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Eurasia Underground Library by COOP study group Unmapping Eurasia, Giardini Pubblici, Cagliari

DAI, short for the Dutch Art Institute, calls itself a roaming academy as its students and teachers get together in another place every month. What does this educational model offer? Giulia Crispiani gives an insider’s report of a week of collectivity in Sardinia. 

It’s a blazing summer day, and I feel closer to Africa than Europe. The Mediterranean is all around us, not as a border, but as a connector, a flat surface that carries the hot breeze of the summer. This is the second time this year that the Dutch Art Institute lands in Cagliari, Sardinia. The pedagogical structure of the DAI is not easy to capture in fixed descriptions. Yet, by describing what happened in these few days we will hopefully clarify both the institution and the geography. At the Dutch Art Institute, the “I” barely exists outside the “we”. So, from now on this experience will be told with the use of a plural pronoun. 

The pedagogical structure of the DAI is not easy to capture in fixed descriptions. Long story short, DAI could be summarized as a roaming body (it would be reductive to call it school) that implements artistic practices with a dense load of theory and collective experiences. More than sixty students share bedrooms and courses as they convene once a month for a week in different locations, accommodated by institutional and less institutional hosts. Among others, this year destinations were Arnhem, St. Erme, Dessau and indeed Cagliari. The seven COOP study groups form the core of the educational model. They are small collectives that work around a common theme towards a shared goal. Each COOP deals with a question and articulates it into a possible outcome, one among many, by means of taking collective decisions. During the 2019 Summit at Cagligari the outcome of this year-long enquiry is shared with the other groups and with the local community. The central question around this convening would be: how does one—as one and many, engage with one’s surroundings? What does one take and what does one give back? And how? 

The first day we’re invited to the public gardens (in Italian a park is referred to as civic gardens) where the first thing we hear from the collective “Unmapping Eurasia” (tutored by Binna Choi and Mi You in partnership with Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons) is “I wish there were instruments.” When existing in collectivity, instruments enable exchange, inasmuch as being fundaments for  teaching and learning practices. The questions that the group “Unmapping Eurasia” raised says a lot about the institution at large: what do we do together and what medium lies in between our interaction? What are we asked? And, most importantly, how do we listen and care? Throughout the course of the delivery, the groups separate to later regather to share their encounter. This is a situation that is constitutional of the DAI. Speaking in different tongues implies having to deal with translation, finding connections, proceeding through imitation. This happens when dealing with singing, sharing homemade teas and juices, dancing or knotting, or storytelling. When listening to tenores singing (who were invited by one of the groups) all this becomes quite clear. These men embrace when they sing, their songs are born from a strong connection to land and landscape. They proceed through imitation and they imitate the sound of the sheep, of the birds and of the wind. 

Opening act of Fare niente da qualcosa: improvvisare, pubblicare, resistere!  by COOP study group Making Nothing Out of Something: Improvising writing and publishing in relation to practices of resistance, San Sepolcro square, Cagliari

Opening act of Fare niente da qualcosa: improvvisare, pubblicare, resistere!  by COOP study group Making Nothing Out of Something: Improvising writing and publishing in relation to practices of resistance, San Sepolcro square, Cagliari

The second group “Peekaboo – Looking Askance at Issues of Childhood Connected to Nation” (tutored by María Berríos, Tina Gverović and Ruth Noack) just came back from their stay in Orani where they had a residency at the Museo Nivola. Their research revolves around the themes of childhood and nation. “Are human beings born into a nation? Not always. Are human beings citizens from the moment they are born? Not always. Sometimes, someone might not have a nation nor citizenship. But does a nation have its citizens?” The group presented an exhibition, a smaller version of what it has produced in Orani. Most of the material remained in Orani and was shared with the local community, as the interaction of the group happened mostly with the younger population and women of this small town in central Sardinia. Together they conceived collages, playgrounds design, traditional clothing and a movie. The presentation at Cagliari is very neat, built with foldable materials, that bring about the spirit of the roaming set-up that is DAI. There is an A2 per artist—nine in total lie on cardboard folders that stand on laser-cut wooden structures, on top of two wooden beams elegantly positioned on easels. A finely designed book offers an overview of the email exchange between students preceding the residency. The question raised is whether the experience would have been the same—especially with kids—if the museum wouldn’t have been there. What can or does a museum, or any institution, do for a community?

The group “Making Nothing out of Something: Improvising writing and publishing in relation to practices of resistance” (tutored by Werker Collective, Jorinde Seijdel and Florian Göttke) shows the results of a publishing course in all the aspects that this might entail. Throughout the academic year, they worked, with improvisation as a guideline, in collaboration with the journal Open! and Werker Collective (a queer archive on photography and labour). The presentation begins with the occupation of the San Sepolcro square with a blanket of beautiful silkscreened flags. A collection of archival material is laid out on public soil and a chorus of spoken word is read out loud by the members of the group. It is a short intervention that lasts for a couple of minutes before we move to the independent space Controra (home, among others, of Oreri Iniziativa Editoriale, a print shop and publishing initiative conceived by DAI alumni Luca Carboni and peers, Carboni is also the host of the DAI endeavour in Cagliari) that is turned into an efficient exhibition space. Everyone is folding the flags and carrying them on their shoulders to hang them inside where other works have already been installed. Inside we consider various aspects of the politics of making (doing and undoing, publishing and distributing, be it in forms of journals, collages, drawings, printmaking and Whatsapp messaging). We witness the various ways text can become material and occupy (public) space, both as an archive and as content to be distributed. The central question here is: how can we materially transmit knowledge to each other? 

Publication of a year long email exchange by the participants of COOP study group Peekaboo - Looking Askance at Issues of Childhood Connected to Nation, designed by Hannah O’Flynn, ExArt, Cagliari

Raphael Daibert & Dina Mohamed opening Go there I don't know where, bring something I don't know what by COOP study group Curating Positions: Logics of Montage. In Between the Cinematic Apparatus and the Exhibition, Ex Manifattura Tabacchi, Cagliari

At the entrance of the Ex Manifattura Tabacchi, two bodies dressed in shiny outfits and heavily make upped await us. They stand like statues in a gas station. The first words uttered by the collective “Curating Positions: Logics of Montage. In Between the Cinematic Apparatus and the Exhibition”(tutored by Marwa Arsanios, Leon Filter and Leire Vergara in partnership with Bulgeoa z/b Bilbao) are “A long time ago, long ago, so long ago that no one can remember, no tree can remember; so long ago that there were no people, and there were no trees, and the rocks had not yet been made…” We’re invited into darkness for a primordial anti-nostalgic revision of our sensory knowledge, to “help you to go somewhere”. The first room is dark. There is only a beamed light and two voices that interact with the audience in slow meditation. Again, instructions are given as poetry and sound. We look at each other and see collective movement. In darkness we are one body. In the second room, no indication, we sit and are immersed into a dark environment marked by the light from the windows. Traditional music starts playing. In the middle of the room we begin to distinguish a big tent. At a certain point, our fellows throw themselves into the darkness and giggle. We start to think that music is made to be together in the darkest of times, that it is the oldest source of collectivity. Then we’re led back outside. In the light of the sunset, bodies are slowly and confidently dancing and touching, allowing us to hear the wind, to slow down and give back time to time and to our senses. In the politics of touch, how do we give agency and pass responsibility to each other? Here, we witness a teorema of pleasure and a reestablishing of the erotics of making. 

We continue with another aspect of erotics, namely the orifice in Untitled (Orificially Yours). The participants of “The Immemorial Body: Betraying Carmelo Bene in Nine Acts” (tutored by Sara Giannini, Geo Wyeth and Arnisa Zeqo in partnership with If I Can’t Dance I Don’t Want to Be Part of your Revolution) has dealt with the voice, the theatre and the anal. They began their research with the avantgarde Italian poet and theater maker Carmelo Bene and then crossed his name out from the participants’ list on their leaflet—hence the betrayal. Their performance is an early morning spectacle that loudly takes over the spaces of the temporary exhibition space of the museums’ citadel. It is a cacophony of a living exhibition, slapstick, drag, lectures and tableaux vivants. “Anal pleasure against capital,” they claim. Each member stays in their character until they merge into a shapeless creature that sadly mourns their being single. Love, or failed love, is a collective chant that strips them (almost) naked until they transform into a living fountain, as they squirt water on each other from their mouth. How do we become one and what risks do we take? How do we fuck up, and with, the museum? What does the orifice swallow in the end? And most importantly, can we use the anal to liberate ourselves and the sensual from the stereotypical hysterical connotation that has been casted upon it? 

The group “AGENCY – Everyday practice and global power” (tutored by Nick Aikens / Annie Fletcher, James Bridle, and Navine G.Khan-Dossos in partnership with Van Abbemuseum) presents reading evaporated tears. They take us out of town on a bus trip to the “park of emotions.” This trip reminds us of a very important aspect of the DAI: all the people that efficiently contribute to its complex roaming logistics. A voice in the bus, in a tone typical of the tour guide or of the flying assistant, counts kilometers and gives geographical and historical insights about the site we’re moving into. We drive through a part of Cagliari we didn’t get to see yet. The drive offers an overview from above of our final destination, the Saline of Molentargius. This place used to be the core of Sardinian salt extraction and economy from 327 until 1985. “Roman soldiers were at times paid in salt, and that’s probably where the word salary comes from”, the voice informs us. A clear link is made between body and environment: “climate cannot be experienced through human senses but environment can.” When we arrive at the location, decks of tarot cards are distributed and instructions are given for readers and speakers to read the present, the future and the journey against the failure of imagination. “You came here looking for answers,” the instructions read. “How about questioning the questions?” 

Emma de Filippo introducing reading evaporated tears by COOP study group AGENCY - Everyday practice and global power, Parco Naturale Regionale Molentargius-Saline, Cagliari

Tarot instructions manual; reading evaporated tears by COOP study group AGENCY - Everyday practice and global power, Parco Naturale Regionale Molentargius-Saline, Cagliari

We end the day at the Botanical Garden with the exhibition Botanic X by the group “Banquet X Climate Change and Speculative Gastronomy” that reminds us of last year’s edition of Manifesta in Palermo. The group, tutored by Bassam El Baroni in partnership with Diakron (Aslak Aamot Kjaerulff and Bjarke Hvass Kure) has envisaged a near future ecopark. “Researchers predict a substantial rise in the Earth’s temperature within the range of two to four degrees Celsius in the forthcoming decades. While these metrics might not seem alarming, they will have significant psychological, physiological, ecological and political impact. These can range from extreme heat stress, economic collapse, unbreathable air and food scarcity to the re-emergence of forgone diseases.” Spread throughout the garden, an alarming voice tells us that is worse than we think. Videos on rock walls, sound pieces in greenhouses, flaneur-style tours and performances in caves add futuristic layers to the already overwhelming location of the botanic library. How do we imagine a future conservatory such as the botanical gardens in a condition of scarcity? “What if we consciously decide to be a garden?” It is a great luxury to bring and install new works into a rich library such as the botanical garden and include speculative scenarios into a man-made environment dedicated to the preservation of diversity. On hot summer days like these, the extinction scenario becomes unnervingly palpable.

Meanwhile the Mediterranean is all around us. When on the island, the isolated island becomes the center of the world. This twist of perspective happens on both a macro and microlevel. The sea around us is the binding element of all the practices and researches that are invited to contribute to the Radio Mutiny symposium convened by iLiana Fokianaki and the participants of DAI’s Factory “Island Partisans, Anarchists, Bandits and Pirates: Local histories as a guide for politically conscious practices”. Each intervention is interspersed with radio broadcasts with jingles, adverts, weather forecast, announcements, poetry readings etcetera. These elements are curated and produced by the students. The afternoon hosts contributions by Heba Y. Amin, Ana Dević (WHW), Stefano Levidis (Forensic Architecture), Daniela Ortiz, Tabita Rezaire(in absentia) and Montecristo Project—and the heartfelt absence of Giorgia Linardi (Sea-Watch), who couldn’t make it to the assembly because of the arrest of captain Carola Rackete. Throughout the day the sea becomes the space of excess of law, the space to resist hierarchies, yet also the site of necropolitics. It becomes the expression of the colonial civilizing mission, the addressee of a white supremacists’ dream, the canal to paradise, and the channel of extraction and exploitation, while it all the while retains the associations with being a place of bureaucracy and intimacy. 

When considering the outcome of the summit at large, it is impossible not to notice the generosity this city has offered. It is true that probably the community hasn’t been particularly involved in the entire process, yet it has allowed for, contributed to and enriched each instantiation. The city served both as a valuable backdrop and as a welcoming structure. On the other side, students and tutors took the most of the opporutunity to engage with their surroundings by thinking through and negotiating with issues of exoticism. Yet, in all research-based practices, from anthropology to arts, this dynamic is a common issue and problem that is entangled with knowledge production. This leads us back to the questions each group has brought, both consciously and unconsciously, to the fore. Questions that follow us—as a collective body of students, tutors, institutions, audience, and makers—in our everyday practice. Questions that become urgencies, answers and tools and that fuel our politics of making. When sharing our work with others, beside the eagerness to share our research and reflections, we must always deal with a specific kind of economy that intrinsically goes beyond capital: the economy of gift. When existing in a collective, even if temporarily, we can learn to be friends and comrades before being colleagues. None of these productions would have existed outside of this collective share. In all the demands that this implies, there is clearly a common ground of trust and solidarity. We do not learn but from each other. 

All photos: Nikos Doulos

Giulia Crispiani

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