Moving on - report

On Saturday 3rd of March, B+B held an open discussion at the Whitechapel, in connection to the exhibition, Temporary Accommodation. The discussion aimed to take Belt (in this case, a Programme of artists' projects and events devised by Ella Gibbs) as the starting point for looking at the wider picture of current 'collective' art practices. Among those present were Annalisa Cattani and Antonio Scarponi who are members of Oreste (a group of Italian artists), Em Druiff of Dilston Grove, Karen De Jong and Ewoud van Rijn of Room (an artist run space in Rotterdam), artists Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie,Lorraine Harnett, David Lillington, Amanda MacGregor, Owen Oppenheimer and Neil Chapman.

The discussion, 'Moving On' was the first stopover of the B+B project, an enquiry into current artistic practices that focus on discussion and exchange as the catalyst for socio-political intervention. The event on Saturday highlighted the need for further discussion. B+B, as part of their enquiry, will therefore be organising regular open discussions in association with relevant projects. These will offer timeout to reflect, locate and focus on current practices.

Programme at Temporary Accommodation opened up a variety avenues of experience, each one different and specific to each artist's initiative. The programme published each week by Ella and the physical space of the Whitechapel tied these initiatives together throughout the two months of the exhibition.

The discussion focused on what next? How do these individual projects and Programme as a whole move on from this Temporary Accommodation? Small-scale, focused and intimate exchanges were the starting points or midway points of longer journeys for those involved. How and where can those journeys converge again?

During the discussion, members of Oreste from Italy considered Programme in relation to their annual residencies and in particular their project at the Venice Biennale in 1999. Oreste was created principally as a network of support for artists in Italy. Its foundation related directly to the context of the market led Italian art world and was intended to provide an alternative space to share and exchange ideas. Collective missions offering supportive networks and platforms for experimentation and failure, such as Oreste, often become systems with internal hierarchies and politics. During the discussion, the implications of the institutionalisation of collective practices were raised.

Many of the experiences hosted by Programme were enjoyed by just a few people who may have engaged with the language courses, cake baking, mending or red shoes. By its nature, collective practice necessitates the concentration and focus of a small group of people. The appearance of this activity (a cluster of chairs, a roundtable discussion) often conveys exclusivity. It became useful in the discussion to consider this in terms of specificity; of micro experience as necessary exclusivity. This situation is particularly problematic when occurring in a public gallery whose remit is to engage and include all of its visitors.

The discussion highlighted the difficulty of placing 'private' or focused dialogue in a public gallery setting. One night Whitechapel staff were invited by Ella to wine and dine with artists and others involved in the Programme of events. This created a tension between the comfortable, intimate dining experience and the feeling of being on display and inhospitable to people wandering through the gallery. Perhaps there is a danger when an active project space forms part of a wider 'exhibition' that activity becomes performative through its framing and staging. The banquet, the red shoes, the small informal discussions, all revealed the complexity (and inaccessibility) of working as small collectives in the wider realm of the public art gallery.

Ella described her relationship with the gallery, revealing the difficulty of this practice becoming too closely aligned or applied to a gallery's educational role. This raised issues surrounding the complex agendas of cultural policy in relation to collective practice. The project is valued and initiated as an art / curatorial experiment. These intentions become problematic when the gallery adopts the project as educational, transferring responsibility and confusing roles. The Whitechapel did not collaborate with Ella on a specific education project suggesting that, for the gallery, Programme's activity (through its collective character and dialogue with the community) offered an education project in itself.

Ella expressed her concern, recognising that for the curatorial staff, the exhibition is an endpoint leaving them unable to negotiate fully the progress or life of the project. Alternative, temporary experimental spaces allow for the nurturing of current practices because of the (idealistic) lack of pressures associated with the institutional system of public art galleries. It became clear that, in its relation to the institution of the Whitechapel, the motivation of Programme to offer a platform for experiment had to remain key. There had to be room for 'failure' and 'success. This is challenging when project spaces are sited in a gallery that automatically frames and represents practices without supporting experimentation nor sustaining transitional, durational practice.

One of the central issues of the discussion that emerged was the burden of documentation. One of the overriding impressions of the Oreste 3 residency this summer was the seemingly unending desire to record every exchange. Be it by video camera, stills, notes, Dictaphone, the ever-watchful eye of the inevitable document reigned overhead.

In many ways this served to enforce the weight of the frame over the events, immediately placing a stage under the activity. These recollections became inevitably cyclical as we sat taking notes and videoing the discussion on Saturday, surrounded by documentation of projects past with copies of the programme to hand.

We discussed the diary by Tomoko Takahashi adorning the walls of the programme's space which charted the project's life over the two months it occupied the gallery. Ella had been asked what would happen to the diary and whether she felt that as a whole it constituted a work. She argued that the parts of the diary belonged to all the participants and it seemed nonsensical for the responses to be separated out.

So how do we move on from this burden of documentation? Ella described the paper programme as a means to keep the document active as it constantly fed in and out of the activity by maintaining a changing space for sharing information and ideas. The movement of private to public in the creation of the work is transferred with collective practice. Rather than retreating to isolation to conceive and create the work, isolation comes at the end of collective practice, as a point of reflection and communication during the sorting, archiving and editing of footage, photos and sounds. In a sense, the need to document and convey becomes a process of mourning. How can we move on from this paradox of the active becoming static as we sit here framing and tying down our discussion through text?


Related Articles: