A proposal for a week of installations, conversations & learning labs interrogating who we are
In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate
W.H. Auden ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats’ (1940)
Who are We? is a cross-platform, cross-sector project designed to facilitate the co-production and co-creation of knowledges among artists, academics, activists, and diverse publics. The programming team is a transdisciplinary consortium comprising Counterpoints Arts, The Open University, Loughborough and University of Warwick University.
Our aim is to implement a 7-day programme – through collaborative research, co- commissioning, co-production and co-curation – forming part of the newly launched Tate Learning Exchange in 2017. This programme creates a space for encounter between actors often kept apart by binaries such as artists versus audiences, academics versus artists, migrants versus ‘natives’, and activists versus publics, and interrogates their ways of relating to each other.
Who are We? privileges the medium of creative practice as a mode of comparative research – spanning the visual arts, film and photography, design and architecture, the spoken and written word, live art and music. Who are We? will make a public call to artists and practitioners to contribute to a week of collective engagement, dialogue, open debate and lively disruption.
Our curatorial approach activates the values and methodologies of the ‘Creative Case’ (initiated by ACE), where diversities are an intrinsic, organic part of the creative process enlivening the aesthetic; working towards possibilities of solidarity and equality while acknowledging uncertain outcomes. The architecture and design of Who are We? will operate as an open incubator, where ideas and projects are seeded, co-produced, and co-curated with participation as a core guiding principle.
Thematic: between a borderless and bordered world
Auden’s homage to Yeats conjures an uncannily resonant image of contemporary Europe, a Europe increasingly divided, fending and fastening its borders against real and imagined ‘others’. The populist discourse raging across Europe today betrays fear. Europe seems ‘frightened’, asking ‘who are we?’ in trembling. The fear is performed through unsettling closures from across Europe. It is rooted, in turn, in a collective forgetting: of both the imperial and colonial wars in which the modern European project was born, and of the promise of Europe, one open to others. There is no hope for Europe if it continues to forget both of those histories. There is no passage through its crises if it shrinks from the question ‘who are we?’, continuing to profess its incommensurable difference from ‘others’.
Who are We? opens with Auden’s framing image of an apocalyptic landscape, to pose a series of questions and interventions:
- What is becoming of Europe?
- What is Europe forgetting, and with what consequences?
- How have peoples of Europe all but forgotten that they used to roam the world, and still do, by making worlds mirroring their image? Is it only when others move that this becomes so unruly and uncanny?
Two contradictory trends appear to prevail, which we’re asking artists, practitioners and participants to explore:
- On the one hand, there’s a growing recognition that challenges such as mobility, climate change, surveillance, inequality, precarity, wars, and austerity are global challenges, requiring transnational, international and global collaboration across borders.
- On the other hand, there’s a growing politics from above and from below that calls upon people to perform themselves as enclosed identities, pitting one people against another, creating boundaries and acting as border guards in their everyday encounters.
Is the choice we face either a ‘borderless’ or a ‘bordered’ world? Some people have explicitly rejected this simple either/or choice during the migration and refugee crises in 2015 and 2016 and instead established solidarities across borders and boundaries by acting together as citizens, migrants and refugees. Their acts included creative uses of technologies, logistics, and performances that collectively have shown a glimpse of another Europe, another ‘We’.
Who are we? is an invitation to enter into this other Europe with dialogue and experiment by making work (together) to perform these conversations across borders and boundaries. We wish to explore and interrogate the collective forgetting but also share critical and creative ways of thinking that have provided new tools to interrogate the notion of who are we?
Programmatic structure and design
The 7-day schedule will take the form of a public programme with activities, installations and events working with the grain of the Tate learning space. The ‘Who are We’ programme will comprise a series of Learning Labs – scheduled daily – allowing for invited participants and the public to engage and participate fully in the programme’s core themes (outlined above). Labs will include the following mix of content and activities to enable multiple levels of exchange and collective learning. The design and exact schedule for the programme will be finalized over the next few months. The scale of the programme will be dependent on available budget.
Activities and programme content to include
A series of creative residencies where several nominated artists will develop work in situ and simultaneously be in conversation with the public through artist workshops and presentations; We will use the ‘separate’ room on the left of the entrance to run a film series with post- screening discussions; This room will also be used to host talks, seminars and other public-style conversations; The space will allow for activities to happen in parallel and simultaneously – allowing the public to pick and choose and ideally move (when appropriate) across the space, engaging with the various content on display or in development; We have chosen this mixed curation approach, given the limited wall space (though we do intend to use some of the mobile walls for hanging and installation).