Can you tell us about AFA and the practice of Advising and Participating Artists?
The Artists for Artists Masterclass is an open pedagogical platform that facilitates direct connection between internationally established artists, and those in their early career stages. It operates under the framework and ethos of “radical care”, which means it is focused on personal and collective forms of care, solidarity, and the creation of a safe space for early-career artists. We have an emphasis on experimentation, inclusivity, and global outreach and our modalities and praxis are informed by an ethos of solidarity and an equitable peer-to-peer principle.
Our ‘peer-to-peer’ principle came out of the need to generate a self-sustaining artistic support model in these times of extreme precarity, and is two-fold in form. On the one hand it is pedagogical – the AfA Masterclass consists of carefully curated lectures and workshops whose themes change which each edition – taught by artists, for artists. That is, early career artists (the AfA section “Participating Artists”) and established artists (AfA “Advising Artists”) come together for three days and exchange experience, knowledge, and ideas about developing their practice.
On the other hand, this peer-to-peer approach is economic. Given that AfA does not rely on institutional support, the question was: how could this autonomous self-sustainable program provide micro-funding for some of the artists? Developed from research into alternative systems of economy and exchange (evident, for example, in my works History Zero and the Alternative Currencies: An Archive and A Manifesto project), a key component of AfA is the peer-to-peer funding structure. All participants contribute a small amount (recommended $50 per person) which the AfA Participating Artists then distributes to the same three fellow artists. Peer-to-peer micro-funding is a system that provides an incentive, but also inspires artists’ commitment to generosity and solidarity towards their peers.
How has the AFA practice changed after its first edition?
Perhaps it is useful to start by stating what has not changed since the first edition. What has remained the case (some six months after AfA’s online model was developed) is the fact that the artistic and cultural institutions’ support and help towards the global artistic community remain underwhelming in the face of COVID. In actual fact, they have likely deepened the precarity through which we create art. In particular, the lack of funding, the lack of support—notably for early-career artists—has been extremely disappointing. Artists in many parts of the world are still isolated, receive no funding, are unable to exhibit, and lack meaningful discourse. For this reason, the platform and space generated by AfA continues to respond to an urgent need. On the other hand, we also know through our experience of the first edition that AfA demonstrates a novel way to embody and enact peer-to-peer support and solidarity in ways that are pedagogical, relational and indeed financial.
Perhaps the most significant thing we learned from the first edition is that personal connections and ‘hands on’ critical collaboration – between peers, and between ‘established’ and early career artists – really matters. More than that, we learned through AfA that meaningful and sustained connections can be generated online – across very different geographies and cultural and linguistic backgrounds. This is very exciting. For example, the global reach of AfA’s first edition was quite surprising. We worked with a generation of international early-career artists (from 17 cities ranging from Bangalore, Santiago, and New York, to Manila, and Fez) engaging with similar themes in very different geographies and backgrounds. The strong presence of participants from the “Global South” was particularly significant for us, as it did not replay the structural inequalities of representation and access to major institutions.
To amplify this wonderful aspect of our program we have worked closely with Participating Artists from our first edition. Together we have, for example, developed the theme and choice of Advising Artists for our second edition entitled the Institutional Collapse (with Noah Fischer, Amin Husain and Nitasha Dhillion from Decolonize This Place, Jeanne van Heeswijk and Vivien Sansour). More than that, together we have also refined key aspects of the masterclass including – eligibility criteria, exhibition plans, peer-to-peer funding structure, and key terminology.
Do you think that COVID19 pushed the boundaries of art networks, collectives, communities to new forms of practice?
Although this shift cannot be understood as inherently positive, In short yes, this COVID19 era has most definitely pushed boundaries. AfA was conceived and developed as a response to this state-of-emergency. Our intention to create a safe space for artists to share their work and meaningfully address some of the issues they face resonated with many participants.
With AfA, we strive to develop a new system that does not replicate the problems that already exist – namely the structural disadvantage that marks art education. This often excludes early career artists (particularly from the Global South) from mentorship, network building, and career development. If we are looking at the outcomes of online pedagogical models which have sprung up during COVID, there are two things you will notice. One, we can see a form of education fatigue, the result of pressuring artists to be ‘productive’ in the middle of a pandemic. Two, the alternatives models being built are starting to replicate the issues we identify with major educational institutions, particularly in terms of charging considerable amounts of money. We need new models that are more equitable, agile, experimental, more transparent. Artists are best placed to develop these models. They know what other artists need, and they are nimble infrastructure builders because they’re exceptionally well versed in negotiating precarity.
Can be art be engendered through the production of knowledge articulated by pluriversal forms of liberatory thinking today?
COVID has in once sense done us a favour – widening the faultlines and exposing the vulnerabilities (and ephemerality) of systems and infrastructures that were too often framed as fixed, immobile, permanent. In this way, many of us had no choice but to take risks – and to swiftly take up new ways of ‘doing’ and ‘making’. In terms of AfA, our strive toward a pedagogical form of pluraversalism is underscored by an approach of ‘thinking through doing’ – a praxis that hinges on listening and collaborating with transparency and care.
When you ask about pluriversal forms of liberatory thinking – it is important to recognise that the urgent work of ‘undoing’ the universalism perpetuated through eurocentric models of knowledge (whether they be manifest in philosophy, art practice, or in systems of governance for example), is multifaceted work. This work must be as detailed as it is bold. This is to say, that if we are to build a pluraversalist future, we cannot approach pluraversalim as simply a metaphor – it is an ongoing decolonial work focused on forms and structures of knowledge.
Art offers a space for reframing categories of knowledge, for imagining different possible pasts, presents and indeed futures. Arturo Escobar (2018) argues that the profound social transformations needed to address planetary crises rely increasingly on pluriversal thinking and action. He contends that the trajectories for pluraversalist liberation rely on the nourishment of difference. Now for too long it can be argued the art world (and certainly art education), has focused on difference primarily as a means of extracting cultural capital. If we are going to undo that, we need to come up with more equitable, nimble, open and experimental practices. This is at the forefront of our minds working with early career artists around the world. We are accountable to them and their worlds rather than to institutions. We need to learn, develop and work together in order to perform the kind of thinking you ask about here.
The Artists for Artists Team
Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Founder/ Co-Director &
Chrisoula Lionis, Co-Director