March 01, 2017

Foreigners

There's been a spate of museum ‘what-to-do-about-Brexit’ conferences/briefings since the EU referendum - a symptom of the uncertainty which museums (and everyone else) faces at this time. A fundamental problem for museums is that one of the founding values of their purpose, liberal progress, faces its darkest threat since WW2. As custodians of history, Museums (should) recognise more than most that we have been here before - rising hate crime, xenophobia, populist nationalism/fascism, and now Trump in the White House adding gangster capitalism and climate change denial. Chinese military officials openly operate on the assumption of the 'practical reality' of Sino-US war and, even since I started writing this, Putin has told the Russian air force to prepare for war. We now know what it felt like in Germany in 1933. The barbarians are at the gate and this time we have no excuse for ignorance – we have the lessons of history.

So what will the museums do? There’ll be rhetoric of more cultural democracy, participation, increased access etc. Museums have been educating and engaging with their communities for decades.... but their communities still voted to leave the EU. In the same way, Bury Art Museum has presented its audience with an internationalist programme for more than 15 years; its cultural aspiration being that Bury people shouldn’t need to go to Berlin or Basel to see the best international contemporary art, people in Berlin or Basel should have to come to Bury. But Bury was also one of the towns in which the majority voted for Brexit. 

So what should museums do? Cultural professionals often claim that it is a function of culture to challenge. In truth, I can think of very few museums that ever really challenge. How often have you left a gallery feeling challenged? And now culture faces an existential challenge and it cannot fail to meet it. The assault on humanity, decency, truth, even life on earth has been bewildering fast and, taken aback, the response of civilised society has been slow and confused.

The International Committee for Museums (ICOM) has a conference called 'Exhibitions Without Borders' this summer in Puerto Rico - a dependant US territory and therefore subject to Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering the country. I asked ICOM what their position was going to be on this as clearly the exclusion of Muslim museums would be an anathema to the values of the organisation. ICOM and US-ICOM have announced that the ban is contrary to the values of museums, but is that enough? The US courts have knocked back the Trump ban but this is no time for complacency, the Regime are coming back with more bile. Maybe resistance is mobilising in the American Museums – I know that MOMA responded by showing artists from the banned countries and the Davis Museum  in Massachusetts removed artworks by immigrant artists leaving empty walls. So what can museums do? ('Community engagement', 'cultural democracy' blah, blah, have their place, but don't face the crisis head-on). 

Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre already has an international programme; and in terms of challenging, it is currently showing Riiko Sakkinen's critically sharp 'ABC of Capitalism',  Juntae Teejay Hwang uncompromising ‘Angry Hotel Propaganda’ (left) and Jez Dolan’s queer ‘Diary Drawings’ and 60/50. But Brexit, Trump and rising racism require a specific response. So this summer I’ll be curating an exhibition called ‘Foreigners’.

This won't be a show about immigration or refugees; it won't even be a show about foreignness. It won’t romanticise the Foreign as Other. We are being told to fear foreigners, to hate them, to blame them for any and every problem we face. The Foreigners exhibition will be a cultural action that defies fear with hope.
It is my belief that Museums should do more than collect/preserve history, they are part of the process of making it; the narratives we lay down now form our future past. This is a dark moment in history, the future of humanity and truth is at stake: Museums have to be on the right side of History.

We are accepting submissions from artists to be in the show at artgallery@bury.gov.uk

February 18, 2017

Listen Backwards to Advance

Today Helmut Lemke launched Listen Backwards to Advance (LBtA) in Bury. For the whole of 2017 he will work from the starting point of an archive of all his previous work to move his practice forward. He has moved everything that has anything to do with his artistic activities into the basement of the Fusilier Museum, opposite the Bury Art Museum – a process of creating a public archive, investigating a 40 year career in sound art as a durational public performance. It examines a European sound art practice through rigorous investigations of past work. This project unpacks one person’s creative practice and collaborations across Europe.

LBtA will be performed in two stages – a research and development stage from Jan to June and a second stage where he will follow questions that have been identified in the R&D stage.
The R&D and critical investigation will be public for 5.5 months in Bury Art Museum (Jan-17 - June-17) investigating and questioning issues that have determined and driven his practice.
As a performative event and ongoing exhibition he will create a publicly accessible Archive (1977-2017): Objects, Photos, Videos, Sound Recordings, Writing, Publications, Drawings, Sound Machines.
He will:
  • ·      Hold a series of PUBLIC consultations and round table discussion to focus on elements of practice,
  • ·      Catalogue previous work and documentation,
  • ·      Reconstruct installations as temporary experiences,
  • ·      Perform extracts of work,
  • ·      Invite experienced practitioners and thinkers (1 individual and 1 panel per month) to:
  • ·      exchange knowledge and experience
  • ·      define relevant historic steps and developments in sound art
  • ·      extrapolate and critique significant chapters of his artistic journey.

 I wrote the following essay for Helmut Lemke’s installation during the 2013 Venice Biennale, and thought now is a good time to repost it (with a slight edit) to explain the important of his researches in Bury in the coming year:

Since the 1970's Helmut Lemke has developed site-specific concerts, performances and installations. His endeavours have taken him to concert halls and outdoor markets, to Galleries and Museums and to the frozen seas off Greenland, to Function Rooms of Pubs and to International Festivals. He has presented his work all over the globe, collaborating with other Sound Artists and Musicians, with Dancers and Scientists, Visual Artists and Architects, Poets and Archaeologists, Performance Artists and Wildlife Rangers. He has experienced many audible sounds as well as those made audible through creative interventions, and fundamentally come to understand the site the sound requires.
Through these investigations into sounds, some obvious, some familiar, some to be found, he has become a Cageian presence, not in the sense of musical or poetic lineage but as the value proposition conduit for a contemporary insight into sound itself. Lemke has observed that sound is behind you when you gaze toward the horizon: he places us in that moment, and constructs for us the awe of our relationship between the sound he unveils and the phenomenology of presence in that environment. This pursuit and representation of the fundamentals of sound is driven by his conception “über den hörwert”, a Marxian analog of the surplus value of hearing. His aim to represent a specific environment through its sounds at a specific moment requires listening with all senses. Accepting the impossibility of resonating the actual sounds heard in the moment he heard them, he constructs a conceptual aural present. Lemke talks about the tools he uses to communicate sounds heard to non-witnesses of the original, the remarkable articulation of his line, - raw and skeletal - poetry, visual poetry, onomatopoeia, soundpainting, photography and sound recordings, uncovering the democracy of microphones. He states his attempt to describe, to reproduce the experience of sound itself, its thickness, the ontology of being in sound, but this is not accurate: in fact, he becomes the act of hearing. In the offering of his approximations, objective and subjective improvisations, Lemke evokes memories of sound, and more, posits the second hearing, ours, in a new existential space, as a synesthetic osmosis. His quiet declaration of inwardness tunnels us into him and our ears are replaced by his. To know of the source of a sound helps to imagine it. Lemke is the source of the sound because whether or not his listeners really hear what he has drawn, written and document, verification lays in his trust in the audience’s willingness and capacity to absorb the inspiration and imagination of being. Reflecting declarations of purpose from Lawrence Weiner, William Carlos Williams et al., Helmut Lemke makes art useful to us, we can cross the bridges he has made for us.


Lemke has made himself the disembodied microphone, the universal hearer/ signifier of the sounds in the forest that no-one is there to hear, the teacher, the artist, the beekeeper. 

January 24, 2017

Museums, Innovation and Entrepeneurship: Forthcoming Talks


A busy few weeks of presentations about museums, international working and entrepreneurship (links included below).

Date: 26-28 January
Location: the Santa Maria della Scala Museum Complex, Siena, Italy
Quite excited about this conference as it frames the discussion in the relation of the future of culture, and unusually locates museums in the dialogue with music and cities.  The title of my paper is ‘How Not To Be National’ in which I’ll be talking about how it is possible to develop an international practice by ignoring your regional or national cultural institutional structures and going straight to global projects and collaboration. In my session I share the platform with Raquel Mesa from Action Cultural in Spain and N2U Art Group Paris.

Date: 2 February
Location:  Birmingham University.
I often hear myself referred to as entrepreneurial, and though never correct it, don’t believe it is a good description at all. So I’ll be talking at the Cultural Heritage Workshop about Entrepreneurship. Really the key to entrepreneurship is not pursuit of making money at all; it's new thinking that matters – Asking yourself fundamental questions about how your practice works and how to trade on your uniqueness.

Catalyst Conference (part of Spectra Festival)
Location: Aberdeen
Date: 9-12 February

This one will be a version of the Siena presentation, applying the experience of Bury to the opportunities for Aberdeen. I’m speaking on Friday 10 Feb. Sharing a platform with Chris Carney of Threshold Festival of Music & Arts, Stefán Magnússon, is the Artistic Director of Eistnaflug festival, in Iceland, and Angela Michael, Festivals and Cultural Director at VisitAberdeenshire.


In case anyone is trying to keep track, my recent presentations have involved me speaking at Museum2015 Tokyo, European Network of Cultural Centres 2015 (hosted in Bury), Museum Cluster & Cultural Landscape, Taiwan Museums Association 2016, UK Trade Mission to Seoul 2016, International Touring in Banja Luka, 2016, Chinese Museums Expo 2016 – and various UK events which I haven’t time to list.


January 18, 2017

Inauguration of Donald Trump: Sequester the Bile




















Sequester the Bile

1
Will this be filmed? Will I ever been seen again?
Déjà vu to pre-empt the desire to say:
this is me and that is them - as emphatic modifiers
If the signature is left as an empty list
A loser’s garden for a nobody,
nobodies, useless eaters as a forgetful functor:
their intropunitive ignorance of a soliton that goes ahead of us
Austere defenders of the right to pay towards the certificate
with or without fear.

2
Now conditionally bijective to now
A catalogue of comparatives and superlatives been here before
those heroes, holders or changes to the governance pathway;
recursive choice mildnesses
the indecisive
bring me the head of stupid
enjoy your day of barely disguised resentment, whispered irritation
catalogue systems of libraries, ideas cosy, mediocrity built after
                bombing,
trees all the same height are the same age
in estates of easily constructed isotropic housing

Apologies (labelled transitions between states)
when to compromise only generates compromise –
the axiom of determinacy
not the axiom of choice
standing despite all possibilities to fall
We are not going out onto that jetty,
it's dangerous and no one will thank us.
In the same way valleys are better than mountains
barbarous dissolution
its budget for the new management
You are pathetic and will get what you deserve

3
Architects of the future:
The tyranny of cardinal geometry, stars and grids with sightlines
our breath will create weather OUR BREATH WILL CREATE WEATHER
truly monumental … far exceeding all expectations for our 1000
years
our arch will be bigger than your arch OUR ARCH WILL BE BIGGER
                                                                           THAN YOUR ARCH
the wall detail of cracks and crevices, beautiful colours, fronds and teeny weeny microphylls
the worst thing that could happen
this absolute future looks bleak for vertebrates