Mar. 3, 2012
On the occasion of the 2012 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NY, Erin Dziedzic posed five questions to UK-based not-for-profit group ARIKA. Barry Esson and Bryony MacIntyre of ARIKA curated their first North American program, A survey is a process of listening. They are also the first European group invited to curate a collaborative series of programs for the 2012 Whitney Biennial. This brief interview provides insight into ARIKA’s experimental music, film, and art event curatorial background and highlights their experiences with tapping into “interesting threads in North American listening.”
Erin Dziedzic: What are your backgrounds as artists and how do your individual and collective backgrounds inform and motivate your practice?
ARIKA: We try to have an organizational practice, where our organization is one part of a community, or set of communities. We think that the following answers address this question also.
ED: Arika is known for culling experimental sound, moving image and discussions for UK-based festival programming. The third episode of Arika’s 10- week long experimental festival in Glasgow is called Copying Without Copying. When you were asked to curate a program for this year’s Whitney Biennial in the US what were some of the formats that you used that have been successful for past Arika festivals and did you develop any new modes of curating derived from this experience, that essentially do not “copy without copying” what you’ve done in the past?
ARIKA: The notion of ‘copying without copying’ is maybe taken from a book by John Roberts, and makes the point (starting with readymades) that to copy is never just to repeat, it is always to add something, to enliven, to animate. We don’t have a problem with ‘copying’, as the context and constituency is always different.
Having said that, what we have proposed to The Whitney is definitely a different model of structuring a project from what we’ve done before, even if our concerns remain the same.
The Whitney Biennial claims to be a survey. A survey in any other discipline would state its aims, its methodology. It would return results, and analyze them, and draw conclusions based on both what it did and did not find in relation to said aims. We have proposed to The Whitney to at least take seriously some of the methodology of surveying from the social sciences, albeit perhaps heightening some of them for our own purposes and at the same time acknowledging the limitations of our ‘survey’ in terms of its scope, and what it can do. Therefore, we will have to come out and say what is being looked for, how we might look, etc. and we might also want to try and return results, as it were.
This gave us a starting point for our project: to consider what our ‘aims’ or ‘concerns’ might be. We have a good idea of those, and so perhaps we are ‘copying’ them from each project to the next, learning and updating them as we go.
We think one of those aims is that we want to involve people in thinking about listening as a set of tools, that can be sharpened locally; and have particular applications in particular contexts. It seems that a way to do this is to survey listening, and to do some of that work ourselves—to set up encounters between people and modes of listening. More importantly, we think that we also want some of the surveying to be carried on and out by the audience: to set up these situations so that it is the audience who surveys the utility or applicability of modes of listening. Maybe as an aside, this says something about our suspicion of the dominant mode or politics of reception in the arts—that audiences can ‘democratically’ choose what to give their attention to, or to linger over, as they drift through an exhibition. We like a bit of structure, and to be able to cut to the chase and interrogate what is being proposed by an experience. So we think our invitation to the audience to survey the value of different modes of listening will be structured and facilitated in a way that is supported by specific ways of thinking. Or at least that’s the idea: we have much work to do on this yet.
Also, The Whitney Biennial is practically open for specific times and durations; and we have taken this as a structure to our activities and will present work being undertaken, or surveying being done, or modes of listening being tested during the duration of the week that we are there. There will be clear times when things are happening so a passive audience can turn up and listen without feeling like they have to do more than that, but there will be space, time and invitations for people to be more involved, if they like.
ED: What were some noticeable threads and/or contrasts in North American listening that you’ve taken note of?
ARIKA: Obviously there are more modes to listening than we could hope to cover in our limited ‘survey’: we think that it is important to state this and we will do so publically—we like to show a vulnerability and limitation to what we hope to achieve against our own goals or rubric. We have a long history of engaging in experimental modes of listening, and a decent history in thinking this through via other seemingly ‘non-artistic’ modes such as community organizing, popular education, philosophical registers of listening, etc. The things that we focus on will be disparate and linked only by contrast—we won’t have sub-themes of listening organizing each day, but some of the practices of listening that we will focus on include:
ED: Where do you see your practice in the larger field of visual art?
ARIKA: Arika has a loyalty to music and to film (these have been the core interests of Bryony McIntyre and Barry Esson over the past 11 years of Arika); we have organized over 600 events during that time, and have worked with hundreds of artists from multiple genres, backgrounds, and positions within those fields. In doing so, we have developed our own position on those platforms, questioning what might still be relevant about them and where they may be (in our view, and without being too pushy), stuck. We feel that the best means for us to research and inform an idea of how modest contributions to our art forms can be made is to bring them into contact with other practices (artistic and non-artistic alike) that perhaps have attempted some solutions to the problems and areas in which we think music might be a bit stuck, and see if we can practically cross-fertilize our own fields and others; and maybe be of some small use to both. So, if we focus on the second order tools at play, in the case of music and our project at the Whitney, ‘listening’, then we find that there are modes of listening the music has developed that are of some use out-with music, and visa versa—ideas and solutions and practices of listening from other non-musical art forms, practices, or disciplines have interesting implications when considered as music.
Also, to be pedantic: we would not recognize ‘visual art’ as the all-encompassing ‘larger field’ here. Visual art has many positive things going for it (a level of criticality being chief among these compared to much discourse on music) but it doesn’t supersede other historically delineated disciplines such as music, literature or whatever—we’re not all aspiring to visual art and wouldn’t want to give it too much power in that relation, its just another set of tools.
ED: After having curated a North American program for the first time, what aspects have you drawn from this experience that you would hope to carry forward as you continue to program for Arika? What direction do you see your work taking in the future?
ARIKA: The first thing to say is that our process is not finished: we want this to be a learning experience for us; so we are uncertain how things will play out or what, if any, knowledge might be produced by our experiences with artists and audiences in the biennial. So it’s maybe a bit early to say what we might be able to draw from this just yet. But we are certain that with each project we learn many things, and that learning or exposing of things that we don’t know leads directly into what we try and set out to work on or highlight (not always successfully, in retrospect) in our future projects. So I guess we don’t know, but we’re happy about that at this stage…
Erin Dziedzic is Founder and Editor of artcore journal.