Islands: Possibilities of Togetherness
Islands: Possibilities of Togetherness stands for a long-term collaborative research, exhibition and discursive project initiated by Jindřich Chalupecký Society and realized in cooperation with diverse international partner organizations and personalities. The project begun in January 2019 with the exhibition (Dis)connection in Kunstvereniging Diepenheim in the Netherlands, linked to a symposium and performative program, and continues in June 2019 by the exhibition Interconnection: On Bodies of Water in Sofia, Bulgaria. In the following years, Islands shall evolve through subsequent “chapters“ which might take the shape of exhibitions, performative events, gatherings, workshops and other modes of working with contemporary art.
The notion of an abandoned island serves as an imaginary platform for projecting both utopian and dystopian visions and scenarios for the future pictured by “escapists” from contemporary global crises. The island here needn’t be a physical (lost) paradise, and doesn’t even have to be far ashore. It is rather a metaphor for our exploration of the joint agendas and disparities of past, present and imagined communities, communal practices and forms of “togetherness” which might inspire actual action and alternative forms of sustainable collaboration and coexistence. The project will also shed some light on the uncomfortable “dark side” of the island, exploring forms of separatism, elitism, alienation and delimitation from the rest of the world. Through Islands, the curatorial team of JCHS, together with other participating curators and collaborators, aims to research related artistic and theoretical positions and inspire creation of new artworks, texts, strategies and situations dealing with similar themes, therefore somewhat mapping the emotional state of a society for which the vision of escape to an abandoned island might sound like a tempting solution to overly complex problems.
Besides thematic specification, the Islands project offers methodology for our search for participating subjects and exploration of the possibilities of mutual cooperation. “Islands” here also stand for artistic communities and scenes, art institutions and other partners of the project. Critical (art) institutions have often been referred to as “social interstices”, simulators for alternative means of socio-political configuration. Through this project, we search for like-minded organizations and communities which, due to their geographical position, programming or other specifics, represent such islands of unorthodox ways of thinking. Within Islands, we hope to begin to create an international network of personalities and organizations based on long-term and in-depth relations and conversations. Islands also represent an experiment with “fluctuating” curating where the curatorial team of Jindřich Chalupecký Society invites curators from partner organizations to participate not only in interconnected exhibition and presentation projects but also in collective gatherings and thinking sessions addressing how we can draw on the Islands-related topics to find inspiration for actual social change.
Questions we started to ask through Islands
Where do we begin to seek togetherness?
The collaborative project (Dis)connection is the first chapter in an ongoing conversation that departed from a seemingly simple yet essential question:
How to be together?
The very act of posing such a question already entails a sense of separation, a feeling of not being together, or perhaps not enough. The reasons for this sense of detachment can be manifold; personal, political, or both. Despite the fact that there are no universal mechanisms behind such states of mind, throughout our conversations, certain issues kept resurfacing that somewhat sketch the contours of what the sense of isolation or alienation look like today – at least in the part of the world we /in this case the curators and artists participating in this project/ come from. We discussed topics such as parameters of success, ways of seeking fulfillment and allocating responsibility – all the notions that are strongly intertwined with individualism, fueled by neoliberal rhetorics. However, from a more holistic perspective, phrases such as individual success, individual fulfillment or individual responsibility sound like oxymorons. The current global situation challenges collective bodies, whether they are societies, nation states or international unions, through the many faces of a planetary crisis – socially, politically, economically, ecologically and culturally.
The ways in which humankind has been organizing collective relations until today, such as through global political alliances, trade unions or humanitarian organizations, seem to meet their limitations when admitting the extent of the contemporary challenge. This forces us to rethink these ways and imagine different kinds of togetherness which would enable us to grasp the bigger picture and empower us to act accordingly. Therefore, we need to ask further:
Who or what can we connect to in order to start dealing with a planetary crisis?
Where do we begin to seek togetherness as humans and what can be our role as artists, curators and art institutions?
What kind of togetherness are we looking for?
What to unlearn?
In order to start this conversation, we need to create space for reflection, unlearning and listening to the experiences, wisdom and questions of others; importantly, not only from an anthropocentric angle. This project departs from understanding the above-mentioned concerns from a perspective of process, acknowledging continuity, discontinuity and the fact that we are not the first and only ones asking such questions. We intend to look back as well as to reflect on the present in order to sketch new speculative scenarios for a future of sustainable conviviality.
What lessons did (our) past teach us?
A historical perspective offers a vast range of different projects, communities and communal initiatives of all scales and motivations behind their creation or termination. The great modern narratives have provided us with some of the largest societal models to be put into practice, such as democracy, socialism or communism.
What forms of togetherness did these systems propose, and at which point did the once-envisioned communality or participation become alienating, forced, pretended, or simply utopian?
Turning radically from the grand schemes to the smallest nucleus of togetherness brings us to the phenomenon of family units and related social forms. Between these two extremes, a great variety of alternative, temporary and experimental collective establishments have taken shape such as communities, communes, sects and many more, disseminated all over the globe through time.
Taking their specificities into account, what can we learn from these endeavors?
When and in what situation did they thrive and why did they fail?
What kind of knowledge or understanding of their values or practices shall we keep and what can we leave behind?
How to be together, and not apart?
A sense of togetherness or belonging is comprised of complex psychological, emotional and cultural processes. Sewing a relational fabric that would enable a true sense of connection requires time, dialogue, shared experiences and trust, just to name a few. Learning from history and unlearning our current social conventions raises a question as to what we would depart from if we could start from scratch. Diverse social forms have been traditionally held together through ideology, religion, common beliefs or common assets.
Do we need any of this to create togetherness now, in the light of current events?
What can bind us together, beyond detached or outdated reasons?
What scale allows for serious connection, what are the geographic or temporal possibilities and constraints?
Distribution of power is key to any social structure, as well as explicit or implicit hierarchy. This political dimension stands for an equally constructive and destabilizing force and in relation to togetherness opens up the inevitable question of identity politics of any collective body. A sense of togetherness can be accompanied by a need of separation from other groups or segments, differentiation between “us” and “them”. And of course even among “us” there might be vast discrepancies. Notions such as escapism, elitism, antagonism and conflict are brought into the game.
Is it simply dread that is the driving force for alliance, where togetherness just happens to be a necessary byproduct?
Do we have to have a common enemy in order to be together?
Is it possible to develop forms of togetherness that integrate change, openness and inclusion?
How can we continuously connect to “the other” and be together without closing the circuit?
What does it mean for the arts?
The creation of temporary forms of collectivity is deeply embedded in the cultural sphere. We collaborate, share and work together, and the products of our connections manifest both materially and immaterially in an innumerable amount of shapes and forms, anchored in the temporal, ideological and spatial conditions these products emerge out of. Integrated in the field of cultural production at large is also the element of “publicness” – a way of creating connections through shared (aesthetic, discoursive) experiences, reflections, knowledges, dialogues, and concerns. However, it might be challenging for these alliances to endure beyond finished projects and for ideas to stem beyond gallery walls.
Who do we choose to create alliances with and how? Is it legitimate to only work with people we like? Shouldn’t we rather work with agents we don’t understand?
How can our questioning of the forms of togetherness be translated into different working methodologies within the field of visual art?
How can our practices expand and transform in order to overcome mere illustration of the researched phenomena?
What can we do institutionally in order to include togetherness in our practice?
How can we act through togetherness?