Post-Contemporary: The Futures of Arts, Galleries & Museums
In this series on The Renaissance of Utopias, we’re recapping IAM Weekend 17 and bringing you everything we learned and explored in one place.
At the upcoming IAM Weekend 18 (April 27–29, 2018) we’ll be discussing ‘The Subversion of Paradoxes’ looking at the contradictions, collisions and coexistence of realities, in the next 7 years. Join us!
At the heart of IAM Weekend 17’s theme, The Renaissance of Utopias, is a call to use utopias as a tool to invent better futures. To that end, the weekend’s Opening Ceremony set the tone for the days ahead, encouraging everyone — from attendees, to speakers, to volunteers — to harness our collective imagination to envision critically optimistic alternatives for how our world could be.
Following on, the Post-Contemporary session dived straight into the complex backdrop that this message responds to. Recognising that internet cultures have made the world more complex, scrambling our sense of time and forcing culture and politics to coexist, we explored how the arts can help us untangle, and respond to, the world around us.
Félix Magal : Museum of Internet
Félix Magal, creator of Museum of Internet, kicked off the session. As founder and meme curator of the infamous Facebook page, Felix dissected how the page acts as an archive of a new developing aesthetic, one influenced by objects like memes and screenshots (and Drake). While anyone can enjoy Museum of Internet as just a place of “images that make the internet awesome”, Félix also had some important lessons to share.
To reach people in the digital space, Museum of Internet had to be where the internet user is, i.e. Facebook, but the experience for curator and consumer alike means the Museum is, in essence, no different to the Louvre or Tate — it’s just online. To that end, memes become something like an internet fine art movement.
They should be celebrated and documented like any other cultural phenomenon from any other era, says Félix, and as they become the digital equivalent to small talk, memes bring communities together across borders. We should remember, (problematic political memes aside, notes Félix,) when we’re laughing at memes, “we’re not just laughing at them, but laughing at them together”.
Omid Habibi : Shared Studios
Following Félix was Omid Habibi, Portals Director at Shared Studios and founder of the Afghan Development and Inspiration Bureau (ADIB). After growing up as a refugee for the first 17 years of his life, Omid moved to Afghanistan, his parents’ country, and began to see the untapped potential of the country’s people.
Having founded ADIB to help develop their projects, he also came across Portals, gold-painted shipping containers equipped with immersive videoconferencing technology that connected people from all over the world and allowed them to share their ideas and collaborate.
Installed in communities across the globe, Portals seek to replicate the process of meeting new people and finding common interests that happens in our local communities. When you enter, you come face-to-face with someone in a Portal elsewhere in the world, and you can share conversations, performances, lessons and projects as if they were in the same room.
Portal by portal, participant by participant, the project is helping communities across the world to learn more about each other, all the while highlighting the important role for the arts in breaking down creative, social and geographical barriers.
Amal Khalaf : Serpentine Galleries
Closing the session was Amal Khalaf, Projects Curator at the Serpentine Galleries, whose work is heavily focussed on working with the local community on the Edgeware Road, in London. The project is based at the Serpentine’s Centre for Possible Studies, which “originates in the hope that it is possible to re-orient a series of existing practices towards the desires of a local context”.
To that end, the project takes many forms and works with artists in residence, commissioned projects, theatre groups, writers, activists and many other members of the Edgeware Road community. The neighbourhood is a microcosm of London; it’s an area in which you can hear hundreds of languages, with many residents coming from the middle east, and it has suffered greatly as a result of gentrification.
“utopias can, in a sense, exist and be born out of crisis and difficulty”
In response, Amal spoke of the importance of small scale, community-driven artistic projects that imagine a different future of the neighbourhood: “utopias can, in a sense, exist and be born out of crisis and difficulty”, she said.
By putting the community first, local residents are empowered to create their own sense of the possible through participatory, artistic projects. This process recognises the importance of listening to and with others; when we do that, we can come together in order to reorganise spaces of power. To demonstrate the point, Amal finished her talk, and closed the session, by inviting the audience to participate in a listening meditation of their own. Here’s the result:
Felix, Omid and Amal showed that, emerging out of our complex times, there are a myriad of projects and ideas, both small and large scale, that are experimenting with methods of curation, connection and community to explore the world around us.
The lesson for us all is that by questioning our relationships to arts, technologies and cultures, we can take the first step to building better futures: encouraging a broader discussion about exactly the kind of futures we want.