RESHAPE is an initiative that offers the time and space to imagine an alternative to the European arts ecosystem by rethinking its instruments and collaborative models, placing them in line with artistic and social innovation and the principles of fairness, solidarity, geographic balance and sustainability. The meet-ups across Europe and the forum in Lublin, Poland are organised by a coalition of European initiatives operating within a field that could best be described as the broadest understanding of public engagement in the Arts. As RESHAPE describes them: these initiatives are the weak signals that indicate the possible future of the European cultural climate and are examples for future models of artistic production.
The idea that locally invested initiatives from diverse countries, collaboratively engender the conversation about transnational cultural production really comforts me. When starting to produce in the cultural field after my Bachelor education, a common assumption was that one could not possibly be serious about an art career if your investment wasn’t at least directed towards an international audience. In Amsterdam, an international hyper-connected city, local community engagement programmes coming from the cultural institutions themselves, have much fewer feet on the ground than in Scotland, where I’m currently based, and organisations that primarily focus on creating community art strategies are even more unheard of in the Netherlands as a whole. Most of the initiatives I knew to actively engage local people are artist-led, and often not of the organised UK-type, but the more unsustainable flares that get one-time funding after which they disintegrate. Let me be clear, I’m not against artists and producers working internationally sharing the knowledge they obtained, what I’m not a fan off, is the assumption that ‘international art’ equals ‘good art’, showcasing a curator’s biennials shopping list or lazy inclusivity policies without any fundamental reason for an artist to go to that oversaturated location which neither benefits the institution and its publics or the artist themselves . The well-connectedness of Amsterdam and large cities in the Netherlands give them the practical privilege, over peripheral or less funded regions in Europe, that any organisation can fly in an Irrit Rogoff or a Bruno Latour effectively every week for less than the cost of a train ticket in the UK (as my £389/€450 ticket from Glasgow-Munich-Warshaw-Lublin, back via Brussels-Edinburgh can only illustrate –Thanks, British Council). Could it be, that this accessibility might be the principle through which some institutions lose sight of what is urgent to their local public, out of watered-down accountability because of their own international renown gained by the invited artists? It should also be possible, right, that everybody can equally benefit from the cultural wealth produced within Europe.
Last month I was selected to be one of the visitors to the forum in Lublin, supported by RESHAPE. As an emerging artist and curator, freelancer, self-initiator, non-academic, regulations on a European level seldom have a direct retractable impact on what I produce. Moreover, I actively search for ways to create spaces that differ from those offered by institutions – I prefer the self-directed spheres.
However, whenever walking into an institution in Europe, especially those with direct European funding, the heavily directed policies that are required for that funding, easily reveal themselves; they either come as structural funding for institutions/charities/PBO’s with a strong requirement to produce social capital or as tenders for very specific cultural (research) projects.  Personally, I wonder where RESHAPE sits in this divide.
RESHAPE has defined five directories  they will focus on for the coming two years and which will also mainly make up the programme for the second day of the forum:
- Value of art in the social fabric
- Art and Citizenship
- Fair Governance Models
- Transnational/Postnational artistic practices
- Solidarity Funding
My main interest goes out to the Fair Governance Models trajectory, I primarily direct this perspective towards my expectations for this topic, with some cross-overs into Art in the social fabric and Transnational/postnational artistic practices and possibly also Art and Citizenship, because to my experience they have a large overlap. RESHAPE observes the trend in governance models as follows:
“Collectives, informal and/or temporary partnerships, self-organization / self-management and inclusive governance are different organizational trends which abandon hierarchical organizational models and methods.”
This immediately explains why I applied for this trajectory, while it is one of my personal interests, I also believe that in my current position as a young, self-directed producer, this is the topic I can actually contribute to in the collective dialogue.
From this position, the above observation immediately sparks some questions: “What scale of self-management, collectives and temporary partnerships are we talking about? Are these institutional collectives or transnational artist collectives? The European Union often doesn’t set a scale for an organisation to apply for project funding, as long as the project produces ‘enough’ social capital. Could this mean that smaller cultural producers, like the ones more common in peripheral areas who would be helped by this proposal, suddenly may have to deal with European bodies, or will this be mediated by local bodies that collaborate on a European Scale, as RESHAPE’s shape itself seems to propose? Self-organisation and self-management self-evidently do not coincide with the current EU framework of tenders and structural support for organisations, would this whole structure not need to be reshaped in order to effectively support those models if there would even exist such a structure? – The classic case and dilemma of how to measure ‘impact’.
And in terms of the non-hierarchical organisation models, will the European Union come up with a ‘Good Practice Handbook’ on the topic of non-hierarchical organisation models? That could be a proposal that I would principally be positive about, as in practice the claims of being a non-hierarchical organisation seem to fly around quite aimlessly sometimes, but would that mean that this handbook is a tool, a suggestion or a measurement? All of them still sound quite hierarchical to a more or lesser extent, don’t they?
-I’ll stop here for now “
The forum itself consists of three days with the first day primarily filled with introductory lectures to the two-year project. The second day is taken up by long-table conversations held according to the five pathways in the project (see above). The last and third day is a workshop day for who the project calls ‘reshapers’, people that will be part of the 2-year programme through workshops – with a yet to be revealed outcome.
People from contries on both sides of the European border. (Balkan countries and south Mediterranean. )
- Topics such as
- Programme: Joris Janssens (Flanders Arts Institute) and Milica Ilić (Onda), 2 representatives of the association of European arts-orginisations that organise reshape collectively: under whom also the British Council who supports my stay in Lublin.
- Panel discussion moderated by Barbara van Lindt (if I read this correctly).
Barbara van Lindt: DAS art institute in the Netherlands. An institution for Art education that I appreciate a lot. The educational methodologies under which their Feedback method (featured on this blog: ). and the way they do their applications: not in the intrusive interview-style application (the artworld should do away with those all together but that’s a different blog post). The institution also recently started a cultural producers programme (MA) which I can only assume she still had a large part in in developing.
- The members of the panel discussion: very diverse and together representing the five topics of Reshape:
- So far Reshape’s organisation is very efficient and aware of current developments in the cultural field. (apart from some slow travel agents) This seems to be not only on an institutional level but also on a micropolitical scale. This is understansable considering that the organising party of this forum is a coalition of European institutions for artistic engagement. collaboratively sharing the load to organise this event.
 I’m also not claiming that every Dutch institution always operates this way. These conclusions should be made on an institution to institution and show to show basis. I’m speaking of a larger sentiment that is reinforced in Dutch art education and experiences shared with my peers.
Quite overgeneralised as I still have a hard time finding all opportunities on the EU’s vast network of organisational bodies. I also leave Erasmus+ out if this for now because it is focused on supporting education.
Earlier this year I was involved in the seminar The Occult Turn. Working from my project The Following doesn’t exist I supplied the seminar with a free and open WiFi by facilitating and allowing people to connect together through the WiFi spots, the project intends to practice generosity and to form an idiorhythmic community of ‘followers’ that, from this digital point of departure, are free to trail off wherever and whenever they wish.
The framework of the podcast platform is modelled after a study into the philosophy of fourth-century desert hermit mystics known as the Ammas or Desert Mothers and after dominant thinking in contemporary feminist methodology. The reason to combine these streams of thinking and put them to use in a curatorial framework was to seek other ways of producing by problematising the universalising inclination of curating itself. In doing so, committing to not only account for curatorial work through language but insisting on a situated and embodied understanding – such as a mystic ‘understanding’.
One of the speakers at the symposium, Kirsty Pattison, specifically addresses the links of ‘intelligent magic’ to Greek Theurgy, the religious ritual element of mid-platonic and neo-platonic philosophy. Theurgy is the practice through which one aims to establish a mystical union with God (‘the one’, or read: that which is bigger than us).
The Amma’s mystical practice grounded for a large part in neo-platonic philosophy – a popular philoshpy in Alexandria in the 5th and 6th century – sought this unification through a life of solitude and ritual in the deserts around Alexandria.
Although most of the research for The Following doesn’t exist focused on the Amma’s methods of living together, as both a small society and as individuals (idiorhythmic) and their ideas about silence and listening, theurgy has formed an important reason to look into the philosophy in the first place.
For the majority in today’s western society, a unification with ‘the one’ is not directly on top-priority on the list of things to do on a daily basis, exactly because God’s death made our daily lives more important to us than our promised afterlives. But as I noted above, ‘the one’ might also be read as ‘that which is bigger than us’ – and there is a whole lot of that still; climate change, the rise of big data and geopolitical turmoil.
Then, the turn to the occult is a combination of embodied forms of understanding while being a way of letting ‘the other’ speak.
“Escape happens”, as Eugene Thacker notes in his first volume of the horror philosophy series.
 That’s Nietzsche obvs.
Approaching ‘every project’ as an ecology one could hardly still call it ‘a project’. By breaking with common aspects of the project, such as its temporality and its input-outcome relationship, my practice produces forms that are more open and comfortable towards complexity and confusion but are at the same time more compatible with the many ways in which we learn, think and play. My process balances tactics like getting into a flow and getting lost, as I see them as each other’s productive counterpart.
I am an artist with a curatorial practice, adopting the role of the curator to directly fall from it, which gives my practice a crossover characteristic. I am committed to creating horizontal structures that facilitate collaborative spheres for cross-disciplinary learning. Spheres, in which I focus on ties and bounds, information and resources, to make my practice inherently sustainable rather than concentrated on its intrinsic logic.
Informed by an interest in learning innovations, grounded in the experience of being educated within an innovative curriculum that formed my awareness about the act of learning itself, I employ pedagogical tactics and theories within my process. This usually results in long-term investments in certain ideas and subjects resulting in a doubled practice where learning is both the producing and that which is produced. To communicate this doubled outcome, I develop ways, materials and tools that feed into new investments. As such, I appropriate methods coming from social design, but having them informed by non-linear structures we encounter around us, like digital networks, chaotic processes to form playful tactics. The array of forms resulting from this approach, deploy action-based, discursive and performative techniques that support and sustain this ecological process.
According to Maria Lind: ‘the better curatorial programs help students acquire a discourse with which to talk about curating and a good network which at best becomes a peer group, however no program has the resources or facilities to help form a method, which is the most essential part of this applied form of articulation’, that is curatorial practice.
In creating a personal methodology for my wish to work comfortably within complexity, I looked into curricular development in primary education. While some academics advocate the introduction of experiential learning to post-secondary education and even doctoral research, this type of learning is, not unsurprisingly, best developed and described for the early stages of education. Based on ‘van de Akker’s Web’ for innovating curricular development, I created a similar web translated to fit the conditions of a curatorial or artistic practice. Within the context of the ‘sandbox studio’ research project, I subject this diagram as a temporary structure to tests by my peers and cross-disciplinary proffesionals. The diagram intends to step away from linear project-based development, as learning and creative practice do not reflect this linearity. Although many questions in the diagram may be familiar and may occur in several parts of conventional project development, the diagram visualises how these questions hang together, how they are interdependent on each other. In this way the diagram allows one to start from unforeseen angles while remaining able to assess the process.
Using the diagram:
The diagram consists of two different elements – the heart (vision) and the radials (aspects). The ‘vision’ for a mapped project is determined by the user of the diagram, this can be any more or less defined ideology, concept, feeling or intention to guide a project.
The different radials of the web represent a gradual scale to map ‘focus’ in the direction of one of the named aspects. The related questions (shown in one version of the map) help to think about how to outline the ‘focus’ of a project or an activity onto the different radials of the web. The aspects opposite each other in the diagram are oppositions or are interdependent. The aspects in approximation to each other are related.
Once filled out, the shape created is that of a ‘bubble’, (filled with the breath of its creator). As in nature, the most sustainable bubble is perfectly spherical and thus directs the shape a project should strive for. Any humps and dents in the non-spherical shape can now be acted upon. Mapping activities on the diagram, instead of setting a project out beforehand, slowly results in the collection of these activities adding up to a project.
“At this point I am not sure whether I am a curator or an artist who imagines a different artworld.”