The C Words season has plunged straight in at the deep end, with full and intense discussions that have explored some of the key issues that will frame the next eight weeks. There’s been a lot of talking, but it has felt like an important way to begin: introducing the complex and diverse groups and ideas that are part of this season.
The first event was a meaty discussion on recuperation, and what it means for activist groups to work within an art institution like the Arnolfini. The debate opened with Jane Trowell and Alana Jelinek from Platform, Wallace Heim who is an academic and PLATFORM trustee and Tom Trevor, the direstor of Arnolfini. They talked about their own perspectives on recuperation, on the power relationships within this collaboration and on working at the edges between different practices: between art and activism, institutions and the street. I found the conversation around fear and risk particularly interesting. A recurring theme for many of the artists and activists who are contributing to C Words, as well as the Arnolfini, is that of coming up against an uncomfortable edge: working in a physical or idealogical landscape that is unfamiliar.
What does it mean to take risks, and work in these unfamiliar places? For PLATFORM I think it’s an opportunity to ask some big questions about how contemporary culture is produced: for whom, where, and what environmental and social impact it has. For the Arnolfini, I hope that it allows the institution to experience different ways of working, and to put into practice some radical changes in the longer term. The next eight weeks are jam-packed with events and the impact and meaning of the season will emerge slowly.
The edge between legal and illegal action was also explored: what does it mean for artist-activist groups to create tools for civil disobedience in a mainstream cultural venue? The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination will be starting ‘operation bike block’ towards the end of the C Words season. The project will offer drop-in workshops to imagine and create a prototype ‘bike block’ for protests at COP 15 in Copenhagen. The plan was to take the project to a Copenhagen gallery in December, but this gallery has suddenly pulled out. I don’t know what official reason was given but it seems clear that this is because of fear that a direct relationship between their venue and direct action during COP 15 would displease investors in the venue. A debate followed on how careful cultural institutions should be in sticking to the agendas of funders, or if there’s a time when it’s more important to cross over that edge and support work that is attempting to change something.
It will be interesting to see how many boundaries are opened up or crossed during C Words.