Summer 2004 – Dislocate, Renegotiate and Flow – Part II: The Practice of Process


Azorro: Hamlet , 2002, video stills, Prague Biennale; courtesy the artists

This is Part II of a three-part investigation by Regina Gleeson into globalisation's impact on art practice. This work was commissioned by the Arts Council of Ireland / An Chomhairle Ealaíon in association with Critical Voices 2003.

Part I of this series, which appeared in the previous issue of CIRCA , focused on the physical and conceptual entity of the 'non-place' by looking at how political disharmony has boosted global nomadism. The cultural repercussions of this phenomenon were discussed. This new section of the series builds on that investigation, outlining the changes in approaches to making art - the practice of art processes.

After the austerity of the minimalist aesthetic that pervaded the mid-twentieth century, there was a period of adjustment towards engaging in the 'hypernarrative' and the pluralistic non-linearity (temporal mixing) inherent in our digital society. The shift in physical and psychological geographies created both by physical relocation and by the digitised, global village has introduced the artist to an extreme of multiplicity, a multiplicity in excess of anything experienced in response to mechanical reproduction at the turn of the previous century. With such changes, a multiplistic, often disjointed artistic statement began to be seen as having more specific relevance to our time, rather than a single statement. This was because the cultural tendency towards a lack of order echoed the increasing normality of being bombarded with all kinds of information. An artist's attempt to render the contemporary tower of Babel coherent does not necessarily require the distillation of its essence from a single perspective. Focusing on its disparate components facilitates understanding from a more diffuse perspective, offering a deeper engagement than simple cultural interpretation.

For all of the previously stated reasons for relocation - through human dislocation and ubiquitous electronica - the world in relation to the human has become infinitely smaller, with the world in relation to information becoming, in contrast, infinite. Postmodernism signalled a move away from the physical art object and towards the process by which that object was conceived and created. Postmodern practice has been further exposed to new dynamics by the whirlwind of globalisation. Culturally, globalisation has enabled cross-cultural interaction, exchange between local and global knowledge, and circulation of information through people - people as medium. The focus on the process of making art has foregrounded the element of chance; this has often translated into a serendipitous art practice that is founded on fluidity in disciplinary boundaries.

Modernity's mechanical reproduction changed the emphasis from 'what' (the object) to 'how' (process). This shift in focus expanded to 'for whom' (performance and public-space intervention) and 'across what dimension of time' (nonlinearity). Global connectedness, and likewise global disarray, has changed the conditions of production and realisation of art. This change in rhythm has been responsive to the digitised world's development of the multiplistic narratives and also to society's search for transparency.

Katie Holten: Laboratorio della Vigna , 2003, installation shot, view of downstairs; photo / courtesy the author

The practice of analysing the conditions of the object has been a move towards making visible that which is invisible yet intrinsic to the object. Attention to the deconstruction and subsequent demystification of process has occurred across a broad range of disciplines, from art, literature and architecture to music, new media technologies and science. Experimental musician Brian Eno has been a pioneering figure in interdisciplinary collaborations, concerned as he has been with beginnings and cultural trajectories. His practice has focused on reshuffling the unfinished work, whereby the process of realising the work is in fact the work itself. With the dissipation of the art object, and with the finished statement demoted, the collaborative project of the new, multidisciplinary school is born.

Escape Program from Moscow is a prime example of a collaborative group using just such a mode of collective contextualisation to highlight sociopolitical issues. [1] This collaborative group is made up of four members of differing backgrounds, ranging from financial services to art criticism. One of their most recent pieces of work, Quartett , describes the impossibility of cultural translation. They create art using their contrasting fields of knowledge to formulate a coherent response to globalisation. Similar to their collective is the Azorro Group in Poland. Their work challenges what they experience as sociopolitical doctrine and, in response, they devise a kind of creative manifesto for making sense of it all.

These networked systems of knowledge, skill and production are the framework for a current mode of art practice that mimics a kind of cybernetic infrastructure. In response to the ripples of globalisation, collaboration has become one of the elementary ways for contemporary artists to contextualise the world in which we live. It is a resolute attempt at creating a structure within which to formulate a greater understanding of ourselves, our hectic society and our universe through an interdisciplinary Theory of Everything. [2]

Katie Holten, last year's Irish representative at the Venice Biennale, was chosen because of her deep engagement in the process of weaving together disparate elements from a collaborative network. Her work shows an ability to draw strands from numerous disciplines - Fine Art, music, literature, engineering, architecture, psychiatry, aeronautics, environmental science, sociology - into a web of activity that offers the viewer a set of conceptual points of entry. There is no linear pattern and therefore no given beginning and end; there are only clues as to the direction the work is moving. Her work in Venice, Laboratorio della Vigna, consisted primarily in producing a series of booklets entitled Nothing, Love , Paper www , Flying, Guide , Me and Devil , Water , and also a leaflet, What Civilisation of Work. These were available to read at the Irish pavilion, where some rough tables and chairs had been organised to encourage the viewer to stay a while and browse through the booklets. In a corner in the upstairs room of the exhibition space was the cluttered table and work area, as seen in previous Holten shows. There was neither visual charisma nor visual dynamism, because her work was built on an organic multidisciplinary structure independent of those specific visual parameters.

Katie Holten: Laboratorio della Vigna , 2003, installation shot, upstairs; photo / courtesy the author

The installation in the upstairs exhibition space showed what appeared to be forced evidence of the process. The pamphlets downstairs were rough at the edges, but this was part of their charm. What they contained were a naïve, free and happy appreciation of 'place'. Their meanderings were refreshing because they unashamedly expressed joy and curiosity in that which is small and insignificant. They were oblivious to both the commodification of pop culture and the esoteric arrogance of high art. The upstairs installation and the contents of the booklets downstairs cohabited uneasily, because of the overt efforts upstairs to expose both the process and the element of disorder out of which the artist draws her inspiration and influences. Randomness for its own sake is just another system, but randomness with a purpose is a way to enter a system. [3]

Randomness is essential to my work. But so is failure. So is research. The booklets (Papers) in Venice contain disparate material - but there are many ways to connect it all. It's open - people can join the dots for themselves.

Katie Holten. [4]

Evidence of the process, for the sake of showing the chaos out of which the ideas are plucked, is an awkward entity in the collaboration. Katie has stated her conscious decision to refrain from offering the public a well-rounded visual piece of work or "art bauble". [5] This work inhabits the terrains vagues between the art object, the process as artwork and the creation of directions as opposed to starting and ending points of reference. Laboratorio della Vigna is a perfect example of the vein of art practice that breaks down the boundary between living and working. However, it is also an example of the vein of art practice that functions on transparency but, having been so involved in the actual process, has trouble when it doubles back on itself to prove its honesty about its conceptual and practical journey.

Holten's booklets are rich with incongruent bites of information and ideas whose value far outweighs the project's lack of visual stimulus. As Gabriel Orozco has identified, the artwork begins and ends with ideas, and Laboratorio della Vigna is certainly effervescent with ideas. [6] However, this highlights the dilemma of the collaborative art practice and the restructuring of the visual hierarchy. The collaboration is enormously enriching for the participant practitioneers - artists, writers, scientists, designers, etc. - who are creating and exploring an exponential learning curve. The experience for the viewer who encounters some public manifestation of this collaboration might not be the same. The viewer may find the fact that there is no visual impact, no 'object' and no absolute assertions a fatal impediment to accessing the work that can, on first encounter, appear to have no sense of place and no identity. Social exchange is what makes the collaboration worthwhile, so if there has not been enough impetus towards communicating with the viewer then the fruits of the collaborators' labour have not come close to their potential.

Art practice has freed itself from the white lies of the aesthetic stylisation of the finished art object's surface, in favour of renegotiating structures of time, duality, place, shared thinking and exposing the transparency of the process. These efforts at exposure extend to the way we see things, the way things are constructed; an exposure of truth instead of efforts at concealment behind a curtain of aesthetic fallacy. In artworks that manifest themselves in the process itself, the interface between public and artwork is crucial to the assimilation of the work's concepts. The difficulty is not in engaging in the flow of data in preference to interpreting it, but instead, the point of public engagement is the point of success or failure of the collaborative work - visual or otherwise.

In addition to the broad realm of Fine Art, the artists' network is focused on contextualisation through the fields of mathematics, geometry, physics, technology, philosophy, sociology, et cetera, in a vivacious effort to offer a cultural exploration of the aforementioned Theory of Everything. So, with the intermingling of disciplines and the waning exclusivity of both 'artist' and the artworks' visual dynamic, where is the epic in present-day art practice? The epic dimension exists in the work's potential. The epic lies in the inclusive, nonelitist move to contextualise our surroundings through whatever best suits the ideas of the work, even if that means moving outside the boundaries of what is strictly understood to be Fine Art.

Katie Holten: Laboratorio della Vigna (detail), 2003, installation shot, upstairs; photo / courtesy the author

This all-inclusive modus operandi would seem to suggest that the birth of collaborative art practice signals the imminent death of the artist. One wonders how this could be a positive element in cultural development, when the collaborative project came about as a means of discovery and was never instigated in an effort to quieten the individual artistic voice. Perhaps a more precise account would be that collaborative practice relegates the supposed grandiosity of the high artist to a cultural margin, leaving the business of artists open to the honest and energetic process of creating work in any of many diverse disciplines relating directly to the time in which they have been created. The question now arises as to who initiates or facilitates the collaborative unit. The rise and rise of the curator is happening concurrently with the growth of the collaboration and has already seen the curator's position take centre stage at some of the major international exhibitions of 2003. Could it be that the death of the artist would be the birth of the curator?

Part III of this series will be published in the next issue of CIRCA , number 109. It will discuss the structural rearrangements required of curatorial interventions in order that they facilitate the public's engagement with art that is evolving as sets of starting points. It will uncover whether the death of the artist is in fact the birth of the curator.


2 The 'Theory of Everything' is a term used in physics for a single theory (e.g., string theory) that strives to describe our entire universe from the microscopic to the infinite.

3 Kendall Geers discusses the futility of randomness for randomness' sake in his essay as part of The Work of Art in the State of Exile , 2003, as an accompaniment to the Serbia and Montenegro pavilion, Venice Biennale 2003

4 Katie Holten's interview with Regina Gleeson is available at .

5 ibid

6 Hans Ulrich-Obrist, Hans Ulrich Obrist Interviews, Volume 1 , Editizioni Charta Milan, 2003, p. 640

Regina Gleeson is a writer on art and technology.

Article reproduced from CIRCA 108, Summer 2004, pp. 60-63.