Let’s take the organisation as the body or structure in question.
If we are to put a metaphorical scaffolding up around the structural framework which currently constitutes that of the artist led organisational practice, what can an affective, site-based mode of address offer us in terms of our understanding of it?
For a moment, let’s consider this organisation to be something porous, something moveable. What exactly are the conditions which allow for this structure’s temporality?
“But also the scaffold wants to fall away from support. Its vertigo is so lively. The style of fidelity of scaffolding is what we enjoy. It finds its stabilities in the transitions between gestures.” 1
I would like to stretch out this idea of ‘transitions between gestures’, and tentatively try to pin down its significance.
As with the writing process, there are often many elements left unseen - the writer’s ‘desk’, the physical processes of the writer’s body throughout the act of writing. The breaks made - even just momentarily - to check another work email, the hours spent thinking through the current or forthcoming project whilst working at another job. But why is this lack of transparency so common, and does this have any effect on its subsequent pervasiveness?
The artist run space for performing arts, Skogen, in Gothenburg, Sweden, supports artists both locally and from abroad. Skogen is focused on providing organisational and structural support, citing these things as being significant contributors to many of the crises artists run into. They desire to build relationships which can run into the long term, specifically to counteract the ‘fast food consumption of ideas and products’.2 This past weekend I just premiered a performance piece with five fellow artists, a performance which naturally grew out of a study group on colour. Many of us in the group had never worked with performance before, and certainly weren’t confident of how we would take our studies together across this threshold - but we tried it anyway.
It was during the rehearsal process at Skogen that I realised how fortunate we were to be able to work in a large theatre space, free of charge, in the centre of town - not having to feel guilty about draining volunteers’ time as Skogen has a team of paid staff who work as technicians, chefs (to make dinners for after the performances, which they ask donations for), and so on. I don’t mean to say that volunteer spaces, such as DIY aren’t a positive thing - but it is necessary to have specific terms upon which that work is carried out and therefore conducive to a healthy working environment. At Skogen, we were not checked up on during the rehearsal period - space was given for us to explore and experiment, to be respected and trusted. Feedback was given - on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis only after the premiere night. And despite having paid employees around us to assist with various technical tasks, we made a concerted effort to diligently pay attention to how for example the lighting and sound mixers were controlled so that we were able to do most of it ourselves without relying on their expertise so heavily.
But how can an organisation which is digitally based provide modes of care, support and/ or exchange? What should be available? The digital format in which this piece of writing will be presented, which will be launched in a physical space. I wonder who will embody this text that I am writing on the sofa in my pants, whilst drinking my third cup of tetley whilst drinking my third cup of tetley tea? A tetley tea which I found I can buy in bulk at an Indian food shop a short tram ride away - home comforts as awful as they may be are everything sometimes. You see, the digital can sometimes feel like a metaphor for that which has no real physicality, when of course it does. I was told the other day that watching Netflix for an hour uses the same amount of energy as two refrigerators would overnight, due to the use of various servers and so on. However, still, the carbon footprint of holding a Skype conference or similar would be far less damaging than gathering everyone to meet in one place altogether. And the same goes for publishing digitally as opposed to printing a publication. I’m unconvinced however as to whether this is truly advantageous in a political sense, maybe being together in person trumps this...
In my art practice I have been developing a structure for myself to work in, which is simultaneously the structure for the project which - focusing on architectural issues, both physical and metaphorical, takes three core strands: sculpture, writing, and performance. I suppose this could be framed as some kind of self care for my own ability to make work.
I would say that the organisation should be striving to make its space accessible, which obviously means many things - but when working with designers on the last publication I helped to edit, that meant, to cite just one example - looking at details such as whether the colour options we’d been using would cause issues for those with colour blindness. It can also mean the accessibility of the space in terms of physical access, will there be a spoken word version of the publication in order for it to be read in alternative ways… Also, the unpaid labour of artists in running and contributing to these spaces has undoubtedly contributed to the gentrification of certain areas, especially in south London.
The problem of not being able to pay artists or the members of the organisation is again a crucial one. As much as other forms of care can go a long way, and there are of course some forms of funding available, depending on where you live, it does unfortunately set a eople can’t fully contribute unless they are being paid, and others feel the pressure to do so regardless
I do fundamentally believe that even though many of these organisations may be flawed in terms of their financial structuring, it is more than often better for the work to be continued and visible and developing, even if its not anywhere near functioning in ideal circumstances, it can strive to be. I accept that we might be some way off realising even a portion of these things, but we must see the significance of the smaller achievements which collectively
In terms of the copyright issues of publishing online for the artists whose works will be used - the work of Cameron Rowland springs to mind. He is an artist who has chosen to split his body of work, and continues to do so, into either pieces to sell, or pieces to rent - being the first artist to enter a work into the MoMA collection on a rental contract basis 3. I enjoy the flip around of power dynamics usually experienced in the artist/collector relationship - where a work of yours might not even be possible to touch anymore once it is in the possession of a significant enough authority.
Eric Golo Stone’s work on the importance of artists’ contracts and the transparency of labour, which I encountered during my MA Fine Art studies at Valand Academy in Gothenburg, has stuck with me, mostly for the fact that it is applicable and important for every artist. Absolutely, every artist. It is possible, and crucial for us to stand by the value of our work and demand to be paid fairly alongside our fellow colleagues in other fields. Do not mistake me, I realise this is already happening for some artists in the field, but by no means the vast majority.
The work I just performed over the weekend with my study group tried to address our belief in structural systems, and I hope the critical eye with which we should evaluate them. The system I am referring to here is that of artists’ continuing to work ‘for the love of it’. This is something I was told most recently during the preparation for my MA thesis exhibition 11 12 thesis exhibition by the curator at Gothenburg Konsthall, that I do this for the love of it? Whilst we continue to perpetuate this exploitative belief, we will forever be in a toxic relationship with the field within which we work. This supports neither us who already inhabit it, nor those who might want to enter into the field in the future.
We have the potential to open up the arts, to establish it as a ‘necessary’ field - as crucial as for example the sciences. The conduct of serious, legitimate research and the commitment to continuing this investigative practice could allow for strides to be taken towards this end. Through these suggested practices, I believe significant changes can be brought about.
Let us maintain our ability to imagine the malleability and softness of the architecture we as artists inhabit.
I just flicked onto Instagram to be reminded that Chelsea Manning is speaking at the Royal Institution in London (organised by the ICA) over Frieze week. There is something about her impassioned enthusiasm regarding the potential for digital connectivity as an enabling tool. This is something that artist Alice Shintani shared with me in a tutorial last year… These shining, beaming lights might just guide our way…
“We’re not supposed to see the bigger picture...the systems of oppression and surveillance that oppress us...that’s what they’re designed to do...but once something has burst that bubble you have to take action, you can’t return... Listen to those who have an experience you don’t understand...We can’t expect a broken system to fix itself...We ALL have political agency...ask questions...you don’t need to understand it...LISTEN...all of us can act” 4
1. Robertson, L. Occasional Works and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture. Toronto:
Coach House Books. 2003.
2. Available at: https://skogen.pm/skogen/
3. Birkett, Richard. Rotate the Pass-Thru.Parse. 03-10-2018 Available at: http://www.parsejournal. com/article/rotate-the-pass-thru/
4. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/ BoZZQzShduB/ Next Page: Lucy Wilson, A Scaffold Sketches a Body Letting Go, Göteborg Konsthall, 2018
Lucy Wilson - Oct 2018
Image Credit: Fredrik Åkum
Lucy Wilson (b. 1990, UK) lives and works in Gothenburg, Sweden. She holds a BA in Art Practice from Goldsmiths, University of London and an MA in Fine Art from Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg, where she currently also works as a Research Assistant.
Ephemeral Care focuses on ethics, practice and strategies in artist-led and self-organised projects.