‘Networking, Collaboration, Hospitality and Cultural Exchange. North Africa and the Rethinking of the Artist in Residency Model Today’.
The global processes of production, distribution and reception of contemporary art and the multiculturalists and internationalist discourses of the exhibition systems are key factors to understand the unprecedented development of artistic mobility today. One of the most popular models of artistic mobility today is the one proposed from Artists in Residency programs. During the last 20 years these initiatives have experimented and exponential growth at a global scale and mobility has become a sine qua non in the artists and cultural researchers curricula. This phenomenon though is not exempt of contradictions. As T.J Demos underlines ‘singing the praises of nomadism today within the narrow scope of the European framework, without the radical political demands for equality (as is so often done in contemporary art discourse), appears self-congratulatory, even narcissistic‘. Indeed collaboration, networking, hospitality and cultural exchange and their institutional promotion is a paradigmatic strategy of a way of understanding artistic development that more often than expected obliterates the traditions and contradictions, interests and imbalances of mobility in the 21st century.
The starting point of this research proposal is to critically reflect on the mobility of artists and cultural researchers through Artists in Residency Programs. To rethink this phenomenon can be an interesting process if we take into account that exclusive professionalism, selective nomadism and cultural globalization are putting under pressure the benefits that cultural mobility has achieved so far.
With the objective to examine this situation, this research proposes a cross-cultural analysis taking as a study case the recent dissemination of Artist in Residency Programs in North Africa. Furthermore the research will examine the epistemological challenge emerging as a consequence of this same expansion, namely the Eurocentric definition of concepts like collaboration, networking, hospitality and cultural exchange and the conflicts inherent when they are applied to the Arab region. Through this comparative approximation, the research will try to underline the richness and variety that conform alternative definitions of such terms in regards to the contexts and traditions from where they are defined. This diversity, I will argue, is threatened by mainstream conceptual frameworks and the understanding of cultural production through terms such as center-periphery, tradition-modernity, innovation-backwardness or authenticity and copy, dichotomies all the above that have their roots on the processes of colonial domination.
Through an exercise of critical self reflection the interest of this research is to bridge the gap and share differences between two cultural traditions, the Arab and that of the West, which although being shown as antagonist have so much to learn from each other.
In recent years there has been a process of self-assessment amongst Artist in Residency Programs and networks through the organization of different symposiums and meetings. The common ground from where these discussions evolve is the search for new ways of understanding the functionalities and potentialities of Artist in Residencies to make them not responsive to the necessities of the Art Market but to local needs, interdisciplinarity, dialogue and cultural research.
While acknowledging the importance of these events this research will argue that the ground from where to start developing alternatives was already proposed sixty years ago in the UNESCO by the non alienated countries. The demands were based on the conclusions of the 1955 Bandung conference and could be summarized as
- Greater variety in sources of information.
- Less monopolization of the forms of cultural expression and
- Preservation of some national cultural space from the pervasive commercialization of Western cultural outpourings.
It could be said that seen from the perspective of Artist in Residency networks´ contemporary landscape the three demands proposed by nonwestern countries sixty years ago have been systematically overseen. In fact while western art theories and practices have proclaimed the obsolesce of a Modernist notion of art that is Eurocentric, egocentric, nomadic and based on exhibitable and sellable products, the emergence of practices and institutions that give shape to this same Modernist notion of art is being exported and adopted by local bourgeoisie elites in non-western countries. This process is faced at the same time by local and regional artistic practices that while reapropiating innovative models of artistic production through the adoption of new media and relationality, are also deeply engaged in the theory and practice of the social, ethical and political responsibilities of the artists and obliterates the commercial impulse of mainstream westernized art.
From the above juncture this research proposes a double research strategy.
On one side I will ague that the promotion of cultural mobility often neglects the social and ethical implications of mobility at large while at the same time ignore the long lasting traditions of exchange and networking historically ingrained in the Arab cultures. On the other hand, the research will investigate the cultural specificities and potentialities of the artistic impulse that continue to evolve outside of the main creative hubs of the Art World paying closer attention to how theses artistic initiatives are evolving and what is to be learnt from them in the context of post and pre revolutionary North African contexts.
In short this research wants to argue that it is in fact the processes of expansion of Artist in Residencies in North Africa the one that triggers the opportunity of learning from the existence of initiatives ingrained in the Arab culture that can become central in the future of Artist in Residencies through the rethinking of mobility programs from a truly cross-cultural perspective.
Guided by the context outlined above the objects of research that I am to address could be resumed as follows
- The demands that the non-alienated counties made in the 1970 emphasized a lack of independence regarding western cultural outpourings. In the framework of Artist in Residency expansion in North Africa, how do we identify the nature and the influence of art organizations and cultural projects developed in these countries in relation to concepts such as Eastern and Western, traditional and modern, backward and progressive and authentic and imported modes of cultural production?
- As already mentioned, the history of Artist in Residencies lacks in-depth research on the imbrications between artistic mobility and the imbalances of the global socio-cultural flows that are embedded in globalization. Having as a framework the North Africa region, how can this history be rethought and complemented? There are Artists in Residency models specific to these contexts? And what is there to be learnt from civil society cultural organizations that have worked independently of international recognition and national cultural relevance but are deeply connected to grassroots activism?
- Recently different meetings and symposiums have been organized to discuss the functions, responsibilities and potentialities of Artist in Residencies and Artist in Residencies Networks in the role of innovators and promoters of contemporary art practices. Ashis Nandy points out that it might be not only innovation but ‘an unheroic but critical traditionalism’ that can become a key aspect in order to invent and reinvent much needed ‘signs familiar to the popular imaginary’ that bridge the gap between theory and artistic practice and most importantly both theory and artistic practices with everyday life. In the framework of the Arab culture, how can we identify these signs? And how could we apply them to the development of (new) methodologies that respond to the context specificity of A.I.Rs?
Although the methodology of this project will engage in traditional and quantitative research as well as exhaustive analysis of relevant literature its core will be interdisciplinarity experimentation. It is with this aim that the researcher will focus in Travel Studies, Anthropology of Art, Sociology of Knowledge, Religion and Tradition with special focus on Islam and the Arab culture while incorporating creative Auto-ethnography and Visual Anthropology in order to introduce a self-reflexive and creative approach to the method. The aim being to critically analyze the researcher’s own experience using video and creative writing as tools to decipher the conflicts inherent in the research process.
In short, the proposed methodology will be structured as follows
- Literature Review
Travel Studies, Anthropology of Art, Area Studies, Arab Contemporary Art, Artist in Residency Studies, Post-colonial cultural studies and Globalization Studies with special attention given to Arab authors and schools.
- Field Research and Mapping
The aim will be to continue with the mapping project of different mobility initiatives that are being developed in North Africa as well as artistic projects that reflect on that topic. This mapping includes video interviews to different cultural operators so to have an inside testimony on the strengths and weaknesses of the development of Artist in Residency programs in the region. Till the present date 16 interviews have been done in Morocco and Egypt. The aim is to edit and analyze the content of these interviews and to continue with this process in Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. The mapping will be developed through the creation of the NACMM North Africa Cultural Mobility Map http://www.nacmm.info
- Visual Anthropology and auto-ethnographic diary using video and creative writing. For a preliminary example of these exercises you can have a look here.
With the aim to put theory into practice the methodology of the project includes the creation of a multi lingual on line portal with resources that can help in reflecting upon and develop cultural initiatives with or between Arab countries. This on line data base will be accessible in English, French, Arabic and Spanish and will be developed through The North Africa Cultural Mobility Map, a project that is being implemented by the CeRCCa – Center for Research and Creativity Casamarles, the residency I am coordinating since 2009 in a little village near Barcelona and El Madina for Performing and Digital Arts in Alexandria. The project now is in the process of securing funding and creating new partnerships in the region and with other institutions that relate to the initiative.
The North Africa Cultural Mobility Map is a research and info platform for artists, curators and researchers interested in the development of cultural projects in North Africa. Its objective is to enhance tolerance and conviviality amongst the societies that conform this region through creative and research projects that promote a better understanding of its realities.