For this dialogue, director Minna Tarkka and curator Jussi Koitela from m-cult invited CAPP artists Dafna Maimon and Valentina Karga and Tate Liverpool's Lindsey Fryer to discuss contemporary artistic collaborative processes. We wanted to understand how these processes are negotiated and orchestrated within the spatial and temporal conditions of artistic practice and institutional structures.
We wanted to focus on how process-based work is always localised, born within a certain context. For m-cult, the question relates to the experience of commissioning collaborative projects in the Helsinki Maunula neighbourhood within CAPP. How could these process-based works be uprooted from their social and material context and shared, presented or exhibited elsewhere?
In addition to the spatial context we addressed the temporal dimension. The artist’s work is a continuous process of research and exploration, where an 'end result' or 'outcome' has to be framed to fit the project management culture of institutions and funders. Besides their desire to share processes, the artists also face the demand to accumulate artistic merit via solo exhibitions and performances hosted by institutions. Further questions on the temporal dimension include how process-based work is compensated for, to both artists and participants.
So how should institutions change in order to host this type of work? We were interested to learn from the experience of Tate Liverpool who have developed new ways to facilitate and present collaborative processes in the gallery during the CAPP project. Finally, we wanted to address the role of documentation as a means of sharing and extending processes. Can documentation provide us with 'stand alone' formats reaching beyond the here and now of the artistic process?
The dialogue published here is a collage of three separate skype discussions based on a set of questions on time, space, institutions and documentation. During the talks, we encouraged participants also to think about ideal conditions of process-based practice.
Minna and Jussi: How do you consider duration and time in your artistic process and in relation to contemporary forms of project management and institutional structures?
Dafna: Processes are what I do – quite consciously I have stopped using the word 'project' because it already determines an end result, as if you would start working just to execute whatever that project is.
I work in a way where things often mutate over several forms and each time I recontextualise it into the space was in. Of course that is what people generally do, change the installation to suit different spaces. But in my case it's even more than that – like I start with a stream of consciousness from where things come out over an extended period of time – and then let these side narratives come out that might not have been there in the beginning.
Sometimes this results in a difficult situation: what is the work, this one or that one, this title or that title? I don't want to define things that way, but continuously I keep showing some form of results that are like the end of a sentence, or the end of a chapter.
A lot of people are not comfortable with showing things in the making, But my work is anyway so process based and the performances are improvised - not improvised as they are shown, but results of multiple improvisations. I will never write a script and ask someone to say exactly what I wrote. So for me it is quite natural to let people into the process.
Let's say you're dealing with a space that is also the space for a performance. In order to facilitate the performance you need rehearsal time, you need the time to do the install but also the time to develop and rehearse the performance. But exhibition schedules usually have a slot of one or maybe three months for a project. This is quite problematic, because you are often asked to do a lot of things at the same time: an opening, a performance, an artist’s talk – which affects the possible quality of what the performance could be.
On the one hand you have to create a thing that is really good, but you you also have to make sure that your life doesn't become such that you feel depleted after spending months of work on something that then is only on for one evening. How would I be able to facilitate a thing, to put all this love and work into a process, so that it doesn't just end with a 40-minute performance? Sometimes I take it in my own hands: no, I'm not doing it like this, and try to create a different structure. So this is also a demand for the institutions – are you willing to support things that are not just opening spectacles?
Valentina: At some point it became important for me to disassociate my process from the commission process, from what I do for some outcome or to show something publicly. It is not really possible to get something back in a terms of money or publicity value from everything I do, because I just do too much. At first I saw this as something negative, but then I realised that it is normal because I do this 24 hours a day, even when I sleep. Understanding this gave me a lot of time and space to breath, I could be even more productive, not caring if the things I do will appear somewhere because I want to do them anyway. In order to be free, you need to do things unconditionally.
Instead of monetary compensation, you will build friendships or get more information to fill some gaps of your research. You can simply spend your time more nicely and meaningfully. A most important thing for me is to be always sincere to yourself and to your interests. If you do something “to sell” or because it is wanted from you, then you feel pressured.
Jussi: In your collaborations, have you experienced struggles or differences in understanding the value of artistic work?
Valentina: Sometimes with exhibitions you need to discuss how work is valued. Like now with the totem project I am doing for Thailand Biennale, a continuation of the collaboration I did with m-cult in Helsinki. The best way was obviously to stay there some months to produce it, but the institution does not offer this as an option. I told them: look at kind of work that I am doing, it is not possible to do it otherwise. I can't build it somewhere else and just ship it to you, because it has to made with the local people. So we entered into a dialogue and I argumented that I don’t need time just to develop a concept but also to develop the production. In the end we agreed that the compensation will not be an artist fee but a labour fee (salary?).
Jussi: What about compensation for participants, have you thought of that Dafna?
Dafna: There's a lot of computing between alternatives: either you pay someone to execute something, or create situations where people can participate on their own free will. In the I am Hungry process with Related Primates I have to say I felt slightly hindered as an artist. Maybe that's my own problem, but I felt I the pressure to continuously give something to the participants because they were not paid. Make sure that they also get a workshop experience instead of just shaping the performance.
Minna: Lindsey, listening to the artists it becomes clear that the art institutions have to change in order to enable process-based work. It seems that you at Tate Liverpool are trying to do that, trying to manifestate a new type of space at the gallery?
Lindsey: Yes we're trying to change. The Tate Liverpool vision is to become much more emotionally connected with audiences from an institutional point of view, rather than a technical relationship of a publicly funded organisation with free entry to collections. But If the public doesn't feel that it is for them, then we have a problem.
Quite often when we're commissioning artists to work with people, the work is off site and doesn't have a serious manifestation within the institution. Within the CAPP project we took the opportunity to really think about making this kind of socially engaged, collaborative practice more visible by inhabiting the space of the institution. Normally our top floor gallery has three shows a year for the paying public. One of those shows was taken out of the programme and we were left with a slot that we were able to colonise with collaborative projects.
Obviously, this was seen by the institution as a learning project rather than a an artist commission or artist residency. So we had a lot of internal misconceptions going on, it is very difficult to change the culture of thinking quickly. As an institution we naturally are part of a learning process: thinking, shifting, changing, examining – and we need to make sure that we have curators who want to take the journey with us.
In O.K. - the Musical the artist Christopher Kline was so well organised, had detailed plans and budget. We had confidence to develop the relationship with our communities on the back of that really well structured activity. With this project, we inhabited the space, which was open to the public while the process was going on, all of it from building the stage onwards. We even had an information assistant in there, and people just walked in and built a relationship, and then came back and took part.
So I suppose even if the performance is part of the work, I don’t see the difference between the process itself and the end of the process when it was again open to the public as performances. But everything before that was visible – and I think that the key is making the invisible visible in a way that is sensitive to the artist's work and the constituencies, to the public that they're working with, but also sensitive to the needs of the institution itself.
It was hard work, as a curator you were present all day, every day. And it doesn't stop: we're still working with the artist now, a year on. In terms of resources, it challenged the institution’s use of spaces, handling team, electricians, everyone.
Minna: What about practices of documentation ? Valentina and Dafna, many of your works are performative or realised in public space, is there a way to present those in the white cube via documents or otherwise? Have you developed strategies of documentation that would work in and out of the process context?
Valentina: The public works are not really works for the white cube, I'm not interested in bringing works into a context where they were not made. But I would think of a translation of earlier work based on a new context that might be the white cube. Taking account of how many people visit this space, what sort of people, who is running the place, where it is located, and what the neighbourhood is like.
I think you should approach documentation so that you are making a new work, even if the work is based on documentation of earlier work. And straightforward documentation is different from using documentation material to create a new piece.
Dafna: The actual happening is the work, but the photos and video that are created around it and the material objects are a part of the tangible working process. They can be used as artefacts to show in a gallery installation, but also to work things further.
In the Conglomerate collective we are 5 artists trying to understand the problem of documentation. While making big installations or large performance projects, how should we deal with the fact that we put so much energy into the work which ends up as some pictures online? We arrived at a model where the installation functions as a set, and we specifically write scripts that become a film, a work on its own.
Lindsey: At Tate we do a lot more filming, we have recorded personal testimonies and produced a 'making of' film, but it is difficult to show these outside of context. The documentation could be more about telling the story in an emotional way, perhaps in the future it could become even a feature film?
Jussi and Minna: So what would you consider ideal conditions for working with and on process?
Valentina: Maybe you don’t even have to think about these so exclusively because you just work and then things happen. We don’t need to be so fixed to always understand or control the process. I am just part of the process, I am not the process itself. It has been a relief to finally understand that I don’t need to control and predict everything: the process knows better than me. The process has agency.
Lindsey: If it was up to me we would be working like this all the time, interweaving other ways, concepts, practices within the structure. It really needs to be a space where people feel welcome, own the space, inhabit the space. The gallery should be like a library, a visual conceptual resource for cultural production.
Minna Tarkka has been active as producer, researcher, educator and curator of media art and participatory culture since the late 1980s. As director of m-cult, she has been responsible for overall management of the CAPP project activities in Helsinki.
Jussi Koitela is a freelance curator who is interested in developing curatorial, institutional and discursive practices that merge together different areas of an artistic practice, a research and politics in pervasive forms. He has acted as a curatorial advisor for m-cult’s collaborative arts commissions for CAPP.
Valentina Karga is a Berlin-based artist and architect. She practices ‘Art as Simulation’, creating institutional and infrastructural alternatives with a focus on sustainability. Her collaborative piece Our Coming Community was realised during m-cult’s CAPP residency in Helsinki 2016.
Dafna Maimon is an artist based in Berlin working with performance, video and installation exploring the construct and economies of emotional landscapes. In the framework of CAPP she created the amateur performance and self-care ensemble Related Primates, commissioned by Agora Collective and KW Institute for Contemporary Art in 2017.
Lindsey Fryer is Head of Learning at Tate Liverpool. During the CAPP programme, she has supervised the commissions We Have Your Gallery and Art Gym by Assemble and the Tate collective in 2016 and O.K. The Musical by Cristopher Kline in 2017.