Javiera Luisina Cádiz Bedini
In 2021, 50 contemporary art curators, researchers, and museum professionals from 32 different countries were awarded support to attend the CIMAM 2021 Annual Conference, in-person and online.
For the first time, and thanks to the generous support of The Getty Foundation who sponsored the virtual platform, 27 grantees attended the conference online, while 23 attended onsite.
Launched in 2005, CIMAM’s Travel Grant Program is designed to foster cooperation and cultural exchange between contemporary art curators and museum directors in emerging and developing economies and their counterparts in other regions of the world.
Javiera Luisina Cádiz Bedini's Conference Report
Curare (to take care)
The third and final day of “Under Pressure: Museums in Times of Xenophobia and Climate Emergency” culminated conversations around pressing interrelated issues. Titled "New Perspectives of Climate and Commonality", the panel included four women shaping the lens through which we view contemporary artistic practices: Binna Choi, Otobong Nkanga, Pelin Tan, and Maristella Svampa. These thinkers come from diverse disciplines and utilize different methodological frameworks and apply change and experimentation to personal and public art spaces.
In this short report, I want to unearth some examples of various works or strategies to which they refer that resonate with my own curatorial approach and that relate specifically to communal practices and the commons as methods of care.
The propositions they set forth push us to extend our thinking around art concerning the geopolitical context and think of more inclusive and humane ways of working towards the well-being of the land and others.
Choi, Director of Casco Art Institute in Utrecht, defines art for the commons as "resources that are co-managed as an object. But furthermore, it's more a method way of managing, sharing, caring, to be fair, equal, and joyful for the member of a community". (1)
Essential to this definition, however, she adds the importance of considering other communities when saying that "there are no single commons without other commons". In this way, and through her work at Casco, the curator is developing more inclusive approaches that can be seen in her next proposal, Commons. art, devised together with Yin Aiwen. This will serve as an online network of art professionals that she envisions to function as caretakers within "an economic ecosystem to sustain a new generation of socially engaged artworks, collective (art) practices, and artistic tools for the commons." (2) In an industry marked by economic precarity, long hours, lack of transparency, and exploitation, Choi's idea may seem utopian at first, but it elucidates a necessary tool within our industry that takes currencies of care and knowledge seriously.
Artist Otobong Nkanga, on the other hand, discussed her ongoing project Carved to Flow, (3) which, amongst other things, was inspired by the Museum architecture of Cameroon and by the tall anthills she saw on her first trip to Namibia, where she contemplated the landscape as one painful housing memories of extraction and colonialism leading to dispossession. (4) The project meditates on the minerals extracted from the earth and thus reconsiders the economy of mined substances as one that gives back, or replenishes, what is extracted. First begun as part of Documenta 14 (2017) in Athens, Nkanga worked with a group of women to produce soaps made of oils (olive, sage, coconut, and others) from places in the Mediterranean, North and West Africa, and the Middle East. The soap came to signify movement and migration, and its utilitarian aspects extended to draw attention to the ecological crisis and the question: How do we give back? This is echoed in its multisite structure, which is now in its third phase called the Germination, that signals the establishment of The Carved to Flow Foundation in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, which takes to heart an economy that nourishes, unites, and creates ecologically conscious products.
Based in Mardin, Turkey, Pelin Tan is a senior researcher and professor whose talk, Field as Entanglement and Transversal Methodology in Decolonial Practices, (5) included multiple examples of how socially engaged art is not only a strategy for the commons but also one that works for spatial justice beyond the academy and into emergencies, such as the migration crisis. Tan spoke of Camp as Commons (2017) (6), which investigates the self-organised Diyarbakir Çinar Refugee Camp, established in 2015, and where everyday activities such as gardening were studied and documented to build an archive of memory. Gardening, Tan explains, can be seen as a "minor action against the effects of the Anthropocene." In an article on the subject, the academic says that "[a]ccording to Silvia Federici, commoning practices require community, which in itself is based on relations with the principles of cooperation and responsibility to one another". (7)
Lastly, Argentinean sociologist, Svampa presented Pandemic, Socioecological Crisis and Alternative Proposals from the South. (8) Using COVID-19 as the nexus to speak about the socio-ecological emergency, she argued that globalization has failed to unite and has caused even wider socioeconomic gaps. However, she also pointed to solidarity movements such as the Pacto Ecosocial de Sur (9) that are gaining traction and exposed local ecological disasters such as the Paraná Delta Fires of 2020, where the worst fires hit the marshlands in decades. In stressing the importance of ecofeminism and indigenous knowledge, the writer interweaved notions of art, nature, and society with concepts of care and sustainability in what she referred to as a situation of 'post-pandemic recovery.' While the recently discovered Omicron variant identified in South Africa sheds doubt on notions espoused in the prefix' post’, (10) Svampa maintained that "the pandemic put the Care paradigm on the agenda, revealing that this is the keystone for building a resilient and democratic society".
When moving to energy transition, she stressed the “need to have a geopolitical vision of the eco-social transition” and used this as an example of the Aerocene Pacha Project (2020) where Tomás Saraceno, together with indigenous communities of Salinas Grandes in Jujuy, Argentina, launched a fuel-free hot air balloon, Aerocene Pacha, using only sun and wind energy. (11) Hailed as the most sustainable human flight to date, art became an important symbol of solidarity and hope in the region, where lithium mining for batteries is intended to ruin the landscape and infringe on the rights and beliefs of people living there. (12)
While three of the four practitioners presented online due to travel restrictions, the physical space in which we were congregated was the ECS European Centre of Solidarity in the historic port city of Gdańsk. The location is not lost on me, and it’s important to contextualise the conversations, which, as Anna Karpenko describes in her moving piece Nothing is There (13) were taking place near the Belarus-Poland border, where a migrant crisis exists at the heart of winter. As we spoke about xenophobia and injustices during the very days of the conference, protesters were concurrently demonstrating against the country’s restrictive abortion laws chanting “Her heart was beating too” in reference to Izabela, who had passed away in September this year, and who has become a national symbol of the suffering and struggle of the near-total ban.
Beyond this conference, the speakers urge us to be active participants in a world in crisis, but one that offers us the privilege of seeking multiple opportunities to develop artistic ties that defend the rights of people and create artistic frameworks that become forces of life. Art provides a potent imaginary for rethinking how humans treat the earth and the implications are indeed planetary, but change is also dependent on small gestures like gardening. On a personal level, the contributions shared by Choi, Nkanga, Tan, and Svampa are a treasure-trove in developing my own curatorial and research-based practice with the intention of cultivating a more holistic and humanitarian art scene that strategically places the commons at the center of curation. From the emotional third and final day, I took away that collective well-being is the ultimate strategy for the arts, which is not separate from life.
1 Choi, B. (2021, November 7). What Does it Mean to Art-Institute while Unlearning to Practice the Commons and Maintaining an Ecosystem? CIMAM. https://cimam.org/digital-resources/cimam-tv-ok/lodz-and-gdansk- 2021/binna-Choi/
2 Commons.art – Casco Art Institute. (n.d.). https://casco.art/projects/this-is-a-test-project/
3 Nkanga, O. CARVED TO FLOW. http://www.carvedtoflow.com/
4 Nkanga, O. (2021, November 7). A Circle Arching Out and Back – Carved to Flow. https://cimam.org/digital- resources/cimam-tv-ok/Lodz-and-Gdansk-2021/otobong-nkanga/
5 Tan, P. (2021, November 7). Field as Entanglement and Transversal Methodology in Decolonial Practices. https://cimam.org/digital-resources/cimam-tv-ok/lodz-and-gdansk-2021/pelin-tan/
6 Tan, P. (2017). Camps as Commons. https://www.academia.edu/31049225/Camps_as_Commons
7 Tan, P. (2017, July). Refugee Heritage conversations: Pelin Tan, "Camps as Trans-Local Commons"— Architecture—E-flux conversations. https://conversations.e-flux.com/t/refugee-heritage-conversations-pelin-tan- camps-as-trans-local-commons/6760
8 Svampa, M. (2021, November 7). Pandemic, Socioecological Crisis and Alternative Proposals from the South. https://cimam.org/digital-resources/cimam-tv-ok/lodz-and-gdansk-2021/maristella-svampa/
9 PACTO ECOSOCIAL LATINOAMERICANO. (n.d.). Pacto Ecosocial Latinoamericano. https://pactoecosocialdelsur.com/
10 Ellis, E. (2021, December 4). OMICRON: SA SCIENTISTS STRIKE BACK: Travel ban threatens information sharing, weakens global solidarity. Daily Maverick.
11. Barandy, K. (2021, August 29). Tomás Saraceno’s clean, solar-powered Aerocene Balloon sets 32 World Records. Designboom | Architecture & Design Magazine. https://www.designboom.com/art/tomas-saraceno-aerocene-pacha-balloon-flight-32-world-records-08-27-2021/
12. For more on the subject and the implications one the inhabitants of the region, see: Rappolt, M. (2020, April 16). Looking Back at Artist Tomás Saraceno’s ‘Aerocene Pacha’ for CONNECT, BTS. https://artreview.com/aerocene-pacha-tomas-saraceno-connect-bts/
13. Karpenko, A. (2021, November 30). Nothing is There—CIMAM. https://cimam.org/news-archive/nothing-is-there/