With exhibition spaces staying firmly shut for the time being, and travel and mobility opportunities being heavily restricted, it is increasingly difficult for the artistic community to meet, collaborate or even continue making new work. Some actual scenarios include Maltese artists and art students who were based abroad having to be hastily repatriated, leaving behind their studio spaces, their network and support systems that are extremely valuable to their career.
To try minimising the displacement and disruption that has affected many, Aidan Celeste and myself (Manuela Zammit), responded to Arts Council Malta’s Special COVID-19 Call with a project that is designed to bring together a peer group of visual and contemporary artists, collaborating experts and external mentors through periodic online meetings. Our project, ‘Driven by Points Made Apart’ aims to learn from the current condition of working in isolation at home or in its immediate surroundings, as a situation from which fruitful artistic production is still possible.
Manuela Zammit (left) and Aidan Celeste (right)
The project will run over the span of 6 months and is divided in 3 cycles, each consisting of 3 online meetings - the first among the peer group, the second - a workshop run by an international collaborator, while the third meeting invites the general public to intervene on what the group is working on. Each cycle lasts for several weeks, during which the participants will be busy applying the material that emerges from their online meetings to their individual artistic practice. During this time, the participating artists will be able to count on each other as well as on a group of mentors for exchange of ideas, methods and resources, along with a modest budget allocated to materials and production.
Preview of a group writing exercise on Etherpad
By the end of Cycle 3, the whole experience will be compiled in the form of a toolkit and will be available online. Other groups or collectives are invited to access and reuse it for their own content. It will include practical experiments and resources about autonomous publishing in the physical and virtual domains. In a time when data politics are finally going mainstream, the group will test out open-source frameworks for collaboration and exchange in the visual and contemporary arts.
For instance, Jitsi and Etherpads are used in the first cycle in order to run practical experiments with text-based work, while more playful media is used later on. These platforms are online and very much part of the DIY culture. Their codes are open for access and use, and different versions are made available by community-run initiatives for online media. In such a way, this project encourages artists to consider the worth of online data, as well as alternative ecosystems for exchange and publication.
Stills from video work by Stefan Nestoroski, from Cycle 1 Meeting 1
The first cycle started just 3 days ago with an online meeting between the participating artists, during which we experimented with the use of text in artistic practice. We worked individually as well as collectively by engaging with each other’s writings. During the next meeting, we look forward to learning by making text-based work. For this, we are inviting Berlin-based curator, art writer and independent publisher An Paenhuysen to intervene. The last session of Cycle 1 will be open to the public and will take place on Saturday, August 1st. An Paenhuysen will be leading a 3-hour creative writing session. Anyone who is interested in attending is invited to send an email on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to reserve a spot since the event has a maximum capacity of 15 attendees.
Snippet from An Paenhuysen’s Instagram feed - image source: www.instagram.com/aaaaappppppublishing
In the second cycle, we will collaborate with curator Florian Weigl, working at Rotterdam-based V2 Lab for the Unstable Media. He will focus on online interventions and sustainable methods to do so, such as the curated programe 3X3. This is particularly relevant in the face of an increased shift to online platforms. If you are a practicing artist who has been in some way displaced or disrupted and think that this project could be helpful to you, you are still able to ask for more information and join in time for Cycle 2 by sending an email to Aidan or me on email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Exact meeting dates for this cycle, including the public session, will be released at a later stage.
About Manuela Zammit: I’m a contemporary art curator and storyteller who studied in Manchester, researched in Venice, trained in Amsterdam and worked in Malta. I’m passionate about the stories told by art, people and places. Call me a hipster, but I proudly own and use a typewriter(s). Follow me on @textpresso to find out what I can do with these fantastic writing machines.
About Aidan Celeste, MFA Digital Art: I’m an emerging artist skilled in research and production for interdisciplinary practice. The best experiences I had were always much more fruitful by adhering to a sustainable and long term format. They were led by a strong foundation in research, and a tactical set of artistic counterpoints. This practice started by working for the the V2_Lab’s (nl)Data in the 21st Century in 2015, and luckily, it now find host in socially engaged art on the Maltese islands, including (mt)FUSE with the Valletta Design Cluster (VCA), and (eu)AMASS with the University of Malta.
Article by Manuela Zammit.