Aleksandra Mir

Making room to step outside

Ten Ten, Vol. 1, #2, Chicago, 2000
By Brett Bloom

There are those who seek a broader role for art. Their small offices have replaced gallery spaces because the exhibitions are happening elsewhere. Art is showing up on the beaches, in restaurants, in the middle of rivers, on city streets, and in town squares. Exhibition makers and curators are taking the responsibility for putting art out into the world in an engaging and accessible manner.

Two examples of this shift in working methods are smith + fowle and Casco Projects. London-based smith + fowle (Deborah Smith and Kate Fowle) create interesting structures for artists' work to inhabit. Parallel to this, 'Casco Projects', direct by Lisette Smits, in Utrecht, the Netherlands, is "providing a contexts for the production of 'system-specific' projects." Smith, Fowle and Smits are placing themselves and the art of the people they work with into dynamic situation beyond the limits of commercial galleries and corporate museums. They have built sustainable practices within the contemporary art world on their own terms. They avoid the role of the curator as author (auteur), establishing a more ethical, collaborative relationship with artists, What follow is basic information about who they are and what they do.

Description of your work:

smith + fowle: smith + fowle formed in 1996 as an independent partnership that specializes in curating and commissioning contemporary art. smith + fowle provides a framework for the development and management of art projects, which encourage collaborative processes. Operating from an office allows for a fluid movement between institutions. smith + fowle taps into mechanisms that already exist outside of the art world for the presentation of artists' work.

Lisette Smits: I run a space in Utrecht called Casco Projects. From the moment I was given charge of the program, which is about four years ago, its emphasis was to develop a working process with artists, rather that to present their work in "ready-made" exhibitions. For this reason I hardly curated any group shows, because the works of artists is normally secondary to the theme according to which they are united. More than being a curator of artists' projects, I see myself as a sparring partner within their research, providing the contexts and production possibilities to eventually realize projects.

Contexts within which you work:

smith + fowle: Each project begins with research into the exhibition locations to gain an understanding of the dynamics of potential sites and the contexts in which the art will be received. The commissioning process starts with the artist bringing their own practice and ideas to their firsthand experiences of both the physical reality and the invisible threads of commerce, history and culture that create a place. Keeping things small is a key to sustainability. Making sure the artists get paid a fee is important.

Lisette Smits: Today cultural production is very diverse and takes place anywhere, in different structures and areas, for a large audience of quite specific groups of people. Cultural production is bound to the political and economic structures in which it manifests itself. In the field of cultural production, art plays a marginal and yet highly sophisticated role, but nevertheless it makes use of the same economic systems.

Art can perform simultaneously on both fields: as part of a social and economic environment and at the same time providing independent and autonomous space to act and think (however temporary and changeable). The projects I developed with Casco often use a parallel working method. They work at both sites without making a hierarchical distinction; they operate outside—making use of and intervening in existing systems—as well as inside. The interesting part is the to-and-fro movement in between movements of people, objects, language and meaning.

Description of a project you organized:

smith + fowle:
to be continued
July 1999-February 2000

to be continued is a program of temporary commissions that took place across Walsall, England, leading up to the opening of The New Art Gallery Walsall. The program involved over twenty artists from the UK an abroad developing new projects, using their personal experiences of Walsall as a starting point. Some were inspired particularly by local sites, others by aspects of Walsall's history or by relationships with the local people. Together the commissions presented different ways of engaging with the built environment, working culture, commercial or leisure activities in Walsall.

Projects included:
Billboards involving local bands by Sean Dower
The production of a DVD film for the Gallery's window box by Catherine Yass
A painted mural by Henrik Plenge Jakobsen
Carrier bags designed by Jeremy Deller, Mark Harris and Mind de Nasty, distributed free in local shops
An alternative walking tour map guide of the town center by Alan Kane
A 30-foot neon sign by Fiona Banner

Lisette Smits:
Aleksandra Mir
First Woman on the Moon
August 28, 1999

In her work Aleksandra Mir examines the relationship our generation has with the norms and values of the "radicals" of the 1960s. In so doing she indirectly appraises the influence and relevance today of the sixties activists' agenda. Her projects are not only site specific in that they are attached to a particular location, they are also woven into the fabric of the location—its public, media and economic infrastructure. First Woman on the Moon could be defined as performance, sculpture, "environment" art and daytrip entertainment. On August 28, 1999, the beach at Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands, was transformed into a moon landscape for a day. Mechanical diggers created a stage set for this historical event: thirty years after the first man had set foot on the moon, the first woman landed there. The sixties were defined by the moon landing of 1969, the Vietnam war, Kennedy's assassination, the Prague Spring and the student riots: events that have been etched into our memories by extensive media coverage. Mir's moon landing too received a lot of attention; television, newspapers and radio all reported on this event. With humor and a certain degree of irony, Mir's project referred to the power of the media in the construction of history. In the evening the beach was returned to its normal state, leaving no trace of the day's event.

smith + fowles responses were taken from their CV's and from phone conversations with the author. Lisette Smits' responses are excerpted from the art journal Engage #17, 1999/2000. Both are used by permission.