The Transformer project brings together artists and Artist Run Organisations (AROs) from around the Mediterranean to Malta to discuss instituting alternative and independent spaces for art, and to ask how to sustain a durable network or artistic infrastructure beyond this dialogue.
As part of this discussion, Transformer Dialogues will record a series of formal and informal conversations, responses and speculations on developing such a network. It will also only be the beginning, a point from which these dialogues can develop after the project has finished.
As well as mapping the local conditions relevant to Artist Run Organisations, contemporary art production will also be the subject of this publication — both as a general way of doing things, and in the specific ways in which the project artists deploy it.
Of course, as the project’s title implies, how Malta is undergoing a series of transformations is also central. This is both as a country within a changed European Union, a country negotiating its own post-colonial story, something which connects to its own questions of cultural heritage, and of course transformations in the spaces of art. We will also therefore be considering the policy aims of the European Capital of Culture programme, Valletta 2018, the framework under which this project takes place. These include a focus on professionalization, internationalization, sustainability and education.
Similarly, one of the project’s aims is to produce a network of Artist Run Organisations. How these factors above intersect can be made visible by the artist’s residencies. This provides purchase on existing infrastructure — what it offers but also what it lacks and moves to the second realm of a critique of infrastructure: generating, designing and inhabiting alternatives. With the pressing desire for a broader conversation on the Artist Run Organisation in Malta, and the reasons too complex and interconnected for one theory alone, leveraging available resources in and among the various exchanges of the multiple constituencies Transformer speaks to and sits alongside is however possible. The dialogues on this website will contribute to, and constitute only one part of asking these questions; a temporary infrastructure perhaps. What comes next will surely need to be a much more solid initiative?
Practically then, what will this site do/include?
Alongside the Transformer residencies is Transformer Informal, a series of panel discussions chaired by Tom Clark and hosted here. Later in 2018, 1st September – 14th October, the multi-site exhibition will also feature a public programme to be recorded here too.
In between these events, a series of interviews with participating artists, AROs and others will continue to build the discussion.
Before going on, what is an Artist Run Organisation? Historically, it is quite a broad term, including artist-run DIY, project organisations like People People, Amsterdam, La Plage, Paris; ones rooted in community and politics like New York collective Group Material (1979–1996), or Le 18, Marrakesh; those more formally structured around artist-boards like Transmission (Glasgow) or Cubitt (London). Ones in which the organisations forms a larger part of the artist’s practice like Eastside Projects (Gavin Wade and Celine Condorelli, Birmingham), New World Academy (Jonas Staal, the Netherlands), Bettina Hutschek’s Fragmenta, or L’Atelier de L’Observatorie, co-directed by Mohamed Fariji; where education is at the core, like Ahemt Ogut’s Silent University, School of the Damned in the UK, home school Portland; or like the Clark House Initiative in Bombay, or Blitz (Valletta) where artists are the central organizers. It is perhaps this flexibility, independence and plurality — situated by the concerns of those involved, pragmatically defined by situation, and often politically motivated — that best characterizes the ARO. How the history of the ARO can be made to interact with the transformations and intersections as are found in Malta will determine how useful this conversation can be.
More broadly, Transformer is comprised of an international network that already sets some coordinates for this discussion: Central Saint Martins in London is connected to Malta, once a colony of the United Kingdom, but which now as the European Capital of Culture, expresses what the United Kingdom stands to lose as it exits the European Union, and in this are raised issues of cultural heritage, no less contested and mobile today. That said, the network here faces as much towards the North as it does the South in Morocco. These intersections are found at a particular moment in history and space that bear upon the project and its supporters. The EU for instance is experiencing a variety of identity crises: structural, political, philosophical. Nations states held in equilibrium can no longer sustain the torsions of the unevenness of its benefits and resort instead to rehashing old nationalisms; access to mobility across its spaces defines new social classes while illegalizing refugees and migrants looking for safety, but more often finding callous indifference; urban transformation in the form of gentrification masquerading as “regeneration,” finance and wealth detached from the economies that feed them; disruptive platforms upending expectations like democracy; while the certainties of religiously-grounded social structures shift irrevocably.
Such an array of uncertainties intersect with contemporary art as a practice that deals with plurality, which can operate internationally, but more often than not is still concerned with particularity — and which as a result is asking how it, like other fields, can be more active, participatory and meaningful in light of them.
It is through all of these dynamics that the project will find its way towards key issues like education, space, policy, collaboration and artistic practice, both in the discursive and the infrastructural: asking what its participants think as much as what they need. While it is far beyond the scope of its dialogues to provide “answers,” these are the transformations through which it will move.