Research Pavilion Venice Biennale — Utopia of Access
10 May – 2 July 2017
In theory, and occasionally in real life, I like living in two places. Most of the time I’m excited to leave one place and arrive at the other. It’s always some sort of new start. But it’s also draining. Every time zillions of small deadlines: getting the rubbish out, check the oven is switched off, make sure nothing is rotting in the fridge… Sifting quickly through the constantly growing pile of post to pick out unpaid invoices. If I’d stay I would just do the stuff in my own time.
I like writing on the plane. It’s a moment of suspension, no emails, no phone calls, no wifi (on my cheap Ryanair flights), just me and the passengers thrown together in this clumsy bird-shaped metal container — for a short while. It’s Ryan Air. It’s cheap. It’s colourful. It’s chaotic. Baggage flies around. People keep swapping seats. The couple a few rows to the front would like to sit together. The crew is friendly, they manage well. I already know them. It’s always them doing the London — Gothenburg leg. It’s a bit like knowing the school bus driver.
I wanted to share news with you. I have been invited to exhibit at the Research Pavilion at the Venice Biennale next summer. I am excited. The theme is “Utopia of Access”. It fits so well with my concerns, my desires, research and practice. For example “The Piracy Project” which I have been running with Andrea Francke for the last five years, my published interview with Sarah Kember “Rethinking where the thinking happens” about politics of open access, and in particular the ongoing project in Gothenburg “The Library of Omissions and Inclusions”.
The Library of Omissions and Inclusions started in a small workshop-based exhibition instigated by Gabo Camnitzer in a former shop on Gothenburg’s main High Street. The show “Meaning Making Meaning” was very much playing with the relationship of art and pedagogy. It asked Felix Guattari’s question “How do you bring a classroom to life as if it were a work of art?” and Gabo’s reformulation: “How do you bring a work of art to life as if it were a classroom?”
This framework was playing with the boundaries of art and pedagogy and produced an active space (with scheduled workshops, talks and conversations). People spent time together, hung around, dropped in and out and brought along books to add to the reading room.
It is basically a library curated by the community that is using it. I think, I already sent you the open call at the time? It is asking for materials that are hard to find or do not exist in our institutional libraries and knowledge bases. It asks for feminist, queer, de-colonial and intersectional material, stuff that is relevant to a specific community and that has either been forgotten, or is too radical or too flimsy in format.
However, the more I think, the more I realize, that I can’t bring the actual library to Venice. It’s not about the shipping of the actual material or other practicalities. The problem is that I don’t want to turn a collective resource into an “exhibit” in a glamorous jet-set contemporary art biennale in tourist-flooded Venice.
Is that odd?
Anthony Hubermann, curator at CCA Wattis in San Francisco once described his scepticism about contemporary exhibition practices. He says (if I remember rightly), that much of the difficulty with making an exhibition lies in the fact that to extract something from circulation – an object, image, practice, or idea – and interrupt it, examine it, and exhibit it, is to do it great injustice.
The Library of Omissions and Inclusions is embedded in a local community in Gothenburg. It is a collective resource and relies on distributed care and the mutual trust of its users. It is also shared property. The books belong to individual people and are basically lent.
It feels complicated. A community can’t be transplanted. Perhaps I should “tell” about the library rather than installing it? As such it could function as a model to be replicated on a one-to-one scale in other contexts or used as springboard to develop own local initiatives. Libraries, whether online or in physical space become more and more important as spaces to share books — and knowledge.
Could it operate as a manual to create alternatives to current institutional standards and as such develop tactics and strategies for structural change?
I guess the question I am asking is, how and what knowledge is validated, and by whom?
Each book in the Library of Omissions and Inclusions is accompanied by an index card providing a short text authored by the owner/sharer, which tells us why this book has been important to them, how it changed the way they see themselves in the world and why they want to share it with others. These notes, sometimes rather personal and confessional, are very precious to me. They point to something beyond the factual texts and books. They tell about conflicts, struggles and concerns, visions and hopes.
In telling, says Emily Roysdon, is a desire — a desire to speak, a desire to share, to articulate an experience to an/other. It allows one experience to accumulate and become a formative moment of transformation. That’s what I am trying to find out, whether we can understand dissemination not merely as a technical act, but as an accumulative process of exchange, as an agent for transformation.
The plane started descending now. “Crew: ten minutes to landing.” Hey, I need to stop for now and pack my laptop away.
Will be in touch soon!
“Utopia of Access”, Pavilion for Artistic Research,
10 May — 2 July 2017, Sala di Camino, Guidecca, Venice
Curated by Henk Slager and Jan Kaila, commissioned by Anita Seppa, looked after by by Seppo Salminen and Rebecca Squires. Uniarts Helsinki