SCIBase: Stockholm Independent Art Fair Supermarket | Bring A Box | February 2012

6. Stockholm 2012.JPG

Somewhere in Sweden

We arrived in Stockholm on a Wednesday afternoon in flurries of snow and a bitingly cold wind. Our arrival marked the end of four months of collaborative planning, mainly via e-mail, between BasementArtsProject, Leeds and SCI based in the Northwest. Since Wednesday the collaboration has become the physical realisation of the previous four months of planning work.

Although ‘Bring a Box’ was the title initially given to this exhibition the project as a whole has come to symbolise a great deal more.

Transportability and practicality have been central concerns from the outset for every artist involved but other considerations have, somewhat unconsciously, also found their way in. As far as collaborative projects go this is quite an unusual one with some of the artists never actually having met before; but in the age of the internet the vast distance between the UK, Stockholm and the USA is not as vast as it once seemed, allowing for an organic network of activity to evolve virtually before the eventual realisation of any exhibition.

Since the initiation of this project in late September last year, distinct alliances have been formed over time that have enabled the artists to negotiate the development of their work. Kimbal Bumstead has, since last we met at the SPEAKEASY, been travelling across Europe, couch surfing and hitch-hiking in order to arrive in time for the Stockholm Independent Art Fair where he will present one of his travelogues documenting the process. In doing this Kimbal has gone via the residence of artist Andrew Crighton, also exhibiting as part of SCIBASE and currently living in Trellborg, Sweden, to collect postcards sent by many anonymous participants on behalf of Leeds based artist David Cotton. Cotton’s work mirrors the archaeological process, those assembling the project in Sweden are faced with the task of working out how to piece together the creature depicted in the postcards; also facing the prospect of getting it wrong and having to start again. Debra Eck is an artist based in Jamestown, New York who made contact with BasementArtsProject through social media networks and has joined us here in Stockholm to meet some of the artists that she will be exhibiting with for the first time.

For some the idea of collaboration in art can mean working together on one piece of work, for others the production of work must be a solitary endeavour. Here though the collaborations are more discursive, a machine by which events can be engineered, artists have been able to work out ideas, concepts and possibilities to achieve a coherent and pleasing end result.

‘If I was an artist and I was in the studio then whatever I was doing in the studio must have been art’
Bruce Nauman

Whilst art may be the final physical object at the end of a long process, for many artists the process is equally, if not more, important than the object itself and really it is this concept that the project has come to symbolise.

Bruce Davies | Stockholm | Sat 18th Feb 2012


The Value of Art

I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation at this afternoon’s debate around the value of art. (Except for the niggardly feeling that maybe I should go back to school and get my PhD)

This is a deep topic – here’s what I have been thinking.

It seems to me that art is deeply linked to the experience of H. sapiens. We know that before sapiens arrived Homo (neanderthalis for sure, but also maybe Homo erectus or Homo heidelbergensis) had practiced ritual burial- bodies placed in symbolic positions in a grave, bodies marked with ocher. So the numinous experience, a relationship with death and the longing for the continuation of the self after death is not uniquely human. Our predecessors may also have decorated themselves and their clothes, so perhaps even visual expression is not entirely unique, and I am quite sure that one could make an argument that many species appreciate beauty (even if this adoration is in fact sparked by the selfish gene). But when sapiens arrives in the world we see for the first time (we believe) art supported by and embedded in culture.

The great cave paintings of so many cultures still move us, viewers are awed by their expressive beauty (which is spectacular – but beauty is an idea for another day and has no bearing on value). What I am thinking about here in a discussion on value is the consumption of resources that it takes to create such spectacle. Putting aside the question of why we did it, or the amount (enormous) of skill required to create such deceptively graceful rendering with such poor tools – what I am thinking about is the actual tools, the consumption of material and the investment of capital in the form of time, materials and labor in such an epic undertaking, those walls didn’t paint themselves. For example, scaffolding had to be erected, which required a great deal of skilled manual labor, someone had to flake a flint to cut the tree, someone had to cut it,someone had to haul it into a cave, someone had to dig a post hole, someone had to lash it (with some kind of rope-like material made by someone else). All these actions indicate to me, that the communities creating these images believed the image had great value. Now anthropologists and art historians and neuro-scientists can argue themselves blue in the face over why we did it, and why we valued this activity. But the evidence points to the fact that at this moment in time, for what ever reason, humanity valued art so highly as to devote life changing amounts of capital to this activity. And that no other species did (or does). Like Nigel Spivey I think that making art and being human are linked, perhaps so deeply entwined with one another as to be inseparable.

Flash Forward to the Romanesque or Gothic period, when civic pride clothed Europe in “a mantle of white churches”. Here again we see a moment in history when the creation of art has taken on such powerful meaning (value) that the entire capital of towns and cities is diverted into the production of stunning art ( for the glory of God or the bragging rights of the city fathers makes little difference).

My argument for the value of art then is its essential humanity. Children all over the world begin to create images of what they see in developmentally similar ways, human beings/cultures make images.

This is the point from which all arguments should depart. Making images requires a certain leap in abstraction that only our species has made (and before anyone tells me about elephants that paint in the zoo – I remind you I am not aware of any elephants that paint in the wild). I feel (because I don’t have the education or research to back this up) that making images expanded our ability to abstract. It is part of our intellectual birthright.

Art today is of course about more than making images, or even making at all. The creative impulse behind art is for me the most fundamentally human intellectual activity. I art therefore I am.

Debra Eck | Stockholm | Saturday 18th February 2012

Debra Eck is an artist and a lecturer at Jamestown University, New York.

Debra also exhibited as part of the SciBase contribution to the Stockholm Independent Art Fair Supermarket 2012

Stephen White: Paint Box (2012) Photo: Bruce Davies

Stephen White: Paint Box (2012) Photo: Bruce Davies