A busy week, reciprocity wise.

Been reading Grant H Kester’s “Conversation Pieces: The Role of Dialogue in Socially Engaged Art” (downloadable pdf: www.grantkester.net/…/Conversation+Pieces_+The+Role+of+Dialogue+in+Socially-Engaged+Art.pdf) in which he talks of the artist’s role in participatory art of ‘creative orchestration’ – which seems like a good description of what I’m aiming to do with this project. I really like how he writes and plan to seek out more of his writing.

I’ve also been investigating the work of US artist and writer Suzanne Lacy (http://www.suzannelacy.com/) who works with performance, collaboration and activism. She developed the idea of ‘new genre’ public art in her essay collection ‘Mapping the terrain: new genre public art’, about the impact of performance art in public spaces. An early seminal project includes “Three Weeks in May”(1977), which was an event which combined a performance piece on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall with self-defence classes for women in an attempt to highlight sexual violence against women.Lacy revisited the theme of rape for a commissioned work for last year’s Liverpool Biennial:

“As part of Liverpool Biennial, Lacy extends her project to raise awareness and debate around the problem of rape and domestic violence. At the Cunard, she will present a screening of Storying Rape, a performative conversation that took place between seven civic and cultural leaders at the top of Los Angeles City Hall. Shaped by literary theory, this conversation focused on how the narrative of rape is presented in various public spheres – and how re-framing this narrative might improve public understanding and lessen this form of against women. A second room presents a social media campaign that will be launched during the Biennial, accompanied by a series of conversations about rape and domestic violence that will take place around the city including at Metal. Young people, politicians and community leaders will discuss a subject that for many remains taboo.”


Wish I had been able to experience this, but my Liverpool trip was taken up with the ‘Inhospitable’ exhibition I was involved in as part of the Liverpool Independents. Ach well, you can’t do everything can you.

I also met up with Bradford-based anthropologist and oral historian Irna Qureshi to talk to her about reciprocity in her practice. I have been interested in Irna’s work for some time and finding out about her work particularly with the Muslim community in Pakistan and in the UK was fascinating. A illuminating (and very entertaining) 2 hours flew by as she told me about projects past and present. It was a joy, just to talk and discover. There’s not enough space here, so I plan to transcribe the interview and publish it in Issue 2 of my ‘Reciprocity’ zine, hopefully published in early March.

I’ve started work on the collaborative e-zine I’m doing with artist and a-n blogger Sophie Cullinan documenting our daily exchanges of words and images during my Generosity Advent Calendar in December last year. It’s going to be fun (and maybe a bit logistically challenging) to collaborate on a zine via email, but its as much about learning about the process as the finished publication and I’m really looking forward to working with Sophie on it.

And finally, thinking about a project for PANDEMIC Leeds, a weekend event ‘linking art, performance and talks to the state of capitalism, economies and society’ happening 26th/27th April, http://pandemicleeds.wix.com/pandemic. Seems an apt opportunity for this project, need to sort out a proposal before the deadline 31st Jan.

With all this going on I haven’t even got near my new book purchase ‘Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society in The Age of Transition’ by Charles Eisenstein (as recommended by Alinah Azadeh in her cracking a-n blog ‘Burning The Books’ www.a-n.co.uk/p/2831785/.

Well, maybe the weekend.

Happy Friday, everyone.


Letterpress anarchist journal The Cunningham Amendment feeds my soul. It is a transfusion of subversion, beauty and wit so perfect it makes me want to weep with joy.

This, from the latest edition, which I received through the post the other week

“All Anacrisps (sic) strive to practice a simple kindness to Others. Other is respected because the Other is Other. Periods of time are spent in voluntary simplicity in order that a return to the non-fool world can be made. During this time we stress frugal consumption, ecological awareness and periods of solitude…

We are crazy as loons to take this world seriously. The real joke is all around us. If you are not careful you can end up spending years struggling to achieve illusions you can never obtain, and on a planet that could never support the same craved for life-styles. The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you are still a rat. Watch out! Be Prepared! If you don’t condition your soul positively there are others who will do it for you negatively”

The content and asethetic of this publication resonate with me so much. I’m off to investigate anarchism.


Aaron Swartz’s Guerilla Open Access Manifesto

“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?”

Aaron Swartz, July 2008, Eremo, Italy http://pastebin.com/cefxMVAy

Aaron Swartz was an American computer programmer, writer, archivist, political organizer. On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested in connection with systematic downloading of academic journal articles from JSTOR, which became the subject of a federal investigation. Swartz disliked the fact that JSTOR charged to access articles but, rather than compensating the authors, JSTOR compensated publishers instead. JSTOR’s fees limited access to works produced by America’s colleges and universities. On January 11, 2013, Swartz was found dead in his Crown Heights, Brooklyn, apartment, where he had apparently hanged himself.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Swartz


I have realised over the past week, that this in not a project ‘about’ generosity, sincerity and gift. It is a project about working with people, and an investigation into the potential for a social practice.

I conceived the project initially as a fact- finding mission into theories and philosophies of generosity gift and sincerity but it hasn’t worked out like that so far.

In my first post I stated

“I plan to look at a wide range of material, from philosophical, theoretical and political texts to art and non art practices and projects which investigate these ideas”
Later in the post I gave myself a reading list (‘Lionel Trilling, Derrida, Lewis Hyde, Simone Weil’) seeing this as the start of a huge pile of reading. I imagined a significant part of the project to involve a extensive course of self study involving these and other writers and texts.

Although I have been doing a lot of reading much of the project so far has involved the participation of others. As I noted in Issue 1 of my zine ‘Reciprocity’ published in November of last year:
“Putting this zine together, I notice that so far my research has involved a lot of conversations and exchanges with other people about knowledge and ideas, opinions and practices, which
seems an apt starting point for a project about reciprocity”

I then wrote (almost apologetically)
“I would imagine Issue 2 might contain more analysis of the texts I’ve been reading” I remember feeling that for ‘Reciprocity’ to be legitimately called a ‘research’ project, it should have lots of academic and theoretical content.

I now feel my tentative comment of post #25 that ‘an open ended process of building up a series of conversations and relationships.. ‘Maybe this ..is ‘the work’ gathering certainty. Yes. The conversations and exchanges are the work.

This seems a fairly obvious conclusion to have reached, given that much of my art activity since I began practicing has been collaborative and has involved working with people – from DIY cultural activity (artist collaboration popup 2005-9, Bradford zine collective Loosely Bound, founded in 2011) to creative collaborations with visual artists musicians and writers, to curatorial projects, to working on publicly funded community art projects. And before that, 10 years working in the community, voluntary and social care sectors in Glasgow.

Am I then a ‘socially engaged artist’?

I approach terms like ‘socially engaged’ and ‘participation’ with some caution and have resisted using them to describe my own work. Their ubiquity in describing a wide range of practices including those occurring within state and market contexts, potentially dilute and appropriate genuinely transformative meanings and applications.

“.. they have, relatively recently, become over-used bywords for a type of art practice that has very little to do with actual public engagement and that falls far short of true social change… Too many times artistic projects become wrapped up in words and phrases such as ‘collective action’, ‘participation’ and ‘social change’ without actually demanding much from the participant apart from to create artwork for the artists own practice”
Ben Jones ‘Rant 49: The Art of Social Change’ Axis Webzine http://www.axisweb.org/dlForum.aspx?ESSAYID=18127

And this from the spendidly splenetic Stewart Home:

“Exemplars of ‘relational aesthetics’ like Rirkrit Tiravanija doling out food to rich collectors and dealers at art fairs and this being treated as an aesthetic development is just a joke. Twenty years before Tiravanija attempted anything like this, when Pete Horobin was creating situations in which different kinds of people could talk and eat as works of art, he picked on marginal spaces like The Basement in Newcastle and dragged people in off the street. Whatever criticisms one might make of Horobin’s art radicalism, he was at least sincere. Tiravanija’s work looks remarkably like a recuperation of Horobin’s earlier interventions since he re-enacts these pieces at swanky biennials, which defuses their potentially radical content. “


If in doubt, compile another reading list:

“Transgression, Cooperation and Criticality in Socially Engaged Art Practice” By Andy Abbott http://andyabbott.co.uk/

“Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics” Claire Bishop

“A dialogical Aesthetics: A Critical Framework for Littoral Art” Grant Kester

“Include Me Out” Dave Beech http://visualintosocial.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/i…

See you on the other side!

1 Comment