Finding Common Ground Over Distance  – Edition 1 : Gayle Meikle – North Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland and Alexandra Ross – Cape Town, South Africa.

This is the second installment in our conversation series and a  start of a chain of conversations collectively titled ‘Finding Common Ground Over Distance’. The next conversation in this chain will be initiated by Gayle Meikle with someone of her choosing.
The following conversation was an email exchange that took place from 22nd July to 21st August 2015 with the intention of thinking through and recording the preparatory stages of a curatorial collaboration. Alexandra Ross and Gayle Meikle have had an ongoing working relationship spanning projects, exhibitions and performances and the exchange recorded here is a genuine brainstorming session for a project that is in the pipeline.
Alexandra Ross is a Post Doctoral Fellow in the CCA (read more about her here)
Gayle Meikle is a curator, artist and organiser. She was the co-founder of Yuck ‘n Yum, a curatorial and publishing collective and Assistant Curator for Broad Reach at Taigh Chearsabhagh on North Uist in the Outer Hebridean Islands of Scotland.
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Good morning Gayle,

Excited to be having this quite specific conversation with you. In many ways, we have engaged in this form of exchange without naming it before; a ping-pong of ‘have you seen this?’, ‘listen to this podcast?’, ‘let’s have a Skype to discuss…’.  This process is not an exercise in and of itself. We are in all genuineness brainstorming a curatorial collaboration. The theme ‘finding common ground over great distance’ is in many ways a reminder for us to experiment with all the forms this conversation can take, to experiment and be playful, as well as use technologies we know work. ‘Work‘ for us and for curatorial collaboration more broadly.

Also, I like the idea of this being some way testament to our brainstorming; a document of our activity which so often slips away somehow. A fascinating curator I recently worked with at the Vessel Curatorial Retreat, Tirdad Zolgadr, insightfully said that the bulk of writing curators do, is emails. Indeed, the way I look back on a day’s activity and think ‘what have I done today?’ is in the volume of ‘sent’ items. Anyway, I digress.

Look forward to hearing/seeing your thoughts on this.

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Hello Alexandra,

I type this after an evening of gutting the house as I prepare to bundle up my many things again for pastures new… My mind pondering over displacement or translocation in which I periodically think about and this project (Broad Reach) has definitely brought it to the fore – tonight bringing me back to Location and Mobility as topics of interest and how one might investigate those themes, whether on here or on another node of communication. I am currently leafing through Here, There, Elsewhere Dialogues on Location and Mobility edited by David Blamey, a compilation book of artists, curators, academics’ reflections on those themes. What strikes me about it is the exoticism of travelling to urban centres across the globe or of isolated islands near the equator.  Little noted of the micro travel that happens in everyday life and perhaps quite rightly the ‘rural’ voice. It is an interesting read and I would definitely recommend it.

Your italicised ‘Work’ reminded me of a book I bought 2 years ago and still sits in it’s wrapper  – Work, Work, Work: A Reader on Art and Labour – I opened it tonight and I have selected a page at random to quote a sentence or two from it;

Page 102 – Raqs Media Collective After Hours (how apt)

‘Take a clock, and name each hour, each of the one thousand, four hundred and forty minutes in a day, and even more seconds and the infinity of fractions between them, and soon you have your own quotidian eternity, your private province of extra time.’

Lastly, today we found Earth 2.0 a slightly older planet 14000 light years away. It reminds me of mirrored planets in science fiction and or parallel universes – I genuinely thought when I heard the news that it could be earth, but 1000 years in the future.

Chart (1)I came across Edwin A Abbott’s Flatland diagram (attached) in which I thought it was curious that it comes from a book that describes a world of two dimensions inhabited by living squares, triangles, and circles, called Flatland – alongside other worlds of different dimensions.

Looking forward to your response.

Gayle

Xx

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Hello Gayle,

Another house move. I feel for you. I can think of one direct thing relating to discussions around ‘mobility and location’, is the accumulation of things. And you, my dear friend, have a great many lovely objects. Since my move here to SA, I am operating out of just a suitcase or two. Quite a change.

Work, Work, Work: A Reader on Art and Labour - I too have that book, but have had to leave it in Scotland with my stocked bookcase. Thanks for the quote. So apt.  An awareness of time and its quantification – without teetering into the realm of quantum physics – it is a construct. The folding of time and expectations through the possibility of connectivity. ‘Extra time, free time, leisure time…’ How we compress and/or transgress these limitations through the use of emails, Skype, and other forms at the press of a button, placing us where the ‘other’/other is.

Can I clarify your use of ‘quite rightly’ regarding the rural voice? Should we indeed place a hierarchy of voices from urban to rural? I get a sense of where you are coming from, but could you be more explicit. I think you and indeed, we, through our shared time in Hebrides are keenly tuned into the use of certain terms. From your time working in North Uist (the Scottish Outer Hebrides) the use of the word ‘remote’. Remote to what? from whom? Can the digital realm ever replace the eyeballing of places and people through travel? Travel broadens the mind, but the impact of one’s carbon footprint is not only felt in the air miles accumulated, but in the technology we wield. Sean Cubitt has written on this. The metals, plastics and other elements in our portals to the world (MacBooks and iPhones or equivalent) come from questionable places running through many hands and pockets. So when I think of connectivity, I do not see the plane as less innocent than a computer or vice versa.

I would love it if you could send a couple of those pictures of the beaches on North Uist you have taken over the last few years. I had swithered over sending our Instagram links, but I have recently made my account private. Maybe we could start one just for this, or actually perhaps that is convoluted – logging in and out of our private accounts for this. I rather will tag you in relevant images as they arise to me. This raises issues of private versus public exchange, and on and off the record in the curatorial. Although, I would say in this instance, regarding the quandary of Instagram, it is technology as help or as hindrance that is crucial. Adding images as attachments here would be sufficient. I would be keen in another project to have a purely Instagram exchange. (Our own Instagrams being so filled with food pics that it is not really relevant to our present exchange).

I have just this moment been caught in a downpour. I am utterly drenched and about to attend a seminar aptly entitled the mobility of the African Researcher. At this stage, I am a researcher in Africa, not an African researcher, or am I reading too much into the semantics of the title…?

Can I tentatively at this stage open up areas for us to consider and flesh out accordingly:

  • Displacement and translocation – add to this, connectivity and remoteness?
  • Are we working towards a project, exhibition, exhibition series, exchange, or publication? Or a hybrid?

Topic and sub topics.
The limitations or constraints of language
The notion of a liminal exchange

Transgressing boundaries – I say this as it puts me in mind of an artist I would be keen to work with also with my legal background, I’m excited as to the direction and inter-disciplinarity of the discussion

The timeline: is this a slow burn or would we like it to have one or a few specific targets? Ie would we like to tap into and exhibit the outcome at a relevant festival or biennial? This is a work in progress and ideas are igniting for me.

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Hello again,

I awoke this morning with a thought. Are you interested in maps and cartography? I know it’s a popular device for visualising networks, but I was thinking of somehow redrawing lines, renaming places…. I write this lest I forget and just wanted to jot it down for posterity. I know you are attending Edinburgh Art Festival at the moment, so let’s chat when you return. Maybe a Skype tomorrow and we do a rapid note taking, brainstorm session. We need to chew over these ideas and think £££.

Also, can we take an opportunity in this email to collate our visual lookbook for publication, both online and printed form. I’ll get this started:

www.nowness.com – I get lost in those videos frequently

We both love Kinfolk www.kinfolk.com  AnOther magazine www.anothermag.com  The Gourmand http://thegourmand.co.uk/

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I must rush off but will add to that list ASAP

Speak soon, Alexandra

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Hello Alexandra!

Please accept my apologies – it has been a busy week what with EAF and running all over Scotland plus tomorrow is my last day as a Taigh Chearsabhagh employee.

I am very much interested in maps and cartography; I have just completed a small application for an exhibition called Portmanteau with Ross (Hamilton Frew) and Stuart McAdam focussed on their use of line – which is of course an important feature on a map.  It also prompts me to recall an incomplete exhibition proposal I wrote whilst I was toying with applying to Konstfack in Sweden. I’ll forward on to you. Although I think my ideas have moved on somewhat there are definitely still points of interest within it and it might be something that you will be able to bounce off of to start the ball rolling.

Map of Uist (1)As to your question to qualify what I mean about ‘quite rightly’. In the context of that book I don’t think a perspective from the rural would have fitted the editorial tone. I think we place natural hierarchies on things and as the world grows and becomes increasingly populated, places like Scotland become more and more infrequent especially when the Gaza strip that holds 1.8 million people can fit into the Uists which has a population of just over 5,000 (picture attached).  I wonder if the majority of Scotland was not owned privately whether it would still be just as unpopulated?

Yes I agree that adding images onto this thread makes it easier for us to collect relevant material. My Instagram is still public so happy for you to include a link. I am however thinking about creating an alias so I can start ‘regramming’ works I see so it becomes more like a lookbook – anyway I digress. I think maybe I would still call you a researcher in Africa ; – )

To answer your other questions:

At the moment I would say we are working towards a project – I think it is too early to pin down what format it might take. Stuart McAdam showed me this online mind mapping software: https://www.mindmup.com/#m:new that might help to collate thoughts? – ALSO have you heard of Asana – it is a project management tool.

Can I add place-making to our list of areas to explore – time and space (as so far what we have referenced explore all of these)

Our timeline:  At the moment I am thinking this will be a series of formats that span across at least two years. I like the idea of starting off small with something tangible. Thinking logistic wise I am moving around a lot from now until Christmas (apt I know) and with intermittent connectivity so perhaps we start off slow and small?

Links to add to our Lookbook:

http://nighhylic.tumblr.com  http://99percentinvisible.org  archatlas.net http://lodestarsanthology.co.uk

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More soon!

xx

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Hello Gayle,

My goodness, what a week for me too. Am I right in thinking you/ the ATLAS Arts team were all in attendance at the Creative Time Summit?  What inspirational speakers. We live streamed it here in Cape Town and I feel so inspired by many of the talks. I did a short recap of the two days screened – it will be live on the Centre for Curating the Archive website later today. Check out some of the talks I featured. I think you’d like them too.

Since we last communicated there are themes that keep presenting themselves/crossing my path which are of interest to our current conversation: Citizenship and the notion of belonging. If you’ve not already encountered her work, I’d like to point to you Professor Marsha Meskimmon from Loughborough University and her notion of citizenship and denizenship. She is a visiting scholar here at Michaelis at the moment and she presented some clarity to some thoughts I have been mulling over relating to my personal position here. Yes, I am still a ‘researcher in Africa’ and not an ‘African researcher’, but it occurs to me that my belonging and identity are not legal constructions of the social, but rather the social punctuated and/or bound by the legal – I return to my legal training and the idea of rights and responsibilities.

She presented the citizen as: Relating to birth right; Rights and responsibilities as an individual; Individualist; Human-centred/ anthropocene.

…and the denizen as: A process of naturalisation – an active process of belonging; Relating to hospitality, negotiated mutually with others; Community-contingent – someone has to grant you this status as well as you have to ask; It is risky, fleeting and precarious; More non-human/ ecological; Performative citizenship – constant iterations, not a static stable state.

Professor Meskimmon also mentioned the issues, the very real issues in the UK of the appropriation of the term citizenship into the arts and much like the terms curating or curator, they have populist and specialist divergence in meaning. Carving a sense of community in relation to one’s location.

Yes, of course working with cartography in relation to Ross and Stuart’s work would be great re the physicality and journeying of Stuart/ carving a line into the land, and the potential overlaying/ comparison of the use of the drawn line of Ross’ work. So let’s actively focus on mapping in our collaboration. Psychogeographic art practices may lend the ideal slant to the performative and discursive element of our collaboration. Thank you for sending the document. The title of your draft proposal to Konstfak ‘Demarcation: The determining and marking off of the boundaries of something’ is not only what we are doing here in no small measure, but also it speaks to the content of the collaboration. As you mentioned with the Gaza / Uist comparison, land ownership and use is understandably fraught issue in South Africa. Once again, I think, we’ve identified an area of interest.

Thanks also for our lookbook updates! Love them so much – a rabbit hole of pleasure. Ok, so if you are agreeable, can we Skype soon and chew over these great ideas in depth. Let me know a time that suits and I’ll make sure I have a large pot of tea. Hope the move across islands has gone well. End of an era and start of a new one! Exciting.

Love, Alexandra