COOP Academy ~ Proximity Aesthetics: Constructing New Ecologies of Practice from Month to Month

Seminar 6: 19–26 March (incl. extension)

Led by Diakron and Luke Pendrell, moderated by Bassam El Baroni 

This month’s Proximity Aesthetics COOP includes a five day extension. The first four days will be led by David Hilmer Rex of Diakron and will include guest artist and curator Bjarke Hvass Kure who will present his research on Primer as a complex site of interactions and the usage of (the online social networking community and creative research platform) as a tool for what he calls processual curating. The first four days will also feature a meeting with Luca Napoli from our collaborators and hosts Werkplaats Typografie , in this meeting the COOP group will be sharing briefs with Luca and vice versa on the progress of content, concept, and design for the website. David Hilmer Rex will also deliver a presentation on his impact work and ways of navigating and understanding effects across a complex system. The focus on the first four days as well as the extension will be on collective work and thinking; and will be geared towards feedback as we come close to the finalization of the respective projects. Picking up the lead on Thursday the 22nd in the evening, Luke Pendrell will be joined by guest artist Diann Bauer for two days (Friday 23 and Saturday 24) and he will be working together with on ways that the project can manifest itself, engage, and be engaged with in a range of contexts and settings that account for the mobility and nomadic nature of the Dutch Art Institute -DAI. Diann Bauer will deliver an artist talk on Friday while Luke and Diann will both moderate and set-up a workshop environment around ‘Manifestations of Practice’ i.e. a practical workshop concerned with publication, production, exhibition and dissemination strategies with a special focus on addressing how we might approach our COOP project presentation / website launch in Athens in May/June. Two more meetings discussing the website design and content with Luca Napoli are scheduled for Thursday 22nd after dinner and Monday 26th in the morning. This month’s extended session will be rounded off with a collective planning session for the DAI April week in Barcelona.

Seminar 5: 19–22 February

Led by Diakron, moderated by Bassam El Baroni

Through the lens of systems thinking (as we excavated in Thessaloniki) the art world could be seen as a functional system existing alongside other systems. By circumventing discussions of possible futures of contemporary art, we will try to ask how proximity between art and society could be achieved by other means. The two previous Diakron lead summits, have attempted to provide tools for such thinking. This time we will present a project we are developing to highlight and ease institutional transitions from contemporary art fields to systemic art practices. This will be followed by a presentation of current strategic and format considerations for the platform Primer. Diakron will facilitate more group work, to develop the individual and collective formats for communicating the learning processes from the Proximity Aesthetics Coop. Day to Day Working Schedule sent via Google Docs.

Seminar 4: 19-25 January 2018

Led by Diakron, with Victoria Ivanova as guest and moderation by Bassam El Baroni

  • For full January programme schedule please visit this link

In collaboration with our guest, curator and writer Victoria Ivanova, we will explore the following question during our stay in Thessaloniki:

What are the ways in which a systems approach can be understood in the context of the art world?

Generally speaking we can categorize these into four modes, which are broadly speaking:

Art world as a system (in the ontological sense a la Arthur Danto, and in the sociological a la Bourdieu, Luhmann, Boltanski/Chiapello, Velthuis) >> art world ecology approach as a subset that integrates the ontological with the sociological approach (Malik-inspired).

Art practice engaged with systemic questions (this is a very broad category that would encompass most critical art practices interested in “larger issues”).

Art practice that deploys a systemic methodology (this is probably the most enigmatic but the more interesting category from our perspective. Forensic Architecture. Trampoline House. Ben Vicker’s practice at Serpentine Galleries).

Artwork as a system (once again, not entirely clear what the parameters are for such an artwork but could be fun trying to identify some example

We will consider each of these four modes by looking at examples, reflecting on Victoria Ivanova’s presentations, film screenings, and structuring a discussion on how we might embark on a systems approach within our own practices. Further questions we will consider and analyze are:

  • What are systems approaches in relation to the art world?
  • What systems are being approached by artistic practices and how?  
  • How are the infrastructures of art used strategically to approximate other systems?
  • What does impact look like to these unfolding cultural interventions? The question is not, how do we achieve a set of specific impacts, but how can we begin to sense and understand new types of impact?

Seminar 3: 18-21 December 2017

Led by Diakron, moderated by Bassam El Baroni

The four days will be split into two activities. The first two days will take the form of presentations by Diakron followed by group conversations and q and a sessions. The following two days are reserved for working together; the point of interest is collective working formats.

The material we will use to develop our conversations around comes from different fields (art, academia, entrepreneurship and social work) and takes different formats (talk, lecture, report, article and a call for applicants). The purpose is to have a conversation about different approaches to organizational and socio-technical change.

A common thread running through the examples is that they all might represent what Irit Rogoff has called ‘criticalities’. This is to say that they do not simply exercise critique (assessing a specific object / situation) or criticism (historically analyzing the emergence of a set of circumstances) but develop a ‘criticality’ as a varied set of engagements with several layers of their contexts. To state it bluntly they are not (only) about critiquing capitalism, but transforming fields of capitalism into “something better” (i.e. more inclusive, just, long term, environmentally regenerative).

In this sense another common thread that these practices or examples share is that they have a mix of pragmatism and radicality in them. None of them have clear-cut societal endpoints. They do envision radical changes of the status-quo. But in exchange for navigating actual change, principles or hypotheses about such changes often have to be renegotiated. Our investigation of such practices does mean that we want to devalue abstractions or concepts in favour of the non-semantic. Rather we want to hone in on how abstractions work and what abstractions are put to work on presently. We try to look for the ways abstractions emerge with intentional or coincidental impacts on specific modes of organizing; or how concepts travel across fields of practice with varying types of implication. That being said, we want to open up for a focus that traverses discussions of metaphysics, and ask what forms of organizing or ways of operationalizing participant in the study group might find appropriate and interesting to work with?

What do they offer us? What is their contribution to a recalibration of existing institutions or new approaches concerning how to practice engaging with problems? What kinds of relationships exist between such examples and the different positions/practices we (Diakron and the Proximity Aesthetics study group) represent and are in contact with ourselves? How do they transform and further the fields they come from? Do we see (a need for) similar change or maintenance around us?


December 18, after dinner session

Casual presentation of Diakron & Primer and introduction of Proximity Aesthetics study group members. Loose conversation about initiating organisations and what peoples’ experiences are with that / literature / process documents.

December 19, 10 am – 1pm; 2 pm – 7 pm, and after dinner session

Why talk about organizing now?

What are the problem areas we (as in all of us) are interested in, in relation to this course? How can one generate access-points to them? What examples, specific to the fields and contexts in which we currently operate, are there of why it is important to develop new organizational processes?

December 20, 10 am – 1pm; 2 pm – 7 pm, and after dinner session

What are the kinds of practices would we like to develop?

Starting point: What interests driving your practice connects to the themes of the course/study group? Sonic/Textual/Technological/Economic/Relational/Strategic/Theoretical/Fictional

Purpose: To enable a collective work-flow around your interests / ideas.

December 21, 10 am – 1 pm

Continuation of December 20th.

Evaluation and feedback

Seminar 2: 24-30 November 2017

Led by Luke Pendrell in collab. with Bassam El Baroni

Spaces, sites, places, presence and absence: Haunting the Peripheries

Some considerations on how we construct, detect and calibrate the changing topographies of contemporary life

General Introduction

Faced with Robin McKay’s incisive recuse of the peripatetic career artist, cynically (or desperately) flitting from location to location temporarily situating themselves and their practices in the gentrifying galleries that opportunistically inhabit the ‘edgier’ margins. Mutually building reputations, funding bids and prizes, ostensibly with and for the communities they temporarily inhabit but rarely seem to linger in, on these peregrinations from residency to residency they feather their portfolios, fleetingly attempting to ingratiate themselves with the local communities, mostly deployed as amused or bemused walk on local bit parts in a larger complex of funding tranches and impact studies. We have to ask ourselves; does this equate to any kind of real proximity or is just another ‘cheap holiday in other people’s misery’? As we ourselves haunt the outskirts of Europe on our monthly perambulations are we like the artists treading the circuit, everywhere and nowhere? Always situated but never present.

In the film ‘Robison in Ruins’ by Patrick Keiller we follow the traces of the flaneurish protagonist Robinson as he haunts the film, now even more removed than in Keiller’s earlier films to a mere phantomic host, invisible, excised yet not yet exorcised, mapping the edgelands, treading the margins, wandering the ruins. As we head out of the euro-tourism of Amsterdam, past the neat housing estates, motor way sidings, footballers house, steelworks, marshes and dunes of Heemskerk to stare at the livid green winter waves out in the shipping lanes of the North Sea we encounter the lost spaces at the edges of modern capital, so near yet so far form anything. As Christmas approaches its traditional to tell ghost stories and out here on the periphery we have time and space to think about something where there should be nothing and nothing where there should be something. The ghost after all is always however immaterial rooted in locality, to haunt is to linger, to loiter, to pester. Keiller offers us a route that is located yet un-situated; a way of considering and engaging with locality - critiquing it without recourse to bothering it. As we find ourselves in the sidings what can we find there?

All this is to disentangle the enmeshed contemporary discourse around “site-specifity” which will form the core of our discussions this DAI week. Robin Mackay’s text focuses on how the notion of ‘site’ changes and shifts in relation to art and it’s connections to capitalist circulation and proposes how we might update and reconfigure an understanding of site for current and evolving conditions. Along similar lines, our guest this month - Jeremy Lecomte – will be delving into his research around what he calls Site-Genericity in contrast to Site-Specifity, the following is a description of Jeremy Lecomte’s segment of this month’s programme:

Site Genericity. Some Reflections From the Field of Architecture 

Jeremy Lecomte's intervention will explore the ways in which we can still make sense, both theoretically and practically, of the notion of site, in times marked by the formation, worldwide, of an increasingly generic grid. How can the notion of site, generally mobilised to localise things and get concrete traction on issues that seem however beyond our reach can be approached once it has become clear that most these issues are determined by dynamics whose complexity and abstraction cannot be reduced to any local instance (as the contrast between the city and urbanisation sharply underlines). Drawing on his PhD about Lagos and modern urbanisation, as well as from recent collaborations with artists and architects, his presentation will notably revolve around the contention that, as Philippe Morel puts it, "it is impossible for humans, in a computational world, to work in any other way than conceptually". It may be time to move from the idea of site specificity to that of site genericity. 

Biography – Jeremy Lecomte:

Jeremy Lecomte is a researcher and theoretician working between political philosophy, art, architecture and urban studies. He has a PhD in Architecture (The University of Manchester, 2017), a Mphil in Cultural Studies (Goldsmiths, University of London, 2013), and a MA in Political Philosophy  (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, 2009). He lectures and conducts studios at the Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Versailles, where he is associate lecturer since 2014. Since 2017, he is also an invited lecturer at the l’École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris Malaquais, in the department Digital Knowledge. Jeremy Lecomte is also co-founder and co-director of Glass Bead, an art journal and a research platform dedicated to the relations between art and other domains of thought, and to their political ramifications, In parallel to his research and teaching activities, he collaborates regularly with artists and architects on various exhibition and building projects. 


Monday, 27 November, 7 – 9 pm (approx.)

  • Review our work to date, consider the days ahead and discuss the schedule
  • Screening of M.R James “Oh Whistle and I’ll come to Thee” and reading of related text by Mark Fisher and Andy Sharp, 'Bleak And Solemn... the hauntological landscapes of M.R. James', link:
  • Visiting the notion of ‘Ghost Stories’

Tuesday, 28 November, 10 am – 4 pm (Lunch break: 1-2 pm)

Jeremy Lecomte, Site Genericity. Some Reflections from the Field of Architecture 

Tuesday, 28 November, 4.30 pm – 9 pm (Dinner break within this timeframe)

Discussion of Robin Mackay’s ‘the Barker Topos’ and Film screening of Patrick Keiller’s ‘Robinson in Ruins’ followed by discussion around next day’s ORIENTATION ASSEMBLAGE EXERCISES

Wednesday, 29 November, 10 am to 1 pm

Documenting the peripheries Mapping the territories, charting the edgelands

 Site visits in Heemskerk (TBD) in relation to our ORIENTATION ASSEMBLAGE EXERCISES. Take photos and other forms of documentation at these sites and engage in discussions connecting these sites to methodologies and modes of thinking such as Site-Genericity (Lecomte), Plotting (Mackay), and the Hauntological.

Wednesday, 29 November, 2 – 9 pm

Split into two groups and develop two project proposals in connection to the sites. These proposals should be made into presentations for Thursday’s morning session.

Note: at 4.30 we will Skype with Diakron about December’s programme

Thursday, 30 November, 10 am – 1 pm

Documenting the peripheries Mapping the territories, charting the edgelands

  • In conclusion of our ORIENTATION ASSEMBLAGE EXERCISES sessions, each group will present their project as a gateway into a collective discussion around site.
  • Questions and discussion around planning and website

Seminar 1: 23-26 October 2017

Monday 23 October

19:00 – 21:00

Introductory presentation and discussion led by Luke Pendrell and Bassam El Baroni

Before we begin, how might we proceed? (Part I)

This session opens up a number of related issues, concerns, and methodological outlines in order to think about what it means to be involved in a participatory group project. It aims to explore a few key concepts and terms to establish a foundation for working either collaboratively or as a collective. Part of coming together as a group with shared aims might involve creating a common conceptual framework of concepts and terms, in other words a shared bespoke lexicon relevant to the conceptual and informational territories already taken to be important for the success of future research. For example what do we actually mean by the much bandied about term “neo liberal” and how exactly does it relate to us as artists or researchers in our different roles and contexts?

Another term that inevitably comes to the fore of the discussion is “Proximity Aesthetics”.  What do we mean by Proximity? Proximity is a measure of distance. Distance to or from what? Measured how? To define Proximity we perhaps need to bring it into relation with a host of other terms circulating within the vocabularic economy of the extended art sphere. These terms represent ways of trying to mark and understand the conditions of possibility for practices today. A term such as ‘complicity’ for example, what are thinkers and practitioners implying by making reference to complicity with an economic system such as neoliberalism and its growing technological field? Is proximity different to complicity, how so?  This connects to questions around being outside/inside the institutional landscape and its techics of exchange and knowledge production, how might our proximity converge with or diverge from such arguments. What is the aesthetical in this term denoting? All in all, “Proximity Aesthetics” can be considered a loose term deliberately aimed a little off the mark, metaphorically speaking its currently a low resolution image, the aim is to transform it into a HD image through our engagement.

This brings us to metaphor and how it is often deployed successfully as a creative strategy or communicative device, a way of bringing disparate concepts together to make new meaning. But metaphor can also obscure and obfuscate as well as reveal and illuminate. It can be an incisive tool to punch through the skin of meaning but it can also become a scab that must be picked. From this angle, we will look at some example scenarios in which imprecise metaphor can hinder or even transfigure our original intentions, how do we harness metaphor to the advantage of our nascent project? Thus, metaphor’s role in shaping the reasoning we apply to solving problems will be one aspect this introductory session will touch upon.

Tuesday 24 October

10:00 – 13:00

Before we begin, how might we proceed? (Part II)

In continuation this session will focus on the possibilities of developing an ‘ecology of organisations’ or institutions that would somehow counteract neoliberal capitalism. This is an idea that has gained considerable traction in the past few years, most clearly expressed in Nick Srnicek’s and Alex Williams’ book ‘Inventing the Future’. But it has also been challenged as somewhat unrealistic. Luke Pendrell will present a paper co-authored with James Trafford as a gateway into a group discussion around institutional ecologies. Such ecologies constitute interdependent systems of survival and perpetuation, but what are these ecologies which we refer to, the gallery and museum ‘system’, the academy? Funding councils? How does the neoliberal project intersect and transform these components of an ecological structure? Furthermore, we will look at curating and in particular its education as practices that give insight into parts of this ecology through a reading of Jean-Paul Martinon’s yet to be published short essay ‘Edging Disciplines’.

14:00 – 18:00

This will be a continuation of the topics, concerns and ideas sketched out in the morning session. Additionally, Luke Pendrell will begin to delve into the methods and models of producing an artist-led publication by looking at different examples of such publications from recent art and design history. At our end point we have stated we will collectively produce a publication. The concept of publication can appear simple but is now a broad and extensive one rich with complexity, context, nuance and expectation, taking in a huge range of formats, media and platforms. Even within the narrow range of print media it contains a complex array of options. As our discussion builds and our collective understanding and work accumulates one of the decisions we will need to make will be what is a publication? What purpose will it serve, where and for whom?

19:00 – 21:00

What is Flow?

The term ‘Flow’ has become synonymous with writing and theorization around art and its wider economy and ecology in neoliberal times. What makes this word so appealing to contemporary practice? Deleuze famously explained it as an “everyday, unqualified notion ... It can be a flow of words, a flow of ideas, a flow of shit, a flow of money". This session led by Bassam El Baroni will take a look at the uses of flow and its sister terms liquidity and fluidity as a way of tapping into broader concerns around financialisation and its presumed ability to cut across divides, borders, and cultures. We will think through a classic text on globalisation, Arjun Appadurai’s Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy - in which he advances the idea that there are basically five strands that contribute to the global exchange of ideas and information. He calls these “scapes” and identifies them as ethnoscapes, technoscapes, mediascapes, ideoscapes, and finanscapes. Can this categorization and description begin to outline a useful basic tool for us as we look to embark on our own research in relation to various interests and locales?

Wednesday 25 October

10:00 – 13:00 and 14:00 – 16:00

On the Financialisation of Social Impact

This session led by Bassam El Baroni will be a close reading of artist and theorist Emily Rosamond’s essay “Shared stakes, distributed investment: Socially engaged art and the financialization of social impact”. Through it, we will be introduced to important arguments and questions around the complex relation between socially engaged art practices and finacialisation, it is hoped that using this text as a vehicle to introduce many sophisticated arguments and concepts will help form a grounding for sessions to come.

16:00 – 18:00 and 19:00 – 21:00


Orientation Assemblages are the name we use for the segments built into our study group that allow for cognitive exercises  that take the form of quickly produced assemblages, mapping of concepts, power points, readings of texts, drawings on paper, short performances etc. The aim is to use this time to orient ourselves and our colleagues towards our research, develop bonds, and experiment with ideas and working together, this will provide an opportunity for feedback and further discussion.

As an introductory and preliminary exercise we will consider the concepts of position and trajectory. The concepts of proximity and ecology build from location and interaction, establishing the positions and trajectories of ourselves, our research and our practices, is a precursor to uncovering the broader network of contexts and influences that propel, deflect, influence and enmesh us conceptually, financially, practically, institutionally, and culturally.

Thursday 26 October

10:00 – 12:00

This session will be dedicated to feedback on the ‘Orientation Assemblages’ developed the previous day and will also include a discussion around preparatory tasks and texts for the November session. Moderated by Bassam El Baroni.

Text and Video Repository

The text and video repository is an accumulative collection of texts and online video links we will share and which all participants can add to as the study group proceeds. Texts and videos mentioned during presentations and texts/videos each individual comes across in relation to their specific research are collected under categories determined after deliberation. These are some of the texts used in our first COOP academy sessions in Cologne with suggested categories to get us going.

Note: Starting November DAI week, the Text and Video Repository will be shared through an online work space that will be set up soon as a platform for group communication in-between DAI weeks, more on this during our sessions in Cologne.


  • Paul Thibodeau and Lera Boroditsk, Metaphors We Think With: The Role of Metaphor in Reasoning

  • Benedict Singleton, Maximum Jailbreak

Neoliberalism and Education:

  • Luke Pendrell and James Trafford, Hardwired Hegemony: Art & Design After Neoliberalism
  • Suhail Malik and David Mabb, Art Teaching: Dialectics of Practice and Theory

  • Jean-Paul Martinon, Edging Disciplines (please do not share)

The Future / Post-Capitalism / Labour after Neoliberalism

Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future

Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society 1: The Future of Work – Introduction

Nathan Brown, Avoiding Communism: A Critique of Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ Inventing the Future


Emily Rosamond, Shared stakes, distributed investment: Socially engaged art and the financialization of social impact


Arjun Appadurai, Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy