Gareth Bell-Jones' presentation at Artist Placement
00:00 Introduction by Ronny Heiremans.
02:30 Gareth Bell-Jones: It was great to hear Anthony's talk earlier today, he was talking about the APG constantly looking for itself and that certainly is the position of The Incidental Unit is in at the moment, it is kind of debatable whether it even exists yet. Introduction to Flat Time House, a curious institution, home of conceptual artist John Latham. He has a reputation for being a difficult artist. He didn't stick to a particular mode of practice, the way he spoke about his work was confusing to a lot of people. Is highly influential, but to some extent overlooked during his lifetime, as well as himself overshadowing his wife Barbara Stevini.
04:36 On working with government, audio excerpt is conversation about that process. Video of Barbara Stevini with Tony Benn at the Tate Archive. About the influence of lobby groups, society, the role of the artist and interdisciplinarity, among other things.
12:22 Tony Benn was an influential Socialist politician, loads of the ideas he talks about were subjects adressed by APG. An interesting term arising from this is the idea of the artist as a concept engineer. You can see how their ways of working are being sublimated into political modes of thinking. Bureaucratic structures are trying to understand how artists can be practical and usefull for them.
13:20 My thinking about APG should be contextualised through my position as a representative of the house of John Latham - more Latham-centric. Brief history of founding and evolution of APG and its move towards working with the government. In mid-seventies the Arts Council removed their funding: "as they became more concerned with social engineering than straight art", so Arts Council set up its own placement scheme and John Latham spent the next twenty years trying to sue the government.
15:15 About the way APG faded out and turned into The Incidental Unit. In 1999 APG renamed itself into O+I (Organisation and imagination), mainly as a means to differentiate itself from the Arts Council placement scheme. Barbara remained as coordinating director. Reads statement O+I. Imergence of education as an important aspect in their activity comes forth around this time. One example is the Southwark Educational Research Project, which ran from '89 to 1995. It was seen as a pilot project proposing new ways in which teaching could take place. Was asked to address the change in the educational curriculum. APG, and later O+I, ran continuously from '66 to 2008 (two years after Latham's death) and eventually voted to close down by the board of directors. In 2016, Neil White and his partner, Tina O'Connell were doing an exhibition at The Royal College of Art and invited members from O+I, APG and associated initiatives for a meeting, which was called an incidental meeting (archive image). There was a discussion about the history of the APG and its contemporary relevance. It was a confirmation of a resurgent interest in APG as a forerunner to socially engaged practice, which largely came from the show at Raven Row.
Educational approach is continued, a lot of the participators were associated with higher educational institutions. It was intergenerational right from the first meeting: a founder, original members of O+I and associated newcomers (such as myself). There was no aim to the meeting, it was just a kind of reunion. I suggested that if they wanted to meet again, there was the Flat Time House. So they met again for another incidental meeting. Collective meetings emerged in an ad hoc manner. According to Barbara, not knowing is essential to the activity of the APG and this is exactly what The Incidental unit is. No initial aim, just monthly meeting. The historical precendent of this was, in terms of the meeting as a format, would be the sculpture setup at Between 6 (Kunsthalle Düsseldorf). (shows image in vacant and active state) It serves as a metaphor for kind of activity that could take place there.
24:00 On the Incidental Person and its definition. Term invented by John Latham. Almost correlates with 'artists', but not quite. Reads definition from John Latham. Will try to explain it through the device of delta symbol to make it easier to understand and use Flat Time House as a metaphor. John Latham anthropomorphises the space, naming the rooms after different parts of the body: eating, sleeping, excreting - all the things you need to do in order to exist within society, in order to just live. Latham described this as "instinctive modes of being". The office space, for administration and bureaucracy: "the space for rational thought". Studio space is "the hand": space for intuitive production and gallery space is for "reflective intuitive thought".
26:24 On John Latham's work "Karamazov Tryad", based on Dostojevski and referring to the delta format. Rather than left and right of politics, Latham saw the intuitive, rational, and instinctive as leading modes of being. What he tought was neglected in society was this reflective intuitive thought being able to project much further into the future. The person who was capable of thinking in that way, in a reflective and intuitive manner, was discribed as the incidental person. Someone who has access to a much broader span of time.
28:50 Back to the subject of the meetings, incidental meetings.The more administrative the meetings became, the less people would turn up. funding applications resulted in a final meeting of 3 people. This was where we had to make compromises in the way we spoke about the group. APG had insular tendency. We wanted to keep the space, not to limit what it could be, but had to make it concrete. Proposed to make the meetings public and tour around the UK with them. Inviting other people to come along and join conversation and work out what The Incidental Unit could be.This service was called Incidental Futures and intended as a pilot year. Launch in London in September, it is still in its preliminary state.
32:32 About proposed meetings at different venues around the UK. For each of the venues, they have worked with the curatorial team and they proposed artists to lead a workshop (commissioning process) - important not to impose their voice in these different locations. On the tour through the UK, the influence of the APG and socially engaged practice.
34:10 Another aspect of the meetings has been to bring figures from the history of the location. Shows image of founder of The Black Key, the first community art project in the UK: Bill Harp. Bill had worked with John Latham and APG in the sixties.The discussion, during that meeting, focussed on parralells and figures within socially engaged practice, using the Incidental Person as a starting point.
36:07 On event with Andrea Phillips at BALTIC 39. Group is allowing other voices in and opening up to being lead by others. On Eastside Projects event with Roger Coward. Each event has had a different starting point essential to APG, so far: -The Incidental Person -The open brief -The feasability study
37:35 Quoting Polly Wright, facilitator and coordinator from The Incidental Unit.
Making contents of archive comprehensible.
39:00 So far, half way through programme and leading up to launch in South London halfway through September. At the same time events in Flat Time House. Launched open call. Important aspect in the future is website launch: database of practices that have been influenced by APG (APG related terms, etc.) Research-gathering operation, currently there isn't really a place to go to when one is interested in APG. Then there are all the inidvidual practices of all the artists involved in APG. Together there is a vast resource. Next year: international symposium at the University of Westminster. After that they need more funding to keep being operative.
42:40 Q&A 43:17 Antony Hudek: When you look back at 1966 and UK crisis - industrial decline, class relationship meltdown, riots, art education, etc. -- precisely where APG situated itself. How about the incidental unit? Now we face migration, Brexit, global warming. Where exactly are the urgencies, how can you address them?
44:59 GB-J: We have been discussing these subjects ofcourse. Higher education has been challenging, everyone working in these institutions is incredibly frustrated. Meetings have become an occassion for people to let off steam, but also to discuss what should be done. At the moment the Incidental Unit is not in the position to solve anything, but is able to bring people together to address things individually. It is not operating as a collective.
David Cross made his university divest from fossil fuels, he has been campagning for doing this on an individual basis, but is now opening up the discussion in a larger group. How to give people more of a voice when approaching such issues? Ideally in the future we would be able to add weight through the network that is created.
47:27 Question by Grace: Could one say the IU works less in an art context and more in an activist context? APG was incorporated, now you're situated outside. GB-J: The group is still in formation and undefined. Grace: Is it like the group BP: activists, operating against fuel sponsorship in museums? GB-J: Not quite. I think people can project and imagine it operating in different ways. At the moment There is a balance between these different impulses within the group
49:58 AH: Context is half the work was really sort of a banner for Barbara and John. You mentioned quite a few phrases, but not that one. In a way what you discribed is context is maybe more or less the work, depending on the case. GB-J: It's incredibly important that it is directly tied to its historical legacy and so it is absolutely necessary that this idea remains central.
51:55 Steyn: Could you go into the term 'incidental'? What it mean to Latham and why you found it so crucial to keep it? GB-J: Different people in the group would have different opinions and ideas about this. (Brain Freeze) Steyn: interesting but at the same time there must be a minimal common ground to keep it as such a central idea to the project. Seems so undefined, yet it is sufficiently defined to keep the cohesion and commitment. GB-J: For me, it as to do with the possibiliy of being outside of rational and bureaucratic structures, the possibility of understanding the context and being able to project over a much broader perspective. It's challenging to speak for this wider group. My main interest is how these ideas still continue to exist in society, how people are still working with them. Latham died, but even throughout the course of his life he would constantly change and redefine the meaning of these ideas. APG reflected the society at the time, and it wouldn't make sense for the IU to do exactly the same thing now. That's why the motto 'The context is half the work' is still important. Taking these meetings out of a small group of people and open them up into a broader group enables us the understand today's context.
AH: In its clumsiness the APG seems to have avoided a certain amount of pitfalls. APG first had Barbara Stevini, then John Latham, then then they split up. It had both a presence and absence of galvanizing figures, which allowed it to escape the vertical and the completely horizontal. How will this presence/absence of the central figure be dealt with knowing that the incidental, at least in Latham's terms did have these overtones of, if not spiritual, then at least of a higher order.
58:50 GB-J: Perhaps there was an unstated hierarchy in APG, John allowed himself to decide that he was on a placement when he crashed his car. Another artist might not have been able to. - I don't know. Barbara still fairly active, but I can see different impulses in the group, some want to be more active. At the moment there is a balance. It's fairly horizontal, but anyone who is willing to do additional labour will have a more decisive role in the direction of the group.
Grace: Did Latham have a shamanic aspect to him? How is that related to Beuys? Also, the word 'incident' is different from 'incidental', although they are related. The term 'Incidental Unit' gives rise to quite contradictory feelings.
GB-J: Latham's use of language has always been complex and contradictory.
Grace: About the shamanic aspect, of him playing that figure. When you talk about time, because when he talks about the understanding and connecting with his intuition over a bigger scope of time, that's the job of the shaman within a community. Did he think of himself in those terms, like Beuys who was playing with that?
GB-J: From personal perspective - he would almost certainly dissagree and say I've got it wrong. His was a subjective understanding of the world (like anyone elses), one that would have probably already changed by now. I don't see him as a Shamanic figure. Space of reflective and intuitive thought: a broader mode of perception, and he was interested in zen. So, depending on your understanding of the term Shamanic, there might be a relationship there.
Grace: Is it like The Long Now Foundation started by Brian Eno? Installing 10.000 years clock in desert, collecting important books. Convinced they will still be here 10.000 years from now. Why was he so interested in thinking about time? Corporations don't think about time on that scale, they think about their profit - in 20, 50 years.
1:05:20 GB-J: There is an obvious value for society in perceiving longer durations and being concerned over a much longer timeframe, rather than with immediate benefits. Initiating ecological issues, for example, these things can't be dealt with in a short timeframe.
SWR: It seems to me that there is a tension between historical preservation and trying to think about ways in which to projects can address socio-economical problems. Do you think that is the case, and if so, how do you see the project working through this in a generative way?
GB-J: Hopefully it isn't a tension, but just a case of learning from previous modes of working and being able to apply them, alter them. I don't think it's a case of trying to balance these things, I see it as a continuation of the legacy.
[1:09:00]Vijaj P: Would there be models, maybe not the APG, that would suit the questions you are raising in a more apt way? Maybe it's just about discarting the previous models and you would no longer have to worry about legacy.
GB-J: This is exactly why the group has been opened up, to hear these other voices. The idea is that other ways of working are brought in and people can reflect upon that.
Vijaj P: Maybe I'm biassed by Claire Bishop's text. When I hear the question about Shamanism, I think you enter the problem of legacy and personal mythologies and why not ditch that and go for something else, so you won't have to answer these questions.
GB-J: People who are intersted in this mode of working can be involved, if it doesn't interest you you do not have to be part of the group...
1:11:00 AH: I remember these fierce debates about what constituted a 'successful placement'. Those were always fun, because it always failed on its own terms. In the end some placements did manage to capture something. Example: Gareth Evans. To me O + I was kind of a failure, as the placements seemed quite in line and satisfied government and funding agencies, but didn't do that strange thing that happened performatively and temporarly. How do you keep that failure or success intact, in order to avoid an anything goes situation?
GB-J: Part of the success was in how the artists operated outside of the APG and drove things themselves. Barbara allowed this space for them to work individually. Many of these successful projects were self initiated by artists who weren't too concerned with the language of the APG and all those structure, but just challenged the spaces in which they were working. The language of the O + I was very bureaucratic and I think that was a move towards the structures they were operating within. I would suggest that it would be important that the incidental people were allowed to remain operating individually.
SC: I remember a symposium in 2013 "Think Tank Aesthetics" with Pamela Lee. About think tanks in the US in relation to conceptual an Modern art - how the silicon valley aesthetics of google play are informed by the conceptual artists at the time. I was wondering what the APG aesthetics would be.
1:16:05 AH: The third way, if anything it allowed for this 'Blairied' Britain. I realise this is not exactly what your asking but, it is a third way to its own detriment.
1:17:00 GB-J: In retrospect, I think it's easy to look at the activities of the APG and O + I as leading towards a third way and 'Blairied' politics, I think John would have probably disagreed and said that it was completely outside of the political and rational realm - but this is me projecting onto John - and then there is the question about how Barbara would think about that. I don't think she would want that association
RH: One can use the language of the funding body as an insertion, without becoming that language. I get the impression that this gradually shifting from a subversive intrution into gradually becoming it. Would that be a correct interpretation of APG and later O + I, in your opinion?
GB-J: That is valid as an opinion
[1:19:40 ] GBJ: I can only speak on behalf of my inclusion in that group. By the fact that this iteration of the organisation is funded by the Arts Council and us having to go through that process, you could say: yes. But you can question that, are we playing the game or have we become what we are fighting against? You can only know in retrospect.
Grace: What happened to the law suit between Latham and the Arts Council?
GB-J: He didn't do it.
Grace: So that's why they gave you the money?
1:21:20 SB: There are different ways to look at this, but historically it does point to the fact that what happened to APG is slightly different than Pamela Lee's 'Think Tank Aesthetics'. APG made it easy to be recuperated, but that highlights the potential of contemporary re-recuperation.
AH: Could you explain how a re-recuperation can be positive?
SB: I do not have any practical instructions obviously. Neo liberal ideology has recuperated so many concepts that originally were something else entirely - like the notion of freedom. I think there is potential value in discussing similar concepts with a healthy dose of disregard for the way they have been instrumentalised by Neo Liberalism or third way politics. That could be one way...can't answer your question. 'Battling them on their own grounds.' Worth trying to save the legacy from their own co-optation.
[1:25:04]SWR: To elaborate on your comment, Steyn, it brings me back to the Caveat Reading Room with Srnicek and Williams' inventing the future and post capitalist or left-accelerationist angle about recuperation, reframing, reinvention of existing institutions, structures, frameworks, contexts that most of us are indoctrinated in and part of. Revisiting the history of APG allows us to think about a differenciated model and transdisciplinary research methodology, like Diakron.
GB-J: I think people in the group see it as a contemporary extrapolation, a continuation, not a revisiting of history.
1:27:50 AH: It seemed interestingly problematic, the Diakron example. The history of the APG provides a solace, a pathetic romanticism on the fringes of he UK and London's position towards the global artworld. Scrapely putting stories together and trying to imagine what's on the other side. There is something there about only understanding minimalism trough Artforum ads. The ease with which Diakron and other examples can traverse time-space and appropriate the contemporary rubs the wrong way of the APG I am attracted to: highly ideosyncratic, weird, DIY, homemade, people coming together... They were on the outside and knew it, it was about stitching it together to make another global narrative - that's why the multinationale moment in the APG was both touching and absurd, the homemade banner was this droopy piece of cloth with handwritten lettering. It's amazing, the bad logo that that is and the greatness of appearing in Kassel like that and talking about that. It's in that tension that you can imagine resisting the ease of talking about Bejing and India. You're left with what you have, but could try to reimagine what that could be.
1:29:55 Wrap-up by Ronny Heiremans and announcement next day programme.