December 14, 2022

School Watch: Close Encounters: “As you go… roads under your feet, towards the new future” Research Inquiry

Art & Education

Hu Yun, The smoke from Bor, 2022. Commission by What Could/Should Curating Do? (WCSCD). Photo: Vladimir Radivojevic.

Robel Temesgen, Mourning Performance, 2022. Commission by What Could/Should Curating Do? (WCSCD). Photo: Vladimir Radivojevic.

View of Bor. Photo: Toby Üpson.

Waiting for permission from Zijin to enter the Bor mining complex. Photo: Vladimir Radivojevic. Courtesy What Could/Should Curating Do? (WCSCD).

Close Encounters: “As you go… roads under your feet, towards the new future” Research Inquiry
by Toby Üpson

Bor is a small mining city in eastern Serbia, 243 kilometers from the country’s capital, Belgrade. It is, as the crow flies, 6,340 kilometers from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, 4,030 kilometers from Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan, and 8,323 kilometers from Shanghai. Bor, Addis Ababa, Lake Balkhash, Shanghai: four localities disparate in culture and geography yet connected by an atmospheric condition, the oppressive smog of reindustrialization and natural-resource extraction. Peering through this soot, in Bor I witnessed a curatorial inquiry that brought these places into affective proximity, a shared space in which the divisive logic of extractive capitalism was reoriented so that new transnational solidarities could emerge. The inquiry accomplished this by jettisoning normative conceptions of art and aesthetic production as well as the hierarchies that often limit the definition of cultural work. In doing so, it made tangible how art can establish new spaces for thinking outside of hegemonic ideas and practices and, indeed, propose new ways of imagining together possible futures that exceed the forces of epistemic and economic colonialism.

Between September 15 and 19, 2022, a range of cultural workers and Bor locals gathered for Bor Encounters, the first public-facing event of the long-term curatorial project and research inquiry “As you go… roads under your feet, towards the new future,” an initiative supported by the curatorial platform What Could/Should Curating Do? (WCSCD). Launched in 2019 by the independent curator Biljana Ćirić to find different ways for curators to produce knowledges, “As you go…” took as its primary point of departure the socio-ecological wounds wrought by the Belt and Road Initiative, a semi-global infrastructure development strategy launched by the Chinese government in 2013 as a way to expand its political and economic influence. Rather than pursue a reactionary response to this neocolonial program, “As you go…” reconfigured the Belt and Road Initiative as an opportunity to explore how aesthetic and social practices of everyday life in some of the areas impacted by the development scheme might align and thus allow for moments of togetherness. For Ćirić and the inquiry’s participants, these moments permitted the sharing of situated knowledges across geographic borders, and these exchanges in turn sought to create new transnational solidarities resistant to neocolonial enterprise, which so often destroys local social life and ecologies for economic gain.

The inquiry’s moments of adjacency, in which embodied practices became physically proximate, encouraged participants to consider non-colonial futures. Embracing bodily perspectives, “As you go…” drew part of its guiding methodology from philosopher Mary Graham’s thinking about the Indigenous sense of “walking with” and the kind of relations it allows. For Ćirić, the bodily knowledges acquired through walking, listening, and learning from others enables us to think critically about the limits of our own perception. Further, as a wholly quotidian action and a method, walking with others sidesteps the power imbalances that attend curatorial work—for instance, the institutional hierarchies and hegemonic tastes that dictate what counts as cultural expression. In the logic of the inquiry, walking together created a space for the equitable exchange of social and cultural knowledges based upon being with another and moving at the same pace, rather than a predetermined leader imposing a set rhythm upon artists and audiences.

Read more of Toby Üpson’s text on “As you go… roads under your feet, towards the new future” on Art & Education School Watch.

School Watch presents critical perspectives on art and academia. Featured profiles, surveys, and dialogues consider education in art, curating, and critical theory, as well as the ideas and conditions that influence practice.

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