When we speak about art, we often use the word »practice« as a multipurpose term to cover the thinking, the making, the product: all the processes that build towards something such as an exhibition or a clearly defined project. But what about the moments that occur in between, not necessarily linked to a finished piece? Where do »non-artistic« tasks fall in the realm of this all encompassing »practice,« and how do our actions influence or become part of our artistic work? A discussion between Katherine Kennedy and Maj Hasager:
I began my exchange with Maj by introducing the Fresh Milk Art Platform, a Barbadian cultural arts centre and residency programme, and ARC Magazine of contemporary Caribbean art, the two spaces I work for; speaking about these organizations has become almost second nature to me.
It was when Maj asked about my own art »practice« that I suddenly felt unsure…I wondered, as I showed her my artist website, is this reaction backwards? The balance between making work and my other roles is something I continue to struggle with, and there are a number of doubts that arise when I confront it; am I still an artist? Will I produce work again? Have I given up my »practice«? I’m not unique in these crises … these are common questions faced by many artists whose lives teeter between other jobs and responsibilities.
Maj and I spoke about these anxieties, which had interesting associations to the MA programme she leads at Malmö Art Academy, Sweden, called Critical & Pedagogical Studies. This degree crosses the supposed boundaries between art, theory, and pedagogy, framing relationships between production, teaching, administration and curatorship as »integrated practice,« rather than distinct disciplines. While the stretch between one actual creation to the next may be long, that doesn’t negate the importance of what happens in those gaps, or the larger impact of knowledge transfer to personal and public creative growth.
I could already see how the importance of circulating information and operating in intermediary ways was applicable to the work of Fresh Milk and ARC; the foundations we are trying to lay for contemporary art in the Caribbean can very much be read as »social practice«, and affect the wider context I work within, along with my individual outlook. We spoke about whether there was a chance to marry this social »practice« with my visual one; the interconnectivity of art and life means that things are rarely as separate or stagnant as they may seem, and dormant seeds of production may just need the opportunity to flourish. We were both in agreement that Solitude can be considered fertile soil, with the freedom afforded to map out and nourish these connections.
Maj’s personal »practice« also exemplifies hybridity. In addition to her academic pursuits, she negotiates delineations between history/lived reality; archive/interpretation; geopolitical North/South; utopia/dystopia. She took me through some of her multimedia work, which is heavily driven by communities and their geographical and socio-political positions in the environments they inhabit. Displacement is a common theme in her »practice;« she has conducted socially charged projects where she speaks and works with immigrant or underrepresented populations, such as the Filipino community in Italy, or documenting the perspective of Polish women during the solidarity movements of the ’70s and ’80s. The space she explores is a limbo of sorts; neither dwelling explicitly on the past nor idolizing the future, but the somehow honing in on the forgotten present, and how these communities function – or »practice« – in daily life, which inherently retains the weight of history and the possibility of tomorrow.
Relational »practice« is the core of her work, taking into account and being organically informed the multiple cultures she encounters. The drastically different points of view between herself and the societies she engages are not lost on her; she acknowledges that she is coming from a position of privilege, and does not try to overshadow the voice of the community. As a citizen of an island that is often defined from the outside rather than within, I appreciated this concession, and the genuine interest Maj takes in authenticity when treading this fine, complex line. For example, in her work Decembers – performing a past (2013) there is no translation from Polish of the exchange between women of a certain generation sharing their stories – this is not done to exclude viewers, but to allow them to enter the moment and feel the dynamic without being distracted by divisive constructs such as language:
Spilled in the language’s veins
A militant regards
When will words be
A tool for something other
– Thom Donovan
This excerpt is taken from a poem by American poet Thom Donovan, whose work Maj used in a recent project that she directed and was editing while at Solitude. A departure from the usual way in which she works, the piece titled Bifurcating Futures is more abstract; it features a performance by a contemporary dancer interspersed with moving shots of an empty city and stanzas from Donovan’s poem, all overlaid with a haunting track of urban sounds, warped into a futuristic, ominous refrain that echoes the dystopic landscape. The dancer, deliberately chosen for the experience and maturity her body brought to the role, performs a series of gestures in the space, always inaudible but never truly silent. The piece straddles new media and documentary filmmaking, challenging Maj’s usual »practice«, but still referencing themes such as feminism, futurism, and creating a platform for the unheard.
What remained with me after our meeting is that we have the artistic license to define »practice« as we see fit; we can use residencies as creative incubators for our work, but »practice« comes from lived experience. Even if not specifically deemed »social practice,« it still absorbs our thoughts, actions and interactions with others, and in the end, cannot be predicted, relegated or compartmentalized – only manifested, one way or another, in the direction we channel it.