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Propositions for Inoperative Life

March 2021.

Nearly a whole year since our plans to launch a physical space and a public programme ground to a halt. Instead of rushing to put our programme online, we chose to take a step back to ask:

How can we shift our thinking to be able to continue to serve ourselves and our artists without relying on the space of the exhibition both online and offline?

For now, the exhibition as we know it has eroded. The infrastructure of that particular space, time and action has been stripped away - but what does it reveal?

Over the last few months, we have dedicated time to thinking through the position we have found ourselves in. A strange state of limbo that is half launched and half not, but despite these uncertain conditions, the strength of the research remains the same. This period of research has seen us take on the question of what possibilities might emerge from this space of inoperavtity.

Defined as not functioning or having no effect or force, inoperativity is a state usually discussed in terms of “unworking” or “worklessness”. We decided to use the term inoperativity as a critical lens through which to consider this moment of ‘not being able to do something’ - positioning ourselves within this complex space of thinking about, with and beyond the limitations set by the pandemic.

This led us to ask:

How can a consideration of inoperativity help us to facilitate and test-out new ideas and modes of curatorial practice?

Prior to the pandemic, the idea of being inoperative was not something we aspired to. When we were offered this opportunity to take up residence in the space of 86 Princess Street, our immediate thoughts turned to how can we do as much as possible in the time that we have. A desperate scrabble to do things, because who knows when the next opportunity will come along. When lockdown hit we were forced to stop, taking the need and the ability to do out of our hands. It was uncomfortable, uncertain and all-round anxiety inducing - but we didn’t realise how much we needed this time and space to think, to reflect and most importantly to breathe.

Thoughts quickly turned into action and in June 2020 we began exploring the question of how a consideration of inoperativity could help us to form and ferment a research space ahead of the launch of a physical programme.

Whilst conducting research, we stumbled across the quote: “inoperative use gives way to operative play”, and with this came sort of eureka moment. Our focus quickly turned to the ways we could explore this mode of inoperativity as a contributor to the development of meaningful relations with our growing artistic community - seeking to approach inoperativity in a productive and complementary way.

We embarked on a search for some sort of ‘useful’ curatorial infrastructure. Something that would enable us to continue to build and stay connected to an artistic community, whilst also fermenting research and finding new ways to produce during this strange and uncertain time. But questions quickly turned to how were we to make material these thoughts, interests and questions brought forward by this inoperative state? Creating a space that would allow it to radiate outwards and, into new artistic and critical territories.

We were invested in deepening our understanding of this moment and its potential in developing a unique space for sharing, support and solidarity. One way we set about doing this was through the creation of a series of unique propositions that sought to explore an experimental encounter with the thoughts, works and research of PINK and those in our curatorial constellation. Taking this state of inoperativity, and restructuring it so as to give way to operative play; opening ourselves up to new spaces, uses and experiences during this time.

Defined as a suggested scheme or plan of action, the propositions were a way of making sense of the ideas, research and critical questions that we were trying to handle. A way to explore and integrate different modes of production, dissemination and engagement during a time of perceived inoperativeness. With each proposition comes new situations and models for working together, subverting the spaces of the curatorial - pushing through this state of inoperativity to traverse new realms; new spaces for thinking, making, supporting, structuring, listening, learning and performing.

So far, we have devised and developed three propositions, each one built from an open, articulate brief that we send as an invitation to a focused list of creatives across different disciplines. The intent of these invitations is to be able to welcome more people into the space of PINK. Inviting people, projects and practices on a local, national and international scale. An intentional and purposeful welcoming of others to join and contribute to an evolving discourse - whilst also opening up a useful space for us to consider the ‘invitation’ as a mode of curatorial hospitality. A subject that we will take the time to explore over the coming year, with our Associate Curator, Jessica Bennett.

​The first proposition we created was DIALOGUES, an open discussion format for sharing knowledge, experience and thoughts. Hosted via Skype on a monthly basis, it’s a space for communicating and offering ideas, being open to accepting and exploring new ideas; whilst using this space to pause, to articulate and to assemble around the spaces and conditions we operate in. The aim was to create space for a series of open-ended discussions that are structured to serve as a potential future; fermenting a research process by entering into an open, collective and collaborative dialogue with others.

Each discussion is centred around a set of themes set either by PINK or the DIALOGUES participants, charting the questions raised and thoughts provoked; working towards the collective authoring of a working Google Doc, bringing our collective thinking together as something tangible - something that we can offer as a research resource.

This process of collective thinking continued with the creation of OFF_CENTRE. This saw us produce a proposition centred on the development of an artistic research journal that sought to nurture an interdisciplinary dialogue on a chosen subject - working to understand how multiple perspectives on a local, national and international scale might be productively combined to explore the potential for future discussions and collaborations.

Then we wondered how this act of bringing together could be returned to questions of programming. Asking how we could build a working space that played host to the thinking and practices of our invited collaborators. A space that could operate as a structure where our curatorial thinking and visions are set out, and where it is possible to enter into a discussion with individual and collective methodologies - building an intimate connection with the ideas behind the productions to come - which led us to create MATERIALS.

MATERIALS will be an exploration in the idea of an active archive; a space to think, work and put fragments together in order to create new connections, collisions and overlaps; facilitating an exchange of knowledge and the emergence of a collective discussion through the process of thinking alongside one another. The outcome will be an accumulation of material that will be significant for the shaping of an open and plural future for PINK, and will support our interests in nurturing research relationships that will be key to the development of PINK as it begins to unfold.

As the project(s) planned for Season #1 begin to unfold and expand, so will the research material and we want to make this process as visible as possible as we work to construct a constellation of interrelated material; understanding this curatorial archive as an instrument for the generation of research, as much as it is a space for documentation.

Our response to the conditions and limitations of the pandemic was to create forms and structures that we could operate in, whilst also being, an indeterminate space. Building a unique context formed out of the inoperative space and structure of the exhibition. Creating multiple sites of open enquiry; rather than trying to reconfigure a programme, making it a question of identifying the conditions, materialities, potentialities that we already have and what interesting things are possible within them.

What all these propositions have in common is that they have worked to create relations. They are built as supporting structures to give ground to our immediate ideas and research, but also welcome the generation of long frameworks; interlinking things that can go on to exist beyond this current moment of inoperativity. Analysing these elements as different conditions to work in, developing structures to maintain direct engagement with artists and their work during a time when we can’t physically build exhibitions.

Inoperativity has welcomed a unique research position for us. Inviting a considered positioning of research within the space and site of practice; whilst setting up the stage for us to continue to have these kinds of conversations as PINK unfolds. Exploring a curatorial act of bringing together; working to develop a conversation between the people and parts that constitute PINK. A collection of interrelated ideas that would enable a conversation to develop. Offering an alternative exhibition space; an evolving research site that can be made public, and shared. Thinking through different curatorial methods and how they can be applied. Interested in the different possibilities of different assemblages and what actions or gestures are needed to trigger them. What might it look like to play with form in such a way that it invites engagement?

So what now? Where do we see these propositions going and how will they interact and interchange when we are no longer inoperative? Will it change to a question of what we are in proximity to, how different modes and formats come into contact with each other, questioning what spaces are made, and what can be found in between.

The answers to all these questions will come in time, as will more questions. All we know for now is that this mode of working - this way of structuring and producing - has led to an active and dynamic conversation between all involved. It has enabled us to explore ways of creating a ‘public’ early on in the project - using the working processes of each proposition to find synergetic connections. Facilitating a purposeful bringing together of people, practices and material to generate a unique context of inquiry that can offer a space for productive discussion and exchange and we are excited to see where this goes next.

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