Collection Collective: Template for a Future Model of Representation
Collection Collective, curated by Judit Angel, Vlad Morariu and Raluca Voinea at tranzit.sk in Bratislava, Slovakia, is a multifaceted project consisting of an exhibition, closed working group and a public seminar which together act as an invitation for establishing an art collection owned and run by artists and cultural producers themselves rather than by the existing public or private institutions. Provoked by the discontent over the current state of collections and collecting practices — from privileging large scale temporary exhibitions attracting high numbers of paying visitors over meaningful collection presentations, and the ambitions of the former colonial centres to remain in power over the image of the world through geographically expanding their collections, to the private collections functioning as relatively safe assets for speculative capital buried in the storages of international zones of harbours and airports exempted from taxation—the Collection Collective proposes an alternative model in which the artists and cultural workers themselves could safeguard, determine and benefit from a collectively owned and managed art collection. The exhibition is thus a serious proposal for establishing a collection of artworks functioning as a cooperative in which the artists and other cultural and administrative workers are co-owners and caretakers of a shared collection rather than employees. What such collection would look like, how it would be organised legally and practically, and what emancipatory potential beyond the existing collection models such collection could have, were some of the questions discussed in October in Bratislava.
The exhibition in the three rooms of tranzit.sk brought together art works which in various ways addressed the poetics and politics of collecting, categorisation, (self-)organisation and labour. As a literal and metaphorical cornerstone of the exhibition, visible from the street through the glass walls of the central room’s corner, could be seen the Private Collection (2005-2010) by Anetta Mona Chişa and Lucia Tkáčová. Consisting of objects appropriated by the artist duo from various galleries, the work plays with the readymade aesthetics of everyday objects withdrawn from their use while at the same time foregrounds subjectivity and chance as constitutive factors of collections, as opposed to the representation of the official narrative claimed by public collections. Similarly, in her work My Private Collection (1990-ongoing) artist Lia Perjovschi proposes an alternative art history based on associations and deviations from the sanctioned canon, while Vlad Basalici’s sculptural object Trampling Down Death by Death (2012) is also based on the subjective reworking of art history. Dan Mihaltianu’s Plaques tournantes (2010), referencing both turntables and the turning points in history, is a conceptual collection of music records from both sides of the Iron Curtain standing not only for music and the associated fashion but also for the changing cultural, political and social values. Questioning of the official history and its political bias is also characteristic of Martin Piaček’s works Sun of the Nation (2015) and Great grandfather’s War (2013), while Ilona Németh foregrounds in her Eight Men (2009-2012) a tragic family history conveyed as oral history of the past twenty-five years by three generations of women.
The interest in margins as rich with the potential for change has also motivated the Basket of Deplorables (2017) by Martina Růžičková and Max Lysáček,, referencing marginalised groups of the society such as the retired as a model group for the desired future under the conditions of the universal basic income. Labour, as an unavoidable part of the self-organised initiatives such as Collection Collective, was addressed both in its industrial and post-industrial condition. While Péter Szabó’s film Good Morning (2009-2010) documented the artist’s actions in Bucharest, Ploiesti and Sinaia in which confetti cannons welcomed the factory workers arriving to work in the morning, Jana Kapelová’s video Nylon Relations (2017) is a collection of accounts by the artist’s colleagues—women artists, curators and art historians working under precarious conditions in Slovakia. In line with the rigorous institutional critique throughout is also Martha Rosler’s video Museums Will Eat Your Lunch (2013) exposing the relations between the museums in the U.S.A., the interests of their private supporters, as well as their role in gentrification of the former working class neighbourhoods. The Francis Effect (2014-ongoing) by Tania Bruguera, whom with Rosler expanded the circle of artists from Central Eastern Europe, focuses on collecting signatures of the exhibition visitors in order to petition the Pope to grant citizenship of Vatican City to the undocumented migrants and refugees. Lastly, The And of Art IN and FOR new (2016-2017), titled after the eight most frequently used words in e-flux announcement titles, is an intervention by the Fokus Grupa in form of a stripe of text running throughout the whole gallery. Based on the keywords of the exhibition’s curatorial text queried in the entire corpus of e-flux’s disparate activities and further manipulated by rules set by the artists, the intervention, according to the artists, proposes a comparison of the Collection Collective and e-flux in their model of an artist-run collection and database of art writing, i.e. their material and immaterial production respectively.
Fokus Grupa, The And of Art IN and FOR new (2016-2017)Yet the exhibition’s main aim was not only to reflect on various models of collecting, archiving and history making, but more importantly to bring together artists and cultural workers in order to establish a new art collection co-owned and co-managed by the new collective. Although all works will after the exhibition be returned to the artists, the artists were invited to the exhibition with the intention of initiating a discussion of their future participation in this ‘collective collection.’ The actual discussion took place in the morning after the exhibition opening as a closed workshop in which the group shared their hopes and expectations as well as doubts and practical considerations. From the beginning, it seemed necessary to make clear that the act of contribution of one’s work into the collection was not a charitable act of donation but rather an investment, one’s share of the contribution when entering a cooperative. As such, the given work would thus become a collective property of the cooperative and all its members, which made some of the artists concerned about losing control over their work. Yet this issue was easily resolved when the artists realised that whenever their works enter public or private collections, they equally lose the control over the work, including the option of re-selling the work on the secondary market. Hence many questions arose in terms of what happens when an artist decides to leave the cooperative, whether they can withdraw their work. After a further discussion it seemed best to remunerate the artists in other ways. In other words, the works which enter the collection would remain in the collection, since necessarily some of them will over time increase in the market value more than others, and the possibility of withdrawal of the work from the collection by an artist in order to sell the work to another collector or institution would serve the tempting possibility for speculation.
In order to give the proposal for a collective collection a more concrete shape, the organisers invited accountant Andi Gavril with experience both in the art world as well as in a cooperative of beekeepers in Romania, lawyer Alena Kunicová with experience from the Czech association of artists and cultural workers Skutek, and architect Peter Lényi of the studio 2021 Architects. The invited experts grounded some of the premeditated as well as spontaneous ideas of the curators and artists in the legal and structural reality. Various suggestions on the organisation models could thus immediately be tested against the legal regulations and the spatial and economic restrictions of the potential storage facilities for the collection. Hence, although the organisers have from the very beginning been clear that they didn’t aim for a collection that would grow endlessly, the final number of participants became also a decisive factor for the form of organisation and thus the legal restrictions made the group to face certain decisions right from the start. Similarly, the transnational ambition of the collection was quickly met with the legal requirement for the cooperative to be registered in a particular country, although this doesn’t necessarily require the artworks to be concentrated in the given country. Housing of the collection also provoked a number of questions. While some preferred an open art depot which would allow researchers access to the works as well as to the collection as a whole, the investment into an architectural solution didn’t seem to be feasible in the initial stages of the project, resulting in the decision to initially keep the works with the artists in their studios or storage facilities although they would become a collective property of the cooperative. The collection could thus be assembled in various configurations at invitation of institutions that would temporarily host it. The spatial solution however reflected the legal regulations in terms of settling in one country which in turn opens a variety of questions about the advantages and disadvantages of various locations. While the land in the rural areas Romania would, for example, be relatively affordable, this could possibly disproportionately increase the transportation costs of the works when loaned for exhibitions. All in all, the group agreed that the most suitable form of organisation would be a cooperative and that the works would physically stay with the artists until other solutions could be found in the later stages of the collective collection.
Another area of negotiation was related to administrative labour around the collection and the mechanisms of collective decision making. As the labour should not be free, the organisers proposed a fund which would cover salaries for administrative positions as well as provide the members with a yearly stock revenue. The resources of the fund would come from the fees for exhibition loans as well as from various grants. Another proposal from the organisers suggested a model in which every time a work from the collection is loaned or a member of the collection collective is invited to present the collection at a symposium or other public programming of another institution, the fee would be split in half between the respective person and the cooperative. And although revolving of the responsibilities, e.g. application writing, was also considered, eventually the group has agreed on more stable positions based on the members’ existing skills rather than on perpetual re-skilling of the members in various fields of expertise. However, a small administrative board would be established for taking practical decisions, members of which would change every year, most probably on a lottery principle. More important decisions would be taken in unanimity rather than through voting, in part to avoid a party logic. Also, the founding members could nominate new members, which would have to be agreed on unanimously in order to avoid potential incompatibilities or conflicts. Although many issues remain a subject of further discussions, including the selection of the works which would enter the collection, in order to keep the momentum of the initial meeting, the founding members signed at the end of the workshop a declaration of establishing the collective collection, manifesting a collective will for the initiative.
The closed workshop was followed by a series of public presentations at the Kunsthalle Bratislava focusing on a variety of related issues. Valeria Graziano focused on the perils of self-organisation from the perspective of autonomist Marxism as well as contemporary feminism, while Dave Beech presented some of his ideas on art’s economic exceptionalism developed in his recent book Art and Value (2015). Curators Alenka Gregorič and Mira Keratová presented some of their curatorial projects relevant to the topic of collections, while the author of this article explored the potential of the Collection Collective for establishing a global art collection outside of the former colonial centres which could bring works of artists from Central Eastern Europe in relation to other contexts.
The motivations of the Collection Collective are both idealistic and pragmatic. The initiators of the project see the cooperative model of a collection not only as an alternative to the discontents of the current modes of public and private collecting practices, but also a pragmatic, collective means of renegotiating our positions within the existing system. The collection could thus be understood as a tool, not least for negotiating the conditions of labour as well as influence in the field of contemporary art ever more dominated by the interests of the private collectors or directors of large public institutions acting as advisors to the former, as the case of Beatrix Ruf using her position the Stedelijk Museum to advance her advising services to collectors has recently shown. At the same time, the Collection Collective (or the Collective Collection) is also an opportunity to move beyond the existing collecting models and, in words of the initiators, “to rethink the relationship between self-interest and collective goal, between individual addiction and group strategy, between private taste and collective socio-political tactic and between insular neurosis and therapeutic friendship.” Equally importantly, it is also a chance to build on the personal relations among artists and various other agents of the art world beyond the model of collections of national art or the emerging global canon monopolised by the neoliberal and neo-colonial mega-institutions located in the centres of the former colonial empires. The discussions in Bratislava were thus just the first step in a long process which will hopefully continue next year in Bucharest. The hope is that once clearly formulated, the model could become a template for similar initiatives around the world expanding the binary of the public and private with the option of a cooperative in which the collection equally serves the public and the artists and art workers.
Collection Collective: Template for a Future Model of Representation
On view October 10 – November 18, 2017 at tranzit.sk, Bratislava, Slovakia
Participating artists: Vlad Basalici, Tania Bruguera, Fokus Grupa, Jana Kapelová, Dan Mihaltianu, Anetta Mona Chişa & Lucia Tkáčová, Ilona Németh, Lia Perjovschi, Martin Piaček, Martha Rosler, Martina Růžičková & Max Lysáček, Péter Szabó
Further contributions: Andi Gavril, Alena Kunicová, Peter Lényi, Dan Perjovschi, Alexandra Pirici
Curated by: Judit Angel, Vlad Morariu, Raluca Voinea.
All images courtesy of tranzit.sk