I was very delighted to receive the Diverse Actions Leadership Bursary recently. Alongside the resources and support, the Diverse Actions award gives me the precious capacity to carve out time to dive into new research – which includes giving myself permission to step out to read at length.
I’ve always been an avid reader. However, with the fast pace and demands of working as an independent curator, I still read but the way I read has changed over the years. It’s rare to be able to read in a whimsical, undirected and exploratory way. I have to read critically and strategically – whether it’s for college, teaching or curatorial research. Sometimes I have to read fast – and yes, heavens forbid, there is a technique to speed and slide read. And for quickest comprehension – sometimes I read backwards. (This sounds ridiculous, but it works – if you want to know more, get in touch.)
What I do miss though is being able to read slowly – to savour images, words, ideas, and to slip from one mental process to another being led by the selection of books. So here I’m going to indulge myself with my chosen titles from Unbound, which reflect the kind of thoughts occupying most of my mental space.
My current practice-based research explores the oceanic, coastal regions and water-related issues in the face of climate change and global conditions in the Anthropocene. I’m interested in thinking about alternative and indigenous systems of knowledge for radical transformations.
So this cover image immediately grabbed my attention.
Colossus of Rhodes in a three-piece suit? Poseidon as pall-bearer? Gojira, you scrubbed up well!
I can’t remember when I started to become
obsessed intrigued by water. The most memorable exhibition I visited in 2017 was Fondazione Prada’s “The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied.” in Venice, which was a collaboration between writer and filmmaker Alexander Kluge, artist Thomas Demand, stage and costume designer Anna Viebrock and curator Udo Kittelmann. Spread across three storeys, the exhibition offered one curious room after another and it took most of the day to wander through again and again. The exhibition worked as a puzzle. Each room by itself didn’t make that much sense, but collectively, it gradually built an internal coherent experience that expressed the exhibition both as a metaphor and also a state of anxiety. What was conveyed was that humanity was like a vessel on the brink of disaster – one propelled by globalized capitalism – but without anyone at the rudder.
In this vision, the planet is the Titanic. If so, the art market is not absolved either. The New Economy of Art, edited by Gilane Tawadros and Russell Martin, offers a series of critical texts and artistic interventions that evaluate how artistic practices are being shaped by the current economic infrastructure supporting visual arts in the UK. I’m learning it’s all interconnected – the worlds of patronage, politics, commercial art markets, and public funding.
Setting a sinking ship on the island of Venice that has been slowly sinking since the 5th century was pointedly apt. It made a deep impression on me, so much so, recently, artist Lynn Lu and I returned to Venice to confront our anxieties around rising waters, to launch the new research project.
“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”
― The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Museum of Water by Amy Sharrocks presents a collection of bottles filled publicly donated water and accompanying stories in order to focus attention on our relationship with water. I’m intrigued by the presentation of ‘water’ in this project – water as a universal noun that is given meaning by specific narratives.
And if one dwells on ‘water’ for too long a time, your sense of the protagonist shifts from human to something else – perhaps a Muscovy detective duck who tackles migration and local prejudice, as in Helen Stratford and Lawrence Bradby’s The Day of the Duck. It amuses me to think this duck would have probably been a key witness in the medieval animal trials, revived in the live ‘moot’ animal trials in the project Four Legs Good, by Jack Tan, my DIY workshop partner. (Wait, the duck might be in trouble as he only has two…)
Reading offers a multitude of pleasures, alongside attaining simply knowledge. A unique pleasure of reading is being able to bend your mental spaces and processes in ways you cannot in physical life – so you may slide through time, creep through spatial and representational structures, and activate your unexpected amplitude of empathy while you seek out the edges of your imagination. Extra Territorialities in Occupied Worlds, edited by Maayan Amir and Ruti Sela discusses critically these strategies with a compilation of essays that explore ‘extraterritoriality’ as a concept that allows for strategic navigation of the margins of the ‘occupied worlds’ of accepted systems of meaning. It is thrilling when teetering on the edge of one system, you may find a rabbit hole or Alice door into something else familiar or unexpected.
Such as a treehouse. Outlandia.
That’s a great name. I probably would have named it Uplandia (or Faraway Tree…) But I’m not that great at naming things. (Some of Something Human’s earlier project titles look like Maths equations. Would have totally failed Garden of Eden 101. Name that blue fluttery thing…space out watching the blue fluttery thing, and would probably call it blue fluttery thing forever.)
Oops, fell down a rabbit hole.
Back up the treehouse. Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture, edited by Bruce Gilchrist, Jo Joelson and Tracey Warr, offers a series of essays that discuss the relationship between environmental immersion and creative activity. The programme of residencies and radio broadcasts produced by London Fieldworks in collaboration with Resonance 104.4fm, enabled twenty invited artists to engage deeply and respond to a specific rural site in nature.
With anxieties around rising waters, a treehouse is a good place to rest.