Ed Carroll (Seminar 1 Q&A)

I would be interested to hear a little bit more about what you mean by adjacency.

Ed Carroll, City Art Centre Dublin

Ed Carroll: I have not heard you speak about the principle of adjacency before. That was something new for me. It seems to be a new issue of discussion that is emerging from your new book, ‘One and the Many’. I would be interested to hear a little bit more about what you mean by that.

I’m thinking of this as an arts organisation that often tries to work adjacent to non-traditional groups: community workers, youth workers. I have the sense that sometimes the people that you would normally sit adjacent to their art centres or arts organisations, often move away from you a little bit and youth workers or community workers seem to move in.  So, I’m just wondering, is that sort of contextualisation of adjacency, does it fit that type of notion?

Grant Kester: Yes, it’s funny you mention that because one of the things that started me thinking about this concept was my visit with CityArts in Dublin last fall. Specifically, it was some of the conversations we had about the intersections between youth work, social work and art practice. There is a really productive relationship between those areas that is worth exploring. I developed this in part because I got frustrated with the tendency in a lot of criticism to argue that the second a work starts to involve itself with the operations of these disciplines (social work, youth work, etc.), it’s compromised in some way. Certainly this work can lead to problematic transactions, but I don’t find them any more or less problematic than the transactions that take place at the Tate, the Serpentine or the Venice Biennale.

Of course, the key is figuring out how to maintain a degree of autonomy and independence, and a critical perspective. But it’s also important not to lapse into this moral entrepreneurship of always looking at other areas of practice as the ones that need to be fixed or corrected. What I find so interesting about the Superflex project is that when I actually talked to members of Danish NGOs they were very reflective about the limits of what they do. They want to have a conversation. They are well aware of the dependency critique: it goes back fifteen years. It has often been my experience that when I actually talk to practitioners in other fields, they are, as you can imagine, thoughtful reflective people. Why is the default response of artists to people working in parallel ways so often one of judgement and correction rather than conversation?

The other example of adjacency that I thought about was the work of Helen and Newton Harrison. I am working on a book project on Helen and Newton right now. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to them and some of their interlocutors. Their relationship to science is very different from that of other artists who are working in the art-science interface. They really see their work as overlapping with aspects of scientific research, not as an overt critique of the same old monolithic, straw man of instrumentalizing science. There is a productive domain between those two areas.  So they have conversations with scientists or environmental planners or ecological activists. It’s a conciliatory dialogue. It doesn’t immediately default to pointing out the obvious fact that scientific research is compromised by corporate values, or that the environmental movement has subscribed to essentialism in the past. It’s fairly easy to do that.

My feeling is not to put down the portcullis right away, and instead to say, ‘Let me look at what’s going on in these exchanges. Can I learn something?’  Rather than coming on the scene and chastising artists for working with scientists, or activist or youth workers, I’m trying to be a little more open.  Maybe there are some new forms of insight, new forms of knowledge production that are taking place in those interstitial relationships.

Suzanne Lacy: So, how do you account for the closed system, the protectivism that exists in contemporary art with respect to “life-like” art? Why do you think there is so much critical effort to defend it? Does it have to do with professionalism of arts? Does it have to do with the market?

Grant Kester: I’m not really sure about that – that’s a good question.

Roxanna Meechan (core group) Could it be about a specific justification for actually being there, for example, where a general community worker or an artist arrives into an environment? They might have been paid or they will be paid, so they have a reason to why they are there.

Suzanne Lacy: Not in every country in the world…

Roxanna Meechan: Will you ever say, “Sorry, thank you for the offer. Here are my expenses but I don’t want to get paid because there is nothing that I can do here.”

The process is about negotiation.  But, what can I do for you?  What can you do for me?  If you find that is nothing, why hang around?  I don’t know.

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