In 2005, Cork is European Capital of Culture. In order to provide something that will make a long-term contribution to the development of the artistic community within the city, the National Sculpture Factory (NSF), together with invited curators, is presenting Caucus. This is an extended project beginning in late 2004, culminating in a meeting of Irish and international artists, scheduled through late June to August 2005.
The principle concept behind Caucus is that significant art proceeds from a discursive and critical culture. In Cork that culture is in a critical phase, its traditional bases being questioned by the city’s position within the shifting global order. Caucus seeks to bring to this site of questioning a high level of international information and exchange.
The National Sculpture Factory will bring artists and thinkers at the highest level to this city, as inspiration for the future, but also as physically present interlocutors within the local art scene for a fixed, intensive period. We are inviting emerging artists from Europe and beyond to live and work in Cork for a short time, taking part in the Caucus programme and activities in the city as a way to extend international links from this city on the western edge of the continent.
A key precedent for Caucus is Joseph Beuys’ bid to establish the Free International University in Ireland in the 1970’s. An application was made to the then EEC in 1975 by Caroline Tisdall, with the objective to explore ‘the contribution cultural and intellectual life can make to society’. Whilst never achieved and problematic in some of its ambitions, the FIU, as envisaged by Beuys, serves as a forerunner and critical point of departure for Caucus. Beuys’ view of the potential of Ireland was, (while romanticised); an indicator of what could be made possible with suitable vision and ambition. Caucus will try to forge a moment where local and international come together to exchange experiences and make plans for the future.
The relation between artistic and socio-political possibilities, (which Beuys proposed), will be an important question for Caucus. The notion of caucus suggests gathering together in order to discuss and influence political change. Can these notions of advocacy and empowerment go beyond their normal connections to national politics? Can the very structure and potential of this democratic forum be revisited and enacted in other ways today? What implications might this have for alternative educative Models?
Within Caucus, we will divide our attention between a number of issues that are significant for cultural production. Initially, we propose the following topics:
States of Emergency, States of Possibility, under which we will look at the condition of the nation state as a cultural phenomenon that is inflected by globalism, while including or excluding possibilities for other forms of organisation and imagination.
Communities and Art will consider the effects of art and urbanism as local activism or alternative service provision as well as how the term ‘community’ can be defined differently within art contexts.
Another FIU? will examine art education models and suggest how they can play a role in social and political imagination and interdisciplinary conversations. These topics will be modified according to feedback and response during the initial phases of the project. New topics, as well, might arise in these stages, which could become the focus of certain quarters of the ‘nucleus’ event.
The National Sculpture Factory
The National Sculpture Factory is a national contemporary art organisation, dedicated to Artists, based in Cork, Ireland. It provides and promotes a supportive environment for commissioning new work, collaborations, professional development, residencies and other artistic interventions. Through its program of lectures, seminars and symposia, the NSF maintains and encourages an ongoing discourse on contemporary culture and its issues.
Art / not art was conceived and set up in 1999 by artists and cultural activists, David (Dobz) O’Brien and Fergal Gaynor and was founded to investigate and further conversation into cultural thinking and art making; of bringing into discourse art, art-making, creativity and its role within contemporary society. It sees itself as an educational, productive and discursive unit committed to the organisation of various inclusive and disparate art projects. To date Art / not art projects have manifested in many forms: Sculpture, Photography, Performance, Books, Multiples, Music, Poetry, Lectures, Exhibitions and Discussion Groups, and has been involved in projects in Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Italy.
Currently Director of van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Esche is interested in similar ideas to those around which Caucus is focused, having establishing the Protoacademy in Edinburgh in 1998 and organising two major ‘Community and Art’ workshops in Seoul (2002) and Yogyakarta (2003) with Asian and European artist groups. He is also currently a curator for the Biennale of Istanbul.
From 1993-1997 Esche was Visual Arts Director at Tramway, Glasgow. He was previously the Director of the Rooseum Center for Contemporary Art, Malmö and is a research fellow at Edinburgh College of Art where he works with the 'Protoacademy', an academic project aimed at discovering more conversational and effective models for advanced art education. He is also editor of ‘AFTERALL’, an art journal published twice-yearly by Central St.Martins College of Art and Design, London.
In 2000 Esche co-curated two large-scale exhibitions: Intelligence - New British Art at the Tate Gallery, London and Amateur - Variable Research Initiatives at Konst Museum and Konst Hall, Göteborg. He is an advisor at Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, curatorial advisor to the Foundation of Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool, co-curator of the UK section of ARCO 2001, Madrid, and is a board member of the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, Basel. He has written for numerous catalogues and magazines in Europe including: Douglas Gordon, Kunstverein Hanover, Otto Berchem, Artimo, Amsterdam, Hinrik Sachs, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Mark Lewis, Film and Video Umbrella, London, Superflex, Kunstverein Wolfsburg and Simon Starling, GzK, Leipzig.
Annie Fletcher is an independent Irish curator currently based in Amsterdam. She is also working at the Witte de With Institute in Rotterdam. She is interested in generating situations of active information exchange and knowledge production as a key dynamic in artistic practice.
In collaboration with Sarah Pierce she established the Paraeducation Unit based at Witte de With, which seeks to develop a new alternative mode of engagement with arts discourse through a non-instiutional, non-curricular model based on shared interactions with key texts and related issues.
Recent curatorial projects and collaborations include: ‘The Paraeducation Department’, at Witte de With /Tent., Rotterdam, 2004 , Now What? Dreaming a better world in six parts, BAK, Utrecht , 2003 , A’dam and Eve, Sex, tolerance and other dependencies, De Appel, Amsterdam, 2002, Gerard Byrne Herald or Press, The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, 2002, Apolonija Sustersic Simulation Café and Visual Cookie, Carlow 2002, How Things Turn Out, Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2002, International Language, Grassy Knoll Productions, Belfast 2001.
We have created three degrees of potential participation in Caucus:
The project will be realised in four phases:
The intention of all phases is to stimulate the discursive environment within the city and to provide ways in which the ambition of art to intervene in social life and political thinking can begin to be realised. This is particularly significant given the Capital of Culture status of Cork, which provides a possible focus for culture to reach beyond its traditional interest groups. It is hoped that this model will impact on future activities and the way ongoing discourse operates within the city.
Phase 1: Research (June 2004 - January 2005)
Art / not art, in alliance with the NSF and the curators, will formulate and investigate certain basic questions concerning Caucus, its nature and realisation, so that from the outset the project’s parameters, aims and terms of discourse might be defined.
Phase 2: Grassroots Activity (January 2005 - June 2005)
Reading groups will be set-up in Cork, involving anyone, from any discipline, interested in the expansion of their concerns and understanding along the lines of the Caucus framework. The texts read and topics discussed would issue from the research phase and be led by the immanent dynamics of the groups, and be (ultimately) directed towards the interests of those thinkers expected to take part in the project. These may lead to small-scale projects or presentations and the topics will serve as a background for the June-August 2005 discussions. In particular, readings will focus on those thinkers and artists who will visit Cork in that period.
The meetings of these groups would be punctuated by the commissioned presentations of the invited Cork (mainly non - artistic), practitioners. Such presentations will be public events and will provide another occasion for recruitment.
The activities of these groups and the content of the public presentations will be recorded and made publicly available through the Caucus website and other forms. This will provide a mode of dissemination for the ideas being generated at this stage of Caucus, as well as an initial point of contact with eventual visitors - keeping them apprised of the progress of Caucus.
Phase 3: Nucleus (June – July 2005)
In a suitable site, there will be a shifting network of discussion spaces and working studios. The Cork Caucus delegates will meet with the candidates to continue the ongoing discursive activities in a more concentrated and intense fashion. Artists and interested individuals would gravitate towards certain thinkers who would be invited to set-up courses, give lectures or workshops and create discursive events.
Phase 4: Production and Presentation (July - August 2005)
This period will be committed to the staging of artistic projects, prepared within and inspired by the events of the previous three weeks, at various locations in the city.
Phase 5: The Future (August 2005 onwards)
In the aftermath of Caucus, a publication documenting, disseminating and digesting the project would also be produced. It is also planned that the energy created through the process would be continued after a suitable rest through ongoing meetings and invitations with individual participants.
Much of the activity of Caucus will be centred on the primary Caucus Site in Evergreen Street, Cork. This will be the base for a series of activities during Caucus as well as a central meeting point for Caucus participants and the artists and community of Cork as well as interested visitors from outside of Cork.
More than anything else, Caucus should be about the real transformation of thinking and cultural practice in Cork. It is about the cultivation of a Cork international culture, to continue in existence, to continue growing in the city long after 2005.
The opportunity for Cork Caucus came about after an invitation from Tara Byrne of the National Sculpture Factory to develop a project for the Capital of Culture. The problem with these ‘Capital of Cultures’ is that they are usually perceived to be about the culture of representation and spectacle. They often prioritise tourism and economic development rather than the speculative possibility of culture. They become representations of what the city is about to the outside world and its ability to be part of an international spectacular event culture. While they are all very enjoyable and satisfying on many immediate levels, they are less effective in terms of contributing to the critical cultural debate and to the development of local intelligences that can prosper in the years afterwards.
So the opportunity of this invitation was to see whether or not an event such a Capital of Culture could incorporate an attempt to propose something that would contribute to a critical discourse at the grass roots in the city and leave a legacy for the future.
Coming from the outside there are a lot of assumptions you bring with you, but one of the most important things to ensure is that you had an interest the intelligence that exists in the city itself. I was interested in the specific nature of Cork and the ability of this city to engage with certain questions that I have on a more abstract level about how to create and realise new possibility and how to orientate cultural encounters towards a process of thinking and re-thinking rather than consuming. To do such a project in this city means of necessity that it has to be collaborative. Firstly it was important to engage key collaborators both local and international as well as NSF. For that reason I was keen to involve a local art group (art/not art) and Annie Fletcher whose Irish but lives in NL. Further, in order for it to be really meaningful, it has to be a collaboration with the creative people across the city. Of course, that’s an extremely ambitious plan but it’s necessary to maintain an idea of openness and engagement right through between now, what we have called the ‘grassroots’ phase, the ‘nucleus’ of the event with many guests in Cork in June-July 2005 and the period beyond. I hope the ‘grassroots’ project in the city hall and elsewhere will begin to develop contacts across different groups here and that an intensity of engagement becomes possible through the work of NSF and art/not art in particular. Now desiring engagement is all very well and noble but it’s nothing unless it has some objective or some sense of where it might want to go.
That brings me to the reason why we began to play around with the notion of a democratic structure itself. The idea of Cork Caucus was initially based on two other workshops that I organised, one in Seoul, Korea in early 2002 and one in Indonesia in late 2003, both called ‘community and art’. Those two workshops were about ten days long and the idea was that groups from Asia and Europe were to come together and to present their activities. Their intention was to be meeting points across a large geographic divide and to see if they might spark collaborations or bilateral initiatives between individual groups that we had brought together in these two places. We concentrated on artist and curatorial groups because they are critical to organising activity in places that have little or no official institutional infrastructure.
I think those two workshops were quite successful and but along with achievements, there was also a certain amount of frustration about two things. Firstly they were too short; secondly they didn’t allow a considered and longer-term response to the presentations that were made. There were presentations followed by a question and answer session but that discussion didn’t get to where it might have because of the timetable of other presentations introducing other sets of issues that were all very different. This is inevitably what happens when you bring an international group of that diversity together. We replaced one set of issues with another but did not really open them up for analysis or development. There was no opportunity for working through the issues raised on the spot, perhaps not only through discussion but through productive activity or testing out ideas through projects that have time to develop.
This frustration combined with a lack of clarity about the agenda. Simply bringing people together, creating the possibility of meeting was extremely valuable, particularly in a situation where most information was gathered through the Internet, but it is not enough to get further – it only scratches at the surface. So the question was how can it be possible to make something that remained discursive but was more able to determine its own agenda or determine the questions that would form the agenda and then develop ideas within its own structure. We probably want to avoid a manifesto but at least we could see what solidarity or common purpose existed between us. These frustrations form one of the bases for the development of Cork Caucus.
A second motivation was that we wanted to discuss the relationship between art and democratic development. This was partly as a result of discussion in the two previous workshops where Asian democracy is still clearly a work in progress and partly because the issue of Europe and culture brings up the question for me of how art could contribute to the huge problems we now have with imagining new forms of collective decision-making and collective action. We seem to have in Western Europe a stable assumption that we achieved ‘democracy’ after 1945 and that it needs no serious critical examination. I think that is dangerous not only because it has made us lazy and apathetic but because it flies in the face of contemporary life. An important question for me is to question how far we have achieved a democracy in which we’re satisfied and in which art and cultural expression has a clear and defined role? If not, then how can art help to open up the question, given that it has played such a role in the past. For instance, we only have to go back to Joseph Beuys to find one crucial link between art and democratic thinking. Given that he wanted to start his the Free International University in Ireland, his perhaps flawed notions of art, democracy and education become a wonderful starting point for us. Beuys wrote a proposal (with Caroline Tisdall that was sent to the EEC (now the EU) as an application for funding for a new model of university to be situated in Dublin. Perhaps inevitably, given the imaginative chasm between bureaucracy and art, it was turned down. So this project came about as a confluence of these interests, the possibilities of Capital of Culture and the initial invitation from NSF.
The idea of calling the project ‘Cork Caucus’ was not only a nice wordplay but also a term that links directly to the process of making a decision. The origin is meant to come from the Native American tradition of taking decisions. In the US Democratic Party caucus’ you literally stand in various corners of the room and the biggest group of people gets the decision. It’s very primitive but very beautiful form of visual democracy. A caucus is then a democratic means of taking a decision and I think it differs from a workshop in that a workshop is a coming together for production or exchange while a caucus is a coming together in order to make a decision. That’s a subtle difference, but an important one. The logical next question is, of course, ‘what is the nature of the decisions we want to take’? Again, I think we have imposed answers based on our experiences and hopes for Cork Caucus.
One issue is how can an event like this contribute to the reserves of cultural capital of the creative community in Cork. If we really get it right, this area might produce a series of decisions that can be continued and enacted after the Caucus happens. The second major issue is how can we decide the forms of the relationship between what we are engaged in – the territory of visual culture – and political or cultural change as an pre-existing objective. Indeed we need to consider the development of the democratic model itself, given that we presume democracy to be underdeveloped. How can or could our kinds of discussions and material projects contribute to that development? This area might produce a statement or a series of proposals in a post-Caucus publication – or it might leave us still puzzling - we shall have to see. Personally, I am interested to see if such an old fashioned notion as solidarity could be revived here. Do we have enough common interests to declare that we share aims for which we can work in solidarity with each other?
Those may be the main questions that Caucus can raise but who takes that decisions about what form the proposals might take, how they are weighted and what contributions to the debate might actually look like? I think this is where the Caucus model becomes very interesting because what you have in the Caucus model are ‘candidates’ who put ideas forward for approval or rejection like in a classical US presidential election. The decision as to the value of the proposals is taken by the ‘constituents’ – by the people who come to Caucus – and of course candidates for one proposal become constituents for others. So what I think is interesting for Cork in bringing international people like Surasi Kusolwong, Catherine David, Shep Steiner, Giorgio Agamben, Gayatri Spivak, Maria Eichhorn and many others, who will be presenting arguments and projects for each others consideration. Hopefully their knowledge and experience will not be disabling but empowering in this context. There is always a danger of being ‘dumbstruck’ by experience and one way to avoid that is by giving the power back to the floor. So what I would suggest is that Caucus is an engagement with a series of propositions and indeed participation in these propositions, in order to consider what art has to offer a city community today.
Whether that participation is critical is one of the questions that could be determined by this model. The question then becomes ‘can people in Cork take some of these proposals forward on their own account. If they do, I think Caucus can present a model of engagement with art and individual artists that becomes very exciting. What’s interesting is that at the end of Caucus a decision is taken about in Cork, about Cork, for Cork if that doesn’t sound like democratic hyperbole.
What our job as organisers comes down to is, I think, to provide the proposals that the constituents feel able to choose or to reject and as a result to shift the pattern of creative behavior in the city towards something they all feel happier with.