It is agreed that mobility has become commonplace within the artistic practice, it might even be an imperative professional requirement to sustain correspondence within the rapid dynamics of the contemporary art world. Some artists and curators might even lack a permanent address, as their luggage becomes their home and their studio finds itself inside of their laptops. Mobility within the cultural and artistic sectors is motivated by different factors, as seeking new inspiration, exchanging new knowledge, meeting new people, expanding the network and so forth. Mobility within the cultural sector is usually covered under the umbrella of different platforms, ranging from small-scale, like small nomadic exhibitions, residencies, and so on, to mega scale institutionalised exhibitions like biennials, triennials, quinquennials and many others.
When arriving in a foreign area, artists and curators are often pushed to create within this “new home” that accommodates them for both shorter and longer periods. Being artistically active in a new place demands research, time and dedication. In the end, art should not be alienated from the location it is created or presented in, hence traveling and creating in a new place needs lessons of correspondence and flexibility and capacity to learn and unlearn. What are the ethical values that mobile artists, curators and platforms should follow?
This cultural and artistic mobility brings both good and unexpected consequences but also undesired impacts and residues as well. Cultural exchange can bring new spirit and pieces of knowledge to one place, creating new networks and intercultural relations, centralising provincial areas and decentralising others. However, the outcome of mobility is influenced much by the way creators do it, with the fast rhythm of artistic exchange, some creators go for short-term residencies, to create in new places, not based on a deep research to correspond with the location, which creates a sort of a parachuting effect.
Alongside the parachuting phenomena, or let’s call it Parachuting Artistic Mobility model, an expression becoming more common recently but controversial in parallel. This article comes to discuss “the full half of the glass”, an alternative model of creating and curating within mobility in the art world, Paragliding artistic mobility.
Parachuting as a sport contains particular elements of amusement. In art, the parachuting model as a metaphor might contain negative associations. After the jump from an aircraft, the chute opens suddenly in one or two minutes, its purpose is to slow down the speed to allow a safe landing. This type of air diving is bound by jumping, falling and getting quickly from the sky to the solid ground. Using it as an allegory in the artistic practice, parachuting might be a familiar easy model of creating and curating; this happens because of the fast rhythm in the cultural exchange, and because of the increasing demand of producing more and more under stressful conditions and limited time. Hence, creators, artists, and curators are consistently nomadic, they might appear suddenly in places far away from their homes, where they usually are invited to create a new work in a new context. While parachuting as a sports genre seems to be exciting, it can be very critical when describing artistic practice within the flowing global mobility. Cultural parachuting means that the artistic practice is lacking depth and engagement, it might also mean that art is detached and alienated from the space and the approached crowd of art consumers. An artistic parachuting jump happens fast, it gives the 'parachuter' no time to hover around slowly in a trial to contemplate the nuances of the place, it rather forces artists and curators to produce under pressure. Parachuting mobility can cause and leave negative consequences, exactly like the Olympic Games and other mega sports events leave in provincial cities after they are over.
The parachuting model in the art world often comes with promising socio-political overstatements. However, the aim is often hard to be achieved and delivered, as it is not always easy to create in nomadic contexts, especially in places with a long history of socio-political and cultural conflicts. The cancellation of Manifesta 6 might be a good example, where a 'parachuting' was prevented due to disagreements between the IFM (International Foundation Manifesta) and NFA (Nicosia for Art).1 It might have been a reckless trial from the side of the curators Florian Waldvogel, Mai Abu ElDahab, Anton Vidokle: “Planning an art exhibition for a place where barbed wire is still an everyday reality was a bold move. The local politics are complicated, and becoming entangled in them could be risky”.2 The initial idea was allegedly positive; an independent interdisciplinary art school, based on collaborations with organisations from both the Greek-Cyprus and the Turkish-Cyprus sides. However, the notion of establishing part of the school in the Turkish-controlled parts was too much for some Greek sponsors who decided to withdraw their investment in the project, and hence the project was canceled.3
Paragliding in its literal meaning involves more unruffled procedures compared to those of the parachuter who jumps from an aircraft. A paraglider does not have to open suddenly, it is open from the beginning, usually from slopes of mountains and hills, and until the wind conditions allow it to fly. Paragliders do not have to fall to the ground and tumble in a specific spot like the fall of a bomb, the activity is meant to be about hovering, air floating, enjoying the views slowly towards the safe and slow landing. While parachuting is a matter of slowness vs. accelerated gravity, paragliding engages more flexibility in terms of time. It is a relaxed journey – a paraglider starts his/her way when the weather and wind conditions are suitable, and often it takes hours to wait for the right moment of takeoff. In art, paragliding creation takes form as consistent researching, it is the readiness to unlearn and the capacity to absorb new places and cultures. A paraglider observes the area and enjoys the beauty of nuances from above, having the ability to hover for longer times, swinging along with the wind and nature. This model suggests slowness and dedication to the proper time and effort to learn about places we occupy and create in. It demands to correspond with the surroundings, to study it, and to demonstrate a certain flexibility to perceive and articulate new knowledge.
Some paragliders spend most of their time in one geographical area, one mountain, one beach, or one slope, paragliding over the same view every day, over and over again, each new day pondering upon new nuances and perspectives. In the arts, we may travel to new places and frequently change accommodations, yet some of us often repeatedly find themselves in the same place, far from their homes, either by constraints of work or deliberately and independently and attracted by a certain cultural landscape. Sedulity is the important characteristic that one should have in order to be a paragliding curator or creator.
To demonstrate this model, we should look into the individual activity of mobile artists, curators, and institutional events and how much they succeed to correspond with the place they are engaging in. Though there might be no clear measures for such a survey, some examples might be interesting to take a look at.
Before starting the Ghetto Biennial, artist and curator Leah Gordon had spent quite a few years in Haiti to learn about the local environment and culture and to integrate with the local community. With the help of some artists from the ghetto,4 she succeeded to initiate a biennial in Haiti in 2009, an artistic platform where the local artists, together with the international art community, create projects which are usually site-specific and socially engaged. And again, perseverance is noticed in this case as the event managed to maintain itself and the 5th edition is going to be launched in November and December 2017. Moreover, despite the controversy about the status of Vodou priests as contemporary artists because of the socio-political hierarchy in Haiti and other reasons, some of the ghetto artists were represented in the debutante Haiti Pavilion in Venice Biennale 54th in 2011, the exhibition presented artists André Eugène, Celeur Jean Hérard and Jean Claude Saintilus and it was curated by Daniele Geminiani in collaboration with Leah Gordon.5 The example of the Ghetto Biennial might be domestic, specific and small-scale, but it anyhow followed a deep learning and understanding of the area, as it is established within the ghetto with the help of local people, and it definitely succeeded to authentically bring to light non-western artists from provincial regions internationally.6
Most of the time, paragliding curating and creating demands meeting the locals, learning from them and working with them according to their rhythm, rather than trying to adjust it according to external comparisons. SA SA BASSAC and SA Sa Art Projects work in parallel to prompt Cambodian artists locally and internationally, with the focus on mediating, archiving and socially engaged projects with the local community, students and in collaboration with other institutions in and outside of Cambodia. This art gallery is placed in the White Building in Phnom Penh - Cambodia, started and co-directed by Stiev Selapak artist collective7 and curator Erin Gleeson in 2011. Gleeson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and studied in South Africa and other places, but her professional career in art started in Cambodia after spending many years in studying the Khmer language, culture, society, and history, getting involved in educational projects via which she observed the Cambodian landscape from a close point of view. Cambodia, politically speaking, was much more isolated politically and culturally than it is today. Gleeson often “took a very involved, yet kind of invisible role for many years as an assistant, and along the way, took note of the evolving needs of artists unmet by the existing infrastructures”.8 SA SA BASSAC is practically an example of a successful outcome of a long-term, and often invisible, involvement and integration with the local art community.
In the end, art events, exhibitions, and outcomes are about individuals’ practice and the way art is created, presented and mediated. The contemporary art landscape seems too chaotic to map and understand, mobility within the art world is accelerating, dynamically juxtaposing with the rapid globalism of many other fields. The abundance of opportunities seems to tempt creators to extend their mobility for residencies of shorter periods around the world. Lack of time brings superficial research and creation under stress, until suffering geographical amnesia and shallow relations with foreign places, while contradicting initial promising statements and leaving negative traces behind. However, the paragliding model comes to arouse alternative questions and modes of practice where time, flexibility, research, integration, and dedication are basic elements in a paraglider's ethical booklet of mobility…
Ethics is about choice, it is our choice to choose how we practice art...