ESR 8 Blog August/September 2023: Marteinn Sindri Jónsson

I have been going through my archive of photographs in the past weeks, which has grown to a considerable size in the almost three years of FEINART. It brings to mind the many practicioners and places that I have visited since I started the field research part of my study in May 2021 in the middle of COVID. Somehow, and against all odds, I managed to carry out a substantial part of my field research in that first summer. My first visit was at the Ruruhaus in Kassel where Reza Afisina warmly welcomed me and my good colleague Sophie Mak-Schram a year before the documenta opened in June 2022. We picked up some strawberries on the way and Reza generously hosted a three hour long conversation about ruangrupa‘s work at the documenta which made a lasting impression and a deep fascination with the practices the collective and their collaborators were aiming to put in place for lumbung one/documenta fifteen. Incredibly, this exchange, which was only the first in a much longer and ongoing conversation with Reza, lasted about the time me and Sophie had between our trains from Friedrichshafen to Berlin. Not only did we have to rush from the train station for our meeting, we also had to rush back, settling for some dried sausages for dinner.

In Berlin I enjoyed a less rushed stay of three weeks, with wonderful excursions to the Uckermarck and around the city. At Strandbad Tegeler See artist Marina Naprushkina welcomed me and Sophie on a windy and overcast but warm late spring day and it was fascinating to learn about the perseverence of her collaborators at Neue Nachbarschaft/Moabit who had come out every Saturday that winter to prepare the beach for vistiors. I was there for its first opening in early June, and witnessed the powerful synergy of art space programming and what I have chosen to define as infrastructural stewardship, the caretaking of art and cultural practicioners of public sites and infrastructures that host publics beyond those that would frequent an art space. Of course, we could more generally consider art practices that repurpose disused infrastructures as infrastructural stewardship, but given how conspicuous such stewardship is, in virtue of art as a speculative mode of production (Marina Vishmidt),  I believe it might be meaningful to restrict the meaning of the term to artistic and cultural forms that combine art and cultural production with the actual role intended for the infrastructure in question; in this case a public beach.

From Berlin I travelled to the Ruhr region where the region‘s coal-and-steel-mining infrastructure has been largely repurposed through decades of cultural redevelopment. There, on the invitation of Anna Dobrucki, I visited an extensive exhibition curated across the post-industrial landscape of the region, the Ruhr Ding: Klima, leading me to conceptualise how art‘s speculative mode of production not only displaces the traditional spaces of art but incorporates the aesthetic experience of landscape, in this case the post-industrial landscape, as a result of its speculative form. This experience led me to follow developments in the region closely, which was recently awarded the honour of hosting the European migrating biannual Manifesta in 2026 under the title The New Silk Roads. Here, infrastructure, in this case the Chinese megaproject as a political imaginary, becomes the aesthetic or poetic subject of the curatorial programming.

A bit later that same month, I visited FABRIC: Plannung als Platform on the invitation of Cristoph Schäfer and Margit Czenki who I visited again in Hamburg in August that summer. My visit in Hamburg coincided with my family‘s relocation to Germany and in between my wonderful encounters with Schäfer, Czenki and other practicioners and neighbours of Park Fiction and Plan Bude me, my partner and my sons explored the city. It was propably one of the most trying periods of the whole programme, this intense overlap of family responsibilities and research, but in the end a most fruitful experience that has followed me and stayed as I work on finalising my thesis this fall.

I found myself in England in the early spring of 2022 where visits to Leicester, Coventry, Brighton, Birmingham, London, Wolverhampton and Edinburgh gave me an invaluable perspective, and a nourishing distance from where, to view my experiences in Germany the year before. The summer brought me back to Iceland where I reacquainted myself with some of the work taking place there during my absence, and the fall back to Germany. And although I was at this point working hard to formulate the first drafts of my thesis alongside the composition of the peer-reviewed article which was a compulsory part of the program, in addition to a swathe of conferences by fall, my fieldwork was far from over. However, it developed in the second year, inasmuch as I was increasingly participating in, or even organising, occasions and events that have since informed my thinking. That September I engaged extensively with the documenta fifteen, and in October I enjoyed the hospitality of Jakob Wirth at Make Up in Berlin, a place that holds a special place in my heart. And in many respects this journey culminated in some way in March this year when I was able to return some of the hospitality offered to me at the conference A Field convened together with Sophie and Julius Thinnes of Blaue Blume and generously supported by the FEINART network, the Zeppelin University and the ZUGS fund.

In contrast, it has been strange to have found myself tied to a desk since late April. Putting in all the necessary hours to complete writing up all of my findings from the last years, assembling all the notes, all the photographs, all the texts written, rereading the most important literature, reaching out but staying put, reflecting but resisting the urge to continue the kind of work I have undertaken to such a large degree in the past three years. And while I continue writing (at a desk mostly) in the coming months, in preparation for the termination of the program, I would like to say thank you for all the hospitality to all those who have welcomed me and hosted me during my field research in the past years. Some visits have been short, about the length of a train transit, often with unexpected returns, others have lasted longer. All have made a lasting impression and deepened my understanding of artistic work in a period of socially engaged art, and my hope is that I may have returned some of that hospitality already, and may continue to do so.

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