CP and Me

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Critical Practice and Me

It's been a while that I wanted to put down in words my relationship with Critical Practice, because I find it peculiar, both freeing and productive.

Lately I was nominated for (and then won) an award for young Swiss artists and had the opportunity to present one new piece of work of which I am the author, in a large collective exhibition during Art Basel. So I was writing an artist statement and I noticed that I am unable to talk about “my” artistic development, without talking about Critical Practice...


CP and Me

I have been working with and as part of CP since 2005 and from the beginning –‘joining’ while in the middle of the process of organising Open Congress– to discussions we organised as students that grew into the series of events collide/COLLABO, of which CP again became a part of… The boundaries of the field of activity were and are never that clear to me. And so I see CP and me as intrinsically connected: Not only in the sense, that CP-projects and events are an expression of the kind of work I do/like to do - but also, because my experiences with CP have changed my way of working in all other projects I am/have been involved. As I personally co-wrote the Aims and Objectives of CP (and remaining flexible, I can change them at will even now!), they are more than a set of guidelines applicable only to inner-CP-workings – For me, the A+O are partly an expression of ideals, which I anyway inhabit, and therefore strive to fulfil in any environment I happen to be in, while not having to ‘abide’ to them, like you abide to a law.


Personnel

For example regarding personnel: I remember how, in the Critical Practice session during collide/COLLABO, when we wrote on the Aims and talked about the organisational structure, I tried to make an example of the squat (1) I used to frequent back in Berne: Anyone present in the building at any one time, was a 'member' of the 'organisation' responsible for its running. (It was the same session, in which an American girl, unknown to all of us others, intervened in the discussions and made that point too.)

This fluidity of personnel and ensuing transferability of CP, has always fascinated me – the possibility that people working towards the same Aims, maybe using different Objectives, or a different language all together, might still constitute ‘critical practice’. When I made the comparison to a bunch of pirates or the gang of Pippi-Longstockings, when introducing CP at Disclosures, it was this kind of flexibility I was talking about...


CP and Other Nodes

When working within other networks or on my own, I sometimes feel like I happen to become to be an (un)willing 'representative' of CP: As the projects we do together stay on my mind, even if I work with others or alone, I have no other choice but to compare the workings of the organisations - and try to feed in as much as possible from our experiences. Even if this means talking about CP and why we do it this way (why the resources should be free and shared etc.) In such a moments, rather than an organisation, CP is more of a mindset concerned with openness and I become an embodiment of CP… Now I know this sounds eerily scary and smells of brainwash – but with mindset I mean more of a pair goggles, which you can choose to put on or not!

Similarly, I am also a member of Greenpeace, but sometimes I am a bit more peaceful and a bit greener than other times (only that this isn’t reflected in my membership status, as long as I pay my fee). The big difference is that, as a co-author and editor of the CP Aims and Objectives, I feel much more of an obligation to them, than towards some pre-set party line.


When working within the M6DIII network in Berlin or in Cyprus, I noticed that many people anyway shared similar ideals as CP –most educated people working in the cultural field meanwhile know about the importance of keeping culture in the public domain, especially small players like non-superstar-artists– and if anything, the discussion is usually on questions of viability, i.e. if we can afford not to make compromises regarding accessibility, environmental sustainability etc…

And IF I have to compromise, at least I become reflexive of my mode of working, in relation to CP Aims and Objectives, or rather, my ideals in general. Especially in a context that is apparently very removed from CP.

Now for this exhibition in Basel, I had no choice, but to work alone - only I could apply (as I am the only Swiss National amongst us) and I had to show my 'personal' work. This obviously does not exist, and even if it would, wouldn't be representative of my work, as I usually make collaborations in networks such as CP. (So I see my work ‘The ROBIN™ Currency’ as an appropriate answer to the context of an art-competition where I as an author am ‘valued’ personally.) In exchange for the value that CP has added to me as an artist over the years, I promised to donate to CP a ROBIN™ (the sum of which is to be negotiated at a future CP meeting). That way I at least try to reflect the complex value exchanges that take place in “my” (and really all) artistic production, even if that is obscured by the nature of authorship-based structures such as national competitions.


But in many cases, we are seeing how participatory modes of production are becoming increasingly popular with big players (showusabetterway.com by the UK government, or the 4 IP fund by Channel 4) and therefore even more easily justifiable in negotiations with institutions.

Seeing that popularity makes it clear that a critical practice is taking place in many locations and processes far away from CP - which really just enforces our modus operandi. In working away from CP, I almost always am extending CP, becoming myself a node of connection in my relations to other personnel. And as other parts of CP are doing the same, each one of them is extending the network and bringing it into other fields (art, theory, games, economics, IT, cooking).


All this has a beautiful effect on me as an artist – I feel less lonely. Loneliness can be such a problem for an artist, if one is not part of a collective or embedded in a scene, she or he might forget that “Art isn’t a solo performance; it’s a symphony in the dark with millions of participants and millions of listeners”(2) and end up thinking to be working on one’s own.

But writing, talking, discussing with CP; travelling around, meeting people and talking with them and hearing how they share similar ideals -in some cases they even heard about CP- and seeing how our idea(l)s are reflected even on other points of our society, more distant to me – I find myself extremely happy to be embedded in a mental mindset that permeates groups, scenes, organisations, nations and fields of practice – how could I then be lonely? Even if in some case I might actually be alone in executing a specific project, if I can see it’s role in practically establishing a criticality, I am working together with ‘millions of participants’.


Robin Bhattacharya


(1)On 1 Jun 2008, at 16:49, Abhishek Hazra wrote: are you referring to Reithalle?

On Sun, Jun 1, 2008 at 8:49 PM, Robin Bhattacharya wrote: Yes! Reithalle - in the mid 90s. You could bring your own food to the restaurant, stay overnight if you were from far away... The IKUR (Interessengemeinschaft Kulturraum Reitschule, i.e. the The Community of Interested in the Reitschule) was defined as the persons present in the building... Of course there was a general assembly where few showed up and decisions were made and most believed that group to be the IKUR, though really they were the IKUR themselves.

On 2 Jun 2008, at 11:12, Abhishek Hazra wrote: … what i found interesting during my time in Bern, is that how Reithalle has become a necessary reference point of 'progressive' cultural institutions in the city. When relatively younger outfits like PROGR were being set up some years back, part of the conservative section assumed that it would be another Reithalle ("heap of wasted dopeheads" etc etc). PROGR then had the delicate task of convincing its detractors that though it professes a broad solidarity with the politics of Reithalle it also distances itself from its "mores"...i found this articulation of a ambivalence quite fascinating.


(2) Ulric speaking on p. 127 of ‘Sexus’, Henry Miller, 1962, Panther Books, London