Jamming session by Jamal Liance with Özgür Atlagan, Simnikiwe Buhlungu, Sungeun Lee, and Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba during the 2023 Curatorial Program exhibition, Hope is a discipline, De Appel Amsterdam. November 12, 2023. Photo: Nikola Lamburov
How to radicalise curatorial practices – the methodological research of de Appel CP
Many artists and cultural workers experiment with alternative modes of production and collaboration as a part of their anticolonial practices. ‘Hope is a discipline’ at de Appel CP adopts hope as a methodology to radicalise curatorial practices. Monica Liu visits two sessions organized by the programme’s participants and their ’thought partners’ Tropical Tap Water and Arts Collaboratory.
European modernity is interwoven with the figure of the bourgeois citizen – autonomous, individualistic and independent with a sense of masculinity and unconnectedness. The emphasis on independence which is especially linked to protection and security forms the basis of statehood and capitalism. In the bourgeois-capitalist society, precariousness – our dependency on social relations, is negated by not only the gendered division of the social space but also the colonial power structures that divide the Global North and South. The extractive nature of capitalism and colonialism exacerbates the inequality of resource distribution on a global scale. In such a context, many artists and cultural workers started to experiment with alternative modes of production and collaboration as a part of their anticolonial practices. The same goes for curators Marina Christodoulidou, Billy Fowo, Meghana Karnik, Eugene Hannah Park and Jean-Michel Mabruki Mussa. Their Curatorial Programme Hope is a discipline at de Appel adopts hope as a methodology to radicalise curatorial practices that often reproduce the global asymmetries of power in the process of mobilising infrastructures, resources, and people.
Throughout this project, multiple private gatherings are held at various cultural spaces in the Netherlands for the curators, participating artists and partner organisations to discuss alternative pedagogies and the aesthetics of hope. Workshops, assembly markets, and reading sessions are dotted throughout the program to engage the public in a collective mode of production centred on care, solidarity, and friendship. I was rather late to the party and only found out about the CP in November. The first event I attended was the collective jamming session of the artist group Tropical Tap Water held at de Appel.
#1 Collective Jamming Session by artist group Tropical Tap Water
To foster a sense of the commons, de Appel has been transformed into a living room for the CP. The first things I noticed when I walked into the space were the lived-in sofas lazing around. Like the one you might find at your grandparents’ house and climbed up and down countless times pretending to be a mountain on your fantastical journey. They have a presence in the space, the proof of an act of caring that bridges the private with the public. One of the curators from the CP, Eugene Hannah Park, had cooked up some Korean Tteokbokki for the jamming session. Being kept warm in a fully-bellied pot, the rice cakes slowly simmered to the sounds of people whispering, tuning instruments, humming melodies, holding hands or extending hugs.
During the collective jamming listening truly comes before sharing, allowing emotionality to come through before logic
Feeling slightly like an outsider crashing a party where I knew no one, I took a seat at the long desk in the farther corner of the room. I watched people filtering in, greeting each other, most of the time immediately jumping into a hug. It seemed like the majority who showed up for the jamming were friends of the artists and curators. A little bit of anxiety and alienation grew in my stomach. But thankfully I didn’t have too much time to wallow before we were asked to move closer to the stage. I repositioned myself on one of the comfy sofas and felt immediately soothed and relieved to be included.
One of the curators from the CP, Marina Christodoulidou, started by sharing a brief statement about the Curatorial Program. Friendship, resistance, and communal labour were some of the key themes that jumped out at me. This reimagined practice of hope rejects throwing the word around like a lofty romantic ideal and instead focuses on incorporating hope in the training for current and future catastrophes. Marina stressed that hope as a methodology is central to forming a sustainable art Ekosistem in the spirit of lumgbung, especially when faced with the melancholia and pessimism that permeate the left discourse. This project poses questions such as, can an exhibition hold space for coalition and solidarity? How can one learn to listen and share urgencies? The stage was then handed over to Tropical Tap Water. Simnikiwe from the collective explained how it was formed by a group of migrant artists who met at the Rijksacademie and recognised their shared concerns about the domination and exploitation of the Global North. The name references the unequal access to safe tap water between the North and South.
Simnikiwe said, ‘We gathered, at a time when we were not really allowed to be with one another, not just because of Covid, but also because of the Global North’s resistance to the alliances of the Global South.’ The jamming sessions that started as a way of being together turned into a safe haven during uncertain times while also becoming an act of rebellion against the ongoing colonial oppression and exploitation. ‘We were expressing ourselves but at the same time finding fragments of the self in each other … We communicate through music that also carries and shares our ancestral knowledge and wisdom.’ After the jamming session, I approached Simnikiwe to ask her about her experience with the collective and something she said to me struck a chord – ‘They (the members of the collective) are my home, they are my brothers and sisters. They kept me going.’ She added that Tropical Tap Water explores what friendship means and what kind of friendships are possible through their jammings. As a migrant cultural worker myself, I also battle with the sense of alienation living in a foreign land. My friends who are often my creative collaborators have also become my home where we can share and teach each other our cultural practices as a way to form solidarity. By extending the practice of friendship from the private to the public, art collectives and organizations could pool materials together and allow resources to flow organically, forming the base of a more sustainable ecosystem.
This reimagined practice of hope rejects throwing the word around like a lofty romantic ideal and instead focuses on incorporating hope in the training for current and future catastrophes
Before the live jamming, we first listened to the album of Tropical Tap Water’s previous recordings – some are quiet and tender, like sitting by a stream sipping tea after a long hike; some are chaotic and full of energy, like a drama-filled Christmas dinner with family you only see once a year; all of them free, unscripted, and expanding, telling stories far and close. Because there was no other visual, I naturally turned to observe the group. The collective sits in a circle on stage, eating Tteokbokki while talking to each other. From time to time they would react to the recordings almost like sharing an inside joke, beckoning a piece of memory that was only known to them. Their interactions on stage became a part of the ‘performance’. Not in the sense that it felt performative, but in the way that their hanging out together in itself is the essence of the jamming. Sometimes people would talk over the music, and sometimes everyone paused to listen, the volume rose and fell in an uncoordinated but distinctly recognisable pattern. The informalness of the session turns the space into an organism with its own breathing and rhythm.
After listening to the album, the group invited the audience to join their live jamming. A number of instruments were scattered on the stage yearning to be picked up, so many noises waiting to be let out. The nature of jamming is largely singular, transient and unprocessed, in a way mirroring the complexity of human interactions and conversations. What makes music jamming a unique mode of communication is that it allows the co-existence and co-occurrence of multiple voices. It might just be one of the truest forms of nonintrusive collective discussion where everyone is ‘talking at once’ without stepping on each others’ toes. It occurred to me that in this year-long curatorial program filled with endless conversations and debates, the collective jamming provides an opportunity for everyone to participate in an alternative and perhaps ‘purer’ communication where listening truly comes before sharing, allowing emotionality to come through before logic.
An hour or two passed before the jamming reached a natural end. We all stuck around afterwards, sharing drinks together, the rice cakes were reheated and gobbled down by the hungry musicians. I approached Theetat, an artist I met through W139 who happened to be a friend of Sungeun Lee from Tropical Tap Water. He brought his own bass to the jamming and told me that he had never really played in public before and was pretty nervous about the session. But not long after he started, he forgot about himself and just joined the stream of notes and sounds floating around him. While talking to me, he seemed relaxed and calm, as if he was still in that meditative state of creative flow. He said that he felt a strong connection with the others on stage as if they were talking to him. I had wanted to say something profound about jamming as a mechanism of sharing but decided against it. Instead, I hugged him tightly, feeling lucky to have run into a familiar face and grateful for the taste of belonging.
#2 A lumbung kios, organized by Arts Collaboratory & De Appel’s Curatorial Programme
A few days later I returned to de Appel for another public gathering, a lumgbung kios organised by the Arts Collaboratory in conjunction with the Curatorial Programme. The AC is a translocal art network based on collective governance that consists of 25 organisations around the globe engaged in facilitating social change from within and beyond the field of art. This fair of self-run kios is situated in a larger project that aims to create a decentralised sustainable model of raising funds for the common pot shared by the AC members by selling self-produced goods. It is a part of the AC Assembly 2023 ‘Harvesting and Futurecasting’, during which members gathered in the Netherlands to discuss and address challenges in their practices, sharing resources, tools and lessons, and helping each other with the decision-making process. The goal is also to engage and interact with the local hosts, the public, and institutions to share and co-produce knowledge.
Self-publications such as books and zines, prints, t-shirts, and smaller pieces of artwork were the most common items at the (af)fair. I talked to Dani from TEOR/ética based in Costa Rica who was selling t-shirts with a female devil graphic that caught my eye. She explained to me that La Diabla is a graphic self-publishing workshop that promotes self-publishing as a form of artistic practice. One of the slogans printed on the shirts in Spanish roughly translates to ‘I will not die for art,’ alluding to ‘the starving artist’ stereotype while highlighting the tangible financial hardship faced by contemporary artists, especially those in countries where art and culture funding bears the front of budget cuts, including the Netherlands. She continued to explain that self-publishing can offer artists some monetary supplements to continue creating critical work.
Arts Collaboratory is a translocal art network based on collective governance that consists of 25 organisations around the globe engaged in facilitating social change from within and beyond the field of art
When we started talking about the AC Assembly, Dani became more emotional. She pointed out that in the last few years because of Covid, the annual assemblies could not take place, which means many of the members have not seen each other since 2019. She was deeply saddened by the fact that even in this assembly, AC members from Palestine and Lebanon could not attend because of wars and all forms of geopolitical conflicts. This was a sentiment shared by many of the members I talked to that night – a strong urge to express solidarity and stand with the Palestinian people and all of the oppressed. It weighed heavily on everyone’s mind even though the overall atmosphere was quite cheery and celebratory. While digesting this bitter-sweet moment of reuniting, AC members created a safe space for everyone to experience the joy of togetherness but also to express grief during an emotionally heightened time when hope seems like a flickering flame at the mouth of a tunnel.
The lumgbung kios being the second to last public gathering of the CP, it seems like the perfect conclusion to Hope is a Discipline. In spirit, both initiatives highlight the necessity of hope, collectivity and solidarity as a response and potential antidote to the unsustainability of neoliberal capitalism and the ever-present effects of colonialism. In practice, they each adopt different forms of communal labour that explore the potential of care, tenderness and friendship. With the recent right-swing in the Netherlands and in the EU at large, the urgency for global solidarity, local community building and collective collaboration becomes increasingly apparent. We need all the tools available to co-produce a more sustainable future. But when the tools don’t fit, we might have to throw away the toolbox and reinvent. Can the committed practice of hope and friendship become a productive form of resistance and radical reimagination? In any case, I would like to incorporate that into my own practice. If you are an artist or culture worker struggling with funding, check out Platform BK dedicated to improving the income position of artists.
‘Sometimes we have to do the work even though we don’t yet see a glimmer on the horizon that it’s actually going to be possible.’ ― Angela Y. Davis
The gatherings organized as part ‘Hope is a discipline’ were held at de Appel until November 23
Monica Liuis kunsthistoricus en -criticus