[-empyre-] The Commons

Bill Kelley Jr. bkelleyjr at gmail.com
Thu Jun 23 16:10:09 EST 2011

Greetings Empyre community,

I'm encouraged that the commons discussion includes discussions concerning
I'm currently curating one (although it doesn't call itself one), the 2011
Encuentro de Medellin.

Yes, it's true, now more than ever, that there must be a reappraisal of
"artistic and cultural development in a world that needs a sustainable
integration of issues related to arts, environment and humanity." I think
the biennial might be a place where that CAN happen.

The nimble and temporal nature of the biennial lets it take on risky
programming that museum's won't do, while its locality-centered identity
seems to attract artists focused on investigating local issues. In the best
case scenario that works out well. Local artists and communities share
experiences, etc etc.

But more often than not, the biennial turns inwards and reflects the logic
of the curators who organize it. And generally curatorial logic, that formed
to nurture  autonomous aesthetic experiences, is the litmus test for
educational/pedagogical possibilities and programming, public outreach,
community partnerships (if you can call them that) and just about everything
else you can think of. Everything goes to serve that logic and opportunities
for the discipline of art to flex new muscles and reach new communities are

Serving that logic generally means you end up with artists being parachuted
in, and local communities are counted on to pad the numbers at the hosting
museum, and that's it. Pretty conventional stuff.

But what if this notion of the commons was taken seriously and the logic,
was re considered from the ground up. No curatorial legacy to uphold. Just
serious considerations of what art can do locally and communally. That would
mean thinking about the public in more efficient and strategic ways.
One way is working with artists who not only want to deal with local issues
but have the desire and know-how to work with communities. This would
require both curators and artists targeting, not the public at-large, but
what Grant Kester calls "politically coherent communities" - nodes of
interested parties, both specialized and not, that would assist in helping
artists work towards creative interlocution, BEFORE the artist arrives.

Of course, this proposal only works with museums that have these kinds of
interests, and hosting cities with a richness of local organizations to
balance the professional ones. And it only works if you have a committed and
knowledgable curatorial team to recruit the right artists and identify the
right issues and successfully frame the project within an art discourse that
has historically had problems being so trans-disciplinary.

Its what we're trying to do in Medellin. But I'd be eager to hear other
opinions on this.




Bill Kelley Jr.
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From:  Tracey M Benson <bytetime at gmail.com>
Reply-To:  soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Date:  Tue, 21 Jun 2011 11:07:32 +1000
To:  soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Subject:  Re: [-empyre-] The Commons

Hi Linda,

Thanks for your insightful views considering the role of the biennial.

Your three key themes of 'Recovery and Regeneration', 'From Emergency to
Emergence', and 'The Commons' all have serious implications for artistic and
cultural development in a world that needs a sustainable integration of
issues related to arts, environment and humanity.  Cultural tourism may have
economic benefits on a local level and on an organisational level but at
what cost? I have certainly not felt all that comfortable attending
festivals interstate and overseas because of my carbon footprint and I think
this is a crucial issue to consider as part of designing the
biennial/festival model.

The example of  the Prospect Biennial in New Orleans, is inspiring example
for cultural regeneration and I think the dialogue between artists and
community needs to flow not just through the spectacle of the 'biennial' but
in a way that can inspire and invigorate culture on a day-to-day level.

Also agree about how the typical hieracrchical strucutre of the curated
structure of festivals does not allow for much innovation and 'risk', which
is why I prefer the 'unconference' model used by fo.am <http://fo.am/>  and
THATcamp as it is more inclusive and representative as well as a great way
of brainstorming ideas.

On Sat, Jun 18, 2011 at 6:06 AM, linda carroli <lcarroli at optusnet.com.au>
> Final text. All texts available online starting from here:
> http://placing.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/discussion-biennials-plus-and-minus/
> The Commons
> Taking cues from the examples and critics cited here, the idea of the
> commons has emerged as a networked space of creative and generative
> possibility and risk. To recover is to reclaim. In shaping the commons, Jay
> Walljasper states that we "recognise some forms of wealth belong to all of
> us, and that these community resources must be actively protected and
> managed for the good of all. The commons are the things that we inherit and
> create jointly, and that will (hopefully) last for generations to come. The
> commons consists of gifts of nature such as air, oceans and wildlife as well
> as shared social creations such as libraries, public spaces, scientific
> research and creative works." http://www.onthecommons.org
> <http://www.onthecommons.org/>  However, there's
> never just one commons - the commons itself is multiple and complex, in
> process and becoming. Artists actively keep the commons alive in the face of
> all kinds of opposition, censorship and antagonism.
> So what kind of art and art event is integral to this becoming or emergence?
> Several essays in Empires, Ruins + Networks: The Transcultural Agenda in
> Art, edited by Scott McQuire and Nikos Papastergiadis, also explore the
> possibility of a new network of global cultural dialogue and the
> construction of a global common. What I see happening in post-disaster work
> of the three examples cited earlier is a sense of the 'becoming commons'
> emerging from ruins and loss in a situation of what Ross Gibson might
> describe as 'changefulness'. It's what I am inclined to think of as practice
> based, as 'changescaping' (work in progress at
> http://placing.wordpress.com/changescaping).
> How do we reconcile the sometimes exclusive and exclusionary cultural
> practices with this call for 'the commons' and emergence? Whose
> responsibility is it to do the bridging (politics, art or, as Papastergiadis
> proposes, the "politics of art"), generating those relationships or draw
> those connections? What should we risk? The very idea - the possibility, the
> assumption - of the Biennial itself. Ultimately, there's a question of
> governance and stewardship. As Brenson says, "we have to talk about art in
> ways in which everyone has something to lose". If critical art, as McQuire
> and Papastergiadis write, "increasingly take an active role in constituting
> new social relationships" - or as Richard Rorty proposes, "speaks
> differently" - curators have a pivotal role to play in cultivation and
> caring (curare), politics and poetics. We all have a role to play in the
> poiesis of the commons.
> Thanks so much ... look forward to your comments.
> Cheers
> Linda
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

Dr Tracey Meziane Benson (aka bytetime)
Adjunct Postdoctoral Fellow || The Australian National University || School
of Music
Visiting Scholar || The Australian University || School of Cultural Inquiry
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