The original title of this piece was proposed as Spatio-types: Future ARI models, but over the course of my thinking about what these future models could be, I realised that the acronym was unnecessary. ARI already assumes too much. This piece, therefore, is a proposition for future models for artist focused spaces, rather than artist run spaces. This may seem like a small shift, but I have something quite specific in mind.
There has been a recent interest in the theorising and historicising artist organised spaces. Fillip in in Canada has hosted a convention on Institutions by Artists and some of these papers are now availed in a published volume.1 Stine Herbert & Anne Szefer Karlsen have also edited a collection called Self-Organised through Open Editions with contributions from Jan Verwort and the Croatian curatorial collective What How and For Whom.2 It seems that some of the drive of this interest is based in a concern for how we can keep going, as artists, within a globalized capitalist system. And how organisations by artists seek to re-situate the relationships “between the self–an individual–and an organised community within society.”3 Models for self-organization, therefore, can be seen as models that respond to a range of contemporary challenges relating to work and community in a broad sense.
I propose that it is time to stop thinking of the ARI as an alternative, or as in any way outside the institution. They may appear to be outside the institution as they are not part of the official program of major galleries. However this is only a narrow definition of institutionalisation.4 In a local context ARIs are institutionalised in three ways. Firstly, they operate within a network that shares an interdependent relationship with other institutions. Secondly, by the general adherence to a common or default methodology that is employed in the organisation of the ARI. Finally, they are institutionalised in a broader sense; that by working as an artist we are already part of the discursive field of art, and can therefore not operate outside of this institution. This last point will require a little more unpacking.
ARIs are institutionalised by their recognition as part of a network of systems through which art and artists move. They are a default point of reference for many graduates. They do provide an opportunity for emerging artists to present work. But there is an implicit characterisation that an ARI based exhibition practice is an initial phase of a career that will develop into a commercially viable practice supported by different exhibition models, including commercial models. The funding for ARIs, therefore, focuses predominantly on this key role of support emerging artists. This funding is often project based and as such is based on the new and temporary.
ARIs are institutionalised, furthermore, in that they tend towards a common operational methodology. The term itself is a bureaucratic inheritance. It signifies a certain way of doing things. And despite the proliferation of ARIs in Melbourne there is an interesting uniformity in the model.5 ARIs are generally run by a committee of artists, the average time served on these committees is two to three years. ARIs have one month long shows with a few days for installations. If they have multiple spaces these are most often leased separately. ARIs take proposals, typically annually. These proposals ask for a CV, a one-page explanation of the proposed work and 10 – 20 images of previous work. ARIs are not for profit. ARIs charge rent.6 ARIs often preface their activities around the idea of providing the ‘alternative’.7
Finally, and this is a point much better articulated by Andrea Fraser, any action that may make itself available for discourse within the institution of art (in the expanded sense) is part of the institution of art. As artists we are part of the institution of art. And we can only really get outside this institutionalisation if we really get out: give up the term ‘art’, give up the social context of art, and stop thinking about our actions as either aesthetically or critically redeemable in this context. And therefore, as Andrea Fraser states, “Every time we speak of the “institution” as other than “us,” we disavow our role in the creation and perpetuation of its conditions.”8 So for all these reasons it may be more productive to think of future models for spaces as being an aspect of the field, rather than occupying an oppositional position in relation to an undefined institution for which we have no responsibility9.
This is not a defeatist position. Given we are the institution, what shall we do? Actually I think one thing we can’t do is answer this question in the general. Evidently ‘we’ can all adopt whatever model ‘we’ see fit: according to our circumstances and desires. What I desire, however, is something specific.
So here are some ideas.
It seems important to speak back to funding bodies about the influence that their criteria have on the content of the works produced, and to what extent this is appropriate. For example, in a recent City of Melbourne grant application I had to answer the question: ‘3) Outline how your project: a) increases access and participation in the arts, and b) how this will be achieved and measured.’ Based on these criteria all the projects selected for funding by the council were projects that increased participation in the arts. This starts to sound a little like the logic of ever increasing productivity. At the same time, however, artists are more educated than ever before. As art is a specialised field not all work can be immediately accessible to all audiences. A. A. Bronson has observed that in Canada funding for the art has morphed form the support of culture to the support of the marketing of culture and the career building of artists;10 that “The artists of Canada have transformed themselves into bureaucrats, much as those of New York City have shape-shifted into simulacra of financiers.”11 So in answer to part b) I’m not a statistician or a sociologist, and I don’t work for the council. Attempting to solve social alienation is certainly a temptation.12 The question is, is socially inclusive art the only art we should fund? And what can funding bodies do to help artists determine their practices on their own terms?
All our actions can be commodified. How do we reconcile ourselves with this fact? The idea that artist run spaces should necessarily be based around a not for profit models seems to propose an artificial distinction between their activities and their place in the market.13 One interesting model that responds to these challenges is Orchard, a three year co-operative for profit space run by a number of more established artists (Andrea Fraser included).14 The premise of this model was to critique the commercial art market from within its own structures and “to avoid the marginality within a market-dominated art world that not-for-profit status often implies; and to develop a structure of financial support for positions, works and practices that are not being supported by the art market.”15 How would a structure like this function in our local context? This would take a little more financial planning that I can outline here. It may be that there is no market for more difficult conceptual works in a local context. However, the important distinction that is being made by this model is that artist should not be alienated from the economic distribution of their works as a principle of practice, even if no works are actually sold.
One key principle that I propose is that I will not charge artists money to exhibit. Models that charge artists are rather like charities that provide employment opportunities only to continue the exploitation of the disadvantaged. Charging rent introduces an unsustainable model that also facilitates a socio-economic hierarchy. This is the difference between an artist run space and an artist focused space. Artist run spaces can still exploit artists. It is not necessary that only artists are involved in the running of a space but it is necessary that the space operate with the interests of the artists as a central tenet. That artists are willing to pay to show speaks to an incapacity to think of making art as a valid form of labour. The trap is that: as we appear to be practicing based on our own desires, our labour should be its own reward, to the extent that we will even pay for the opportunity. There is a market for art, however. Art is one of the main reasons why Melbourne is considered ‘most livable’. There are museums and galleries and audiences and economies based around art, including academics who will continue to need something to write about.
So, I have this idea for a space. It can be useful in any task to apply the criteria implied in the title of the Croatian collective What How and For Whom? What: Convenience will be a small office space in the inner city (hopefully above a 24hr convenience store, or possibly in one of the historical toilets that are being de-commissioned). The space will show inconvenient work. That is difficult conceptual work, long play video, performance, work that has become uncool, and sometimes no work. This space will be a para-academic space. That is not that it will be over-burdened by texts, or even discourses. I’m not a fan of artist talks–but I would consider reading groups.16 The framing of the space, however, will be explicitly theorised using academic ‘competencies’.17 This does not mean that it will only show work based in institutionalised academic categories. But it will have a clearly articulated position statement. For whom? Anyone who wants to respond to the position put forward by the space, especially those who would like to respond antagonistically. How…. I’m working on that part.
As an example, one of the projects that I plan to pursue as part of this model is the re-staging of shows from the recent history of artist run spaces. This is partly to investigate the exhibition as a social site, and also to use the space as a time machine. This re-staging project also responds to some particularly Australian issues around the way in which we write our own history.
When I write I like to picture who it is that I’m writing for. I find it helps to keep me focused. But in this case I am writing for anyone who is involved in self-orgnisation and in the exiting models, but more specifically I’m writing to anyone who is interested in being in involved in this future model.
1. Stine Herbert & Anne Szefer Karlsen (eds.) Self-Organised. Hordaland Art Centre: Open editions, 2013
2. Jeff Khonsary and Kristina Lee Podesva (eds.), Institutions by Artists, Vol. 1. Vancouver: Fillip Editions, 2012
3. Stine Herbert & Anne Szefer Karlsen (eds.) Self-Organised, p. 11
4. I am drawing on the writing of Andrea Fraser for this idea of an expand definition of the institution, especially, Andrea Fraser, “From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique”, in Artforum International Vol. 44 (1), September 2005
5. The ARI is a particularly common model in Melbourne
6. This particular issue has been raised by a number of people recently, including at The Task event ‘why pay for shows? www.the-task.com. And also in a piece I wrote Run, run, run, run, run. www.boxcopy.org/publications/run-run-run-run-run-tamsin-green/
7. Of course some spaces do present a more specific position, such as SNO in Sydney www.sno.org.au, or Level in Brisbane www.levelari.org
8. Andrea Fraser, “From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique”
9. The idea is also expressed by the editors of self-organised who state: “we don’t believe that looking at self-organisation as part of an opposing dichotomy is any longer possible.” Stine Herbert & Anne Szefer Karlsen (eds.) Self-Organised
10. ibid., p. 30
11. ibid., p. 37
12. As Daniel Buren noted, “All artists are alike. They dream of doing something that’s more social, more collaborative, and more real than art.” quoted in Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells, London, New York: Verso, 2012
13. For and interesting critique of the role relational practices within a market based culture see Stewart Martin, ‘A Critique of Relational Aesthetics,’ in Third Text, Aug 2007
15. Andrea Fraser answers questions about Orchard, Neue Review, available at www.orchard47.org
16. In order to pursue what Irit Rogoff has described as “small ontological communities propelled by desire and curiosity, cemented together by the kind of empowerment that comes from intellectual challenge.” www.e-flux.com/journal/turning/
17. So before I start this space I am going to spend the summer reading Marx with David Harvey so that I can begin to know what I’m talking about. www.davidharvey.org.
Tamsin Green is an artist and writer based in Melbourne. She completed a MFA at Monash University in 2009, and is a current teaching associate...