Introduction | Hosting the Other
In the world of art, hospitality usually manifests itself along the axes of institution–curator–artist or institution–viewer. Curators invite artists to collaborate and create the conditions for them to present their works; institutions invite viewers to visit exhibitions. Today, museums are expected to be approachable, viewer-friendly, and alert to their needs, in a word – hospitable. The emphasis is on facilitating contact with a work of art – making it accessible. However, the modus operandi of residency programs, in which artists are welcomed to creative sojourns often lasting for months, reverses that order. Artist residencies are not structured toward artistic work but rather – toward direct contact with the artist – subtle, in-depth work. That makes all the difference. Hospitality becomes a daily task, an ongoing practice that requires a hearty openness to other people’s needs. In effect, the result is similar to ordinary human hospitality – welcoming a visitor to your own house, introducing them to your world, and finding them accommodation. Many residency programs rely on building up interpersonal relationships and trying to provide appropriate conditions for creative work in order to enable artists from any culture or corner of the world to feel at ease in the new environment.
Over the last four decades, artistic residencies have become a phenomenon that – as regards the creativity of its strategies and diversity of formats – can rival the flagship examples of the sharing economy such as Airbnb, Workaway, or Facebook. Despite partial commercialization, residencies have preserved their avant-garde postulate of mobility, enhancing the notion of artistic geography in terms of simply moving around. They are one of the least restrained forms of communication through art. Nevertheless – partly due to their ephemerality and partly to their occasional profit-oriented structure – they are often accused of creating the illusion of artistic inclusivity and replicating the model of uneven distribution in art.
The current issue of Obieg – themed on hospitality – draws on the experiences of the curatorial practice of residency programs at Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art. Launched in 2004, it is the longest continuously-running such scheme in Poland, oriented towards long-term activity on the microscale: everyday practice of hospitality, generating micro-history in the city and exploring how one can remain hospitable in today’s reality where the idea of multiculturalism is being questioned, and the political situation that has arisen out of the migration crisis and the new geopolitical divisions have led to an intensification of scaremongering and nationalism. On the macroscale, the concept of hospitality involves a shift in our perception so that we view ourselves as guests on a planet that we do not look after well enough – as is evident from, to take just one example, the current crisis in waste management. Does art have at its disposal the tools to make it possible to take a stand on this matter?
In this issue, we deal with two main themes. The first is related to the curatorial seminar Re-Directing: East, which has been in development at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art since 2013. In 2018, it posed important questions about hospitality in curatorial, activist, and artistic practices. Are such practices – or are they yet to become – a tool for overcoming institutional limitations and changing unfavorable legal regulations? Can hospitality develop counter to the norms imposed by politics? Six participants of Re-Directing: East – curators and cultural animators from different parts of the world, including Brazil, Estonia, Canada, and Britain – look at the issue taking into account local contexts. The second theme is conducted taking into account the experience of the residency programs. We invited an artistic group to address the issue of hospitality in a visual or literary essay. The Warsaw-based collective Kem, which predominantly works with feminist and queer themes, has submitted the Poem to a Marching Nationalist by its Berlin-based friend, the poet Ezra Green. Karolina Ferenc has created an animation showing hospitality as a phenomenon inscribed in our lives from the moment of conception and subsequent colonization of the newborn baby by the mother’s bacteria that protect and prepare the child for life in the outside world.
The issue opens with translations of two, now classic, texts on hospitality analyzed from the perspective of contemporary art. In the first of these, the Mexican artist Marcio García Torres spins the fascinating story of an encounter between the world-famous, legendary curator Harald Szeemann and the artist Alighiero Boetti when working on dOCUMENTA (13). Torres demonstrates how multifaceted and perverse the relationship between the guest and the host, the artist and the curator can be. In turn, in Not an Angel but a Housewife: On Virginia Woolf and the Politics of Hospitality, Jan Verwoert raises the issue of the invisibility of the logistical work carried out behind the scenes of major artistic events in art institutions. In the context of programs focused on subtle, in-depth work directly with artists, often not geared toward spectacular effects, this theme is particularly important. It recurs in the texts by residency program curators Ika Sienkiewicz-Nowacka and Marianna Dobkowska, who – through telling the story of such initiatives in U–jazdowski – reveal the meaning of hospitality and answer the question as to why mobility is necessary and what it looks like from the perspective of Warsaw.
Many of the authors that we have invited to work on this issue subject the topic of hospitality to robust critique. They take on board the fact that today being hospitable can be an uphill struggle. Sandi Hilal, Denis Maksimow, and Kadija de Paula are all convinced that this is a concept in deep crisis. In the context of Palestine, Hilal asks whether we have the right to be hospitable when we have had our status as host removed. Denis Maksimov delves into the Greek etymology of the word “hospitality” and what it meant in antiquity in order to demonstrate the extent to which contemporary neoliberalism has warped the original concept. To a degree, Kadija de Paula continues the theme by applying the tools of institutional criticism to the very situation of participation in the seminar Re–Directing: East.
Luiza Proença, Eliel Jones, and Airi Triisberg have opted for a different approach, drawing on positive examples of the politics of hospitality in practice. For Luiza Proença, the designs for the Museum of Art in São Paulo by the renowned Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, as well as her spatial arrangement of the first Congress of Psychodrama (1980) implement the concept of openness, doing away with institutionalized hierarchism and relationship patterns. Through the prism of works by Karol Radziszewski and Alex Baczyński-Jenkins, Eliel Jones views intimate practices, including cruising as an example of queer hospitality. Talking to the artists Marina Napruszkina, who co-founded the Neue Nachbarschaft in Berlin, and Riikka Theresą Innanen, an activist in the Right to Live movement in Helsinki, Airi Triisberg asks how one can put one’s own skills to good use so as to help migrants in a realistic way.
The texts in this issue of Obieg inspire the reflection that we remain detached and avoid practicing hospitality – at least its “radical” form as advocated by Jacques Derrida, which still seems unattainable. Although some artistic residencies and other initiatives do, to an extent, put into practice its precepts, this takes place on the microscale and within the confines of class divisions. We will not engage in sterile and pointless moralizing on the present state of affairs; at the same time, we are aware of both the limitations of the formulas of residency programs but also the opportunities that they certainly provide. In this spirit, we bring you the current issue of Obieg.
The concept of this issue: Marianna Dobkowska, Krzysztof Gutfrański, Anna Ptak, Ika Sienkiewicz-Nowacka, Agnieszka Sosnowska
Translated from Polish by Anda MacBride
Agnieszka Sosnowska is a researcher and curator at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. She teaches in the Institute of Polish Culture (University of Warsaw), where she defended her PhD dissertation. She’s interested in art practices at the intersection of visual and performing arts, as well as modern theories of theater, performativity, and ephemerality. Selected curatorial work includes A Room and a Half an exhibition by Laura Lima at the Ujazdowski Castle CCA, the Let’s Dance exhibition and performance project in the Art Station Foundation by Grażyna Kulczyk, Poznań (co-curated with Joanna Leśnierowska and Tomasz Plata, 2015); Vanishing Point exhibition in Ausstellungsraum Klingental, Basel (2014); the Polish-Swiss exhibition project Learning from Warsaw (co-curated with Nele Dechmann and Nico Ruffo, 2014) in Museum Baerengasse, Zurich.
*Cover photo: Mosaic detail from a English-Hungarian Primary School in Budapest. Construction: 1905-06. Architect: Ármin Hegedüs. Mosaics: Miksa Róth. Photo: Nicoleta Moise