I’m posting a few pieces which have emerged from C Words starting with this piece by curator Sophie Hope on C Words, activism, and the art world, continuing with “what the stewards saw”, and ending with a wallop “It was doomed from the start” from Gary Anderson of the Institute for the Art & Practice of Dissent at Home. www.twoaddthree.org
This seems even more timely especially in light of what happened when Tate Modern invited the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination to create a workshop “Disobedience Makes History” in January 2010. www.labofii.nethttp://www.tate.org.uk/modern/eventseducation/coursesworkshops/20641.htm
John Jordan’s acute analysis of the extraordinary eruptions from the institution when the Disobedience workshop wanted to focus on BP’s sponsorship of Tate was published in the March edition of Art Monthly “On refusing to pretend to do politics in a museum”.
See also how Frieze Magazine wrote up what happened next, where “Liberate Tate” – the group arising from the Disobedience workshop – contributed generously to Tate Modern’s 10th birthday celebrations on 14th-16th May.http://www.frieze.com/blog/entry/unhappy_birthday/
Follow Liberate Tate at http://twitter.com/liberatetate
‘C WORDS’: A TISSUE OF LIES?
Sophie Hope, February 2010
‘Whenever I hear of culture… I release the safety catch of my Browning!’ This is a quote from Hans Johst’s 1933 play, ‘Schlageter’ performed on Hitler’s birthday to celebrate the Nazi’s rise to power. The artist Mateusz Fahrenholz made a print in 2000 that reads, ‘whenever I hear the words artist / curator…I release the safety-catch on my Smith / Wesson’. I can imagine a similar statement that replaces the words ‘culture’ or ‘artist / curator’ with ‘art / politics’. It seems that encountering these terms nestled together often leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many artists, curators and activists. I am intrigued when I hear people with such conviction condemn certain exhibitions, artists and artworks because they are too didactic and propagandistic, that they have no relation to art as they know it and are therefore awful exhibitions and/or artists. This is a confidence trick no doubt learnt at art college where cynicism is a sign of intellect (or just plain survival). On the other hand, exhibitions involving political issues can be accused of presenting aestheticised, watered down messages with no political rigour or potential.
Art and politics are often unhappy bedfellows because they work in contrary ways, expect diverse outcomes and assume different modes of address. On a sliding scale with art at one end and politics at the other, art demands a reflexive, questioning, poetic encounter with the world where the artist and viewer are not required to take sides, whereas politics assumes we have made up our minds and have a clear suggestion we want to communicate to the world. If politics was art, nothing would get done. If art was politics it would leave nothing to the imagination.
What happens then when these worlds purposefully collide as they did in the recent ‘C Words’ exhibition at the Arnolfini? Inevitably, an exhibition of projects that work more on the political side of the spectrum in a context that exists to support art is going to leave people either enthused or bemused, or both. These are responses one would perhaps expect from any exhibition. But does such a venture strengthen the bond between art and politics or have we witnessed an experiment where in a duel, art and politics have gone and shot each other dead? There are fundamental differences in priorities and approaches of artists and activists but in either case, both art and politics can feed off and inspire each other. As Brian Holmes writes, ‘when people talk about politics in an artistic frame, they are lying’ (‘Liar’s Poker’, 2004). Art being talked about in a political frame might also be equally dubious. One could argue that as an art exhibition ‘C Words’ was a disaster, as it did not sign up to the dominant rules of art making and displaying and so valuing it in those terms is doomed to fail. Accused of didacticism and propaganda, Platform (and by extension Arnolfini, because from the outside it looks like the institution endorsed these views even if ‘C Words’ came across at times like an uninvited guest) were shunned by artists and curators whose reputations are reliant on notions of critical self-reflection, ambiguity, theoretical musings and occasional humour. There was nothing funny about ‘C Words’.
A common criticism was that the exhibition felt like the backdrop to the curated events programme that focused on issues and campaigns that ‘C Words’ was addressing. Without attending at least one of these events, I would argue, meant you did not engage with ‘C Words’. Meeting, talking, arguing and sharing were key elements which the physical evidence in the galleries were an accompaniment to. To what extent, then, did ‘C Words’ allow for doubt and counter views among its participants and visitors? How was critical self-reflection built in to the process? The challenge presented by this project stretched both the hosts (staff of Arnolfini) and the guests (Platform and their collaborators) as the galleries became places of action and mini-riots of conversation. Were the hosts politely amusing their guests, whilst wishing they had never invited them, willing on the day they leave? Were the guests pushing their hosts everyday towards a mental breakdown just to see what they could get away with? Publicity-wise, it looks good to have a frisson of tension surrounding a contemporary art gallery (a sign of how risk-taking they are). But a peek behind the curtains might reveal a shadier story of an abusive/abused troop of actors keeping it together because the circus is bigger than they are. The show must go on!
In a sketch from the comedy ‘Cowards’ (BBC Four, 2009, directed by Steve Bendelack), a group of young professionals at a dinner party are playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun, cheerily undertaken as you might a game of truth or dare. When one of the group whose turn it is questions the validity of the game, saying they can’t really be serious – he’s the eighth person, there are eight rounds and he will surely be shot – they egg him on, telling him what a spoilsport he is and get annoyed at him for not wanting to play the game when everyone else has. Although he is in the same circle of friends, playing along, it suddenly feels like he is playing a very different game than his cohorts. Despite his protestations, he succumbs to the rules of the game and shoots himself in the head. It feels like ‘C Words’ and the Arnolfini were playing this game of Russian roulette, egging each other on, to see who was the most committed to art as politics/politics as art. The absurdity of shooting yourself to prove you are part of the club is darkly funny and seems to be the game people are happy to play on either extremes of the art and politics spectrum to prove their sincerity and commitment to what they deem the most significant mode of address.
Considering the gallery as a public sphere where subjects come to be ‘transformed’ by identifying politically and artistically with others is perhaps a naïve ambition. Experiences, revelations and depictions, no matter how sincere have the capacity to slip into performed versions of their real selves without even trying. To try to convert such art spaces into political spaces is perhaps only worth it if one recognises (and plays with) the paradox of politics being viewed as performance. Earnest art in a contemporary art gallery always risks being considered an ironic gesture. When confronted with long-term activist engagement in a gallery, however, we are caught off guard (‘my god, this isn’t ironic is it? Either it doesn’t belong here in the gallery or my whole worldview of art has been contested. It must be the former because me and thousands others can’t be wrong’). It’s easier to brush the whole embarrassing experience off as a series of badly told lies than to engage in the consequences of what is being presented.
In Holmes’ ‘Liar’s Poker’ (2004), the ace is political reality and therefore not something the supporters of culture (such as the founders, funders, boards, directors) are able or willing to overtly support. The game is based on the artist bluffing political engagement by making it look like they are political when really this is just an act. Either that or they have to hide their real political engagement and perform as the artist in order to siphon off money, resources and publicity for use by a social movement. The awkwardness of ‘C Words’ is that it looks like Platform and Arnolfini both hold aces. Are they both bluffing? The relationship relies on this being a bluff because they are operating in the field of art. But then, Platform play a double bluff and slam down their ace. They weren’t pretending after all. But this means they have lost the game in the context of art.
Despite the urgent and necessary tasks addressed through ‘C Words’, didacticism in an art context can come across as a holier that thou attitude which could be criticised for not acknowledging one’s own complicity. It is this hypocrisy which Platform considered during their work at the Arnolfini by trying to reduce the amount of contradictions, and practicing what they preached such as slow and reduced travel during the exhibition and drawing attention to the energy wasted by the gallery. The projects on show and the topics of the debates unravelled networks of finance (such as sponsorship, pensions, investment banking and savings accounts) that support the oil industry and climate change. These exposés enabled participants to consider their own implicated roles in global changes that it is easier to assume are not our fault or concern. To what extent though did this self-reflection continue throughout the exhibition? To continually reveal and throw into question the support structures of Arnolfini, Platform and the other participants is an important aspect in this network of complicity. At the same time, such facts of complicity cannot hold back the action. Activists have to acknowledge these contradictions and get on with the matter in hand. Another tactic to developing strategies of resistance and opposition could be acknowledging the inevitable recuperation, celebrating it, accelerating it, exaggerating it, overly identify with the clichés and creating new ones.
I didn’t go to COP15. Instead I experienced activism through others. I went to ‘C Words’. And I’m writing this. Slavoj Zizek (in ‘The Interpassive Subject’, 1998) has acknowledged the way we continue to lead undisturbed middle-class existences while doing our progressive, political and critical duties through Others. We act out our ideological fantasies through art masquerading as politics without having to get our hands dirty. As with ‘permits to pollute’ where carbon trading is presented as a capitalist ‘solution’ to climate change, ‘C Words’ allowed the Arnolfini and its visitors to offset their political or environmental ambiguity and passivity by experiencing activism vicariously. Passivity can wrongly be identified as activity when politics is represented as art in a gallery, but maybe this time we saw through this necessary charade. Nudged out of a state of denial, we are forced to enter a showdown with art and politics as our weapons rather the targets of a collective rage.
EMAIL FROM ARTIST AND REGULAR PARTICIPANT IN C WORDS EVENTS, 23.2.10
emailed from Daniel Balla, performer-activist, Bristol, founder of BrATS (Bristol against the Tar Sands), 23.2.10
The C Words exhibition provided the Arnolfini with the most interesting, stimulating and culturally relevant exhibition of the last three years. It was a bold and bright step to commission such a vibrant and engaging collaboration, but extremely rewarding. C Words provided a space where art
explored the politics of ecology, economics and anthropocentrism within the spheres of capital, culture, climate and carbon. These spheres were disseminated, critiqued, cracked and recreated through a discourse which evolved as the exhibition progressed through a series of innovative
installations, courses and performances. Boundaries between exhibit, exhibitor and visitor were continuously blurred, revealing interconnection between all the spheres and stakeholders, like a living, breathing venn diagram. It shifted roles and responsibilities within these spheres; generating inspiration and impetus through the experience, empowering its audience to change their relationship with the world. It was a demonstration of the vanguard of artistic investigation, championing art – with a small ‘a’ – for the sake of life, as opposed to Art for the sake of itself. It turned listeners into speakers, watchers into performers and thoughts into action. ‘Creativity’ was the C Word missing from the blurb, but omnipresent throughout the residency, and through the bike bloc, C Words delivered a new paradigm of political protest to the world which returned
art to a position of power.
The one thing I would have like to have seen happen as a natural progression to the work at C Words was a movement that left the confines of the building and spilled out into the wider world. In a sense it has – directly from the PLATFORM residency Bike Bloc, BrATS (Bristol Against Tar Sands) and other initiatives were born – but the emergence of a protest born inside the walls of the Arnolfini and bursting out onto the streets of Bristol at one stage seemed inevitable. Was this energy tempered by politics within the Arnolfini? Or has the inspiration from the exhibition been incubating within us, destined to birth new resistance to the oppressive structures revealed to construct and control the C Words? Time will tell.
STEWARDS’ WRITINGS, ARNOLFINI
It seemed as if the work in gallery 2,3,4 had a lot of specific intentions. It appeared to me that it aimed to persuade its audience, and on the way to this goal, inform them in a very factual way. A visitor to the gallery might end up being persuaded towards this specific argument, or they might be impressed and interested by the argument and the energy behind it, or they might disagree with the opinions and information provided. Or, if I was lucky, some one might be interested in debating why this residency (or demonstration, or installation, or performance…) was placed in an art gallery. But it has been one of the hardest shows for getting verbal engagement between visitors and stewards. There are many possible reasons for this; at best, that it is clear and self explanatory enough that there is no need for verbal explanations, at worst, that it does not inspire debate because it is un-engaging. How engaging can very highly intentioned artwork be? Should art always leave room for the viewer to actively interpret it? Where does the line get drawn between a piece of art and an illustrated essay? These are the things I began to think about while stewarding this show.
For me, the most interesting thing to come out of this ‘experiment’ is the questions it brings up about what art can be and what an art gallery can be used for. Art seems to have reached a point where almost everyone has a decisive opinion of what it is and isn’t and what its role should be, but its definition is so changeable, fragmented and subjective that it becomes impossible to crystallize in words. This is an exciting struggle of ideas, which Platform successfully highlighted.
The element that, in my opinion, was the most failing about the space was the way that visitors were sometimes approached by the activist-artists. There is a fine line between; making your self evidently available for conversation with a visitor, and an insurance-sales-man-like pounce that makes visitors feel uncomfortable and cornered. I see the art-space as a space that sits outside of the capitalist system in some ways; we are not selling you anything, and therefore it is entirely up to you what you think of the work, how long you spend in the gallery, ect. For example; if a visitor tells a steward that the artwork is “rubbish”, the steward will not get defensive about the work or become disapproving, but will attempt to provoke an interesting discussion, and perhaps challenge that persons view -in the interests of sparking debate, whilst maintaining the atmosphere that the visitor is welcome to have any opinion they choose. I am not saying that Platform didn’t allow for disagreements, I think that they did welcome all reactions. I am just illustrating the importance of the passive role that art takes; it invites contemplation or reaction, but no matter how emotive/shocking/political an artwork is, the audience absorbs on their own terms, and the artwork allows for this.
At times I think that Platform’s work risked becoming more like an election campaign, or tooth paste advert, that was using the art space as a convenient tool, rather than a genuine collaboration between art and activism. There are definitely parallels’ between art and activism; I see art as the thing that is always reflecting current society, and often critiques or subverts the current accepted norms and systems, in the same way good comedy can point things out about they way we currently live. But there are important differences too, and I am not sure if these were addressed or explored enough during the show. I am also not sure how much the show provided for the passing through visitor (rather than those who arrived especially for it)… a spectacle perhaps? An informative display…but then why not put it in a museum; a place associated with facts. Was it intended to be provocative or inviting? I can understand that Platform might want to avoid making work that is too visual, or playful, or dramatic, as it might distract from the seriousness of the climate debate, but when your aim is to make social change, then surly charisma is vital? Perhaps this is the wrong way to measure the success of the affair.
Despite my sadness, that projects like this ignore everything about art that is indescribable, that they use the shell of art and leave its real weight discarded, I was completely impressed by Platforms ability to self organise. It made me more optimistic about the ability of citizens to create a network outside of the established system. Although it would be easy to argue that there was a lot of ‘preaching to the converted’ happening, maybe it is the converted that can be inspired to do the things that will illustrate the possibility for change in this seemingly unstoppable culture of systems.
Jenny Campbell, Steward
SOME BRIEF, UNSATISFACTORY & INCONCLUSIVE THOUGHTS ABOUT C WORDS
There are so many aspects of C Words that can be examined and discussed but I cannot address them all. Therefore, I have chosen the few that were recurring points of concern for me during Platform’s time at Arnolfini.
I have many criticisms of C Words, but despite these I do admire the energy and enthusiasm that seems to drive Platform, and the fact that they have asked for feedback can only be positive. I hope that Arnolfini will also engage in a due level of self-critique, as I feel that the organisation was heavily implicated in many of the problems with the exhibition1.
If anything, the means by which Platform communicates its message is more important than the message itself, as I would posit that the majority of rational people would agree that climate change is a ‘bad thing’, that action must be taken, and that we all have some responsibility to do so (regardless of whether we actually take action or not – an essay in itself). C Words made me feel instantly defensive because of its crude, highly subjective, clichéd, self-righteous and sloppy presentation of the issues it aimed to address. As someone who is potentially receptive and sympathetic to many of the messages the exhibition was promoting, but far from being an activist, I found it worrying that it made me feel like this. I recycle and live a low-carbon lifestyle because of my economic circumstances as well as my moral conscience: I have no car, fly very infrequently, buy from charity shops, and am a low consumer of gas and electricity, etc, but I also recognise the contradiction that I work in a sector and, more specifically, a building, which cannot make such claims. A sense of tacit moral condemnation pervaded the galleries. While perhaps aiming for an admirable sense of inclusivity, approachability and openness, the message I received was that if I objected to this exhibition in any way I was a ‘bad person’ because of its default moral position of ‘goodness’.
The exhibition’s dogmatic, passive-aggressive ethical stance was in contrast to its premise as a stage for debate and discussion. I found this particularly troubling in the context of an art gallery: my belief is that ‘good’ art is that which is questioning, that challenges one’s beliefs and the way we see the world, qualities that were severely lacking in C Words – in the objects on display, the discussions and other events that took place, but most of all amongst the participants Platform had invited. I frequently witnessed blinkered attitudes with a lack of self-questioning and self-critique.
Platform’s attitude that debate and discussion should lead their activities at Arnolfini was an exciting proposition, but to fill the gallery spaces with poorly executed and conceptually tenuous ‘props’ undermined this. The other major failing of this approach was that there was often a distinct lack of debate – preaching to the converted was the norm – and at times (during Bike Bloc in particular) the façade of discussion descended into sanctimonious, conceited self-indulgence.
The exhibition’s installation was unprofessional, conceptually dubious and lacked any sign of curation, problems for which Arnolfini must accept a generous portion of responsibility. Presentation was often of GCSE level, with Virtual Migrants by far the worst offenders. Soon after C Words opened Platform acknowledged the hypocrisy of, amongst other issues, their use of MDF and full-power lighting (which also did no favours visually), but while such admissions were somewhat refreshing, they begged the question of why such basic errors had not been considered and corrected in the planning of the show. Constantly asking ‘why?’ is the bread and butter of making and presenting art.
Linguistically, equal carelessness was evident. There was not a single piece of literature displayed in the galleries that was not littered with spelling and grammatical errors, to the extent that a member of the public was impelled to take a pen to one of the texts in Gallery 2. I believe that to be taken seriously one’s written output should be considered and treated with due attention to detail. Any argument that the means of communication is secondary to the importance of the message is simply lazy, and ultimately it is oneself and one’s cause to whom it does an injustice.
Clichés abounded: things made of twigs, images of protestors bleeding from the head having been ‘attacked’ by the police, banners with naïve and reductive slogans that I could hardly look at without embarrassment, and a semi-naked ‘soap dodger’ holding a large log in front of his knob and looking very self-satisfied (perhaps the image that unfortunately best sums up much of C Words for me). I am deliberately using provocative language here that illustrates my own worst prejudices, in order to emphasise that C Words, sadly, did little to challenge them.
As someone who works in an art gallery, I am perfectly aware of my own position. I probably conform to as many clichés as the people I criticise, am equally subjective and can be prone to an art-educated snobbishness. People involved in the arts can be just as guilty of indulging in hermetic conversations as activists. I suppose the point I am making concerns the importance of self-awareness and self-critique.
As I said initially, I admire Platform’s energy and am sympathetic to many of their fundamental ideas. The way these ideas played out at Arnolfini was a missed opportunity for both parties and leaves a lot of questions. It is regrettable that all the questioning the exhibition provoked has not been focussed on the issues it could, and should, have raised. The only conclusion I can offer is to stress the importance of constantly questioning our convictions.
Ellen Wilkinson, Steward
CARING ABOUT CARING: ACTIVISTS ACTIVATING ACTION.
What this is
The following piece of writing is an edited extract from a much larger paper that I failed to complete in time for the submission deadline. Although covering nowhere near the same amount of ground and being fundamentally different in structure, my concerns remain purely meta-ethical. Hopefully – even in this rather fragmented format – the following points will remain succinct enough to act as a springboard from which an interested reader may continue forth.
Some thoughts about caring
Activists – if we are to believe the straight story of activism – engage in actions that are motivated by their values. They are also motivated by the desire to directly influence the ethical framework of those around them; that is, they aim to engender an altercation in my moral landscape.2 I therefore think that activists should be especially careful when thinking about the following points and we should be especially careful of activists and preachers full stop.3
When we care about something enough we also care about caring about it. Therefore we may guide ourselves away from being critically affected by anything – in the outside world or within ourselves – which might divert or dissuade us from following that course of action. I suggest that once an agent reaches a certain point4 in caring about something they will lose their capacity for critical reflection upon the framework (ethical or otherwise) which initiated that value in the first place.5
Here’s another thought that strikes me as possible: what if the importance of a certain thing to a person is due to the very fact that they care about it? It seems in instances when the justification for caring is the importance of caring itself, not only do we lose any useful measure of the validity of the chosen subject as an object of concern, but this very object becomes derivative of the antecedent importance of the desire to care about something (and not the other way around as the experiencing agent probably believes to be the case).6 I shall leave the reader to reflect upon how important the above points may or may not be, both
for the object(s) of the activist’s concerns7 and indeed the activist herself.8
Simon Buckley, Steward.
1. This desire to influence may or may not be a part of an initial value hosted by the agent, for present purposes it is of little consequence. Just to be clear on what I mean by altering a moral landscape: The activist requests me to not only revaluate how I conceptually understand myself as an reflective experiencing agent, but also how I conceptually understand myself as a reflective experiencing agent positioned within the world around me. Potentially it’s a big ask.
2. No doubt this sloppy comparison will frustrate both preachers and activists. What can you do?
3. What or where this point is I don’t know.
4. It is worth pointing out that all of us are busy attempting to alter how people feel and think about us. The dangers for the activist are those surrounding the extent to which they blinker themselves from anything outside of their own lights.
5. I am here indebted to Harry Frankfurt’s excellent paper ‘The Importance of What We Care About’ (1988).
6. What if the activist is irresponsibly unaware of her own motivations for doing what she’s doing and is totally shut off from any criticism, but remains to be a positive force for the object of her concern? In such a scenario how much does her ignorance and short-sightedness really matter? Discuss.
7. If I hadn’t written this piece here is where I would criticise it immediately: Not enough is said about instances when the object of an activist’s concerns becomes secondary to the importance of caring itself. Why is this a problem? How is secondary status an issue for the object of the activist’s concern(s) and particularly for the activist herself? It does not follow – as my argument seems to imply – that the object of an agent’s concern, once secondary, is of no importance to them. Surely secondary importance could still be very important? If I was an activist, this is the kind of line I would take in constructing some sort of defence.
I have tried to write this so many times…..
I think the most important thing I have to say is that what initially seemed like a polarised, unworkable situation came to seem like something incredibly juicy and interesting. In part, this is down to the way in which all of the Platform team bent over backwards to make me feel included and welcome. It is also due the length of time, I think, that you were around (duration acting like an eroding factor on hostility and solid views).
I wish, with hindsight, that I had attended more of your events. I didn’t, feeling that as somebody who feels very at home in galleries and loves contemporary art as a broad tradition I would be ‘punished’. (It is worth pointing out here my profound concern about climate change and the significant lifestyle choices I make accordingly).
I’m not entirely convinced that C-Words threw open the doors of Arnolfini to the disenfranchised masses, something which if not stated directly was frequently assumed/alluded to. Some of the Critical Tea parties felt extremely exclusive – for just another special interest group. The idea of Arnolfini as imperious ivory tower run by faceless autocrats is a popular view, but not one that tallies with my experience of it, nor with many of the hundreds upon hundreds of encounters and conversations I have had with visitors here over nearly 4 years.
I feel C-Words was an entirely legitimate thing to have been programmed for the galleries, though I found its un-aesthetic un-engaging. (Though it felt very creative).
I feel I have learnt a lot. I hope we stay in contact in some way. I am very glad to have met you all, and shall follow your work with interest.
Staff member (anon)
From Gary Anderson, Institute for the Art & Practice of Dissent at Home
by email March 1st 2010
It was doomed from the start. That much was obvious to anyone who took time to think about it. Positioning yourselves (and then ourselves) into the belly of the gallery was, at first glance, a mad move. But then, I came to realise that this was precisely the place such a project needs to speak from. For some reason ‘Institutional Critique’ has leapt out of fashion since Ranciere and Bourriaud
starting legitimising political content whilst ignoring ‘deep’ form ie of the gallery structure itself and its position within the mechanisms of Capitalism as producers of value which in turn gets ‘sold’ as such etc etc etc. So in a sense your project was mis-timed, in that it didn’t pick up where the Turner Prize winners et al left off. Impeccably mis-timed actually, because the flow of praise for work in white cubes seems based on work whose form is polished, finished and conceptually pleasant. In other words that it made sense as a whole, all the strings tied together. I find it impossible to describe C Words in this way. The thing didn’t even end, except technically, with the closing of the exhibition. A lot of it was preparation for something else. That’s what doomed it. That’s what made it brilliant.
Mute magazine came to Liverpool’s FACT (before C Words) and talked about working
with Institutions and ‘moving beyond institutional critique’. Although I understand what they mean – what they are frustrated with – I can’t help thinking this is a lazy attitude, one that our capitalistic subjectivities produce in us when we take the gas off our critical accelerators. It seems as if people are saying ‘because we’ve done it before we can’t do it again’. A ludicrous position. That’s not to say that C Words repeated what we already knew – it didn’t, at least for me. It wasn’t preaching to the converted either – which is the phrase we get locked into, like a cell in a prison, when we think
about ‘audience’ and ‘participation’ etc. C Words sidestepped all of that when it positioned itself as an experiment to see what UK culture might look and feel like when it takes its concerns about carbon, climate and capital seriously.
My own experiences with C Words were rich and varied and rewarding. I worked hard at it, argued hard for it, felt like giving up a few times but was mostly confident that the doom visited upon the project from the conditions within which it sprung (and was executed) might prove worthwhile. It did. More than worthwhile. C Words, as it passes, at least the exhibition phase, is settling into my memory or rather weaving its way into my everyday life like a melody, a refrain I enjoy replaying. And of course, and this is the proof that the real business is always in the eating of the C Words pudding, it goes on. It informs and inflects what I do and will do next. For example I went to Lincoln with another nine people over the weekend. We set up a speaker’s corner in Market Square. I was thinking of C Words all the time, how that phoney speaker’s corner operated on the ground floor, in profound contradistinction to what was going on upstairs in galleries 2, 3 and 4. The Institute grew another few meters with C Words and I was really proud to be involved – and to keep being involved which, for me, is the beating heart of the whole business…
Second email 8th March
…What I got most out of C Words, and I can’t resist enjoying this, is that there was (and is) a significantly different frame in play for validation. I ask myself ‘How do I know how it went?’ and I answer ‘coz I keep talking about it to you and others’. More conventional modes of validation were never really an issue (in terms of white cube validation, academic publications, newspaper reviews etc) for our contribution. Yet it IS important what we say and think and do now and tomorrow in relation to C Words.
I’m not on home territory here but I’d go as far as to say that I don’t know of any other project that has taken place in such an environment that, by the way it worked, ‘delegitimised’ or invalidated normative validation processes. It seems to me that to an important extent the gallery structures were not wilfully ignored or carefully critiqued but simply passed by and passed over. You and PLATFORM took a context that really shouldn’t be so self-concerned or up its own arse. THEN you and PLATFORM carried out a method that took the shape of 50 events (and all the build up and afterglow) of how NOT to be overly self-concerned or up one’s own arse when ‘doing’ culture. This is simply intolerable. It can’t be engaged with. I understand there were all sorts of issues with the gallery; staff, resources, understanding etc but it seems to me that ALL of that
stemmed from a kind of nebulous recognition from ‘them’ that your project wasn’t ‘doing things properly’. There was something about your lack of seriousness about ‘serious’ things that they couldn’t and wouldn’t accept. So it was doomed, brilliantly doomed. In a nutshell then, what’s serious to them doesn’t correspond to what’s serious for you. That’s what C words asked me to consider.
Doomed in the gallery – alive and kicking here and now in our conversation.