Reservoir – An Artist’s Research Environment 2008

1. Synopsis
To create a place and an attitude worth defending…
An exploring ground for possible thought to emerge…
For the irregularity of what happens, and the rarity of what lasts…(Clifford Geertz, 1999)

Reservoir proposes a concept for an artists’ research and networking environment to be housed within a transforming institution that combines exhibitions with education. It focuses on the prelusive interval in artistic production through a collection of art objects and materials that embody unclassified, fluid moments of deep research. Emphasising de-acceleration in the consumption of art, Reservoir invites professionals and students to study methodologies of production through the analysis of backstage experiences and contacts evoked by the metonymic legacies of leading artists, architects, and filmmakers.

2. Introduction – Backstage Communication
A conversion into private (or less dispersed) communication is a political and aesthetic position against information, in favour of art. It is about standing for production rather than reception. It is about artists taking matters into their own hands. </(Anthony Huberman, 2007)

On the road to production, backstage communication for artists is similar to shorthand. This initiate language articulated by and for artists and their colleagues from related disciplines is hard to capture. It appears to dissolve as the work enters the wider frame of visibility and evaluation. Historians and critics may intimate the original conditions that drove an artist to produce a new work, but its final presence often obscures the earlier content of this quasi-private trajectory. Similarly, instances can exist when the winning currency of the search appears downgraded by alternative values such as modes of reception, public awareness, or accountability.

If artists develop an implicit language form between each other, located beyond the glare of the media and market, this exchange nevertheless makes use of certain formats and locations – watering holes (John Baldessari) – from where debates, alliances or rivalries can be nurtured. Reservoir consolidates these nascent conversations by highlighting the prelusive or formative signifiers within aesthetic production. As a structure, it evokes several key platforms within art practice from the exhibition through to the library, the archive or collection. Reservoir’s purpose is to proposition thought, to intensify artist’s networks, and to enhance the environment of research itself.

This concept builds on the experience gained from publishing the organ Metronome as a curatorial project specifically aimed at communication between artists and writers. For eleven years, Metronome worked as a transducer of models between artists living and working as far apart as Dakar, Oslo, Oregon, Paris or Tokyo. The aim was to ignite professional curiosity between practitioners, and to locate this discussion at a remove from the broader information requirements of the museum-going public. During a decade when affiliations and canons were being construed through international biennales and other essentially public platforms, Metronome elaborated a conversational structure purely for its participants. No public remit was necessary. Each of the distinctive issues was developed and printed in different cities and continents, supported more often through the sidelines of research institutes, private galleries, and collectors, and accessed through the personal contacts of each contributor. While it actively promoted a global remit, Metronome remained primarily a platform for prelusive investigations engineered during intervals in artistic production.

Reservoir also emerges as the culmination of Future Academy, a five-year investigation into the art college in fifty years from now, conducted with the support of leading art educational institutions, and through a matrix of student cells in London, Edinburgh, Dakar, Mumbai, Bangalore, Oregon, Ljubljana, Patras, Melbourne, Tokyo, and Yamaguchi. Future Academy questions prospective geographies of educational expansionism, the buildings and architectonics of art schools for the 21st century, the socio-cultural networks of artists, and the aesthetic shifts that are informing future art departments. The unifying objective of Future Academy lies in the prospect of establishing an innovative artist’s research environment. Here Reservoir offers the potential for an intellectual trading post that emphasises cultural heterogeneity. Artists are the editors and beneficiaries: they entrust it with their unfinished works, prototypes, blueprints, models, dossiers, personal collections and contacts. They pass access onto their assistants, apprentices, students, and friends.

3. Reservoir – A Human Base
Reservoir builds on the relational concept of the organ. It amplifies the idiosyncratic voice of this form of experimental publishing into a larger entity: a plant or a reservoir in the sense of a complex, interdependent energy base. As a transforming source of organic, mobile and sometimes dark knowledge, Reservoir ultimately has a human underpinning: it is qualified directly by artists, architects and filmmakers who qualify it with their contributions. It brings together several languages, cultural vernaculars, contrasting media, and disciplines offering a unique legacy of working materials that are polymathic and transcultural. This heterodox approach is less about classifying information or an archival procedure than about a collective work of contemporary communication between its users.

With Reservoir, the participation of an artist triggers off both a consideration of their past works, and the potential development of a unique new production that reflects this special dialogue. Exhibits may include works that were never previously shown, or formative elements such as a recording, a storyboard, photographs, models, or concept notes. Sometimes the outer shape may be less tangible: a memory, a conversation, or a set of impressions that led indirectly to the development of a major work. Here, Reservoir’s curatorial challenge is to encourage the encryption of these moments into things not necessarily to be considered as art (cf. Mel Bochner). These clues, testimonials, or even souvenirs, are situated midway between the encoded matrix of a blueprint, and the symbolism of a love letter. As both new objects and representations of earlier works, their presence lies to the side of the art market, just as it coincides with the more wayward route of an artist’s professional course.

The introduction of another person as source material can add a further dimension to Reservoir, generating an additional classification and set of values. Indeed, the ingenuity of each artist, their approach to the definition of the Reservoir itself, their understanding of its generative power for colleagues and younger producers from different contextual backgrounds is what makes Reservoir so valuable. Within a global condition of increased communications, it enables an experimental strategy to be developed for the exchange of different currencies and forms of intellectual property in contemporary practice. However, unlike the arbitrary character of a Google investigation or the reductive logic of bullet points, Reservoir encourages the reappraisal of personalised taxonomies and creative searches that are tactile, flexible, condensed and incommensurable.

4. Reservoir – A House of Keys
The artist is on a moving stairway (or escalator) about whose position he is trying to communicate but whose movement is itself a function of his efforts to communicate. (Gregory Bateson, 1972)
Most production, whether in film, architecture or visual art, is characterised by longer periods of limbo combined with apparently tangential tests and experiences that sometimes lead to spin offs, or prove inconsequential. It is here that the prelusive moment is so potent and fundamental to production. This research environment, for which Reservoir provides the energy, is not unlike a house of keys: to enter it and make it operational requires observing the structure, identifying the locks, or combinations of references, and developing an individual work method. Imagine Reservoir as a co-extension of studio and library, where the interaction of objects, films, images, and sounds signifies both the process of expulsion and the means from which new ideas are formed. It is the kind of place where a young filmmaker, architect or artist can spend a specific moment of time clearing their own path through the thicket of information that has led other artists and producers towards resolution.

Reservoir is an ideational foundry, a pool of meanings which together form an innovative collection of personalised inputs from living artists related – for example –to early ethnographic considerations in the work of Joseph Kosuth, Susan Hiller or Wolfgang Laib; performances by Marina Abramovic, Laurie Anderson, and Rebecca Horn; theatrical models of social collectivity with Michelangelo Pistoletto; journey narratives by Werner Herzog, heuristic devices such as TM from David Lynch, and empirical blueprints by Yona Friedman. Whilst one may assume that research materials from this generation of eminent practitioners are already located in the archives of museums and foundations, the objective of Reservoir is to highlight a distinct type of legacy that focuses on single items of personal initiate knowledge, selected or specially constructed such that although they are primarily objects, they are neither quite art works, nor obvious documents of elucidation.

5. Reservoir – A Research Collection
Ideally framed within the room of a college or institute, the installation can be in constant transformation changing each time new material is provided, or a visiting artist edits and reclassifies its contents. A certain tension may arise that foregrounds the mystery and elusive nature of these indices. For this mise-en-scène is directed towards study and individual research. As it progresses, Reservoir elicits a system of call and response from its users, enriching the original input with new formula and findings from its researchers. Reservoir offers an educational dimension parallel perhaps to Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne: it supports the evolution of new approaches to visual culture, research in art, and critical appraisal. The coherency that emerges from this curatorial process suggests that eventually it can become a collection in its own right, an exceptional repository of unrivalled works that are international, grassroots, and art historical.

6. Study and Access
Visitors to Reservoir are required to conform to certain conditions: appointments are necessary; and whilst no proof of formal education is required, a sense of real commitment and professional interest is encouraged. Entrance is not a ticket purchased at the door, but a written request to spend time to study inside Reservoir. Only a limited number of people are able to work in the space at a given time. People may travel to its location, making it part of their particular research proposal, and recognising that it offers a unique approach to knowledge production as well as a fieldwork experience. In addition, Reservoir can be used as a platform for discussions, one to one meetings, readings and other educational purposes, thereby boosting the host institution’s local profile. A specific website may be designed to help organise the input, response, and communications around the project, but this online facility must in no way replace or supersede the experience of Reservoir.
As part of this procedure there exists the option to set up a Roaming Faculty through which distinguished artists, architects, and filmmakers may associate new research to select studentships at the Reservoir.

7. Concluding Points:
Reservoir offers a deep curatorial conversation with artists that goes back to their early work and generates the possible development of a new, unique production centered on the prelusive phase. This transforming exhibit also encourages new approaches to critical and art historical writing.

Reservoir offers an active way of bringing artists into education without framing them as lecturers, tutors, or teachers, but rather more by seeing the art college as a unique site of production, centered on the transforming research exhibit.

Reservoir experiments with the research study/studio/exhibition environment developing a place that allows for further knowledge production. It recasts the notion of the artists’ library, away from flat ‘learning centers’ or virtual searches towards more complex locations for encounter. Like a culture, a bacteria, that builds on dialogue and additive input, it is about research-in-motion.

Reservoir can be seen to have an educational dimension parallel perhaps to Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne, or Georges Bataille’s Documents, or in recent times, to artists’ curated exhibitions from Joseph Kosuth’s Wittgenstein exhibition “The Play of the Unsayable”, Vienna (1989); Thomas Hirschhorn’s “24 Hour Foucault”, Palais de Tokyo, (2005); Ugo Rondinone’s “The Third Mind” at the Palais de Tokyo (2006); or Steven Claydon’s “Strange Events Permit Themselves the Luxury of Occurring”, Camden Arts Centre, (2007-8).

Reservoir gathers together a collection that is unparalleled – it contains works that are signs of liminality, neither inside nor outside of market values, that are personal, internal sources which are meaningful to artists, historians, and collectors, and students.

Dr. Clémentine Deliss 2008