like Intermediae, as I imagine it, is just a node in a network of agencies that are connected materially and symbolically.
I would like to share with you the same questions we make ourselves, in the shape of the axes that cross our institutional practice. Let us think of them as a guide, a script to lead our conversation.
Reality or fiction: the impacts of self-governance
Together we are sharing an almost generational experience that is distinct from other moments in the history of Western institutions. This time of crisis and change makes our institutions seem unsuccessful, fallible, obsolete and gravely injured, yet at the same time still necessary; the only guarantors of the welfare state that makes us who we thought we were: Europe. And at the same time, they are testimonies that are now void of the meaning that led to their creation, of a utopia that was based on global imbalance, on exploitation, on the superimposition of the rights of some over those of others.
The institutions of culture themselves, from the school to the museum, are awaiting necessary surgery on the operating table, showing varying degrees of resistance to examination and operation. While the school is dragging all of the weight of positivism, of enlightenment, of colonial thinking, of paternalism and heteropatriarchy, the museum and its appendages learnt over the 20th century to survive these “attacks” and have been able to turn them into part of their symbolic fundamental essence. In them, greater weight is given to the logic of neoliberalism and mass-media, which turns everything into fashion, desire, power and “difference”.
All of us have debated and have fought on specific projects and experiments within the context of Intermediae, with the unequal and unfair distribution of the symbolic that this sort of institutional infrastructure makes us part of.
How, why and to what extent do you believe that such an institution can generate a separate governance, its own governance? If you believe this is possible, and have even imagined it or –one step further– you believe you have experienced it, what would you say are the limits of the power of action in an individual model of self-governance, an autonomous model? How do you believe it can be affected by the logic of the cultural policy that it is part of? 4
Inside and outside
We have described this moment in time as a time of interdependence, in the sense that what is outside and what is inside our institutions is more connected than ever before, or, more specifically, the relationships that intertwine this outside and inside are more evident than in the past. How do you believe project spaces, hubs and other cultural sites has been affected by social factors, and how do you think social factors may have been or could be affected by experimental or innovative project spaces ? Where do you think the limits of each of these spaces are? What boundaries between them do you believe could intersect? Which ones do you believe we have inherited, and which ones should be respected?
Codes and languages: access and modification
Every symbolic economy, tied to know-how, to bodies and voices, has a relationship with its grammar. In what we might define as a relationship between the thinking and language of institutions, in that attempt to stop saying what we are doing and start to do what we say more decidedly (after Diego del Pozo): What do you think the relationship is between our experiments on curatorial field and its codes: who can decipher them, who can interpret them, who can change them? Who stays on the inside and who is on the outside?
Institution that allows us to learn
I would like to pose a hypothesis, which is that in an institutional space characterized by free movement, in which roles, tasks and functions are not regimented or predefined, it is possible for learning to occur exponentially in relation to the hierarchical structures wherein know-how is ordered into degrees and access to it is restricted. This would then beg the question of how knowledge and know-how are produced and how they circulate in an institutional space such as Intermediae. How is symbolic capital produced and distributed in such a space? How many voices comprise it and what does each of them say? What different types of learning occur in its bosom: how much time do they require, how, through whom, and when do they change?
Intelligent (institutional) machine?
The extreme scenario outlined above is undoubtedly intriguing, but it also has its reflection in the institutional commons, which begs some even more complex and farther-reaching questions. If anyone can do anything they believe they can do (the person sets their own rules), then would this be one of the principles of that amateur institution that we are imagining? And, that said, would this make it an institution that learns, and is therefore self-aware and capable of transformation? How do we ensure that this unrestricted access is not limited only to those who hold “the keys” to the institution, how could we eventually see a learning process involving more actors than those who are wholly institutional?
Methodologies, recipes, manuals
The most appealing concept in the prototype-patent model, from our point of view, is that it would allow us to dream of transferring it to the economy of the symbolic, solving an unsolvable problem in the sphere of art in one fell swoop. There would then be a set of premises that would form an experiment and whose operation would be scalable and replicable. We considered the need to design and share a set of methodologies (plural) that would make this mode of operation public and could be extended to others that wanted to take part. We came up against several limitations: readability aids participation but at the same time exercises a prototyping effect that tends to homogenize processes and crush differences. Does the thing that facilitates participation actually petrify into the shape of an interface and become objectified as a model of participation? At its extreme, this mode becomes invisible and transparent and thus even more difficult to change. (I don’t really understand this paragraph). Do you believe it is possible to find a balance between these two extremes? Do you believe that one possibility is to maintain and nurture a diverse range of interfaces, “doors and windows” through which to enter and exit the narrative and the institutional context? How do you think this variety of stances can be justified when the pressure towards participation tends to be evaluated in quantitative terms? What do you think would be some qualitative but effective modes for justifying the need for spaces “of diversity”, of “communities of communities”?
Nostalgia of the commons
There is some nostalgia in the idea of the institution of the commons, the idea of a meeting of different projects, artists, activists, groups, initiatives, of an array of discourses projecting a common desire for interaction. In our experience, this commons is deeply complex, difficult to find, impossible to mediate and the need for it is perhaps doubtful. A paper by Rancière comes to mind, entitled Being Together Apart, which made me reflect in depth on this phenomenon. Despite this, at Intermediae, and I’m not really certain why, we haven’t stopped asking ourselves for this commons, and in many cases some of us have tried to generate it, to put it together and facilitate it. What is your opinion of this phenomenon? How do you live it, in your experience?
Not only the institution’s projects, but also any self-managed project, share a very interesting feature in regard to their life and replication. Under what conditions do you believe we could think of bringing about a replacement? What is or what should be replicable in a context such as that of Intermediae and what do you think should be remodeled, beginning from scratch each cycle? If this has served as a blank canvas for a group of people to design a certain type of institution, should this be cyclical, allowing us to speak of cyclical institutions or of institutional renewal, and not so much of replacement, of infrastructure, of the institution that endures? In the case of experiments connected with the most critical form of the art arena, these spaces are never guaranteed. How do you think we could test out this dichotomy? Do we need to ensure these spaces or would it be preferable to renew them even at the risk that the pre-conditions that saw them emerge might cease to exist?