I wanted to post this as a placeholder for thoughts I’ve been having while reading Édouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation. Many times when thinking about the role and position of art in Grenada and more broadly the Caribbean the questions have been, “What does art look like when there are no institutions to support it?” or “How can we get people to engage with art?” or “What does an art scene look like if we start it from scratch?”. In reading Glissant, the word errantry stands out as a powerful idea in terms of thinking through our art scene. Errantry is difficult to define succinctly because it directly relates to the idea of wandering – particularly in search of adventure. Glissant however, makes a case for errantry in terms of relation and as a way of talking about cultures encountering each other and on the micro level, talks about the multitudes of individual experiences encountering each other and synthesizing a collective human experience. This stands against the idea of rootedness or filiation where through tradition a “correct” or “proper” way of being in the world has developed. Errantry and the poetics of relation allows for language to change when it needs to – it allows the processing of new information and adaptation. Rex Nettleford called creatives to engage in the dynamic and ongoing process of “adjustments, rejection, affirmation and innovation.” (Nettleford 1979) This has always been a characteristic of Caribbean culture. Glissant suggests that the Caribbean may be the most adept region in the world to deal with globalization because it has always dealt with cultures encountering each other in varying levels of violence and conquest but also in terms of relation. The Caribbean as a region has been an exceptional example of contextualizing many cultures of the world into an identity that does not need to declare any of its parts necessarily greater than others.
What then, does art and errantry look like in the Caribbean? What does a gallery or museum scene look like if it does not depend on the filiation of European or American models for its format? Our artists have been diligent in considering how their art is an expression of themselves and their region but how then do we contextualize or “adjust, reject, affirm, and innovate” the way we show our region’s artists? What does it look like when we utilize every good process in the world along with what we know about our own culture(s) to provide an encounter to people whether they are initiated with the art world or not with art? How are we making art accessible and contextual? As we are the products of negotiated encounters, how are we creating spaces where negotiation can exist?
Hans Ulrich Obrist, references his admiration of Glissant and went on to stage fantastically nontraditional art exhibits. (Obrist & Raz̤ā 2016) Aside from being a brilliant curator, his projects were real expressions errantry and relation. One of his exhibits had moveable walls with artwork on them and viewers were encouraged to move the exhibit in a way that was pleasing to them. Without going into all of the examples, his work as a curator is a model for how we should be approaching curating in the Caribbean. As a wanderer and a nomad in a Deleuzian sense – we realize that there is no tradition to defend and no authority to appeal to as we have broken away from any root and have found our sense of place amongst the many relations we have culturally and individually. In some ways this involves more thought as we have to consider that every decision we make about the showing of our work then must have a reason or explanation. In other ways it allows us to trust our intuition more. We cannot always be conscious of all of the ways we have been influenced by our environment but the things that remain with us are important.
As veterans in traditional art scenes we have to check our own sensibilities before we declare that things are not being done properly. Basic rules of aesthetics can apply but the poetics of relation also considers that we are not trying to dominate or declare another sensibility as insufficient. Ideas can be exchanged and respected but should always be examined in the sense of trying to gather the best that every perspective has to offer.
Perhaps art openings should be more like a potluck than a happy hour. Maybe it’s ok to tear a random page from a book to go along side a painting as it’s “title”. We should ask ourselves what would make us go to an event we had no inherent interest in. Instead of telling the public to get on “our page”, how are we allowing the public to inform us of what they want? In The Necessity of Art Ernst Fischer describes art as an inherently magical thing because at the root of it is the artist’s awareness that they are able to affect the world around them by an idea they have or something they can make (Fischer 2010). How are we as gallerists, curators, etc. allowing our artists to affect the world they live in? Should presentations be more formal? Less formal? Should there be more explanation to go along with a piece besides Artist, title, medium, etc. We should take the time to at least ask ourselves how much of what we do and what we perceive as doing things the “right way” are just a perpetuation of a dominant and hegemonic cultural influences.
Let’s all wander for a bit.
Nettleford, Rex. Caribbean Cultural Identity. Center for Afro-American Studies and UCLA Latin American Center, 1979.
Obrist, Hans Ulrich, and Raz̤ā Asad. Ways of Curating. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.