Caveat is a collective research project reflecting and acting on the ecology of artistic practice, convened in 2017 by the Brussels-based artists’ initiative Jubilee in context of a research residency programme Lodgers. In 2018 three research partners joined the project – Open Source Publishing (OSP), No New Enemies and Eté 78. Together with them – and with a one-year-support of Innoviris – Caveat was able to set up a number of research trajectories in 2018-19.
In different ways Caveat related all of these trajectories to the question: how can juridical tools contribute to a shift from an economy to an ecology of artistic practices.
This central question was deployed and activated in different formats: meetings, interviews, reading rooms, workshops, assemblies of practice and artist trajectories, all of these comprising invited artist, hosting institution, art workers.
In terms of methodology Caveat developed different levels. All of these levels invested in aligning approach and vocabulary of curatorial and legal practices.
All activities were reported and shared in collectively edited writing pads. Caveat used Ethertoff, a collaborative web platform featuring realtime editing thanks to Etherpad and dedicated to publication of these text pieces. Markdown is used as the formatting language throughout the project. The pads are available to logged-in users and guests who can contribute (‘write-mode’) when invited. When published (usually in ‘read-mode’), a pad becomes a conventionally operating public web page.
Collective editing of the writing pads aims at finding common ground in defining problems and solutions. At the same time OSP designed a dispositif which generates contents for a map on basis of the metadata of these pads. This map will become part and parcel of what in the end will be a Caveat toolbox: not only a representation of what Caveat has been doing, the map will also function as a guiding tool to access the Caveat website. It has been programmed in such a way as to highlight specific clusters that manifested themselves in the course of the research.
Within the Caveat website different elements have been implemented, like sound and AV recordings, event-based co-writing pads, artistic trajectories as well as bibliographic references. All of these can be combined in interesting ways, generating inspiration on how to deal with different aspects of contracting and of the legal framework that governs relationships in the field, and allowing users to find and evaluate their position in the field.
The public pads, the structured information and the generation process, make it possible to record information associatively and to formalize the pads later so as to embed the information in the research. Publishing them online activates the content and makes them publicly available in the website. Since the integrated co-writing pads can be used ‘live’, the website functions simultaneously as a co-creation portal which can accommodate Caveat’s different audiences throughout the research, for example during reading rooms, workshops or assemblies of practice.
2 situated research - daily practices
Caveat is practice-based research, which means it starts explicitly from experiential knowledge of the field. Each cluster of the project develops from the context in which artists operate. First, Caveat discusses with each artist what specific topic she/he would develop with regard to the research question at large. In a second phase, Caveat discusses possibilities in terms of working with a hosting institution.
Caveat engages with these institutions, accompanying the artists in their working process. Each time this creates an opportunity to engage actively in terms of how the collaboration between the artist and the host would be processed: fees, production costs, contract... make up a major part of the discussions.
These situations are highly interesting opportunities to discuss and engage collectively not only in the precarity of the artists, but also, quite often, in the precarity of the institutions themselves. The artists Caveat worked with are listed in the Artist Trajectories.
Caveat ensures that the research remains closely involved with the concrete, specific contexts within which artists and cultural producers are active. Working with and within (public or private) institutions is a means to make matters of concern public, and also a means to create situations in which every member of the art ecosystem has the opportunity to express herself, and engage into dissenting situations or issues, in a less individualized way.
In terms of definition of each artist's trajectory: each one of them embodies a specific effort to engage into an exploration, a mapping of one or a number of concrete aspects of the field. Moreover, each research trajectory represents a highly singular process of trying to represent and give a voice to a certain number of matters of concern, which are considered within the situations where they are activated.
Those matters of concern not only relate to the specificity of the arts field as we know and as we experience it, but they also open up to a broader spectrum of society: every time we speak of remuneration, time/labour divide, social injustice with regards to territory, and so on and so forth, Caveat echoes the society at large.
Caveat observes the artist trajectories, but not like in a laboratory situation. Instead they are narrated and explored in a continuous dialogue with all parties involved, through numerous Reading Rooms and Assemblies of Practice. Those moments aim at creating a sharing ground for thoughts, matters of concerns, fabulation, alternative scenario making...
Caveat Reading Rooms and Assemblies of Practice offer open, discursive moments which invite a wider public to formulate a mutual understanding of the conditions on the field and how they reconnect with broader societal questions. Ideas and thoughts on this are collected and flow back into the research.
Bringing external expertise - legal, social, economic - into the conversation, Caveat further explores how a legal tool, such as the contract, can clarify the dynamics at play, and actually become an instrument of care, and thus become inclusive towards the precarity of all agents involved.
3 legal research – reconfiguring relationships
Caveat is a research project with the ambition of 'agency'. Extremely important for the project is that all parties have access to a set of instruments that would enable them to negotiate themselves a correct legal and contractual framework for their professional relationships.
In parallel with the artistic trajectories and from an observation of contractors on the field, Caveat focused on where and how interventions to make the contract an emancipating tool were possible. A legal perspective introduces how the discussion about fairness touches on paradigms of work, property and governance. An exploration of relational contract theory, conscious contracting and ideas about law and the commons, Caveat worked towards a methodology that contains the potential to turn the moment of contracting into a moment of reflection in which the dialogue does not focus on the making of a good deal from an individual perspective, but on cooperation and how agreements have an impact on the ecology of practice and, by extension, the field.
Caveat explored the potential of the contract and process of negotiation to affect the ecology of the cultural field. In 2018-19 different co-writing experiments were conducted as a methodology in negotiations with the hosting institutions. In addition, elements were included in the artistic trajectories (see: Stijn Van Dorpe; Patrick Bernier & Olive Martin; Joséphine Kaeppelin; Vermeir & Heiremans). Caveat found that this way of working leads to mutual inspiration and links theoretical research with both daily practice and the symbolic space of the arts.
Taking from these observations, and extending the ambition for the project beyond the art field, Caveat engaged in the experiment of translating relational contract theory into practice as an opportunity to discover whether and how contracting can be a space and moment for 'commoning': a space for questioning values, making thme public and finding ways 'to be in common.'
The seeds for the 'qualification of' and the freedom to mould relationships on the field are not only to be found in contracts but also in legislation or common application and understanding of this legislation: e.g. property of artworks in a public collection, notion of producer in IP legislation, definition of artistic work in social security legislation. Therefore, besides working on experiences with contracts as such, Caveat found it necessary to acquire a profound understanding of the art field's vision on how these topics are addressed within the contracts: e.g. social status of the artist; labour law; IP issues; property acquisition; access to the law...
Following approaches guided the research in this context:
How to create a constructive dialogue between experts coming from different fields/perspectives leading to working together on new narratives that take us beyond the precarious working situations we are facing in the arts and beyond.
Inspiring each others work, making it possible to learn from each others approaches (rational, logic >< intuitive, emotional) to the same topic, trying to bridge practice and theory, not taking the collaboration as a service from one to the other.
4 genealogy - an excursion into the past to learn about the present
Through genealogical inquiry on continuities, shifting notions and resurgences through a number of specific historical cases that seem to connect to the research and also come to the foreground in the practice of the artists Caveat invited. Caveat focuses on the contract from an artist's and art historical perspective. The goal here is not so much to give a full historical analysis, but rather go into contemporary practices that re-activate, re-conceive, update notions that were at the forefront in contemporary (art) history.
5 ecology - permaculture
Caveat aimed at considering art practices from an ecological perspective, at approaching these practices with similar tools as the ones usually developed in permaculture. This may explain why the reciprocity between the environment (society at large) and art is absolutely essential, the one feeding into the other, making each other stronger, functioning like a proper ecosystem. “Ecosystems are self-regulating and self-organizing systems which are, however, instable due to their variable components (climate, soil, organisms) and thus [as Tansley says] ‘extremely vulnerable’”.1
Katja Rothe, Permaculture design: On the practice of radical imagination, Afterlife of Systems, Issue 1,Vol.3, 2014. ↩