So… Negotiating Equity plans to ‘Address the ethics and practice of curatorship as a mode of art production, asserting that these terms of engagement imply rethinking the economic and social conditions of art.’
Mmmn I think this is going to be an interesting project. Of the three on offer, I’ve chosen ‘Negotiating Equity’ because the one I ‘should’ have been doing – ie the public space one, was linked up with the Zuidas and I couldn’t bear the prospect of another project spent doing ideological battle. This project seems to include some degree of if not institutional critique, at least institutional unravelling.
As developments in the last group project I worked on turned into a kind of artists soap-opera, looking back I wished I’d blogged the whole thing from start to finish. That chance is past and gone, but I’m going to blog this project from the start, just in case….
But first, before the extended blog, here’s the latest version of my plans
Jimini Hignett’s proposal for ID-11 – latest version…
Despite usually taking a long time mulling over different options for a project – when heard I’d have an empty apartment to work in for 5 months I knew straight away what I should do: upon receipt of the key to the apartment I would offer it to a family of refugees so that they could live there! Although the most important thing would be that they would feel safe and comfortable in their temporary home, it would be great if they were also keen to participate more actively in the project and perhaps even open the apartment to allow the public to enter and view them in their home as an exhibit – hopefully provoking some debate around art, homelessness, exploitation, etc.
That was the original proposal…
Unfortunately, logistically this didn’t work out – instead of 5 months it was to be two… probably not worth it for a family of refugees, so, coming across B. a homeless Afro-American woman selling the ‘Z’ newspaper at the supermarket near my studio, I decided to offer it to her. She was delighted at the idea of a place to herself with free amenities, even if only for 2 months, and says she’ll start saving bits and pieces of household stuff she might need immediately.
But then things changed again, instead of a whole apartment with all amenities, it turned into a shared apartment for only a week.
B. sensibly, wasn’t interested, but by this time we’d already talked about her being involved in the project, making a video about her life, so rather than search for a Delft homeless person who might just find it worth their while using the place for such a limited period, I thought about another plan with B.
I have the idea to turn the apartment into a one-night-hotel where she can invite 3 homeless friends and we’ll make a fancy dinner and they’ll each get a room and breakfast in bed the next day then I’ll drive them all back to the streets of Amsterdam. Everyone else involved in the project aggress to contribute – Raymond and Julio will cook, Veri and Marina will waitress, Amanda and Hidé will decorate the space, Manami is going to make a specially knitted going-away present with a one-use camera, Suzanne will do something with lighting, etc. Great – a real collaboration!
But then when we finally get the keys and I can visit ID-11 it becomes apparent that there are no 4 bedrooms, only one, and a big dark cupboard – so that plan has to be scrapped too…
- Apartment 603, livingroom with Alpen wallpaper!
Delft means nothing to B., she has never been there and the important things in her life are in Amsterdam, she’d love to have some stuff as memories of her time spent here, particularly as she’s now planning on leaving to go back to the US.
However, she does agree to come to Delft with me and spend a few hours videoing in the apartment.
So now the plan has been reduced to this – collaborating with B. videoing her in different locations, talking about her life and her time in the Netherlands, using the block of flats in Delft (which looks remarkably similar to the Bijlmer which she says she recognised from the dream God sent her) as one of those locations. It’s a bit of tenuous link to ID-11 but given the circumstances it makes sense.
That and documentation about the whole process of in the form of a blog/project-journal.
Read More in the blog below:
January 20th 2009
Phoned refugee centres in Delft and in Amsterdam, but our dates are still not sure, it’s already into the first of the 5 months, and I find it really difficult to get into any depth with the refugee centre if I can’t give them definite dates, it makes it all sound so vague. They haven’t come up with anything helpful yet, kept passing me back to Amsterdam which is the central organisation, but Amsterdam keeps saying I have to do it through the local centres. You’d think they’d be a bit keener to help, there must be plenty of people who could use a bit of privacy for a few months. The bloke in Delft though sounded like he was keen to help and as if he liked the artistic parameters of the project as well as just the housing offer. He says he’ll try and find me a family. I’ll send him an email with the proposal and I’ll try them again in a few days.
February 4th 2009
My proposal sent to the chap at the refugee centre:
Upon receipt of keys to the apartment I will offer it to a refugee (possibly with family) so that they can live there for the five month duration.
Aims of my project (in order of importance):
1. To provide housing for those in need of it.
2. To provoke discussion about the provision of housing for artists as opposed to people without homes.
3. To incite discussion about what can be termed an art project, and to probe, in accordance with the aims of ‘Negotiating Equity’ into “theories of fairness in questioning divergent value systems and testing artistic models”.
Although it would be nice if all the above aims were accomplished, the issue of priority is important – at no point should an aim further down the list jeopardize a more urgent point.
So, in the first place, it is important that the refugees should feel safe and comfortable in their temporary home. That said, it would nonetheless be useful if they understood the other aims of the project and were able to support them. This would enable the possibility of their collaboration in attempting to exacerbate the discussion on housing and art and in provoking debate on issues of the (ab)use of painful misfortune and ‘otherness’ for the sake of aesthetics. Toward these ends, we could, for example, arrange to open the apartment on the exhibition dates and allow the public to enter and view the residents and their home as an exhibit. This should cause the necessary outrage to elicit some vehement discussion, as well as, presumably, making the visitors feel uncomfortable. Clearly such a move is only possible if the residents understand the project and are keen to participate in this way – otherwise it will be they, rather than the visitors, who bear the burden of discomfort. Ideally the apartment could be used by people with some affinity with contemporary arts or activist practices.
Things have changed – we now get only two months – May and June, and 10 apartments between the 11 of us.
2 months is a lot of upheaval and it makes it less flexible date-wise for a refugee family who already have some kind of space (even if it is shared), so I’m considering it might have to be a homeless person instead.
I spoke to B., the homeless African American woman who sells the ‘Z’ newspaper by the Albert Heijn supermarket. Sounded her out about Delft, not being certain on dates etc but she was interested anyway despite it not being Amsterdam.
It’s gonna be a shame for her to have to leave after 2 months but I guess its better than nothing.
What I got of her story (it was a bit difficult to follow so I hope I’m being accurate here…) She’s from DC but has lived all over the US. Was in the army for years and years but got pissed off because she’d joined ‘to see the world’ and they just kept moving her around the US and never abroad. She was an army nurse. She wasn’t homeless, she had a nice house in Washington. Then she had a dream – in it she was a little girl, only 2 years old, and she was real strong this little girl, she wasn’t afraid of anything, and nothing could harm her. The little girl was in a place with these buildings which B. didn’t recognise. Not in any place she’d ever seen. She tried to figure them out and finally discovered that they were in Amsterdam. She knew then that the dream had been a message from God. That she had to go to Amsterdam. So she did. She’s been here since 2003. But she feels her time here is almost coming to an end, she’s hoping and expecting another message from God, and then she can go back to the US.
Anyway, I got her mobile number.
(Busy preparing for a different project – Detroit. We leave on the 4th. Still have my mum here and vegetables to plant, so Delft is on a slow burner for now.)
February 18th 2009
Meanwhile, I send the other participants a different version of the plan, just to provoke reaction -
Proposal – Delux version:
Ideally all my colleagues could be persuaded to relinquish their apartments to persons in need of homes too.
In this case – in order to provide some compensation for the loss of a space to show their work – the whole ID-11 building could be reconstructed in ‘Second Life’ and participants could ‘exhibit’ or perform their work there instead of in the real building, which would be home to families of refugees instead.
There is no response…
Been thinking, maybe I can manage a 2 month balcony garden for B. or whoever is in Delft if I start stuff off now…. hmmm … radishes, lettuce, spinach, chives, parsley, lilies… I’ll get on to it. Do we have balconies there?
March 24th –
There’s an email from Renée:
Says the dates are tentatively May 7th-until end of June, but that there will be only 6 apartments, not 10… aaarrgh!
She suggests that I might be able to negotiate my way into having the apartment alone whilst others share – I hope so!
I send out another email to the group, suggesting again that each of us offer up their apartment to a homeless person, not expecting any takers. There are no replies…
April 20th – email from Renée:
She’s also spoken with B. and is encouraging her to take part in the project.
April 24th – Back in town for two days only, tried to touch base with B. at the Albert Heijn just to confirm that she’s still interested in the apartment. She wasn’t there and her mobile was on voice-mail so I left a message telling that the place is available from mid May for 6 weeks and sent her a text just to be sure. Hope she’s still around…
If worst comes to worst I’ll spend the week of the 7th seeking a photogenic Delft Z-salesperson…
Saturday 9th May – Oh dear… emails from Rik (from the DAI) and from Renée
There is very bad news from Delft. There are now only two apartments that we can use, and only one with gas, electricity and water that can be lived in and used. The other has been stripped: no water, no gas, no electricity, but we can still use for projects.
Both apartments we can get into as of coming Monday until the end of July.
This means two people to share each apartment for about a week…
Well I suppose it’s just as well that I haven’t gotten hold of B.…
Now what…I wonder if she’d still be interested in living there if it’ only for a week? I feel embarrassed to even suggest it, it’s such a stupid let-down. Horrid mean message to have to convey, bah! Perhaps if she were interested in taking a more active part in the thing as art-project and can see it as that instead of just as a place to live… Otherwise, I suppose I’ll have to find someone in Delft, someone for whom it’d be worth moving in for only a week. It would need to be the flat with water and electrics obviously… It means that I’d probably need the flat to myself (themself) for the week, unless there’s someone who thinks they can find a way to combine…
May 9th – Lots of emails
Email from Marina (one of my colleague artists):
…this becomes more and more interesting. I opened my inbox and found seven mails about changes, and reactions push me to think farther about these project.
Looking at the big picture of these project from the beginning till now-it is not important now “my plan-work”…it is about us, how we are planning, what we are expecting, how we are talking (writing, presenting) our idea, what do we do when we have the opportunity to work in some space five months, then one month, and finally one week, did you think how work is changing, and how flexible you have to be to accept that, and to think about plan B,C,D at the same moment…
Email from Veri -
She has a practical problem…. nowhere go between 15 of May and beginning of July, her plans were living in Delft as a project and using the video documentation as the body of project.
‘I would like to propose my project as a virus as a permanent body that will interact with the projects while the process of changes living. So, for that I need to live the whole period there and completely open to adapt based to the necessities of the next two people. So as a virus that is permanent but could adapt.’
And the homeless person…?
Email from Suzanne:
‘Jimini I am sorry but I rather not live together for this week with the homeless person, because I don t know him or her and if I only have one week I have to be very concentrated.’
Negotiating equity indeed… I wonder if this was part of the plan from the off… and what the next hurdle will be…?
Monday May 11th –
Still no sign of B.. I’ve taken to asking the cashiers at the Albert Heijn if they’ve seen B.. Late yesterday evening I was passing and checked in just in case, the chap was helpful, said he hadn’t seen her for a while, suggested I try earlier in the afternoon. Today the one I asked didn’t know who I was talking about. Went twice today – no B., instead there was a creased looking Romanian woman playing the accordion, very badly.
This is becoming ‘How to go on…’
I email the group -
‘Though I’m sure no-one will succumb… I still feel compelled to ask this -
How about we ALL just share the flat with nothing somehow and I find a (real) homeless person and let them live in the other flat for the whole time. And they are asked to co-operate in any way they/we feel okay with?
Email from Marina:
‘…or we can all work in may and homeless person can be there in June…’
(No response from anyone else…)
Tuesday May 12th -
Woke up this morning with the thought that perhaps the way to met up with B. is to send her a text-message from God…
“Hi B., God here, listen, I really want you to take part in that art project in Delft. You should meet up with Jimini – Albert Heijn this afternoon! Take care, Big G.”
I don’t feel I can mess with her like that though. If only I was a less scrupulous person…
I’ll settle for a postcard taped to the wall behind her pitch in the hope that if not she, then perhaps some other ‘Z’ salesperson will see it and pass on the message.
- Postcard message in Supermarket
For now at least I will put it in my name, perhaps on Sunday I’ll have God sign it…
I remember now that when we were chatting and her phone went she just switched it off without really looking at it. She said she was given it by some man. That he’d given her the phone and then thought that this entitled him to sleep with her, and that she’d been affronted and angry with him, and that she’d refused but kept the phone as compensation for the insult. She assumed that whoever was phoning was either him or someone phoning for him.
Perhaps that’s why I can’t reach her.
Maybe this project is going to turn into ‘Looking for B.’… or else ‘desperately seeking a homeless person’, or even back to ‘Search for a refugee’…
I have to set a limit to the time I will wait before looking for someone else – I will give it until Monday, discipline myself to go to the AH at least twice a day to search for her. Meantime I’ll phone the Salvation Army in Delft and ask them to look out for a likely candidate for me just in case.
Tuesday evening :
Still no B., but a cashier with Ginger on her nametag knew her and said she’d certainly been there last week, so all is not lost… Ginger agreed to pass on a postcard I wrote with my phone number and a request to get in touch. Card the most neutral one I had, so that it doesn’t get interpreted as an obscure coded message from some higher power – coloured balloons and streamers – well, not really neutral, but most of my collection is either weird art or naked people…
Trying to find a title for my project is tricky as it’s still all so up in the air. I just googled the combination Delft and Homeless and I get pages and pages about evictions in South Africa – Province, city at war about Delft’s homeless – Land earmarked for Delft homeless – Legal residents evicted in Delft move mayhem – Delft: ‘Community have nowhere else to go’ – Delft residents refuse, resist eviction – etc etc Well… never knew that …
Blikkiesdorp, Delft, South Africa
Images from http://antieviction.org.za/
Wednesday May 13th -
Two animal rights people with a stall set up at the AH today say B. was in early that morning but left when she saw they were there – so I missed her…drat!. They think she’ll be in again tomorrow, same sort of time. They’ll also pass on my message and number if she comes back later. A whole circle of people know I’m looking for her now…
Thursday May 14th -
Finally found B. – she’d lost her phone, and thus also my number. Ginger presumably had given her my note. B. also insists that she’s on the point of moving back to the US – which I am taking with a bit of a pinch of salt, meanwhile trying to think up a new plan with her. Videoing stuff about her life in Amsterdam. She is keen because she says that she’s in touch with a journalist about writing her autobiography. But she’s not interested in Delft. Don’t blame her, who would be for only a week!
I suggest trying to organise a one night hotel for her and her 3 friends – a bedroom each, plus dinner and breakfast… A one night restaurant, a last supper meets view of Delft… B. likes this idea of a special going-away party with friends and says that she’ll put off leaving until then, filling the gap by doing street evangelism until she leaves. She knows who she’ll invite, 3 women, 2 Dutch one Brazilian. I’ve said I’ll take them there in my car.
I mail round an get everyone involved – Veri and Marina want to waitress/perform (and Veri suggests also having music from Julio on guitar… good idea!), Amanda and Hidé will help decorate the place, Suzanne will do something with lighting, Manami will knit a special going away gift, Raymond and Julio (who, despite being Mexican turns out not to play the guitar…) will cook, And I’ve found out the name of a nearby catering company who might sponsor proper white tablecloths and stuff. Nice that this might turn into a collaborative project after all!
Visit ID-11 – No extra bedrooms in the only flat which has amenities… only one, plus a useless dark cupboard (whatever for?) – so that puts paid to the hotel plan – shit! So now the plan is just to film B. in different locations, talking about her life and her time in the Netherlands, and the block of flats in Delft (which looks remarkably similar to the Bijlmer which she says she recognised from the dream God sent her) can be one of those locations. It’s a bit of tenuous link to ID-11 but given the circumstances it’ll have to suffice.
Tuesday May 19th -
Dropped by the AH again to see B. – and to apologize again for the reduction in plans now that the sleepover is off. I have resolved to check in every time I visit the studio just so as to keep that warm. She has been thinking about the idea of the video and is really into it. Definitely wants me to give her a copy, and to give her photos, for when she writes her book. She’s still planning on leaving for the USA, telling everyone that she’ll quit the AH on the 28th of May.
Thursday May 21st -
Touch base with B. still not definite on dates but she says she’ll have a phone at the end of the month so I make sure she has my number. I promise to visit the supermarket on the 28th, and we resolve to communicate via postcards on the AH bulletin board if we don’t manage to meet up.
Thursday May 28th -
Broken down in Belgium with a steam gulching leak in the radiator I arrive back in the city too late but drop by the AH just in case, but B. has already gone.
Saturday 30th -
No sign of B. And no note on the board. I leave one for her with my phone number again, reminding her to call me sometime soon to set dates to video.
June 5th -
The note I left in the supermarket is gone this evening. I leave another one. If there’s no sign of her on Monday I’m going to try and find the shelter where she sleeps, though she said they’re very difficult about letting non-residents in.
Also, today, finally figured out the title for this thing – Godsend!
June 7th -
No B., maybe I’m going about this the wrong way, perhaps I have to use her methods of communication, somehow get a message to God so that he can communicate with her that she should phone me.
Actually, maybe I should just buy her a sim-card, Reneé already offered the use of an old phone – but then maybe the chase is a interesting part of the process…
June 8th -
10.15am at B.’s pitch in the supermarket, a lanky, shell-shocked looking ‘Z’-salesman tells me she’s elsewhere – he just keeps repeating in a thick German accent – Not here, not here – and the name of the other supermarket. I cycle over there. There’s a Rumanian woman playing the accordion who doesn’t understand any of the languages I try. She watches non-comprehending, my ‘guess-what-I’m-miming charade of – woman, selling, newspaper, dark-skin, frizzy hair – she just grins and shakes her head. Luckily the girl at the cigarette counter knows B. says she’ll probably be in at around 4.
- Cashier with postcard message
She gives me a card to write on and says B. could use the supermarket phone to call me if we don’t manage to meet up today. The scent is becoming warmer!
Finally find B. in the afternoon at the new AH and we arrange to meet tomorrow to do the first bit of filming.
June 9th -
I am just writing a new message for B. when she arrives and we actually manage to get some videoing done.
Veri took this picture of me waiting & writing a note for B.)
It’s raining so traipsing around town isn’t an option, instead we use my studio. She talks non-stop until the tape runs out 20minutes later, and then fills the second one of 60minutes in 2 takes. All abut her childhood, her abusive sounding family and a few other unrelated bits. Keeps lapsing into drawn out rants about people at church or totally unrelated incidents which it’s impossible to follow. Still, we’ve established enough of a rapport that it’s going to be okay to get her to come to Delft with me.
Arrange to meet at the supermarket tomorrow afternoon to set up a date to go to Delft and film.
June 10th -
Spend all day trying to get my camera to communicate with my laptop in order to capture the video – aaaarrgggh technology! Finally manage it but by that time am too tired to concentrate on the footage – but at least the sound seems to be okay -thanks to Renée for lending me her microphone. Image is pretty useless though. Just talking head with a messy studio background.
B. not at the supermarket when I go in the afternoon – here we go again… I leave another postcard taped to the wall behind her usual pitch.
June 11th -
No sign of B. at the other supermarket this morning. The bloke suggests I try the Salvation Army hostel, but I’ll wait on intruding there until I really can’t find her. Finally find B. at 5pm – yesterday she’d been finding a place to sleep and now she has somewhere – good!
She suggests doing Delft on Monday and we also arrange that I will go to film her in church on Sunday. Slowly slowly we’re getting somewhere.
June 14th -
Sunday morning – the last thing I feel like doing is getting up early and going to church. Especially when I can never be sure that B’s going to show up…
I am sent up to the balcony where there are headphones with simultaneous translation into English and people tell me B. usually sits. But everything’s already started and she still hasn’t arrived. End of the first psalm she turns up and actually it turns out quite fun. Singing like you don’t expect in Holland. And dancing and waving bright coloured satin flags. Later on even talking in tongues and people having bad spirits exorcised. One woman throwing up on the floor after having whatever it was yelled at so loudly it left her body (in a cloud of vomit).
Unfortunately I cannot film any of this as we’re up on the balcony and too far away. Anyway I’d feel really uncomfortable pushing past everyone to film the juicy bits and would worry about jeopardizing the tenuous relationship with B. by doing so. Perhaps some other time.
A visiting convert from Indonesia – which we are reminded is the largest Muslim country in the world, plenty souls needing saved there – whose husband is a jazz musician, does a marvellous Christianised version of a couple of jazz classics which have B. halleluiah-ing and the crowd standing up to clap at the end.
Unlike the singing, the sermon is horrible. Dreadful evangelistic, righteous stuff – we will be saved and the rest will perish. Christianity the only true religion. Going on and on about how many souls are being converted in Iran as we speak. The songs too reflect this – Our God is great, so great our God. Totally reminiscent of Allah’s greatness … To the minister’s credit though, he does instruct them all not to vote for Wilders – whom he says, may claim to be a Christian but is clearly possessed by the devil. Amen to that!
Body and blood being served from an amazingly kitsch golden coloured set of stacking dishes passed around by men with shiny hair and shoes and women in fancy dresses.
It makes me grin the way the preacher shouts – God is good! Let’s have a round of applause for God! Yeah, give it up for God! – funny!
June 15th -
Film B. on the train on the way to Delft, asking her just to look out of the window so that I have some quiet footage to run text over. She is quiet for about 3 seconds and then starts off telling about life back in Maryland and goes on non-stop until we are disturbed by someone’s phone ringing.
Same thing happens when I ask her for some still shots whilst she’s smoking a cigarette I have begged for her from a fellow tenant out on the balcony of apartment 636 where we are filming. So much for some neutral footage to use in the montage…
Her stories jump so much from one thing to the next and wander off down so many confused and confusing tracks that I’m going to have a helluva time trying to edit it…
2 and half tapes of talk to go through…
We arrange to do one last shoot in Amsterdam on Friday. I get the number of her new phone just in case.
Also offer to try and take her out on the canal in a boat. She’s never been in small boat, only a big ferry, and despite growing up on the sea coast, never learned to swim. Her mum didn’t allow the girls, the boys could do as they liked. Have to borrow a life-jacket though.
June 16th -
Discover that B. has switched the microphone off during shooting and that therefore there’s no sound on the longest take – about 35 minutes of totally silent jabbering. Aaarrgh! All the stuff about becoming homeless…
Other stuff is mostly fine although when she gets excited and waves her arms around the mike goes in and out of view and in and out of voice range. Still, that might be quite funny.
Shots otherwise really boring, still don’t have the confidence to give her any direction or ask many questions, in case she is put off, the relationship still seems so tenuous and i am simply releived to have got this far with her. So I just let her roll as it were.
June 17th -
B. cancels. Wants to do Tuesday. Maybe if it’s nice weather I’ll take her up on the roof, nice backdrop of the city.
June 23rd, Tuesday -
Just when I thought we were getting somewhere, B. doesn’t show again. Spend the time trying to edit some of her Delft texts together. Serious possibility that this will be all I have to work with.
But end of the afternoon she phones. Today didn’t work out, she was in Over Amstel at the storage place where she keeps all her stuff – being homeless is really time-consuming. She agrees to come tomorrow at 11 (hope I can continue to borrow Renées mike…)
June 24th -
Mentioned this project to Rob vK. this morning who felt sorry that God was letting B. wait so long for a message allowing her to return to the US – he offered to go by her pitch acting as a messenger hinting that it was time now – not sure if he was going to don a beard and a robe…
B. does show up this time and we spend the morning on the roof top filming. She seems in less good shape, the stories tending more quickly toward God and righteousness, but at the last minute I ask her to expand on her comment that ‘women is always getting’ blamed’, – and she does a marvellous version of the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent.
Bought her a book, she says she likes to read (though it’s mostly the bible, still her disregard for authority is interesting in the light of her fervent religiousness) – wanted to give her ‘Year of Wonders’ because it’s about the persecution of women who are different, plus it’s a good read. But couldn’t get a hold of it. Instead bought her Peter Carey’s ‘True Story of the Kelly Gang’ because it’s non-stop, non-punctuated style is something like B.’s and again, it’s a story of the persecution of the poor, abuse of power and the desperation that comes out of it. Not sure if she has the concentration for lives other than her own though.
Spend the rest of the day both trying to get the new material out of the camera on to the computer – to no avail, aarrrggh – and failing that, starting to work on a 10minute montage of her monologue in Delft. Editing video for the first time so having endless trial and error and struggles to learn the bloody programme.
June 25th -
Finally managed to edit something the right size to put on this blog, battling my computer which still isn’t talking to the camera… ggrrrr!
Here’s a one minute preview of B. – on the balcony in Delft.