The things we do (and how)
This blog coincides with the end of my second year (and my second-year annual review). Over the last month, I have been reflecting more carefully and intentionally on the secondments I completed in July and on various things that this period of travel has left me with. One thing I found myself repeatedly discussing is the different ways of working and organising that have been put in place by the organisations I have experienced or visited. Apart from my time at Zeppelin University, which was my sole academic secondment, I was hosted throughout the journey by State of Concept (Athens), BAK – basis voor actuele kunst (Utrecht), and tranzit.ro/ București (Bucharest). Three very different organisations in terms of identity, history, mission, and size. Without going into the details of their programming and history, it was very informative to see how the shared vision of art as an instrument of political prefiguration, albeit contextually and subjectively undertood, translates into the everyday practice. Principles of mutual exchange, solidarity or horizontality are in fact complex to convert into managerial approaches, which often reproduce more traditional and (apparently) linear systems. In fact, these changes often require considerable time, and openness on the part of all the people involved, and time is usually connected to the financial resources available, thus generating substantial practical constraints. Furthermore, time is also connected to the longevity of a project, another important aspect to consider when assessing experimental practices and methodologies. The observed organisations are in very different stages of their development, and it is possible to note a notable difference in the awareness and openness of the people involved. BAK is an apparent and prominent example, and it was especially valuable to be able to experience such a complex system that continuously questions its functioning and role within the transnational artistic and political ecosystem. Because of its knowledge and durability, it has managed to undertake a number of configurations, going through important internal and external negotiations and reflections. On the other hand, the example of tranzit.ro/București demonstrates how, even in the absence of huge and more stable organizational charts, it is still possible to rethink work as a network, delocalised and branched out within a social fabric, adaptable and modulable on the basis of initiatives, projects, and aims. Without glamorising the unsustainability and precarity of the art work, and the strategies we are required to put in place to survive in this sector, it was instructive to observe supposedly similar spaces such as tranzit.ro/București and SoC operate in a completely different way; an approach that is visible in the structure and the programme as well as in the language and the reflections shared. How far can we go without compromising our endurance? How much is it really possible to question one’s own role? One’s authority?
Just before the summer, as the experience of the secondments was ending, I have been involved in the research project And Others: The Gendered Politics and Practices of Art Collectives, run by Lina Džuverović at Birkbeck, University of London and which consists of research interviews, a series of public online panels, a publication and further public events which will unfold between 2022 and 2025. Shifting the focus from outputs to collectives’ internal operations, the study seeks to discuss the inner working dynamics of art collectives to expose and address the inequalities and the forms of marginalisation that still operate in these contexts, often reproducing oppressive patriarchal and neoliberalist frameworks. With the intent of rethinking exchange and work methodologies from within, we were divided into groups based on topics and experiences and we were requested to initiate a first written exchange on collective writing pads, identifying initial intersections, topics, urgencies, and interests. Already in this early stage, a number of issues related to collaborative work became apparent, such as asymmetry of engagement, different times and pace, hidden hierarchies, the aptitude for horizontal communication, and forms of peer pressure (albeit benevolent). We all pondered on our own experience during the public event that followed this first part, and it was interesting to listen to the different ways people navigated and perceived the process as well as the difficulties we face when putting into practice what is often our area of study. Thinking of hierarchies was pivotal in reflecting on the responsibilities we might have towards others in a group, as well as the ‘privileges’ that might come with different positions and obligations. In the conversations, the tension between theory and practice, individual and collective positions, the infrastructure and the body reappeared.
Finally, I’d want to discuss a significant initiative that I have had the opportunity to visit in the last months. The Community Wellness Collective (C.W.C.) is a group of around thirty people who live in or are related to Wester Hailes, a deprived area in the south west of Edinburgh, who gathered together to improve community wellbeing. The collaboration arose from a commission offered to Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk by Edinburgh Art Festival and WHALE Arts, which helped the group to form and open a space at Westside Plaza Shopping Centre. Since late July, the C.W.C. has been organising free open events and activities aimed to increase awareness around health and wellbeing matters as well as the negative effects of poverty, housing precarity, and social isolation, and foster community cohesion. In the thesis, I will discuss this experience, but here I wanted to flag it up as a model of collaborative experimentation in which the way people work and how this impacts individual collective well-being is placed at the core of the conversation. Also, I also wanted to mention it for it reminded me of this:
 The recordings of the meetings will be made available on the website.