Who wouldn't sign up for something called 'Dialogue and Exchange in the Art Ecology'? This subtitle to the conference Networked had proved itself a clever choice, as the event happened to be entirely sold out. Networked celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Triangle Network, an organisation aimed at creating relationships between art spaces worldwide. It took place on 26th and 27th November at the Bloomberg Space on an occupied Finsbury Square in London.
Networked brought together curators, artists, critics and art funders from 44 countries. The reason for their interest wasn't hard to figure out. As the funding climate is getting though, large institutions are realising their administrative structures are not sustainable and smaller art spaces and independently operating curators are realising that collaboration is a necessity.
The principle of collaboration indeed seems to be at the core of the Triangle Network. Started in 1981 by artist Anthony Caro and art collector Robert Loder, both from Britain, the organisation was based on a triangular network connecting artists based in the UK, the US and Canada. It currently has 30 member institutions which each started out as grass-roots organisations.
The Triangle Network often collaborates with non-Western art organisations. It chooses to set up workshops in countries where, for example, artists might have difficulties to get a visa to go abroad. This way of working also entails recognising when one is no longer needed. 'A well-structured network ensures there is some money and strategy involved, but one should never become bureaucratic and forget which goal the network serves,' explains Alessio Antoniolli, current director of the Triangle Network which, he tells me, only has two other people on its payroll.
Pooja Sood illustrated the issue of formalisation with her story about Khoj, a cultural network she set up in South Asia to enable artists to learn what was going on in their region. 'Because of political troubles between India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, it was very hard to get information about art and artists in neighbouring countries. One had to address research centres in the West to find things out. Now, with the Internet, we are looking at a completely different situation. We have established the exchange and dialogue we so desperately longed for and it might now be time to call an end to our organisation altogether.'
Besides the issue of formalisation, another predominating issue during the talks and discussions was the question of politics. Network-based activities are often praised for their lack of hierarchy. But how equal are we to one another when organisations are still tied to the socio-political circumstances of their countries, wondered Ade Darmawan from the Indonesian cultural network Ruangrupa.
Director of the Van Abbemuseum Charles Esche struck a more utopian note when it came to this topic. Now that people feel let down by their governments, Esche argued that the cultural world could become 'representative of a planetary demos'. 'Networks of relationships are far more representative of planetary ideals than big national institutions such as Tate can be,' he added.
In that sense, the location of the conference could not be any more symbolic of this issue. For over a month now, Finsbury Square has been packed with tents from the worldwide Occupy movement. The protesters claim to speak, to stick with Esche's terminology, with a planetary voice. The conference facility itself belongs to financial news company Bloomberg, which represents an entirely different type of global network: that of the corporate, profit-driven network. Nevertheless, it sponsored the art-minded gathering, which left many participants wondering: can exchange ever be entirely equal?
26 & 27 November 2011