Polly Wright: From Artist Placement Group to Incidental Futures; Curatorial programming through archival currents

20 minute presentation for AEROPONIC ACTS  - growing roots in air, DAI's 3 day marathon of lecture-perfomance acts, May 2019.

Incidental Futures is a public research programme organized through the Incidental Unit, the third iteration of the Artist Placement Group, that seeks to reignite and enrich debate around the role of the artist in contemporary society. “Incidental” refers to what Barbara Steveni, founding member of the Artist Placement Group, identifies as the ‘not knowing’ experienced by an individual who enters an unfamiliar context or chooses to critically examine their own milieu. The Incidental Unit is bound together by relations, knowledge, experience and a record of activity that reflects its socially-engaged nature. Through reflections on programming Incidental Futures, this presentation considers a personal curatorial approach applied to a living archive.

Rachel O’Reilly, Ghalya Saadawi, Laura Harris and Antonia Majaca responded to the question:

What could happen through Incidental Futures?

Report by Ayesha Hameed:

Wright provides a background to Incidental Futures – a public research programme organized through the Incidental Unit, the third iteration of the Artist Placement Group (APG), which seeks to reignite and enrich debate around the role of the artist in contemporary society. She uses her appointment to this programme to consider how the artist as ‘incidental person’ takes a third position outside themselves to disrupt spaces. In the 1970s, APG’s spaces were defined neither by object nor outcome. The presentation describes the pitfalls of their Broadmoor Community Study, a placement in which a mistreatment of patients at the high-security psychiatric institution caused outcry and incurred the criticism of, among others, Gustav Metzger and ultimately had its funding ultimately cut. The current iteration of APG considers how the archive can be re-examined in advance, and the role of artist, care and communal decision-making in that process. 

Rachel O’Reilly extended Wright’s question of the incidental artist to the incidental curator. ‘How does one do the work without doing the work that the corporate state should be doing?’ O’Reilly asked. She postulated that the archive was a good place to start, and noted the significance of people’s practices ruined by their engagement with this project, seeking more instability around that subject. She suggested the artist invite Left-wing, grassroots political organization Momentum to a meeting and think about the relation to labour and the UK. O’Reilly also brought up the question around locations of institutions, given freelance artists work on these projects from home.

Laura Harris noted that if the project is committed to the idea of not knowing, then we don’t know. She asked: ‘Who is the artist, what is their practice? What could be art beyond professionalization outside of an industrialized context?’ One possibility she offered was to expand the notion of artist outside of its context. And picking up on O’Reilly’s observations on location, she wondered how to intervene in the work context if it isn’t a place anymore.

For Antonia Majaca, the presentation caused her to wonder how we can we remain porous yet succinct in the art field with respect to function and what art is. This proposition elicited questions: ‘What kind of artistic intelligence is used here in exploring what influences art? Is it used in education but separated from art practice?’ In advocating that artists be placed in educational environments to train those in the tech sector, Majaca brought up a project in which an artist placed in such a setting did nothing but sit and think, which she said was not about a refusal to work. 

Ghalya Saadawi addressed the larger subject of Wright’s thesis that is not about the incidental, but which explores industry and workers. Saadawi asked: ‘What would a third position be today? Is this question necessary?’ When artists are not exceptional to the institution, she continued, and institutional critique is gone, what are the possibilities for action? She suggested expanding the role of the programmer, as to be porous and succinct is not enough.