A transcript of a recent letter. A heads up: it’s pretty long. This one was sent to Rohanne Udall, a long-term collaborator. Together we work under the name Cha cha cha cha cha.
This letter was in the form of a hand-made book. (I also sent copies to each of my supervisors.) The images that break up the text are scans of linoprints that I had hand-printed within the books. These prints are part of a ‘Demonology’ that Rohanne and I are putting together later this year (with the help of some friends :D). I give a little info about the project in the text.
As per usual, I’ve added footnotes to this transcript to support a more general audience.
Between the mess of Sadler’s Wells, getting Covid, and the family situation, I’ve gotten pretty derailed from the PhD. The last couple of months were a bit of a write-off. (And it’s that extraordinary!? Who has the luxury to declare that time has passed, that funds used up, without having any work to show for it?)
But since I’ve been back in Nottingham, I feel like I’ve regained some balance. I had started writing a letter to you in February – trying to account for our hosting practice, which is supposed to be at the heart of this PhD, which I have yet to directly write about – and I wanted to finish it.
I’m so curious about how our collaborative practice deals with the individualising frame of the PhD. One of us is very formally ‘in’, while the other remains ‘out’. It brings up so many questions: around labour, and how we distribute the studentship funds between us; around authorship, institutional visibility, and the possible value of acquiring a PhD; around what it means for a practice to simultaneously adhere to and exceed multiple conflicting imperatives. I don’t resent all this. In fact, I think these questions are all quite central to the ‘hosting’ practice, and the (inverting, flipping, warping, concealing, deceptive, stretchy) ways it inhabits organisations. The university is just another place to study these contradictions.
Ours is just one relationship of this PhD project, albeit the most significant. The research emerges from the efforts and work of a wide network of collaborators (formalised or fleeting). One of my jobs is to figure out how to reconcile all this activity into an acceptable form for the final thesis; predominantly through the academic writing that will frame all this work. How should I account for this promiscuity? I recently heard Fred Moten critique ‘citation’ as “the primary way in which moral accounting seems to operate in academic discourse.”1 While citation might tidy away some of the anxieties that arise from collaboration, it comes at the cost of reinforcing the notion of individual authorship and ownership that we might have wanted to question in the first place: “citation [...] displaces the actual pleasures and responsibilities of engagement. It’s all based on the idea of individual intellectual property."
How should I write about our hosting practice? I don’t want to try ‘represent’ your voice. We tend to speak about our work in different ways, and I relish the times when we contradict one other. Yet anything I might have to say around this work will inextricably be tied up in our shared thinking together over the past nine years. I’m curious about using these open letters as a strategy. Might they highlight all these different dialogues, by explicitly writing to other individuals, rather than speaking for or about them?
I’m not sure. They might just come across as horrible bit of ‘mansplaining’. What do you think? How does it feel? How is it different from ‘eavesdropping’ on the previous letters to different addressees?
We started using the term ‘hosting’ a few years ago, to refer to our projects which created a context or a platform in which we invited and presented the work of our peers. I’m thinking of Footnotes, Radio Play, or the Demonology.2
We also tend to use the term to refer to our more pedagogical or organising work (e.g. running a workshop, throwing a salon), as it involves similar skills and mindset. I’m most curious about when these ‘hosting’ projects end up feeling like a ‘work’ in themselves; where there’s a blur between ‘artistic’ and ‘non-artistic’ work, and the sense of authorship (between the ‘guest’ artists, and our own continually-changing name3) gets a bit confused.
We distinguish these hosting projects from our other kinds of collaboration. They’re not like the open-ended and sprawling relationship we have with each other. Nor are they like the (often years-long) projects we undertake with a small number of other collaborators: in which we hang out, develop work together, and collectively figure out whatever institutional entanglements (applying for funding, residencies, etc.) we might like to undertake.
These are relatively short term, one-off projects with a set timeline, budget, and output. And they can be characterised by the invitations we write for them: exceptionally long emails in which we lay out the details of the project, and what we are asking from the invitees. (In contrast, we write much shorter emails for the more open-ended collaborations, in which we raise the possibility of our working together and see what they might have to say.)
We work hard on these invitations. They are the first encounter the artist will have with the project, and contain information for them to return to throughout the process. Sometimes the invitees take us up on our offer to chat through more details. More often they’ll simply reply with a short message to say that they get it, and they’re in.
I think the most important thing these invitations do is clarify what is fixed or open about the project. They articulate the set parameters (the budget, a rough timeline, access provision within the venue, materials, technical resources, etc.), and what is free for this person to stretch, invent, subvert, play with. ‘Openness’ can be idealised when talking about artistic practice and collaboration, but I think we resist that idea. We often resent institutional ‘opportunities’ that claim to be open, which in fact operate within a very narrow remit, that the staff are either unable or unwilling to articulate.4
Our hosting projects are not ‘open’. Some things are set; there is some structure. And it’s not just practical details: we try to account for the context of the work, why we’re inviting this person, and what we hope the project might incite or shift. We try to be very clear about all this, so that the invitee can make their own decision about whether or not they want to take part.
I’ve been rereading Chris Goode’s blog, and was struck this section, in which he writes about entering into a new process with two performers:
Because I tend to think in fairly formal terms, particularly when I'm writing or conceiving a piece on a large-ish scale, and I generally tend to want to sketch out the structure and the dynamic shape of something before I populate it. […] we start work on Longwave in about ten days and I'm going to see what happens if I hide all my structural diagrams from myself for a while and just, uh, do it like we feel it.5
What disturbs me about this quote – and what ultimately caused me to stop working with Chris a few years ago – was that he was not just hiding these ‘structural diagrams’ from himself, but from his collaborators too. Yet they would return in full authorial force just before the piece was finished. The work I did with him as part of Ponyboy Curtis6 was always framed a collective, yet in the weeks before each show premiered Chris would suddenly impose a very strict compositional frame. And these kinds of reframings unavoidably overdetermined all the materials that I, and other performers, had been making.
I don’t want to suggest that everyone needs to collaborate on the compositional elements of a work for them to have ‘agency’. (This would suggest the dancer has no agency in relation to a choreographic structure). But I do think that the meaning of each element is partly determined by the context in which it sits – and it’s unfair for this to suddenly change at the last minute, without discussion. We try to be clear with the kinds of compositional-curatorial-choreographic framings and impulses that are at play from the get-go.
The artistic, curatorial and administrative aspects of these hosting projects are inseparable. The invitations are the most explicit way for us to articulate and enact our greatest authorial control within the project (to shape the work as a whole, to choose what information and language is used to prompt the artists, to evoke or undermine particular qualities or tones) and yet the moment at which that control is relinquished. From then on, the artists get on with whatever they’ve decided to make, with or without any further dialogue with us. By sending that initial email, we set something in motion, and commit ourselves to seeing that through.
We try to minimise the labour we are asking from each artist. For better or worse, these hosting projects have a radial structure. We are at the center, having two-on-one conversations with each invitee, and giving out updates as the project progresses and refines itself. And what this means is that – unlike our other work and collaborations – there’s not much opportunity for a substantial ‘pivot’ within the project, to shift its form or context. It would be a substantial demand to ask the group to meet together, and develop a dialogue such that they might be able to collectively figure out and agree to any substantial shifts in the project’s design.
We aspire for our invitations to be clear and honest about what is open, what is set, and how we imagine this thing might sit in the world. It’s a delicate skill. We want these invitations to give the practical details of the project, while still being enticing and juicy. We want the projects to be broad enough to accommodate a diverse range of processes and responses, yet with clear boundaries, and a frame that we can refine as the works near completion.
Of course, things shift and dissolve. Not everything can or should be pre-set in advance. As with any worthwhile artistic practice, these hosting projects requires us to remain sensitive to the thing as it emerges, and how it puts into question the inevitable assumptions we might have had when setting out to do it in the first place. These hosting practices very directly experiment with the volatility of artistic process, and the articulation of structures that enable and confine it. I think one of the claims that I’m making with this PhD project is that these practices are addressing something that is also at play (on a very different scale) in both the commissioning structures, and broader operations, of arts organisations.
At one point, while it was still only a proposal, the title for this PhD was ‘Powered by Friendship’. The phrase came from Dan Fox’s critique of the documentary ‘The Price of Everything’, which he saw as reproducing a very clichéd image of the art world as “nothing better than an asset class for the super-rich”7. In its place, he fantasised about a film that “shows a private view where only three people have turned up and are standing around a plastic bucket full of beer looking awkwardly at their phones […] that shows the friendships and conversations that keep everyone going.” This world that Fox evokes feels close to the one in which we operate. I think our hosting projects are about foregrounding these ‘friendships and conversations that keep everyone going’. They are a way for us to celebrate the work of our friends, reveal these chains of friendship, and (in their problematic often-unfunded nature) relish in the economies of trust and mutuality that give rise to so much of what we do and love.
However, as with all of our work, we’re hesitant about making too many ‘positive’ claims. There’s something slightly presumptive about declaring all the people who participate in these hosting projects are our ‘friends’. I don’t think they are. We try to ensure these projects avoid simply reinscribing existing social networks. Around half of our invitations are to people we never worked with before, and there’s nearly always someone with whom we’ve never had any direct contact. (We also try get sense of geographical and disciplinary breadth; people who feel more and less ‘established’ than us; a mix of sincerity, spirituality, intellectualism, humour.) These projects are a way of getting to know them and their work better; a way of becoming friends. I love the delicacy with which we figure out who sends which invite: how a connection to just one of us slips into a relationship with the other, with the collaborative practice.
As such, in place of ‘friends’, we often favour the term ‘peers’. And not as just a stand-in for people with whom we hope to develop a friendship. We enjoy this sense of our ‘peers’. We relish in the distant company of those working in the same, or neighbouring, fields; with similar or different values; who may have professionalised their practice as ‘artists’, or who might prefer to regard themselves as hobbyists. In the mutual regard and infrequent company of our peers, we make sense of ourselves and our work.
We’re also have a preference to using the term ‘hosting’ rather than ‘curation’. ‘Curation’ is a bit overused, and seems applicable to anything. People ‘curate’ playlists, their bookshelves, their outfits. This way of using the term – both within the arts and also in a less specialist sense – seems to focus on the activity of selection, and the sense of discernment. ‘Hosting’, instead, highlights the actual activity that occupies us: the work of fostering relationships, and of constructing and maintaining temporary structures in which to invite others.
I think it’s significant that in these hosting projects, we never make requests of particular works from the invitees. Nor would we ever turn something down. (I remember Gernot Wieland sending us his text for Footnotes, written in German. I think he knew that neither of us would be able to read. It was such a deliriously beautiful gesture: to ask us to host this text, which literally exceeding our understanding.) I’ve no doubt that some would look at our hosting projects, and judge most of them as lacking the curatorial ideals of establishing a ‘well defined concept’, or a ‘coherent or balanced dialogue’ between works. We are more interested in privileging whatever kinds of vibrancy is felt by these people, that our hosting frame might have incited or enabled, and trusting in how that emanates our to the viewer.
The term ‘curation’ is also tied to the professional role of the curator – either as a salaried position, or as someone freelancing across different organisations. And we’re a bit resistant to either adopt that position (or understand these projects as having a trajectory that might one day lead us into those roles). ‘Hosting’ doesn’t seem to have a professional identity in this field. Rather, it’s a position that people take at different times. We’re all slipping in between different roles of ‘guest’ and ‘host’ from moment to moment: inviting and being invited by others into different contexts, encounters, forms of exchange.
While the actual activity (and sensitivities and motivations) of these hosting practices tends to remain the same, we can loosely distinguish between those that happen in a relatively self-organised capacity (e.g. DIY zine, an online radio broadcasts, etc.) or a more formalised institutional context.8 The latter they tend to happen through two ways: either us using our position as a solo-author artist to invite the work of others (like Here’s To9 at DRAF in 2018, or the Demonology in the context of the PhD), or being invited into an existing curatorial initiative as a ‘guest host’ (like Letters of Resignation10 last year).
I’m pretty interested in this shift from solo artist to host-curator of guest-artists. ‘Curation’ is a term from visual arts, within which the traditional model of authorship was firmly tied to solo artists. Of course, that traditional model has been blurred11, but I think that historical context needs to be taken into account when importing the idea of ‘curation’ in dance. I’m curious about how it defines itself when taking into account how authorship has developed in Euro-American practice across the figures of the choreographer and dancer.
We can crudely historicise the dancer as a relatively silent figure who learns and reproduces movements set by the choreographer; who, alongside the composer and producer, holds the position of authorship (I’m thinking of the Ballets Russes). Later, in modern dance, the figure of the choreographer takes a more sole authorship (Graham, etc.). This then shifts in contemporary dance to the dancer being recognized as a co-creator in the studio: who likely co-creates their movement, and who might have some voice in decision-making around the other materials, such as composition, language around the show, design elements, etc. (I’m thinking of the accreditation of, for example, a Meg Stuart piece, which reports the work as being ‘originally developed in collaboration with’ dancers, even if they no longer perform in it.) I like how Liz Lerman reflects on her changing role as choreographer: she became “driven not by the impulse to generate movements in my own body but by a search to discover questions and structures that would help inventive people find physical answers and stories inside themselves. […] an environmentalist, working to create a setting in which people could make their best work.”12
I’d say this is still the predominant mode of choreographer-dancer relations in our field. Choreographers remain widely understood to be the ‘lead’ artists of their works. But I think a new paradigm has come about, in which choreographers design and manage choreographic-curatorial frames, in which they invite fellow dance artists to develop and present their own solo-authored work. A clear example is Siobhan Davies’ exhibition project material / rearranged / to / be (2017)13, in which she commissioned fellow dancers and artists to develop their own works (performances, videos, sculptures, text installations) as part of a group show. Or Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion and Huge Glendinning’s 52 Portraits (2016)14, a digital project that operated as a (self-)portrait of the UK dance scene, that invited different dance artists to create a short video with the same choreographic-curatorial constraint (under a certain time limit, same objects, camera and song, etc.).
Both of these projects present each of the commissioned works relatively distinctly, which makes it very possible to attribute authorship to the artists-practitioners they have invited. And I think in both projects this was motivated, to some degree, by the desire to divest from the authority of the choreographer. The figure of the dancer is now the ‘dance artist’, with the agency to develop and sign their own distinct work within this choreographic-curatorial frame. And I think this is a significant difference from how the ‘artist-as-curator’ has arisen in visual arts. Rather than the ‘solo artist in their studio’, the dance-artist-as-curator emerges from a legacy of choreographic practice, that has always operates through establishing parameters in which other people (dancers, performers) undertake their artistic work.
I think this choreographic-curatorial paradigm is at play even when these kinds of projects don’t establish such neat divisions between internal works (as is the case with material and 52 Portraits). For example, SERAFINE1369’s BASICTENSION (2017) and Lucy Suggate’s Spirit Compass (2020) are both durational performances15, in which the lead artists and collaborating artists work with the same improvisational movement score. In BASICTENSION this score was (at least partly) played through the soundscape/speakers; and we heard Lucy talk about Spirit Compass’ score in that talk at Nottdance ’19. The clarity and stability of both of these choreographic frameworks ends up with each individual performer doing their thing more or less in parallel to one another, in the same environment, seemingly free from any other major choreographic constraints. Each draws from the affects and movement vocabularies recognizable from their own artistic practices. Rather than a collectively-devised performance work (à la Meg Stuart), I think it’s much more accurate to understand these works as the choreographic-curatorial framing of pre-existing dancing practices. And while it’s not easy to separate all this dancing into distinguishable works – it’s relatively easy to imagine each of these dance artists presenting similar activity as their own solo-authored work in these institutional contexts.
This choreographic-curatorial legacy is one trajectory in which to regard these hosting practices. Another is through artists being appointed to direct existing curatorial initiatives, e.g. as ‘guest curator’ of a festival. Sometimes this is tied up with the ambition for freelance artists to have leadership and decision-making within organisations16. It can also be with the ambition to engage marginalised forms of practice that lie outside of the expertise of an organisation’s curatorial and programming teams, usually due to exclusions of race, disability, socio-economic background, etc.
This latter is most overtly expressed in projects and festivals that describe themselves as a ‘take-over’. The institution is recognized to be at a distance from certain cultural production. Its existing procedures are ill-equipped to invite in these forms of practice. As such, it requires an intermediary figure who can act as a bridge: who can speak both languages, operate in both worlds, and form chains of trust. They are operating from a position of expertise or leadership within a particular community of peers, from which they can invite others into this particular institutional context to which they have been granted (temporary) access. Rather than necessarily blurring authorship, as before, I think this bridging figure’s curatorial work is undertaken alongside their established practices (i.e. artist-and-curator, rather than artist-as-curator).
The notion of curator-as-bridge isn’t new. Bill Berkson writes of Frank O’Hara, who worked as a curator at MoMA, and how he was viewed by the museum’s administration and trustees as “their chance for immediate access to the downtown art scene […] He was the liaison, the conduit between corporate MoMA and the artists.”17 Rajni Shah refers to the practice of inviting anti-racist practices into racist institutions as the ‘impossible bridge’18. I’m particularly curious about the situation of the ‘guest host’, and the sense of promise that might surround how they might invite in practices that are otherwise incommensurate to the institution’s customary curatorial capacities and tastes.
I think this promise of difference can be teased out here. Firstly, the guest curator might invite in practitioners who are outside of the institution’s current network. It’s about adding new names to existing curatorial frameworks. Secondly, the guest curator might invite in modes of practice that operate with a different paradigm of what it means to be an ‘artist’, or what constitutes a ‘work’. I’m thinking, for example, of Arika presenting Storyboard P at Tramway in 2017.19 How could an improvising street dancer present their practice within this theatre, when he doesn’t really make ‘shows’, to which tickets can be sold? (This is not a new question about his work. Earlier this year, the New York Times published a feature on Storyboard P, which quoted artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa: “the conundrum is how impossible it is to imagine an infrastructure around him that can allow him to sustain it.”20) Arika, as guest curator, acts as an interface between this artist and Tramway, and temporarily reframes this context to make it possible to formally present a practice that otherwise frustrates (or is failed by) its existing modes of commissioning and programming.
Alongside ‘who’ and ‘what’ is invited, a third difference is in the ‘how’: the activity of the invitation itself. I’m interested in how a guest curator might make invitations in ways that neither match up with nor be reconciled to the institution’s established protocols. For example, I was invited to show some work at a publicly-funded gallery recently, by a guest curator who has been commissioned to put on an exhibition there. They invited me after seeing my performance at another event, but I found our email conversations leading up to to the event quite frustrating. Rather than simply being a process of agreeing some practical details, I ended up being asked to write some text to justify the performance to the gallery director: not simply marketing copy or something for a programme, but actually having to justify the work’s inclusion in relation to the curatorial theme. I wondered why the guest curator didn’t have (or didn’t know they had) the authority to invite whoever they wanted for the show within their agreed budget – and therefore to cut out the tiresome process by which artists have to make their work legible to the organisational staff. I’m interested in when guest-hosts can engage guest-guests, without those invitations and relations having to be reconciled to the original hosts.
I’m curious about the risks and promises this institutional disconnect. And perhaps it’s worth noting something peculiar about our tolerance (or appetite) for distance from our institutional hosts. I’m reminded of that producer at Artsadmin21 saying how struck he was by our clear expression of our boundaries when working there: the support we needed to do the work, the forms of dialogue we were looking for, and otherwise the aspects of the project that we were not only happy to get on with ourselves, but actually resistant to any discussion or scrutiny. I think our default expectation is that our presence in organisations is be quite temporary. We find that extended dialogue with staff on programming teams to mostly just eat up the short amount of time we have to do the work we came there to do. We neither expect nor need our work to be understood by the organisational staff in order for us to mount and present it to the public in a way that we find useful. Perhaps others find more importance in this sense of one’s processes being seen, valued, understood.
I think of the unusual situation of Letters of Resignation22, which was co-run by me as a guest-host external to Siobhan Davies Studios, and you as a salaried member of staff (albeit outwith the responsibilities of your usual role as Content and Communications Manager). We could undertake the project and dialogues with invited artists with a tremendous amount of freedom. I remember how refreshing it was to be able to quickly make changes to the project on the organisation’s website, as and when needed; without having to ask permission, detail the required changes, explaining our reasoning, and then inevitably chasing it up later with various notes in order to fine-tune the request. Once we had the green light on the project, we could just crack on with what was needed, without having to continually explain ourselves.
This freedom of the guest-host can be refreshing, of course, but cutting corners can be ripe for harm, exploitation and abuse. Protocols are often established for a reason. (I wrote23 a little bit about this last year in relation to my experience of the Ponyboy Curtis project; and the ways that freelance artistic projects fall in or out of the legal liability of the publicly-funded institutions in which they operate.) But I am suspicious of this reasoning, because of how it implies that the curatorial and programming practices in UK institutions are somewhat morally privileged. I would not describe the institutional processes of commission and programming in UK dance as being respectful, dignified or compassionate. In my experience, I’ve felt more hurt from experiences in organisations than I have in DIY projects set up by peers.
Still, there are aspects of institutional structures that I think are valuable in the event of conflict. Contracts, management structures, salaries, etc., mean that harm can be addressed without people having to immediately worry about being able to pay rent, and without the issue having to be resolved solely by the people directly implicated in the situation. I’m thinking about a moment in Letters of Resignation, when one of the participants was particularly upset and whose sense of trust in us had clearly been damaged. When we reached out to them, we were careful to make them aware that they could reach out to senior management at the organisation and pursue a route to address the harm, without having to go through us.
The other thing question I have about the guest-host’s relative independence, is what promises they make to invitees about what support they will be offered in the organisation. Most of our work is designed to be quickly adaptable to the peculiarities of whichever context we’re working in. But we learned quite an important lesson when doing Here’s to at DRAF24. The venue changed the week before the event. On the day, the tech run was completely different to what had been agreed. Hours before the performance we were told we weren’t allowed to use the key props that held the work together. The situation was out of our control. We tried to roll with these shifts, but the compromises we were making were not just over our own work, but the work of the six guest artists we had invited.
We realised we should have pushed back with the commissioner and venue a lot more. And we realised we were also just totally unprepared for the absolute weirdness that was Frieze Week. This was our first encounter with big-money international art world. The audience, and the atmosphere of the event as a whole, were nothing like what we had expected. We recognized it had been foolish for us to invite others into that, without knowing what any of us were getting in for.
It’s not that I would expect a guest-host to be able to predict every detail of the context they are inviting another into, or that those details would remain unchanging. Unexpected things will happen. But when are guest-hosting, it’s important for us to know we can effect change within the context we’re inviting others into; that we will be able to look out for the artists, as and when things emerge. This is why we pulled back from doing the event this summer at Sadler’s Wells. I’ve struggled across the past year to get any of our requests met there, for them to deliver on any of their promises. And if we can’t get those things for ourselves, then it seems too risky to invite others into that context: what kind of invitation could we write that makes a promise about how their work will be framed or supported in that space?
For better or worse, a lot of these extra-institutional hosting projects come from the desire to just make things happen. People set up small contexts outside of existing organisations, in which they and their peers can share work with one another. No one is getting paid, no one is making any significant demands about the work that gets made, or how they make it. I think all these kinds of initiatives – performance nights, exhibitions, studios, workshops, readings, publications, club nights, pop-up markets, etc. – can be understood through the concept of hosting. And I’m interested in how they weave together to form the infrastructure of an ‘artistic scene’.
Different people set up their own un(der)funded (and likely unsustainable) initiatives to invite one another and make things happen. My sense is that this can be described as a gift economy.25 And I’m interested in going beyond the idea of gift as ‘selfless giving’, to the one of the production and maintenance of debt; that never totally settles, but rather keeps unfolding in a circular and mutually-enriching return of favours. As I quoted Dan Fox earlier, they mostly operate from a sense of friendship: mutual affection, interest, and trust. And of course, other less ‘positive’ feelings: envy, desire, ambition, loneliness, obligation, etc.
These hosting practices operate within a messy economy of uneven reciprocity and mixed feeling. People have different senses of how they want to contribute to the wider scene in which they operate, and are of course working from different circumstances. As Janine Harrington wrote in her ‘radical non-symmetrical (reciprocated) advocacy’ text:
you try to advocate for a position based on generosity and support whilst /lacking financial, emotional, physical resilience because doing the cleaning work or the sex work or the childcare or the elder-care or the anti-racism/sexism/ageism/ableism work or working both at the university and the restaurant… whilst not being white, rich, straight, neurotypical…26
Sometimes you can see people reciprocate invitations very clearly. Sometimes people tirelessly organise and give, and grow resentful of others who just seem happy to just take. Occasionally we feel a sense of debt, but I think we try to resist being too influenced by that. I can think of a particular friend of ours who has invited us into a number of projects, and who we’ve never returned the favour. As I wrote before, our hosting practice is not about just about reaffirming existing friendships. We’re constantly trying to reach out to those we don’t yet know, who might be working with different values, processes and contexts to our own.
Of course, it’s worth questioning how great that difference ever really is. I fondly remember Matthias Sperling once telling me how excited he was about working with Katye Coe on his latest duet27; he described her as being so different to him, and this being such a bold shift in his practice! I was amazed: I saw their practices as operating in such proximity and shared values within such a niche scene of somatic dance. For all our chat about cross-disciplinary exchange, I’ve no doubt we remain quite comfortably in a relatively small corner of wider cultural production.
The biggest difference that comes about when these hosting practices take place in institutional contexts is money. One way to address this would be to simply say that whenever we are doing anything as part of an institution’s formal programme, we pay ‘standard’ industry fees. Which is sort of true. Except, as I wrote earlier, it implies some kind of moral integrity to ‘standard’ institutional practice, when in fact ‘standard’ fees are woefully inadequate.28 Again, I’ve often felt more exploited and drained by institutional processes with ‘fair’ rates than things friends have invited us to do for free.
The other thing that often comes with institutional artist-as-guest-curator initiatives is the assumption that the artist is inviting in peers from the existing community which surrounds their work, in order to best represent and articulate their practice. I think I remember this being implied in the conversation Robyn and I had about us maybe doing a Wild Card29 at Sadler’s. As I’ve said, we’re more committed to promiscuity than affirming any existing scene. Because the money is rarely that good, we’re always asking ourselves: what might it do, to invite this person’s practice into here or there, to make their work more visible to the audiences of this space? What could be presented here, to expand the limits of this place? What might it mean to draw together these seemingly-contradictory practices, in this context?
I do think we feel a sense of responsibility when trusted with institutional funds. For example, Letters of Resignation was primarily funded through the Cultural Recovery Fund30, as was its sister programme Continuing Conversations. The latter invited 10 practitioners and scholars to each give a talk; I was shocked that the vast majority of those people held institutional roles, with institutional salaries. For us, it felt important that that money be directed to people without such institutional security, whose income was potentially severely disrupted by the pandemic. £200 was not a good fee, but it still could have made a real difference to someone who had lost all their work. This is not about pity: we only invite people whose work and thinking genuinely excites us. It just feels necessary thing to consider when thinking strategically about how to harness any institutional resources to greatest effect.
Another main assumption that comes up in institutional guest-hosting is that the artist-curator will present some of their own work. Paul Russ told me that this is an explicit condition for whoever guest curates Nottdance. We’re pretty averse to this. It seems pretty difficult to do both jobs at once: to keep sensitivity to the needs of another’s work, while in the mindset required to present your own. We stopped sharing our own work early on in Radio Play when we noticed we weren’t able to listen properly to the other stuff we were playing. Additionally, I think we find that the contexts that we established are always so strongly shaped by and saturated with our taste. Whether or not the project involves our physical presence, our hand is quite clearly all over it (its design, operation, the language that surrounds it, etc.): it really doesn’t need our own work to be included as well.
Whether or not money is involved, I never know if these hosting projects are nourishing to or extractive of the participating artists. At times, the line between the two can feel very fine. I wonder if it’s even useful to think of as a binary at all. Relationships both give and take at the same time. Every gift is also a demand.
One could banish these anxieties by simply declaring that “as long as it’s consensual, it’s fine”. But I’m interested in Katherine Angel’s critique of overburdening the technology of consent to magically resolve all the complexities of what it means to be in relation31. In the context of hosting practice, I’d be curious about the slippery line between ‘invitation’ and ‘coercion’. I’m find this quote from Adam Phillips, in his discussion of psychoanalysis and gay conversion therapy, quite compelling:
We have very different stories now about acceptable forms of change; and indeed about the effects people should be permitted to have on each other. The difference, say, between violation and persuasion. And we have become extremely suspicious about how people can undermine each other – seduce, manipulate, exploit – through words and associated intimidation, as though our language has become potentially the most dangerous thing about us.32
What are the ethics of writing a ‘flattering’ invitation? What does it mean to ‘charm’ – to cast a spell over another person, to temporarily bewitch them, to lure into a different world? I’m not advocating anyone overriding clearly expressed boundaries, but there are many moments in my life that I am grateful to be invited – cajoled, seduced, pressured – into experiences about which I am ambivalent. To yank this back to the realm of artistic practice, I can think of Bill Berkson description of Frank O’Hara relational mode as a curator:
Denby once spoke of Frank as “a fighter” […] And that was true of his affectionate side, too. (Frank’s ‘flamethrower’ affection, I call it.) […] In Frank’s affection syndrome, intimacy constituted a blurry area somewhere between love and friendship, and our particular relationship rushed into that blur. Frank and I charmed each other. I myself got dizzy in his regard and attentiveness.33
We all have our desires, needs, dependencies, vulnerabilities; and there is only so much that we will ever be self-aware of these. How impressionable should we allow ourselves to be with one another? How much can we ever know the force we exert over the other? People usually say ‘yes’ to our invitations, but rather than quelling my fears, this actually feeds my paranoia. We were so delighted (relieved!) when finally one of the Demonology invitees replied to let us know that the project “isn't quite for me.”
I’m thinking of something that Alys Longley spoke about last October, to celebrate the launch of the book she made with pavleheidler34. She was talking about a postal project35 she had undertaken, for which she had asked a number of collaborators around the world to contribute work, without pay. She described it as being such a huge thing to ask of people in a pandemic. And she spoke about the force of friendship within these kinds of projects: not only in what they make possible (as a means to an end), but as an end in themselves. There is something revitalizing about this inviting and demanding and sharing.
I was one of the people she had asked to contribute to the project. I had sat with her envelope for weeks, maybe months, overwhelmed by other work commitments, and then guiltily made something in a rush after she prompted me by email. But it was extraordinary. The thing I ended up making – an embroidery on paper – opened up a rich new avenue of practice. But more importantly: I’ve just been so energised by Alys’ extraordinary affection and commitment. The thought of her working away on all these unlikely and outrageously ambitious projects gives me some faith in the commitments in my own life that otherwise lack value or recognition.
These things are both an invitation and demand; they sustain and drain. What it means to be a friend – or a peer, or part of an artistic scene – can’t be reduced to the logic of income and expenditure, with a net result either in the green or the red.
The cultural industries are rife with exploitation. Funding is inadequate, people develop their work for little or no pay, the industry remains saturated with people with middle-class safety nets, etc.36 I don't think the answer is to condemn any artistic practice that takes place for less than 'professional rates'. I remain committed to some contexts – like Exploding Cinema37, with their brilliant motto: “no stars no funding no taste” – in which people can shared practice outside of professionalised labour.
One of the problems of all this is that there's rarely a neat separation between professionalised and DIY contexts. I remember a particularly damning comment from a friend of mine, who had danced for free or low pay on a number of projects by a peer in the UK scene. They pointed out that this person always invited certain people to their more DIY/unfunded initiatives; but would reach out to a completely different group of dancers whenever these projects acquired institutional funding.
No artist gets commissioned to make the work from the off. Everyone at least starts out developing their work from unfunded contexts (and few achieve such institutional stability that they can entirely dispense with them). Yet, as David Batchelor noted in the early 90s, extra-institutional initiatives can be both genuinely motivated by an urge to develop alternatives to the existing institutional landscape, or operate simply “a springboard from which to jump back into the gallery”38. It takes significant work to develop and participate in these kinds of projects – and they can generate a cachet within the very institutional markets which they sought to challenge.
Of course, it’s not a given. Many things quietly carry on without ever accruing institutional interest. From what I’ve seen, most grassroots organising work (in the arts and beyond) goes without celebration and adequate remuneration. I would advise anyone doing this kind of work to do it because it feels urgent and fun, not because they can expect anything in return.
But it does seem that many cultural markets, across different disciplines, display an insatiable hunger for the (seemingly) ‘new’, ‘critical’, ‘political’, ‘authentic’. Rather than the ‘well-made object’ of the old masters, nor the ‘unalienated labour’ of the modern artist, McKenzie Wark writes that value in contemporary art accrues through how much artworks circulate: “What establishes the value of the work is that people talk about it, write about it, circulate (unauthorized) pictures of it. The more it circulates, the more value it has.”39 Hosting projects are directly (maybe solely?) concerned with engaging, connecting and circulating practices. Whether intended or not, the production of such value seems intrinsic to these kinds of hosting projects.
And what’s complex about this is how this potential value seems to exceed the specified timeline of any particular project, and hence any agreements made within it. A few months ago, I took part in a conversation that Something Other40 (Maddy Costa, Mary Paterson, and Diana Damian Martin’s thing) held to discuss the future of their work. They convene informal forums to support people writing about/around performance, and organise infrequent digital publications and performance nights. They were asking whether they should be applying for funding to support themselves and others to undertake this work. I think most people – including me – said that engagement with funding structures would do more damage than good to their work.
And then someone raised the notion of ‘cultural capital’41; alluding to the potential for Maddy, Mary, and Diana to ultimately use this activity to leverage some kind of institutional power. And I wanted to laugh my head off. It’s so patently obvious from how these three hold themselves, in everything they do, that continually defuses this threat. They expand and blur territory, rather than policing it; they soften and distribute institutional resources rather than hoard them. They are not sharks; they are not driven by ruthless ambition.
Of course, things can shift. People can contribute to a scene with the sincere intention to build an alternative community of practice, and then (reasonably enough) later change their mind and seek to participate in different markets. But it does seem pretty easy to spot things that are described as invested with collective politics, yet designed in a way that renders it most digestible to institutional markets and able further the careers of those in charge. For some people (I am always suspicious of those who describe themselves as an ‘activist’), all social engagement is oriented towards the potential of future profit. They have fully embraced the neoliberal subjectivity that André Lepecki (after Wendy Brown) describes as the “economization of one’s psychic, affective, erotic, or love ‘investments’.”42
John Giorno gives a fabulous description in Great Demon Kings of a party in New York in 1963:
In this extended group of young painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians, and poets, nobody was really famous yet. […] They were artists who worked and lived in lofts in the Village and downtown, where they had gravitated through an intuition that there were people of similar mind. They were just beginning, having their first shows, and they went to one another’s openings and birthday parties because they liked each other’s work. […] On some subconscious level, they saw themselves as a family, a group that supported one another. […] By 1965 or 1968, everybody was very famous, so for a long time nobody went to anybody’s party, unless it was thrown by someone who would help their careers. But that night was still pure.43
How much can the tension between mutuality and self-interest be traced in aesthetic properties or economic arrangements, and how much are they an operation of psychology, affect, disposition? Or, to put it another way: could we ever make confident claims about whether any particular project tips from one to the other, without peering into one another’s soul? What’s ‘pure’, and in whose eyes?
I don’t think it’s useful for us to try make any claims about our own practice. I’d leave that for others who’ve taken part in our work or seen us in action. We’ve certainly had our ambitions, but they’ve also changed a fair bit over the past couple of years. And, for better or worse, we’ve also developed various strategies to shoot ourselves in the foot. It’s hard to make a name for ourselves when we change it every year.
But I can concretise these tensions in relation to the PhD itself. We have been undertaking our hosting practice, mostly unfunded, for a while: asking peers, usually for no money, if they would like to share their work in a frame we have designed. And based on all that practice and thinking – and due to the educational backgrounds we had access to – one of us is now able to undertake a PhD that draws on on all this thinking, and be paid a 17.5k-a-year studentship for that. It’s not just a question of what it means to navigate these tensions in current projects (e.g. the agreements44 we have made between ourselves, or with the participating artists on the Demonology), but also about all these historic relations that made this possible.
(Perhaps there’s a risk in presuming the desirability of this institutional position. Yes, I get to spend time on my practice, think about ideas, circulate my work amongst peers. But these activities are also just me trying to keep my head afloat in the increasingly-perilous university as a factory of knowledge production: a work place with notoriously poor rates of mental health, minimal managerial support, no sick pay, little to no job security or career progression, etc.)
The art writer Hanna Gregory tweeted a “reminder that artists & cultural figures who appear to be walking on water ~ all places, all publications, all production ~ are in fact supported by many invisible workers' hands + eyes + minds, who in the end make these artists' reputations endure”45. It would be impossible to try to trace the infrastructure that enables, or the after-economies, of each project or encounter. Things vibrate, cross-pollinate, spill out. I’m not against people making a name for themselves or developing a career. I am not demanding Christian martyrdom or the poetics of self-sabotage in order for people to prove their allegiance to artistic practice or their community of peers. We adore our friends’ success. I think the question for me is: when practitioners chose to enter those markets that demand they position their practices in that individualising way, how do they maintain or change the relations they have to the (mostly invisible) infrastructure that got them up there, that no doubt to some degree continues to keep them afloat?
For the most part, I assume that people will always tell the stories they need to get the life they want. A former lover told me about a group exhibition he had participated in, about queer sociality, which also included some work by a very famous artist duo. They were the stars of the show, and were presenting a huge grid of photographs they had taken at parties and clubs nights, effectively claiming something about how their practice was connected to or embedded in this subculture. He saw a photo of himself in this grid. He had once had a connection to this duo, but later had been hurt by how they had treated him, and cut him off. He was furious to see them instrumentalise his image in this way, and claim his friendship. On the opening, he waited around until he was the last person to leave the gallery, and stole the photo back.
This is a possible ethical disposition: let people tell the stories they want to get the things they want; everyone can contradict one another, and let the listener decide (the ‘free-market’ of history). But obviously, there are deeply sedimented power dynamics of whose voices get heard and which narrative gets archived. I’m thinking of Donna Haraway, in Story Telling for Earthly Survival, speaking on the long tradition of women’s work being “being disappeared by the powerful apparatus of masculinist thinking […] in institutions and at the level of individual people.”46 She is clear about the urgency “to be very precise about the history of ideas; and the particular creativity and originality of other women’s thinking.”
We try to ensure that participants have some agency when we’re wrapping up our hosting projects – to keep the invitation open, even it closes down. Ghosting and Letters of Resignation both ended with us making a zine47. We let the participants know the rough process, when they could take part in that, or review drafts. Often when it gets to that stage, I suspect that most of the people are just a bit sick of hearing from us, but it feels important that people can have a say about how these things are documented – not just in the spirit of being accurate about what took place, but such they can be opportunistic about how they can frame stuff for whatever’s next.
Any hosting is a form of social exchange that is predicated on an unequal access to a resource – whether that’s private wealth, a shared agreement, or a formalised organisation. It requires some people to be ‘in’, and others ‘out’, such that the latter can be invited in to share that thing. I think our hosting practice recognizes and works from those power imbalances, yet tries to operate in a way that aims to unsettle them. I’m starting to tentatively think of this as hosting with a ‘non-proprietorial’ sensibility. As Sara Ruddock48 put it to me at some point last year, it doesn’t feel accurate to talk of our practice as ‘holding space’. She sees us, rather, as continually stretching, tearing, warping space; flipping what is perceived to be the outside and inside, and fostering a proliferation of different inside-outsides that sit adjacent to one another.
To return to Moten’s quote at the start of this letter, it feels so easy to appeal to some embrace of collectivity that relinquishes ownership. But this relinquishment is vulnerable others asserting their own ownership; of seizing and harnessing what lies between them for their own ends. My presumption is that the lead artists of these hosting projects are the one most able to make such a move.
Yet rather than this risk undermining or invalidating these practices, I think it actually gives meaning to them. We surrender ourselves to each other: our image, our names, our practices, our time, our dancing – in the name of collectivity, friendship, the undercommons, fugitivity, love, whatever – in the knowledge that what is surrendered might be grasped and misused by them. And that vulnerability and trust is what constitutes the meaning and extraordinary beauty of the gesture in the first place. (Gillian Rose: “there is no love without power; that we are at the mercy of others and that we have others in our mercy”49. James Baldwin: “Loving anybody and being loved by anybody is a tremendous danger, a tremendous responsibility.”50)
I find myself entranced by a moment in Isabel Waidner’s novel Gaudy Baubel. The main characters have been making an experimental TV show. During the live broadcast of the penultimate episode, one of the hosts spontaneously decides to announce an open competition for which peers can submit their work:
We are inviting a co-operative public to submit their propositions [...]. Low budget productions of epic proportions, format discretionary. Anything legible eligible. [...] Do the general public. Want to add. Riffraff. Add your riffraff to ours. […] There can never be too many madcap angels […]. The willy-nilly invention […] might carry significant risks. But is it unsafer not to invent ANY angels. It is entirely unsafe to uninvent angels. That is what we think [...]. What do YOU think?!51
It swirls with manic energy. I love the committment to clumsy and un(der)funded hosting. I love how it embraces the risk that these practices invite. But I agree with Waidner’s characters: it is “unsafer not to invent any angels”, and not necessarily any better to leave things as they are. I’m thinking of Adam Mars-Jones’ novel Box Hill52 too. It depicts an unnerving relationship between two men in the 70s: essentially a kidnapping, that is saturated with violence and humiliations with no hint of explicit consent. Mars-Jones refuses to sanitise the relationship – yet it is continually placed in quiet contrast to the life we imagine the protagonist might have had if they had stayed living with their family in English suburbia. I don’t want to excuse harm or idealise transgression; but there is a risk in overly-scrutinising imperfect alternatives, while leaving the violences of the status quo invisibly present, unquestioned, accepted.
Which is obviously a bit ridiculous to say, because I’m guilty of that ‘over-scrutinising’ in this letter. It would be easy enough to cherry-pick some positive quotes from past collaborators in order to dismiss the sensitivities and tensions of these hosting projects. But I’m interested in teasing them out, because they so profoundly shape the design and execution of this work. Rather than claim some innate benevolence, I’m keen to work towards the humility that psychoanalyst Josh Cohen describes as ”an acknowledgement of our own susceptibility to silencing or killing the other, the insistence in us of the violence we disavow.”53 I think the fact that we continue to undertake this practice, in whatever form, is evidence enough as to whether or not we think the potential merits outweighs the risk.
Hosting projects can be a way to maintain a practice, to sustain communities of peers, to beg institutional entrance, or survive them once inside. I think our hosting practice, more than anything, is a way for us to continually orient ourselves to our peers, despite (and perhaps because of) the institutional purchase we might have acquired. It’s a way to resist institutional norms from becoming the primary parameters of our values, processes and ambitions. These projects are tiring and underfunded. They are unsustainable. But we keep returning to them, because they sustain us.
We have not yet experienced the trajectory of a lifetime of practice: how things emerge, persist, shift, disappear; the consequences and flows of all these inclusions and exclusions and extractions and allegiances and debts. And we won’t know, until we see the full arc. We only get to try this once: we will always be in a mode of testing, shifting, and learning.
Which is all a bit dramatic, but I think says something quite directly about this PhD, and the kind of knowledge. I don’t think I’m in a position to express ‘best practice’ or make many definitive claims. Rather, I seem to be concerned with the irresolvable (and always partially inscrutable) tensions of what it means to be in relation. Which is to say, ethics; and an ethical life that – as Gillian Rose wrote near the end of her life – requires one “to stay in the fray, in the revel of ideas and risk; earning, failing, wooing, grieving, trusting, working, reposing – in this sin of language and lips.”54
With love, and in anticipation for our spectacular betrayals of one another, whenever we decide to launch our solo careers,
Fred Moten and Stefano Harney (2021) On collaboration within practice research. Presented at the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities. Available to watch here. The bit I’m quoting is at about 45mins in.
Footnotes was a publication that Rohanne and I made in 2018 which invited ten artists to write short essays in the form of footnotes to a single sentence (written by themselves or others).
Radio Play was an infrequent series of digital radio broadcasts that we organised from 2017 to 2019. These were evening-length broadcasts of audio and text works by friends of ours across the world. Some of the invitees had long-term practices in sound, and some were trying stuff out for the first time.
The Demonology is a project that Rohanne and I are currently working on. We made 100 linoprints of demons over the past couple of years (the angry little faces scattered across this text). We’ve asked twenty friends to write texts on the back of them, as they get posted around the world to each of their homes. We’ll then gather these texts into a series of hand-printed artists books and (we think) risograph zines.
Each year we change our name. Last year we were ‘Chatting Tanum’. This year we are ‘Cha cha cha cha cha’. The new name always comes from how we’ve been misheard or misremembered that year. It’s very stupid, we love it.
Organisational staff like to feel like their initiatives are accessible to many different artistic processes and without ‘bias’. This is a vanity that wastes people’s time. I was speaking with the artist Rhiannon Armstrong recently, who put it exceptionally well. Organisations often celebrate that their open calls (say, for a new commission, or a small number of residencies) receive a large number of applications (in their hundreds). But this means that they have failed. They have not articulated clearly enough the values they are using to prioratise and select work. Too many people have been mislead into thinking their work will be selected, and they have wasted all these freelancer’s time.
Chris Goode was a director and playwright of British experimental theatre, with whom I worked in 2015/16. He ran a blog that had extensive influence in the experimental/underground/queer performance scene in the UK. Chris Goode (2006) ‘Rambly post with crumpled wad ($1.75). Thompson’s Bank of Communicable Desire. 17 July. Available at: https://beescope.blogspot.com/2006/07/rambly-post-with-crumpled-wad-175.html
I worked with Chris Goode on a project called Ponyboy Curtis, around 2015/16, with a group of other performers. It has a complex history. I wrote a little bit about the project in my letter in July 2021.
Dan Fox (2018) Art Doc ‘The Price of Everything’ is so Hypnotized by Price that it Neglects to Say Much of Value About Value. Frieze. 26 October. Available at: https://frieze.com/article/art-doc-price-everything-so-hypnotized-price-it-neglects-say-much-value-about-value
I’m refraining from using the term ‘independent’, which is often used to refer to that which is ‘outside’ of institutional practice. I do this for a number of reasons: firstly, it is rarely defined what this thing is ‘independent’ from. A self-organised and unfunded project like Radio Play still leans on existing digital technologies, and our old broadcasts are hosted on podcasting platforms. That project, and others, all require access to resources (paper, printing, equipment) and time, that feels inextricable from our social-economic positioning: citizens of Fortress Europe, living in the UK, with middle safety nets to fall back on. Secondly, the notion of ‘independent’, in this field, is very much bound up in the figure of the ‘independent artist’ (i.e. freelance artists without a salaried position etc.). But this terminology completely obscures how these artists are, for the most part, thoroughly dependant on organisations. Simon Ellis and I recently wrote a text trying to address this bind,
Here’s To was a commission by David Roberts Art Foundation (a visual arts organisation in London) for an evening event they put on in 2018 at O2 Forum Kentish Town. We invited six of our friends to give a toast at different points across the evening. We loved what they did, but the whole event was very chaotic – I give some more details about this a bit later.
Letters of Resignation was a project by Rohanne and I in spring 2021. Siobhan Davies Studios’ invited us to run one of their annual choreography courses that aspire to be an ‘introduction’ to choreographic practice. It was the middle of the pandemic – we didn’t want to do anything centered on video calls – and we felt uneasy about the politics of ‘introducing’ people to this field, while so many were forced to find work elsewhere. We decided to run the course by post, and make it about quitting, and invited five peers to compose letters for the participants. Some of these materials were shared with the public as part of the digital zine we put together at the end of the course. Accessible here.
Harold Szeeman is widely understood as the beginnings of the modern curator: a figure who desings different exhibition projects, rather than being tied to a particular archive or collection. However, his curation of Documenta 5 (a large art festival in Kassel in Germany that takes place every few years) was contested by one of the artists, Daniel Buren, in his short text: “The exhibition of an exhibition” (Daniel Buren (1972) Exposition d’une exposition. Accessible here). In short, he argues that the curatorial frame of the exhibition was so strong it overwhelmed each of the particular artworks; and as such, Szeeman became the main artist of the show. It raises an interesting question of what the relationship between curator and artist is, and how authorship is distributed between them.
Liz Lerman (2014) Values for Dance Making and methods for Critique. Choreographic Practices, 5(1). pp. 33-38.
Over the past few years, there has been a flurry of conversations in UK experimental dance about the role and agency of freelance dance artists in publicly-funded organisations, e.g. the ‘Artist. Curator. Leader.’ project instigated by Joe Moran and/as Dance Art Foundation.
Bill Berkson (2019) What Frank O’Hara Was Like, in Berkson, B. A Frank O’Hara Notebook. no place press: New York and San Francisco. p.267.
Rajni Shah and Royona Mitra (2020) Building the Impossible Bridge: Voice Notes on Anti-Racism and / in Institutions. Presented at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts. 20 November.
Brian Seibert (2022) Storyboard P: Where Is the Place for a Genius of Street Dance?. New York Times. March 31. Available here.
An arts organisation in London that supports experimental performance. In 2019 we led a two-day workshop there, called Ghosting, in which we invited people to dress up as ghosts and haunt the building.
See footnote 10.
See footnote 9.
I’m thinking here of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time, which is I think in relation to Herbert Marcuse’s The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. I’ve not yet read either.
Matthias and Katye are both artists working in UK experimental dance.
For example: for the Letters of Resignation project, we paid the five artists £200 each from the £1000 budget (finding an extra couple of hundred to cover materials from the organisation’s budget for postage that didn’t get used during that year of lockdown). While I do really appreciate the recommended rates published each year by Scottish Artists Union, and tend to cite these numbers when in dialogue about potential work with regularly-funded organisations, I know that in most cases the ‘standard rates’ within the field of art are much lower. For example, Rohanne and I were recently awarded a £500 ‘micro-commission’ that expects us to do two days of work in the studio, followed by an industry presentation, and additionally requires us to write a blog post reflecting on this work.
Sadler’s Wells Theatre – the official institutional partner for this PhD project – occasionally does ‘Wild Card’ evenings, in which an artist guest-curates two or three of their peers’ work. Robyn is a producer at Sadlers, and one of my three supervisors for this PhD.
The Cultural Recovery Fund were two pots of money from the UK government which arts organisations could apply for to help them survive the pandemic.
Katherine Angel (2021) Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again: Women and Desire in the Age of Consent. London: Verso.
Adam Phillips (2021) On Wanting to Change. London: Penguin books. p.14.
Bill Berkson (2019) What Frank O’Hara Was Like, in Berkson, B. A Frank O’Hara Notebook. no place press: New York and San Francisco. p.266
Alys Longley and pavleheidler (2021) life is a sting on the bicep of the fabric of the universe. It’s amazing. See it here.
¡BEBEREMOS EL VINO NUEVO, JUNTOS! / LET US DRINK THE NEW WINE, TOGETHER!, with Máximo Corvalán-Pincheira. See here.
I’ve written about this a little bit before – in my letter in January 2021. We work in a field where most of the administrative work is undertaken through salaried roles in organisations, but the actual artistic practices that develop and present the work is done by freelance workers. The things that end up as clear, recognisable products (e.g. exhibited artworks, ticketed performances, screenings) emerge from a complex underbelly of activity – ideas, practices, commitments, experiments, rehearsals, exchanges, research. Projects don’t come from nothing, there is inevitably a large amount of shadow hours that have gone into something before it ever gets to the stage before it is formally applied for funding.
Exploding Cinema (website here) is a collective in London that runs screenings of experimental film. I was introduced to their work by the brilliant artist and pedagogue Sophia Kosmaoglou (website here), who facilitated the free school ‘Art & Critique’ (at which I was an infrequent student) in London around 2015-19.
David Batchelor (1992) Under The Canary. Frieze, Issue 5, June-August.
Something Other is great. They run occasional events, but I think of the spine of their work as being the monthly gatherings for writers who hang out around experimental performance. Website here.
The term is from the sociologist of culture Pierre Bourdieu, although I’ve no idea if this use of it matches what he actually wrote.
André Lepecki (2016) Singularities: Dance in the Age of Performance. New York: Routledge. p.13
John Giorno (2020) Great Demon Kings. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p.102.
Rohanne and I have a very complex system to split the studentship fees between us. In short: we get paid the same rate for the time each of us work on ‘PhD-relevant’ projects. Because the pot of money is fixed, the value of our time then changes in relation to how much work we do – the more each of us work, the lower the day rate is for that work. I inevitably end up spending a lot more time working on the PhD, so I take the lion’s share home. We’re using the same system for the participating writers on the Demonology project.
Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival (2019) Directed by Fabrizio Terranova. Quote from 34:15 onwards.
Sara Ruddock is a good friend, and a fellow PhD student at the University of Roehampton Dance department. Her research is centered on the concepts of ‘resonance’ and ‘resistance’, and how vibrational and listening practices can move across singular practitioners, group choreographies and collective structures. It’s pretty awesome. She’s also one of my favourite dancers I’ve ever seen…. If you ever hear of her performing or presenting something, drop any & all obligation and go see.
Gillian Rose (2011) Love’s Work. New York: New York Review Book. p.106
James Baldwin (2014) Interview with Richard Goldstein, in James Baldwin: The Last Interview and Other Conversations. Melville House Publishing
Isabel Waidner (2017) Gaudy Bauble. Manchester: Dostoyevsky Wannabe. pp.77-78
Adam Mars-Jones (2020) Box Hill. London: Fitzcarraldo Editions
Josh Cohen (2021) Losers. London: Peninsula Press.
Gillian Rose (2011) Love’s Work. New York: New York Review Book. p.144