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Two More Artists, Chto Delat and US Social Forum, Withdraw from Creative Time Exhibition

by Mostafa Heddaya on June 6, 2014

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‘Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011’ is the book that accompanied the exhibition when it showed in New York in 2011 (screenshot via Creative Time on Vimeo)

Two more artists have joined Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency in withdrawing from the traveling iteration of Creative Time’s Living as Form exhibition curated by Nato Thompson, Hyperallergic has learned. The two collectives, Chto Delat and US Social Forum, pulled out of the show over objections related to its tour to Israel under the auspices of Independent Curators International (ICI), a co-organizer with Creative Time of the exhibition’s “nomadic version.”

“[A]fter your message I was contacted by many artists whom I deeply respect who provided us a deeper insight into the situation and I must say that it looks really very dubious and I think that for our collective also better not to participate at this location,” wrote Dmitry Vilensky of Chto Delat in a letter to ICI director Renaud Proch. (Earlier this year, the Chto Delat collective also withdrew from Manifesta in Russia.)

US Social Forum’s Shamako Noble similarly objected, drawing the following response from Creative Time’s Nato Thompson:

Please accept my sincere apology. I am a tremendous admirer of the US Social Forum and can easily see how your organization would not want to be at the venue. It is a mistake on our part. If it is any consolation, there is no mention nor representation of the US Social Forum at this venue. We will quickly remove your name from the show.

Asked about the financial relationship between ICI and Israeli entities, Renaud Proch told Hyperallergic in an email that his organization “does not receive funding from any Israeli entities in general, and only Artport [Tel Aviv], a non-profit and privately funded art organization, compensated ICI for the show ($1,500). ICI did not receive any money from the Paul Konrad Hoenich Gallery of Experimental Art and Architecture, or the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion).”

A view of the "Living as Form" exhibition in New York, October 2011 (photo Allison Meier/Hyperallergic)

A view of the “Living as Form” exhibition in New York, October 2011 (photo Allison Meier/Hyperallergic)

Artists’ appearance at each venue of the exhibition is fluid, with “the list on the website [being] a partial list of the 100+ artists practices represented in the show from which each venue selects according to their priorities.”

Proch added that his organization reached out to artists participating in the touring version of the show shortly after Creative Time did in 2012, but did not alert them to the exhibition’s touring schedule until Wednesday’s email. (The full text of ICI’s statement appears at the end of this post.)

Speaking over the phone yesterday evening and today, Creative Time director Anne Pasternak stated that her organization’s relationship with ICI began in 2011, a year before Creative Time published its statement of transparency on dealing with organizations receiving funding from Israeli entities. Pasternak also said that she was alerted in emails to the exhibition’s appearance at Artport Tel Aviv but failed to notify artists, stating that the initial correspondence on the subject took place while she was on Thanksgiving holiday (November 20) and the ICI schedule was finalized over the Christmas holidays shortly before the exhibition opened at Artport on December 23. She also reiterated her apology made yesterday, when she said: “It should have registered, what we should have done is call the artists then … We are taking a look at our internal processes.”

“The important thing is that this is an activist show where artists are exercising their free will. That is worthy of public discussion and awareness and this is a good thing for this field,” Pasternak said.

“I am honored to have been an advisor for Creative Time’s Living as Form exhibition in 2010–2011 and pleased to see that the show and its ideas are traveling to other venues outside of New York City. That said, it is unfortunate that through what appears to be an unintended but nonetheless serious administrative oversight the project is now on display at The Technion in Israel, a context that many, myself included, find profoundly inappropriate. I firmly believe Creative Time will move quickly to take the lead in addressing this misstep,” Queens College professor and author of Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture Gregory Sholette told Hyperallergic in an email. Speaking over the phone, Sholette added: “I think it caught everybody by surprise, which is really unfortunate … Creative Time is one of the few really progressive organizations out there.”

Nato Thompson has yet to respond to repeated queries from Hyperallergic, though he has posted a lengthy comment on the Facebook page of Occupy Theory’s Amin Husain:

If I have been somewhat brief in my response so far it has only been that, as one might imagine, Creative Time, ICI, and the artists we work with have to internally talk before we can speak publicly. We are unable to move at the speed of internet posting when it comes to serious political issues as we have to get our facts straight and gather a collective conversation which admittedly may or may not reflect the position of each and every individual. We have a history of respecting artists positions, including issues around the BDS, and have not shirked away from the dire political crisis unlike many US cultural organizations. The issues that arise are extremely sensitive and important, and they do deserve our care and thoughtfulness. That said, Creative Time, and I include myself in this, do make mistakes.The Living as Form show is being toured by ICI and we did not, much to my embarrassment, catch this breech of the BDS. That said, as has been stated, “the commitment to the free exchange of ideas has always been central to Creative Time’s mission, and thus we do not participate in cultural boycotts (CT’s Statement of Commitment to Universal Human Rights and Free Expression). We believe the activist practices as demonstrated in the Living as Form show can contribute to society by raising awareness, help correct injustices done around the globe, honor international standards of human rights, and lead to a more just world.” Creative Time cannot sign on to a cultural boycott as we are completely geared toward the creation of an international community of artists and activists across a broad range of geopolitically beliefs, views, and experiences. That said, we should have interceded and notified ICI that the artists in the traveling portion of the Living as Form exhibition should have been notified. Believe me, we are very sorry this didn’t happen sooner. If artists want to pull out of this show or, frankly, any leg of the tour, we think that is completely legitimate. I personally couldn’t be more supportive of artists making their statements and concerns known, and it would be an exciting result from an exhibition about global art and activism. Bringing attention to the infrastructures of the arts and politics in general is a critical and growing role artists that artists are playing in society.

It should be noted that Creative Time does not organize the tour, nor do we receive money. The very nature of the traveling portion of the show is to be as low-cost and accessible for global art spaces as possible. It is designed more of an aggregator and organic open source method than a traditional exhibition tour as the projects are either downloadable pdfs or videos and the local organization programs local projects and meetings on art and social justice according to the local needs.

Some of you may be angry about this but I hope you can make room for understanding and respecting differences regarding political tactics.

The following is the list of artists exhibited at The Technion/Israel Institute of Technology as provided to Hyperallergic by Renaud Proch of ICI:

Almarcegu Lara
Appalshop
Chto Delat [Withdrawn]
Women on Waves
Rick Lowe
Complaints Choir
Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency [Withdrawn]
Suzanne Lacy
Katerina Šedá
Chemi Rosado Seijo, El Cerro
Basurama
BijaRi
Vik Muniz
Navin Rawanchaikul
WikiLeaks
Cybermoholla Ensemble
Voina
Condorelli, Céline
Ai Wei Wei [sic]
WochenKlausur
Lisa Katzman

The following ICI statement was provided to Hyperallergic from Renaud Proch:

Living as Form (The Nomadic Version) was co-organized by Creative Time and Independent Curators International (ICI) in 2012. ICI manages the international tour of the exhibition. It is based on Living as Form, a site-specific project curated by Nato Thompson and presented by Creative Time in the historic Essex Market in New York in 2011.

As part of the tour, a version of the exhibition was on view at Artport, an art center and artists residency in Tel Aviv, Israel, from December 26, 2013 to March 7, 2014. As always with this show, the contents — digitized documentation of socially engaged art practice — were selected by a local curator to best address the exhibition’s audience. This selection later traveled further North in Israel, to Haifa and opened on May 28, 2014 at the Paul Konrad Hoenich Gallery of Experimental Art and Architecture, a university gallery part of the Israel Institute of Technology.

This version of the exhibition contains 21 artists, artists groups, collectives, and platforms such as Wikileaks. As ICI’s scope continues to grow internationally, we must communicate more directly with artists about the itinerary of the exhibitions they agree to be part of, and we should have had more conversations with all 21 participants prior to the exhibition being shown in Israel. ICI is a broad network of curators, artists and art spaces from around the world that encompasses many different perspectives and political positions. Our mission is to provide access to contemporary art and resources to curators and artists across borders, therefore ICI does not take part in cultural boycotts. However we respect the right of others to boycott.

This week as a result, we have written to the 21 artists in the exhibition and offered to discuss their inclusion in this version of the show. We are addressing their concerns individually, and we are following and implementing their decisions swiftly.

Living as Form (The Nomadic Version) is an unprecedented international project, which explores over 20 years of cultural works that blur the forms of art and everyday life, emphasizing participation, dialogue and community engagement. The exhibition is conceived to be adapted freely by the curators who present it wherever it travels, and who add to this expanding and itinerant archive new examples of related works and practices from their local contexts. The works and practices in this itinerant show are represented through digitized documentation that is stored on a hard drive.

Since the exhibition began in 2012 with an initial selection of 48 projects, it has now grown to encompass over 100 examples of socially engaged practice, further increasing the diversity of works represented and giving them a broader reach.

The exhibition has traveled to 16 venues in just two years, actively reaching out to audiences from around the world, in places from California to Taiwan and Western Sahara. We are proud of this great success and moved by the engagement generated by the show.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to restore an omission of the final sentence of Gregory Sholette’s statement to Hyperallergic, as well as revise his title. He is assistant professor at Queens College CUNY, not at the CUNY Graduate Center as previously noted, though he taught one course there.

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