Cultivating The Hinge: CASKO and the Revision of Space
"In the nonspace of the matrix, the interior of a given data construct possessed unlimited subjective dimension..." (William Gibson, Neuromancer, 81)
In embodied worlds, the means to hierarchical power lies within the circumscription, containment, and the imposition of definitions upon the physical and conceptual spaces available to those cultures or bodies whose concerns and interests are 'other' to those in power - in this world's current formation, primarily, those with moneyed interests. While notions of space may be formed in alterity, its use is currently constrained by permutations of hierarchy and coercion, commodification and stratification. Resistance is formed via the poetic dis-ruption of officially sanctioned languages of bodies in space by gestures that push, stretch, transgress, deconstruct, re-map and ultimately transform power-structures. In writing new spaces into being, we simultaneously write new presences into the messy, opaque and highly contested fabric of space-time. Writing outside the lines manifests itself in groundswells and explosions in the Dreamtime of cultural imagination.
CASKO, a series of site-specific shows in the non-gallery space of 'The Chiller', in High St., was such a gesture. Once a week for eight weeks in August and September 1997, audiences were taken on a Tardis trip via the germinal places in the depths of urban space, an ex-factory hybrid place neither 'appropriately' domestic nor public, connoting, in its industrial decrepitude, both the technological and the organic. The strange surreal privacy within the officially 'forgotten' core of the city lent itself, here, to the exploration of parallel dimensions, the simultaneity and alterity of co-existing subjectivities. The language of CASKO was three-dimensional, and more - the interested and inevitably political language of writing bodies in space, initiated and facilitated by artists and experienced by a hybrid crowd (by Christchurch standards) of others. It seems important to emphasise that CASKO, the phenomenon, was born not of the logic of capital, but of desire. Set apart from the machinations of 'arts' funding bodies, CASKO was a gift of time and energy from the artists: Mark McEntyre, Simon Howden and Emma Bugden, Daniel Arps, K8 and Pylon, Maria Walls, Alastair Crawford, Michelle Wise and Vanessa Jack; their curator/facilitator David Hatcher; and designer plan b to themselves, each other and the city of Christchurch.
CASKO's radical difference from what is currently happening elsewhere in Christchurch lay in its emphases on locality and location. CASKO re-presented a spontaneous eruption of energy called into being via atmospheric pressure, cultural currents, the 'strange weather' of late capitalist living as they manifest themselves in our particular locality: Christchurch. In its slick production, its energy, its curator's fetish for ambiguity, and its popularity amongst an art-fully hybrid audience, CASKO was the type of cultural event that displaces the notion of 'marginality' and reinvents art practice appropriately to its participants. In part, CASKO was responding to a specific lack: of spaces and resources available to encourage local, emerging artists, whose experimental and dissident logics often lie well outside 'The Arts' as they are conceived in mainstream cultures: whose support for safe, culturally sanctioned, well-defined art practices is conducive to classed affectations of 'consensus', and the smooth, suffocating machine of pluralism, where radical subject-ive difference is smothered by 'tolerance' for those 'types' that give the centre its margins. Hacking into the immune system of culture, infecting it with viral messages sent into systems of exploitative containment and repression, alternative practices are emergent: in-different to the approval and systems of financial reward allocated to contain those who wish to speak about, dissent from, and change culture. For those that no longer invest any belief in official structures as they stand (above us), 'artfulness' means operating by another logic; in this case, the creative deconstruction of spaces 'other' than the supposedly 'neutral' white cubes allocated to contain (and hold) 'art'.
While gallery spaces too, in theory, have great potential to explore the ramifications of alterity in de- and re-territorialisation, all too often the yearning for status, for stability, and romantic attachments to 'upgrading' or 'improving' with material from Elsewhere obstruct explorations of locality or difference-in-space. The political praxis of spatial deconstruction and re-evaluation gives way, in some cases, to blandly self-reflexive methodologies that forget their genealogies and the specificities of their cultural and/or geographical place. The voices repressed in these instances, though, as we know from Freud, will always return. In responding to an existing environment rather than the 'anywhere' of gallery space, subaltern, loaded and claimed art spaces like 'The Chiller' invite responses in bio/techno-diversity, and offer glimpses into alterity, upon which mutual respect can build, resisting closure. Out of the ruins of dominance come new presences in particularity, positioned views from somewhere. In Donna Haraway's words: "Relativism is a way of being nowhere while claiming to be everywhere equally. Relativism is the perfect mirror twin of totalisation in the ideologies of objectivity; both deny the stakes in location, embodiment and partial perspective; both make it impossible to see well... The alternative to relativism is partial, locatable, critical knowledges sustaining the possibility of webs of connection called solidarity in politics and shared conversations in epistemology." (Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women, 195).
The location of CASKO, in its hybridity, its 'in-betweenness', was mirrored, according to many of the artists, by their experience of working in interdisciplinary and fluid forms - with sound/photography/sculpture/video/cartography/performance and installational elements - as they helped, influenced, and transformed each others practices in a milieu of community, brought into being by the connective nature of its pre-production phase and the energy of its production. I want to distinguish, here, between the impulse toward homogenising 'collectivity', often resulting in the elision and denial of internal differences in structures like corporations and governments wherein the illusion of consensus is necessary to contain powerful knowledges and meanings, and connective practices which, in valorising difference, and refusing to suppress alternative perceptions with claims to singular authority leave its participants intact and free to 'dip into' other ways of being. Rather than being tightly curated around a theme or imposed upon by curatorial definitions of work 'appropriate' to the space, artists were able to contest and articulate the space themselves, as well as all aspects of the process, in relationship with the others, in dialogue over affinities and in difference. This is not to say that CASKO was random or ill-conceived; rather in its emphasis on free-form energy flow, it created space for the emergence of new conceptions as the layers of spatial 'writing' built over time. That CASKO was named via the brand of 'hinge' on The Chiller door, is metaphorical: the shows were hinged by community, but emphasised the multi-axiality of Being. Also metaphorically, the space inside The Chiller in its metallic reflectiveness, a state of indefinability with no clear edges, blurred the boundaries of the space, and enabled the participants' sense of their own parameters to shift.
Because the shows occurred on a weekly basis, artists' times in the space overlapped and practices transformed accordingly. The impressions of the last show had barely faded from the inner eyelids of its audience before the space was transformed once again; as artists cooked and ate there, and slept there, literally dreaming into being the next permutation of the space in a self-conscious palimpsest that acknowledged the simultaneity of different visions. Vision is not only a vehicle for knowledge and truth in empiricist cultures, it is also a vehicle for comparison and linkage. This process is eminently political: in Homi Bhabha's words, "Postcolonial critical discourses require forms of dialectical thinking that do not disavow or sublate the otherness (alterity) that constitutes the symbolic domain of psychic and social identifications" (Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 173). The co-eval quality of re-present-ation in CASKO displaced notions of authority or hierarchy: symptomatically, and appropriately, the last show literally deconstructed the walls to locate the space, radically, in its own space, re-membering the voyages we had taken for the previous weeks. In this sense the series became circular: the end was also the beginning. This was also the point where the logically incommensurable discourses of capital/ownership and creative deconstruction came up against each other in the landlord's incredulous response to the (albeit temporary) structural alterations to his building; "...anyone who goes round cutting holes in walls... ...we come from different worlds."
Post-postmodernism we enter a world of 'new critical strategism' where there is a significant amount of 'play' and re-creation involved. David Hatcher described the CASKO series to me recently as "...like having a picnic in a concrete box for eight weeks". Having the shows disrupt what amounts to his living and working space, he says, was about energy, and its affects. "Inspiration has a ripple effect... everything gets energised. (And then you go insane.)" This kind of insanity is welcome: CASKO was a strike, a raid on consciousness and on complacency, without a grand narrative or a wish for permanent allegiance, for which the structures of art ritual and review were unsurprisingly ill-prepared. Our journeys through it transform for us the space of High St., leaving layered traces to take into energised futures. In this case, as in all creative deconstructions, the sub-version of discourse renders a 'turning under' like that of fertile soil, vital for future growth. In this we see that the process of birth and decay are non-linear, and that while we may stand at the fin-de-millennium, we are simultaneously beginning a new era.
The journey to CASKO inverted the centrality of commercial space in our city streets, in turning past the facades of commerce down the alleyway into the labyrinthine organic tumult of the depths of the city itself, where illegitimate urban hybrids breathe and germinate. In this place new critical creatures are born(e) gasping for light, the city's machinic hum becoming pulse, creatures who will populate the new millennium and know how to survive it in new ways. These creatures are transforming space itself in their emergence from the seeds of connective energies born of alienation and dissatisfaction with an exploitative order, and the energy and enthusiasm built of desire for new forms of living and seeing: this is art as life and life as social text. Our subaltern city spaces surround and disrupt the smooth surface of moneyed exchange in its obsession with Elsewhere and the New, their use re-minding and re-membering the organicity of politics based on location, difference and mutual respect, as doors open in perception and the urban landscape is transformed into sites for connection in contingency and difference.
Taking its name from a hinge on the door of the walk-in refrigerator in which many of its exhibitions were focused, the CASKO series ran for eight weeks at what might be described as Christchurch's most reflective art project space during August and September 1997. Being an occasional space for the presentation of contemporary art, The Chiller from time to time provides a chance for artists to exhibit where such opportunities are otherwise not available.
With the knowledge that The Chiller is intermittently available as an exhibition site, several Christchurch artists approached me asking if they could show there some time during 1997, and after approaching a few others who were doing work I thought might add interesting visions to the sequence, a programme consisting of ten artists and eight shows was formed. Beyond this point the series organised itself, with artists covering their own expenses while I attempted to remove administrative details from their creative processes. My participation is best described as the facilitation of the shows on a weekly basis, and the provision of a portion of my studio space for the artists' use a month prior to, and then for the duration of the series. So much then, for curation.
It's important to note that CASKO was anything but a selection of the 'best' local emergent art or artists, particularly if 'best' is construed as the most fundable or purchasable young talent. It is truer to say that most of the artists exhibiting at The Chiller this year had little or no access to the city's more established gallery spaces, leaving them and many of their peers in a condition of what might be described as mild dispossession.
Of the eight exhibitions, two were produced by artists undertaking post-graduate studies at the Ilam School of Fine Arts, a further two came from artists in their final year of undergraduate study at the same school, while the rest of the series consisted of recent graduates, a sculptor with no previous exhibiting experience, two cultural operators usually identified with underground audio 'events', and a mock-minimalist/patheticist from Dunedin with a history of collaboration with Christchurch artists. A couple of artists whose practises would have suited the space well were simply too busy, and eight weeks was as far as The Chiller's socio-spatio-temporal resources could manage at one stretch, so it's important to regard the series as an operation within somewhat arbitrary parameters.
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Many thanks are due to RDU, Geocities, and Absolut Vodka in Sydney for their generous support of the previews.