VISIONS TO BE CONTINUED
– Sarah Kim
The Locis initiative in Stockholm reassured me that it is possible for art processes, collaborations, and networks to escape – for a moment – the anxious and hasty practices of capitalist production. The time allocated for thinking and reflecting together seemed to confirm the very importance of that activity. A section from the Locis concept states ‘this collaborative project offers an opportunity to contemplate’, which is a fantastic luxury. If one can agree that almost every aspect of life is controlled and determined by capital, then maybe it is safe to assume that there is a desperate need for a space free from this dominant hegemonic experience. Can culture and art be a relief from this intense infringement? This is a question for cultural producers. There is enormous potential in recognising the autonomy, independence, and importance of culture – culture as a whole social process where we shape our lives. The congregation of artists using this space focuses on making art that challenges the ideological structure in society.
The group of artists that met during the 2013 residency approached the task of collaborative contemplation with a certain level of care and awareness. There was an apparent sense of vulnerability and uncertainty despite or maybe in relation to their class privileges as a white middle class art group in the setting of Fittja, a working class suburb with a large immigrant population. They underline, ‘We see ourselves as outsiders or guests in this place, and our research as being wholly subjective.’ This is a clear stance to take and a common comfortable position within artistic research. In this role you have a certain freedom to interpret and escape some responsibility. Despite this exceptional status, there was a level of reservation and careful regard in their process of getting to know one another and the site.
When entering an unfamiliar context, there is a concrete challenge to perform and deliver. You often see within group art projects a nervous scrambling under the condensed production period. Suddenly insecurities can arise and lead to rash tendencies to run with the first bad idea. This is all too familiar for those who have worked with forced collaborative projects or been through the relational aesthetic wave. I believe these problems stem from a lack of time and the pressure to create and adapt your artistic practice to the capitalist mode of production. To prevent the traps of implicit bias, prejudice and reductive thinking, this Locis group initiative takes a necessary pause for reflection. Asking questions of who are we, what are we involved in, where are we, and how do we proceed? This activity confirms the social relations within the group and creates a secure environment for visions to be uttered, described, and imagined.
Part of the method of collaboration included a necessary step back looking into the archives of art history and architecture, and in particular, ideas from an era in art that embraced rediscovery, re-appropriation, and re-acquiring of space. The sixties and seventies art movements embody a keen sense and understanding for the power of subtlety. Artists like John Cage, Yves Klein, and Ad Reinhardt, for example, were engaged in a process of examining the present with a type of deep and layered mindfulness by acknowledging the endless possibilities that surround us everyday. Seeing the new in the known requires an act of meditation on the spaces in-between, and here patience is essential. Cage once stated in an interview, ‘Sounds are just sounds, they don’t have to mean anything.’ With this perspective one is liberated from the constant pressure for newness and the obsession with novelty. By bringing back these references from art history as inspiration the Locis team has started the groundwork for combating the neoliberal crash course propulsion, constantly in demand from a commodified culture. A slowness is emphasised, a practice of refusal to make new things, and instead a suggestion is made to meet together, give a genuine attempt to observe, research, think and appreciate what exists.
Another key inspiration for the group was the award-winning proposal Fittja People’s Palace, by the architecture office Spridd 1. This renovation plan was interesting as a concrete formulation and vision for the gentrification of this area. Fittja is one of the many suburbs
built during the Swedish Million Programme era (1965-1975). The rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of Stockholm demanded for a large-scale housing project to be initiated by the state. The identities of these suburbs were built with the intention to be an ideal, affordable place for families to live in modern homes, close to nature, and easy commute/access to the city centre. Now, the gentrification process has begun and renovations have started, which aspire toward ‘sustainable, profitable, and scalable methods’. The renovation plans for one residential building showed that the original construction was considerate, solid, and still relevant to contemporary conditions. Minor reinforcements are to be made for the security and maintenance of the houses. The sensitivity mainly lies in the process of communication
and interaction with the residents. Their crucial focus point was to have transparent collaboration with the residents, especially after the recent demonstrations and protests against the selling off of municipality-owned housing properties and general rent inflation in the region. The discussion of class and cultural capital of the expanding cultural institution cannot be ignored in this context. A maximum of 10 per cent rise in rent has been stated for this building. Methods for opening up a discussion, to be in dialogue, and make connections with residents are currently being put into effect.
The Locis 2013 group displayed the results from the meetings and their individual experimentations and research in an exhibition and seminar at Botkyrka konsthall. The title ‘What can be described can also take place’, a quote from Wittgenstein’s Tractus Logico Philisophicus, literally explains the group’s interest in visionary language for the given site. On a whole, each work carried a sparkle of optimism. The articulation and desire for change is felt. This visionary work is clearly important and the practice of imagining a future is crucial and should rightfully be nurtured with such initiatives as Locis. The methods investigated and developed within the setting of the cultural institution allow for an exchange between fellow artists and researchers from other countries. These ideas of slowness and time to protect oneself from speeding commercialism are affirmed and permitted. All these contemplations enlighten us and also offer us a moment to reconsider the power of architecture, and the limitations and potential of art.
It is key, for a cultural producer, to force an awareness and recognition of certain contradictions. If the desire for this ‘free space’ for visionary activity that stimulates thinking within a cultural institution aims to be truly free, perhaps one must also scrutinise the whole practice itself to avoid a re-establishing of our capitalist superstructure. This challenge is a never-ending loop, albeit necessary activity.
There is a distinct border in the cultural sphere that must be acknowledged. Inside Western art institutions, the majority of both workers and audience come from a white, middle or upper class background. Often the border – or class divide – is unintentionally drawn. From my experience (as a non-white cultural worker) these institutions seem to be desperate to do the opposite. In this observation, however, similar tendencies, strengthened hierarchies, are invariably a felt outcome. But the assessment can hardly be that the visions themselves are the problem.
In this contemplative pause and meditative step, which Locis took in 2013, a consensus
was discovered. The vision is to break the divisions. The potential is in the social relations
created and confirmed through visionary language and solidarity.
The Locis artists and architects who met in 2014 dived straight into the collaborative process and scanned through the compiled artistic research made in Fittja. The Residence Botkyrka programme has compiled a rich resource of visionary projects and has made many connections with a variety of artists, architects, and members of the local community. Almost as if it was destined to be, the Locis group of 2014 was drawn to a particular woman living in Fittja named Zöhre Alici. They came across a publication from a previous project, where Zöhre was interviewed and in which she expressed a desire to renovate her bathroom.
The challenge to fulfil her desire and be in dialogue with her became a calling for the group. This individual became the central focus for the collaboration. Unlike the first group, which
decided to stand at a distance and observe, the Locis 2014 artists take the exact opposite approach with a decisive action crossing the social and cultural borders to get personal. They not only enter into a direct social relation with a Fittja resident, they are examining the most personal space in the home – the bathroom.
There was a playfulness around the ideas of limitations, and testing borders – that became the method – under a sort of transparent collaboration, which the Locis context provided. What can these artists do for this individual? What kind of relationship is established? This type of confrontation exposes the delicate nature of the social relationships created in cultural projects where personal stories are used. Zöhre’s story is artistic material, her bathroom is the exhibition space, she is the audience and inspiration, and they are working exclusively for and with her. This whole collaboration depends on this precious individual. Exchange value can be estimated here in terms of integrity, time, and materials. On one side it may seem that having five artists revolve around one person is obviously an advantageous position for the person in focus, but the stakes are higher for Zöhre. In accepting this spotlight treatment, she is providing space and content for the art project. One cannot ignore the questionable outreach and charity projects that are a big part of art production today. When we are under governments, which serve to promote exploitation, you can’t help but ask again: who is profiting from this?
The five artists and architects are enthusiastic and committed to their subject. If the Locis projects aim to test the ideological structures in search of combative practices, the focus on this relationship between Zöhre and the artists is a genuine attempt to understand the current conditions in Fittja. This decision is a sort of militant research move to find the truth. They form an alliance, exchange views on property renovations through this specific context, of her home- and very personal space of the bathroom to display the relevance of public and private concerns. This method investigates the transitory and changeable aspect of all experiences and processes. Allowing for an approach that stresses change and spontaneity, and encourages an alternative way to think. By suggesting a space to avoid oppressive contradictions in that moment of investigation together. The creation of new temporary unpredictable art spaces, crossing boundaries, and creating opportunities of exchange to discuss the truth about property and power structures is a cunning method in which art projects like Locis can ultimately achieve something. That something is the exposure of the impenetrable truth of the existing property relations underlying the spaces in which we live. The material then, that this research can supply, is not on a level of actual person-to-person influence in the renovation process of each home as such, but rather, paraphrasing Brecht; as a truth that can be used as a weapon.
Sarah Kim is an American/Swedish freelance curator based in Stockholm.