Library Digest: Beulah Ezeugo
Keep it in Mind: A review of In These Circumstances: On collaboration, performativity, self-organisation and transdisciplinarity in research-based practices by a.pass
Scanned Images 1 & 2: Philippine Hoegen, Lilia Mestre, Various Authors (2022) In These Circumstances: On collaboration, performativity, self-organisation and transdisciplinarity in research-based practices, Onomatopee 181, Netherlands, pp. 210-211, 160-161.
I started reading ‘In These Circumstances’ earlier this year. I should tell you about its opening text, which has followed and not left me since. It begins with a snake. It (the text/the snake) offers a provocation: ‘What kind of knowledge happens by accident?’ From the book, I learned that the red-bellied black snake’s Latin name is pseudechis porphyriacus. From Google, I learned that it has a body the colour of slick petrol, with the exception of a flaming red stomach. I learned that in 1974, colonist and botanist George Shaw described it as ‘a species new to science.’
This first text is titled Clumsy Fingers (Serpents in the Off-Hours), and within it, writer Aubrey Birch examines life-changing knowledge. She recounts some crucial things she learned, not from a search engine or a book but from a snake. Did you know that the female red-bellied black snake is ovoviviparous, meaning that her young hatch from eggs? Did you know that those eggs will first hatch inside her body? Birch learned this by feeling an expectant mother’s thick, scaly underbelly. She learned how the moon waxes and wanes from repeatedly standing beneath it. These are some things that she came to know by accident.
‘In These Circumstances: On collaboration, performativity, self-organisation and transdisciplinarity in research-based practices’ is a publication about research; specifically artistic research as it is practised within the co-learning environment of a.pass, (advanced performance and scenographic studies), an artist-run organisation in Belgium. It functions as a printed embodiment of a.pass’s educational model, adopting a conversational and experimental approach, and bringing together an assemblage of curatorial, artistic, and pedagogical perspectives.
The book documents how a.pass ‘has carved a space for artistic research to deploy its tentacles with joy, risk and excitement, to imbricate in fields of both art and education and to stir the sediments of disciplinary enclosures.’ Like pseudechis porphyriacus, it slithers across various forms, concepts, and disciplines. The contributors narrate the evolution of artistic research by exploring its significance, merits, and methodologies within the changing landscape of art education. This context includes the ongoing formalisation of art education within academia, and the transformation of the formerly uninhibited artist-run organisations in Northern Europe.
Scanned Images 3 & 4: Philippine Hoegen, Lilia Mestre, Various Authors (2022) In These Circumstances: On collaboration, performativity, self-organisation and transdisciplinarity in research-based practices, Onomatopee 181, Netherlands, pp. 168-169, 112-113.
I bought this book from Good Press and recommended it for Market Gallery’s Resource Library, because I had been on the committee for almost two years and my time was coming to an end. At that point, the funding we relied on was about to be discontinued, and the gallery was under pressure to synthesise its value as an artist-run space. I felt there was a commonality between a.pass and Market Gallery. Both seemed to be perpetually under construction – a.pass by the researchers enrolled in its programmes and Market by its revolving programming committee, artists, and contributors.
The publication’s content also reminded me of Market Gallery’s Resource Library; some contributions are concerned with changes occurring within Europe’s social and political landscape. Some absorb or reflect past programming desires, both untenable and achieved. Sifting through the publication is like sifting through the library. You will find really wonderful resources (Imperial Intimacies by Hazel V. Carby, Mapping My Return: A Palestinian Memoir by Salman H. Abu-Sitta) and some resources whose approaches may have aged out of utility (Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad…sorry!). Its physicality is similar, too. The resource library is contained within a large bookshelf. It is bespoke and beautiful, and it is inconveniently immobile. Totally ironic for a structure that is supposed to reflect the dynamism of an artist-run space. Regardless, its stability gives it an orbital power. This is also to say that ‘In These Circumstances’ is a chunky book, but for good reason.
I also bought myself a copy for my own advancement as a research-led programmer-curator-cultural-worker-curious-person. It is a practical guide for people working to understand their roles within and contributions to diverse institutions. It’s also appealing to those interested in doing general critical engagement/messing with other people’s ideas. Artforum (who recently fired their editor for supporting a ceasefire in an open letter) and its various contributors have questioned the utility of research-based art calling it ‘didactic overkill’, or bemoaning a lifeless cycle where ‘artists with research-based practices teach their students various research methodologies and encourage the production of yet more research-based works.’
I, however, am still a believer. ‘In These Circumstances’ has reminded me about the value of this cycle. It’s kept me idealistic and in sight of our essential interrelatedness. It has reminded me to consider accidental learning, to remember that it can happen simply because you and your fingertips are in attendance, and to take notice of learning that is intuitive, because it has first passed through your body before it has been recognised and named. And then what comes after that, the slow and necessary work of turning all of that learning into knowledge, and all of those beliefs into practices. A challenge. But also a pleasure and a thrill.