Support Structures for Vulnerable Creatures

Izaskun credit Ander Sagastiberri 1 brSupport Structures for Vulnerable Creatures
17/2 — 27/4/2024

Izaskun Araluzea, Neus Frigola, Marina González Guerreiro, Ariadna Guiteras, Mercedes Pimiento, Mònica Planes, Marc Vives.

At ACVIC Centre d'Arts Contemporànies (Sant Francesc, 1. Vic)

The concept of radical care forms the basis upon which ACVIC Centre d'Arts Contemporànies structures its planning and working dynamics in this new stage; understanding artistic practices as a living organism which has the potential to transform itself, and to transform us, and which therefore needs to be taken care of; making life central and, at the same time, decentralising, multiplying, and radicalising the centres. Caring, therefore, becomes not a discursive resource, but a practice which embraces this field of study, but which above all, becomes a way of understanding our work and organising our time.

This exhibition adopts the premises with which we start out on this path, and does so through the languages of contemporary artistic practices. The artworks gathered here are not flags or banners. They make no attempt to be an example or a paradigm. They are practices, exercises in image, in form, in matter, in word, in body. They are vulnerable—and also strong—creatures. They are both support structures, and that which is supported.

As organs of this living organism which is the art centre, the exhibition and the artworks included within it are presented as an opportunity to be together in a posthuman paradigm; thus exploring materiality as a space of discovery, friction and celebration; the exhibition as a container which contains us. Far from being a theoretical approach, it is meant as an opportunity for relational experience, for taking care of the structures which sustain us, a practice which will touch upon all the future practices.

This is not a new idea, nor is it just ours. It is necessarily an idea shared by many – artists, other agents in the sector, also institutions – who have gradually placed the term caring for at the centre. It is an issue that binds us and which needs to be addressed transversally, transinstitutionally, and transdisciplinarily. We place ourselves in a space of transversality in order to cross various disciplines, connecting examples, concepts, and discourses originating in contemporary artistic practices, understanding this practices as producing knowledge in relation to, and not in isolation; not so much to say new things, but by organising those that already exist, in order to generate new relationships between things; crossing the rhizome of discourses and knowledge which passes through us to be able to narrate this crossing from particular subjectivities, from a feminist perspective, and by the hand of those who have done it before us.

We take from Céline Condorelli an approach to work based upon the concept of friendship, understanding relationships – also in the field of work – as support structures. This task is often made invisible or is often taken for granted, and could, consequently, seem traditionally unimportant and lacking in value; understanding it as a relational corpus, as an entity dependent upon the lives of every one of us, and therefore inseparable from life, from identity, from ideology, from the politics which touch us, from friendships, companionships, privileges, bodies, and from emotions and experiences.

The opening chapter of John Dewey’s Art as Experience, entitled The Live Creature, includes a critique of art understood as display cases and pedestals providing a fanciful description of the relationship of this creature with its environment. He describes the notion of experience through the image of this "live creature" linked in a non-dualistic relationship with the elements which surround it; creature and environment being constitutive of each other. These experiences, he says, are physical and are not separate from the mind or the body, forming a whole in the constant search for an impossible balance. It is precisely this imbalance that, according to the author, would motivate artistic practices.

We take from Dewey this quasi-spiritual claim of art as an experience comparable to the capacity to live life; also, the proposal that emerges from his text to consider artistic practice in an ecosystemic, rhizomatic, and non-binary way; and, consequently, to consider the work of artists themselves as a tool to give meaning, to observe, and to understand this relationship. In short, art as a form of knowledge that is not in a separate space from life, but which is part of it while creating a dialogue with other forms of knowledge and conceptions of the world. His idea helps us to envision a naturalcultural relationship – in Haraway's terms – ecological, and shaped by a fragile relational balance and a constant negotiation of needs. 

The work of artists, according to Dewey, begins with the will to narrate these experiences. Storytelling – in the form of images, narratives, choreography, and so on – implies a shared conversation, and is a tool for conveying a lesson based upon experience. However, while Dewey considers the relationship with the environment one of conflict "At every moment, the living creature is exposed to dangers from its surroundings, and at every moment, it must draw upon something in its surroundings to satisfy its needs.", the writer Ursula K. Le Guin allows us, instead, to consider this relationship to be less violent. In The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, she develops an anti-heroic narrative which envisions another of humanity’s origin stories, in which the first cultural device—the first tool or technology—that our ancestors would have created would be a container, a bag, a sack, suitable for transporting things.

This bag, sack, pouch, or bundle, would be the first and most essential tool, perhaps explaining humanity’s origins and its survival, representing the need to keep and then to share what has been saved; an action which ultimately may have led to a communal way of living. Le Guin constructs a fictional genealogy that differs from the hegemonic (and equally fictional) imaginary which is more interested in heroic hunters fighting monumental beasts. She argues that artistic, creative and storytelling practices are means of understanding, representing, and learning from the world, which are as good as any other means when it comes to constructing narratives.

In addition to the authors whom Le Guin herself mentions in her text, this feminist genealogy aligns with the socio-economic analyses of the anthropologist and activist Yayo Herrero. In La Vida en el Centro, Herrero locates the key concepts of her argument: We are ecodependent beings, "like all living species, to exist and reproduce we depend on a nature that provides us with everything we need to live", that is to say, we depend on our environment, and are subject to the physical limits of the planet we inhabit. We are also interdependent as "our bodies can only survive if they are inserted into a space of relationships that guarantees lifelong care and attention", because at the end of the day we are limited and "radically vulnerable" beings.

Yayo Herrero explains that the genealogy of the western culture in which we live is founded upon a universal subject envisioned from a patriarchal perspective, which imposes forms of relationship, of work, of existence that negate their own limits and also those of the planet. At the centre of the system, the fantasy of this universal subject is articulated around two ideas that reject vulnerability; the fantasy of individuality, and that of the subject's autonomy.

One of the most effective ways of constructing the culture of domination has been the consolidation of a dual thought model [...] The dual subject interprets the world in pairs of opposites that separate and divide reality; nature versus culture, reason versus emotion, science versus traditional knowledge, public versus domestic, etc. [...]

Within each pair of opposites, one of the positions is perceived as superior to the other. Culture surpasses nature, the mind is superior to the body, and reason is above emotions. Finally, the term which is considered superior becomes universal, and becomes the representation of everything. Thus, the other term of the pair becomes simply the absence, or lack of the absolute term, finally becoming invisible.

Le Guin's text constructs an alternative narrative that makes visible a conception of technology which is divergent from the usual, and it does so by equating the exercise of foraging in the woods with her own literary work. Thus, she extends the concept of the seed carrier bag to other spaces, understanding it as a cultural practice, and participating in the genealogy which she herself proposes. Writing is also gathering together elements in the same space, holding them in order to relate to them from the point of view of affection.

This concept allows us to consider working in the artistic field from this feminist perspective linked to "taking care of" and the lessons learned when we share the same space. A text, a performance, a class, or an exhibition, may be understood as this sack or bag which holds concepts, perspectives, and people together. Artistic practice, research, curation, or teaching are, like writing, activities which need the work of a group in order to lend them meaning. According to Céline Condorelli, a work that consists of "putting fragments in relationship with each other", so that the process "proposes something that each part alone could not". As we said at the beginning, it is not about enunciating "an individual authorial voice, but through a multiplicity of voices". It might be said that, in fact, we always work in relation to the work of others. Or, as the philosopher Marina Garcés says, "no one can create culture alone".

All these ideas show us our limits and our vulnerabilities. They help us understand that our individual capacities are limited, that we always need each other. All of them tell us about the obligation to dismantle the patriarchal-inspired fallacy of the individuality and autonomy of the subject, and to put emotion at the centre. Also in the world of art, built on individual identities based on originality and the capacity to generate novelty, it is necessary to dismantle this construct, and to follow another direction, both for the artistic practice itself, and in the management of systems and institutions which structure it. To work from a multiple voice is to accept that there is no such thing as one's own voice, but rather a dialogue, a conversation, a cacophony. Because once we place "life at the centre", these divisions are diluted, and interstitial spaces are opened in which to build support structures for these vulnerable creatures in need of affection that we are.

* This text is a version of a previous text with the same title, written and published in December 2018 in the book POLARITATS commissioned by Homesession and the Art, Professió i docència, grup d’innovació docent of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Universitat de Barcelona.

1 C. CONDORELLI (2014), The company she keeps, Londres & Eindhoven, Book Works / Chisenhale Gallery & Van Abbemuseum.

2 DEWEY (1934; trad., 2002), «La criatura viviente», El arte como experiencia, Barcelona, Paidós

3 HARAWAY, Donna, Staying with the Trouble, Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke Press, 2016.

4 DEWEY (1934; trad., 2002), «La criatura viviente», El arte como experiencia, Barcelona, Paidós (p. 15)

5 U. LE GUIN (1986), «The carrier bag theory of fiction», a Dancing at the edge of the World, Nova York, Grove Press. Online: <http://www.trabal.org/texts/pdf/LeGuin.pdf>.

6 Idem. (pp. 151-152)

7 Y. HERRERO, M. PASCUAL i M. GONZÁLEZ REYES (2018), La vida en el centro: Voces y relatos ecofeministas, Madrid, Libros en Acción.

8 Idem. (p. 16)

9 E. SANTIAGO MUÍÑO, Y. HERRERO i J. RIECHMANN (2018), Petróleo, Barcelona, MACBA/Arcadia. (pp. 84 - 85)

10 C. CONDORELLI (2014), The company she keeps, Londres & Eindhoven, Book Works / Chisenhale Gallery & Van Abbemuseum. (p. 8)

11 ¿Para qué sirve la cultura? Soy Camara, CCCB (23 febrer 2018). Online: <http://www.cccb.org/es/multimedia/videos/para-que-sirve-la-cultura/228593>.

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