• Tenq, Artists’ workshop, Collective curating, Process, Social engagement

  • Feb. 14, 2014

    Today is about the notes of my reading on curator and publisher, Clémentine Deliss’ curatorial practice with Tenq between 1992 and 2002.

    In her essay entitled “Free fall – Freeze frame: Africa, Exhibitions, Artists” [in Thinking about exhibitions, edited by Reesa Greeberg, Bruce W. Ferguson and Sandy Nairne, first published 1996 by Routledge, 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE], Deliss related the first workshop on the Triangle model held in West Africa, Tenq.

    About Tenq [Flickr, “Tenq | Workshop | Senegal | 1994”]:

    “Tenq was the first workshop on the Triangle model held in West Africa. It took place at the Lycée Cheikh Oumar Fontiyou in Saint Louis, Senegal. 25 artists from 10 African countries and Britain participated. It was the first event of africa95, a year-long festival celebrating African arts in the UK and Africa. To launch the festival with Tenq on African soil was significant for the success of the festival, establishing long-term links for the benefit of artists between the UK and particularly francophone Africa.

    Tenq, meaning ‘articulation/joint’ in Wolof, the most commonly spoken language in Senegal, was organised by a group of Senegalese artists led by El Hadji Sy, co-ordinated by Anna Kindersley with help from Clémentine Deliss and Robert Loder.”

    About the workshop:

    “The workshop offered a rare opportunity for the artists in Senegal to share ideas, time and space and learn from each other. At the end of the two week workshops, the public was invited to view the studios and the work, both finished and in progress, and to meet the artists. The major sponsors were CBAO, Maersk, SAEC and the British Council, Dakar.” [Flickr, “Tenq | Workshop | Senegal | 1994”]

    In “Freefall – Freeze frame: Africa, Exhibitions, Artists” [Thinking about exhibitions], Delisse used one and a half pages to describe how the workshop has been organised [p286-p288], accompanied by the following comments on the form of workshop as a collective curatorial practice:

    “Within this new dramaturgy, the artists’ workshop, which since the late seventies had been viewed with caution by artists and critics alike, is now regaining credibility as an important meeting ground in which experimentation and short-term release from the economic machinery of the dominant artworld and exhibition-making can be achieved. Against expectations the workshop model becomes relevant because it re-engages the artist directly in the process of framing the experience and underlines the limitations set up by a temporary site, a ‘text’ rather a ‘work’, a circulation of experiences beyond the clean white walls of the curated exhibition.” (p286-292)

    “This is clearly related to a more widespread concern with the relationship between the artist, the work produced and the audience to whom it is directed. For whom are exhibitions intended, to whom do they speak and for whom are we curating today? Where does the artist enter into this discussion, and how far can there be a flexibility within the discrete sites of making, showing and talking about art? Is an exhibition also a workshop, and if so for whom?”

    The above quoted paragraphs only registered the experience of the artists working on the workshop. In her Abstract for “Artist as Curator: Collaborative Practices” Symposium, “Artists as Model Engineers: Laboratoire Agit’Art, Tenq and Huit Facettes in Dakar in the 1990s”, Deliss mentioned her own experience working as curator with the three most important art collectives in South Africa:

    “Between 1992 and 2002, curator and publisher Clementine Deliss worked closely with artists lssa Samb (Joe Ouakam) and El Sy (El Hadji Sy), as well as various members of the Dakar-based art collectives Laboratoire Agit’Art, Tenq and Huit Facettes. Together they co-curated exhibitions, organised international workshops and performed at conferences in Dakar, St. Louis du Sénégal, London, Kassel, Malmö and San Sebastian. Characterised by a methodology of social engagement and an acute understanding of ‘communicational abstinence’, their collective actions involved social and infrastructural interventions such as inhabiting a Chinese migrant workers’ settlement in Dakar, initiating an international artistled workshop in the earliest French colonial grammar school in West Africa, and working between urban and rural contexts. Deliss published the pilot issue of the artists’ and writers’ organ Metronome in Dakar in 1997, which was presented at the 100 Days of documenta X and included manifestos by the Laboratoire Agit’Art and Factual Nonsense (London), as well as translations of Edouard Glissant and interviews with Mark Sealy (Autograph, London), Penny Siopis (Johannesburg) and Paul Virilio (Paris). Further publications of lssa Samb’s writings appear in Metronome no.1 (London, 1997). no.3 (1998, Kunsthalle Basel) and no.7 (2001, Scandinavia). A dialogue between Kan-Si (Huit Facettes), Gardar Eide Einarsson and Superflex is published in Metronome no.4-5-6 (Frankfurt a. M.). In her presentation, Deliss will show visual documents from this period and discuss some of the lead concepts that characterised this collaborative practice.” [Clémentine Deliss, abstract, “Artists as Model Engineers: Laboratoire Agit’Art, Tenq and Huit Facettes in Dakar in the 1990s,” After all | Online | Journal | Books | Events]

    So as we can see, Deliss as an independent curator, researcher and publisher at the time, her role in this artist led workshop exhibition was more a publisher than a curator. Does it tell more or less the passivity/limitation of curators’ engagement in such a process based project curated by the artists themselves? Deliss could involve in the project as a curator only in its extended part hosted by Whitechapel Art Gallery, as is described in the following text:

    “After Tenq, El Hadji Sy, the prime mover of the workshop, curated part of an africa95 exhibition co-ordinated by Deliss, ‘Seven Stories about African Art’ held at Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 1995. An important outcome of Tenq was that Yacouba Touré later developed a similar international workshop in Ivory Coast.” [Flickr, “Tenq | Workshop | Senegal | 1994”]

    My after reading reflection regarding my own project, Curating Process

    – The position of the artists in Curating Process

    A time-based workshop curated collectively by the artists is the contrast of the regular exhibitions where the artists are entirely absent. Here, by exhibiting a series of “customised” art creating processes, the artists are omnipresent, and interact with the public switched their role from a “Myth” to a real person.

    – The breaking of the white cubes exhibitions

    Such an exhibition project – a series of time-based processes produced by the artists in front of the public – are not shown at the moment of their finalisation but in the process of the production, which is against the principal, also the definition of the term of “exhibition” in its most conventional sense.

    – The role of the curators

    The curators in such an exhibition combined by a series of workshops, loose their autonomy, the single person domination, become a project manager, a coordinator, a facilities’ arranger of the artists, or in the best case, a publisher or an alternative promoter of the project. They are no more the ones to “direct” the show, but the ones to “provide” the context where the show may have more ease to happen. The directors of the show are the artists themselves.

    – The relation and interaction between such an exhibition and the social environment

    “Characterised by a methodology of social engagement and an acute understanding of ‘communicational abstinence’, their collective actions involved social and infrastructural interventions such as inhabiting a Chinese migrant workers’ settlement in Dakar, initiating an international artist led workshop in the earliest French colonial grammar school in West Africa, and working between urban and rural contexts.” [Clémentine Deliss, abstract, “Artists as Model Engineers: Laboratoire Agit’Art, Tenq and Huit Facettes in Dakar in the 1990s,” After all | Online | Journal | Books | Events]

    Produced with a strong social engagement as a strategy, within such a complex social environment, Tenq workshop discussed not only the topic of curatorial methodology, the exhibition models, and the intercommunication between the participating artists, but also, and in particular the influence that effects every single element in the workshop exhibition to the society where the artists were living.

    Can my own project Curating Process only focus on the research of aesthetics and the meaning of art, the exhibition models, and the curatorial methodology? What do I want to deliver as message by setting up such an exhibition? What’s its engagement to the contemporary society? What’s its interaction with and influence on our society? Does it contribute the artists’ understanding on their community, on each of them, or on the broader world they are living today?

    Clementine Deliss raised the same issue in her essay, by questioning the  meaning of the exhibitions related to food industry vis-a-vis of the world that does not have enough to eat yet:

    “In contrast with the post-modernist tendencies of the last fifteen years, the active presence of the artist as a key agent in this new scenario is becoming unavoidable. Such that whilst Rirkit Tiraanija, the Laotian artist, cooks curries in galleries in New York and London and offers suitcases of American bacon-yoghurt crisps to the Warsaw artworld, the American critic Dan Cameron (who once pushed Steinbach and Koons) now asks:

    ‘What does it mean that art-culture continues to focus our attention on the display of exotic objects in near empty rooms when most of the world does not have enough to eat? … To what extent does the art community’s discourse of values and meanings function as a mere shield, protecting against the realization that we have constructed a microcosm that keeps itself arrogantly positioned beyond the issues of the general populace?’” [Thinking about exhibitions, p285]

    What does it mean that I set up an art project researching the exhibition models and curatorial methodology in art and technology without considering the big social environment and the political system that contain it? Would it make more sense if I consider exploring the meaning of my project at a deeper level than a pure study on art itself? What’s the meaning of art if we do not try to understand it within the social and political context we are living at daily basis?