A little over a month ago, our ex and honorary resident Milena Kosec sent us an email about her decision to “pension herself off as a contemporary artist”, with a picture of herself in a RFAOH T-shirt, taken during her visit to Kassel – which she “will probably use for (her) last proclamation”. She added, “In Kassel and also in Munster I haven’t seen something new. But my garden is full of surprising harvest. I can’t believe”.
In another line, Milena touchingly hoped that we’re still satisfied with RFAOH as it was very important to her. We have kept this news to ourselves until now, not really knowing what to say or how to feel about it. We know that RFAOH has been all different things to different residents, and with her case, we wondered if it was a kind of epilogue to her art practice/career when she had already sort of been making her way out of the “artworld”, to instead devote her time to her life and organic garden. We feel grateful that Milena found us and for her enthusiastic participation, and even better, that we could meet in person and present together in her local Ljubljana about life and art and hiatus. We also remember having a dialogue that she started thinking about some “projects” for the upcoming year, but not quite ready yet.
Right from the start, “artists and retirement” was one of the topics we were curious about (with a nod to Duchamp’s case) and it’s a topic that becomes more and more pertinent as we get older or go through different life circumstances ourselves. Meanwhile, this is also one amazing thing about RFAOH, that we have had someone like Milena, who has gone through the cycle of an “artist life”, and also like Ramla, who had just graduated from art school only a few years ago, both responding to our project and using the opportunity totally differently. And we as RFAOH community members, are given opportunities to talk about these things openly.
In the last few months, even while we appeared or honestly felt a bit like being “on hiatus” ourselves, inquiries from potential future candidates-on-hiatus have kept coming. This is a reflective time for us to re-think about our own perceptions, and new implications/potential of “non-(art)production” (which now seems to be talked about everywhere) like our residents themselves have done. Milena’s announcement and note meant so many things to us that we needed time to digest it. Thank you Milena for keeping in touch and being communicative about such personal decisions; and to the rest of us, let’s keep the conversation going.
After exciting Venice and Portugal where we met Tehching, Wayne, and Marisa, we co-directors flew to opposite directions and have been running two satellite offices ever since. (this sometimes happens) While dealing with different kinds of realities, each of us has had moments to reflect on Martin Creed’s “the whole world + art = the whole world”, which keeps us wondering rather than discouraged.
Over three weeks in June, co-director (s) had to make multiple trips to the tax office in Japan to file her due on her own, unassisted by the “artsy” accountant who understands it all and helps her in Canada. As we had announced in different places, RFAOH was fortunate to receive some public support from Canada Council for the Arts this past year. At the office, she had a different tax officer every time, to answer to her “non-average” questions due to her peculiar “occupation” and “situation”. The first officer had very little clue that this kind of stuff or life existed. He was so puzzled but would kindly go back into his office and look up precedents in obscure cases in a book and gave her his best objective advice accordingly. The second officer seemed rather miffed about this “nonsense”, even though he wasn’t rude or anything. He kept giving her analogies with other professions, to prove what she was saying made little sense. She felt constantly challenged. The ultimate line in their conversation was “…so you are saying that the government supports you to ‘volunteer’?” Ironically, it actually made a lot of sense and she felt weirdly enlightened (after feeling slightly pathetic). Then the last officer seemed genuinely curious about this non-average case and even bothered to ask her questions to better understand about this “unconventional” art thing or a lifestyle or income sources he has never known or imagined. Obviously, co-director (s) could explain things much better with some kind of confidence than the second time around where she mumbled the whole time as if she was a criminal. After this entirely reflective experience about how we/art may or may not exist in our world of the sole, steadfast “currency”, here’s what she concluded on social media:
“Talking to a tax officer almost convinces you that “non-production” is the only solution to stopping the madness of our world, and I think more deeply about this producing “work” about non-production. It’s a bit like John Cage’s line: “there’s nothing to say and I’m saying it”. (I also produce my own jams and clothes and stuff)”
Meanwhile at RFAOH headquarters in Canada, the legacy of Venice Biennale had an interesting spin. Among our decent collection of tote bags, half of which we seem to have acquired in Venice, co-director (m) has lately been using the one we picked up at the Australian pavilion this year as it is a nice size and design to carry on his back while he bikes. The aboriginal artist, Tracy Moffat represented Australia this year with her work addressing various narratives around indigenous experience in Australia. The tote bag is black with the words “INDIGENOUS RIGHTS” on one side in yellow Helvetica, and “REFUGEE RIGHTS” on the other in Red. Even though Canada remains relatively open to immigration and refugees, the recent report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has spot lit our country’s own shameful history with our first nations people. So it’s a topic, especially this year as the country celebrates its 150 year of confederation (colonization), and RFAOH’s headquarters Montreal celebrates its 375th year. Meanwhile, debates around cultural appropriation continue to spiral throughout the arts blogosphere, and co-director (m)’s simple tote bag began to seem like a provocation on so many fronts. June 24 was Jean Baptiste Day — a tradition brought over to Quebec with the first French settlers, and which also carries with it certain amount of nationalistic fervour given the history and chronic political anxiety of our predominantly French province within a predominantly Anglophone nation(continent). There is usually a good representation of separatists enjoying the parade along with a few too many wobbly pops, a few of whom took issue with his tote bag promoting refugees and indigenous rights. And in English text!
As we reflect on all of this, we again come back, as we seem to constantly do with this project, to the relationship between rhetoric and reality, and the plasticity of both. We think about this bag which is not really art but perhaps could be collectable should Tracy Moffat’s career take off. Or perhaps it is an extension of her work at the Australian Pavilion as people carrying around the tote bag assume some agency for the questions she is posing in Venice. What is this difference between carrying it around the Giardini among the artworld players and wealthy holiday-ers, or down the east end of L’Avenue Mont Royal during the Jean Baptiste Day revelry, or past the group of first nation’s individuals who hang out at the corner of St Urbain and Sherbrooke every morning? What is a slipperiness between context and the language itself? To one group the text seems (apparently) to be a threat, to the other, perhaps meaningless or trite, or a gesture of solidarity to yet another. Co-director (m) just needs to carry his things: a bottle of water, his other glasses, and book of essays he’s working through on Institutional Critique.
Whoa, there’s less than a week left until the end of July 2017, and the end of RFAOH’s third year! As always, we have to deal with this overwhelming melancholy but maybe it is a good thing that our term ends in mid summer when the bright sun may cheer us up a little.
RFAOH office had an eventful and exciting May, and June and July have been all about getting back to other sides of reality, dealing with things like taxes, day jobs, or family matters. Yes, this is all excuse for our no posts in a while, but how non-artsy occurrences take up so much time and energy, and we understand 100%, the frustration (and guilt, perhaps) over “non-production” that anyone out there in whichever the artworld may go through. On top of that, our residents have to report their “on-hiatus” stuff. They cannot even just rest. How brutal is that??
And here we are, rather late but sharing some news since our last one in May. First and foremost, we have had four residents finish their hiatus at RFAOH — Rob decided to leave his term two months early as “…the little green man appeared and urged him forward” — to resume his art practice, we presume. His final report is chock-full with metaphor and ambiguity that is so Rob, until the very end. Meanwhile, George did not leave early but sort of disappeared as the end of the running season approached, and he started to take up many other interesting things that may be art or not art he told us in his final report. It sounds super exciting. Then, Wayne‘s term ended at the same time as he graduated from his MFA program (how ironic is it?) and Lee, who’s term also ended on June 30th, had to come back in July to post one last report, which, she had hoped to be a “…grand-finale type post about how everything is getting on track and I’m ready to spread my wings and excited to dance back into the ‘art world’”. Was it? You go check it out. Their final reports should be coming soon as well. After these four, plus Joyce who must be in full-swing right now in her brewing course at Oregon U, only Ramla and Marisa remain, getting ready (or not ready) for the end of their residencies. Listing our 2016/17 residents here now, we are once again reminded of our amazing cohort this year and feel super fortunate to have had them. And, it’s not quite over yet! Please make sure that you are connected with us in some way, so that you won’t miss any upcoming news from RFAOH. The future of “artists on hiatus” and our expanding community needs your continued attention and support!
What else has happened? Please read our belated June report in which we reflect once again on “the whole world + art = the whole world” through rather personal anecdotes.
As reported in our last post, we traveled to Venice during the biennale’s preview week to attend the reception and talk of our “advisory board”, the legendary Tehching Hsieh. Until the last minute, we had been waffling whether to go but an invitation to his private reception tipped the balance and off we went. It’s true that the preview week can be bit of a zoo with lineups and fancy eye glasses everywhere (like an Art Disneyland) but we all know it’s just part of it and there are many great things to see and reflect upon as Matt quoted to our own CBC. This, of course included Tehching’s exhibition Doing Time curated by Adrian Heathfield that featured two of his famous one year performances he had done in the early 1980s. We had seen his work at different institutions in the past but it was the first time that we saw his archived clothes(!) from his Outdoor Piece (1981-82). Plus, the short video that Adrian made with Tehching for the occasion showed a touching retrospective on his life and work at that time. Here’s a nice YouTube video summarizing his exhibition at Venice.
And it was indeed fantastic to meet Tehching in person, such a kind and humble individual, even in the somewhat surreal setting — his vernissage in a medieval court yard followed by a swanky buffet on a five star hotel terrace overlooking the Grand Canal, where some faces even looked familiar (to us, not us to them!) and we felt we had crashed the party. We were honoured, and also a bit humbled that Adrian and some others genuinely seemed to know about RFAOH. At a panel discussion the next day, Adrian Heathfield and three other researchers (Carol Becker, Peggy Phelan and Jane Rendell) spoke along with Tehching himself on the dominant themes of his work, which made us think of “hiatus”, “life and art”, and the “artworld” even more deeply. During the Q&A, we both felt compelled to ask questions; Shinobu’s question was about the arbitrary/uncertain division between art and life, which she summated in this simple line: “Would there be a ‘life biennale’ in the future?” It was partly a reaction to Peggy Phelan’s statement concerning Tehching’s work: “Let’s not frame it as ‘art’ but frame it as ‘life’”.
Then, unbelievably – and this REALLY HAPPENED – Ms. Marina Abramović, who was sitting two chairs down from us interjects, and after throwing shade at Damien Hirst for being too “commercial” moments earlier, launches into a long winded defence of the importance of art in life but completely missing the essence of the question, before pulling the conversation off point. We could only politely nod. As the panel was wrapping up the art diva stood and bid the auditorium farewell before quickly donning her sunglasses and beetling to the door (to “attend her own opening” she added). Shinobu tried to quickly thank her and offered our card but was completely ignored. Funny how “the artworld” functions, and persists on functioning in that way even at a talk by someone like Tehching, who appeared to be altogether nonplussed.
What made this Biennale truly special however, was of course meeting with our current resident Wayne Lim, who also somehow finagled his way into the preview week at the last minute, flying in from the Netherlands and attended Tehching’s talk. (We saw them chatting together in Chinese!) Afterwards, we talked about the talk, fascinating stories about Wayne’s “nomadic” journeys, his “hiatus” and thesis he’s trying to complete, and life in general over some spritz. (Of course, everyone needs one at day’s end at the Art Olympics) We were so happy that he came – Wayne posted a great report on this and the Venice Biennale, predictably, way before us!
In the second week, we decided to take advantage of being in Europe and visit another current resident, Marisa Dipaola and her hiatus project “moonfarm” in southern Portugal. This was an adventure to find a cheap flight again at the last minute, and try to get to the small coastal town of Zambujeira do Mar four hours south of Lisbon by bus, where even Google could not detect. The moonfarm is even further, and unless you know to turn at the peacock farm past the crooked oak, is impossible to find. So they came to pick us up.
As we’ve all seen, Marisa has generously posted many photos and videos of her home and gardens that we have become somewhat familiar with, but to see and experience them for real was no comparison – plus the real people!! – Marisa and her husband Mohamed were gracious to interrupt their rigorous lunar agri-schedule to give us a tour of their amazing project. It was a windy but beautiful day; we sat outside and chatted about Marisa’s past practice, her desire to make art at any moment with the materials she keeps collecting, what she wants her art to do if she starts it again, and just life in general. We took a walk around the farm and learned quite a few things we had never known (like about cork trees or her neighbour’s bamboo business to feed all the pandas in Europe). The fantastic tour was completed with some impromptu Fado songs on the ukulele from the littlest moonfarmer, the adorable nearly 4 year old Marmalade. Later, they drove us back to the town where Marmalade got an ice cream treat, and the next day we road the bus back to Lisbon. (Too bad no time for swimming at the beautiful nudist beach!) Marisa too has been faster than us reporting on this.
It was an amazing and a little surreal trip, to encounter such a range of “art and hiatus” or “the art (and hiatus) worlds”, which has made us re-confirm the richness of our community. We are already feeling a little melancholic that there are only two months left for our 3rd year. Regardless of what RFAOH’s future holds beyond that, it remains one of our goals to bring all our residents (and their endeavours) together, somehow physically, where our community of followers may experience the diverse existence of artists on hiatus and be reassured about the abundance of multiple “art worlds”. We are all so insignificant, but incredibly rich (even if literally broke).
May brings better news – RFAOH returns to VENICE!!
It was during the preview week of the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 that we officially launched Residency For Artists On Hiatus (RFAOH). While our first call for applications went online, we were also standing around the entrance of Giardini handing out small brochures in English and Italian to invite international art-enthusiasts to quit the art world and join RFAOH. It was also during that week we heard from Tehching Hsieh, that he would generously accept our request to be on RFAOH’s “advisory board” – we were absolutely thrilled! Since then, we have managed to run RFAOH for three terms, and as you all know, hosted 19 amazing international resident artists-on-hiatus, with an incredibly wide-range of backgrounds, circumstances, and “on-hiatus” projects.
This year, we are returning to Venice during the preview week of the 57th Venice Biennale, to celebrate Tehching’s representation at the Taiwanese Pavilion, as well as the nearing end of our 2016/2017 residency term where our five remaining residents are still busy being on hiatus from art!
If you are going too, and wanted to meet us in person between May 9 – 13 in Venice – to discuss the limits and liminalities of professionalism in the arts, or talk about “who’s the real winner this year” or “who needs a boat that big” over a glass of prosecco – please feel free to contact us! Or, make sure to say hello if you see us around, running between pavilions or sipping cafe, or at Tehching’s opening reception and talk, in our famous RFAOH Tshirt (;
The “bluesy” news of April 2017 (anticipated and not anticipated)
It has been rather an eventful April at the office of RFAOH — both personally and residency-related — that this post had to wait until the very end of the month. First, the anticipated (yet no less easy) news is that this was our brew master Joyce Lau‘s last month at RFAOH — how much we have learned about “scoby” and how many times her reports with stunning photos of her beverages have made us run to the nearby pub! Now, is Joyce going back to making art? We don’t know that yet but what we know for sure is that her on-hiatus project will continue further, as she enrols herself into a brewing microbiology course (and not an MFA (;) at the Oregon State University in June! How amazing is that, she has our full respect and we send her our utmost cheers for her ongoing adventure. And our dream is of course to try out her own Kombuchas and beers in the near future!!
Second, in some totally unexpected news, our “poet” resident Rob Santaguida has decided to leave his residency term three months earlier than planned. We still do not know exactly where he is right now, but he wrote:
“At the intersection, there were no cars in sight, but I waited. The little green man appeared, urged me forward. Reluctantly I crossed. A short time later, I decided I needed to end my break. This will be my final entry.”
He said he will make a film. We (and we’re certain his secret fans, too) will miss his enigmatic and beautifully poetic on-hiatus reports. It was fantastic that we had a chance to meet him in person at RFAOH’s headquarters Montreal on a typical grey and icy winter day last year, and discussed what it was like or meant to be “on hiatus from art” for him. Please also send him cheers for coming out of his “retirement” and going back to the world of artmaking; let’s look forward to his film in the future!
Now that we have only three months left until the end of our 3rd term with only five residents, we feel slightly “bluesy” despite all the spring blossoms. Having said that, we know that our RFAOH community keeps going as strong as ever with more exciting news on the way. Please continue to follow us and leave your comments on our remaining residents’ reports. We’ll also let you know when Joyce and Rob’s “final reports” are up on their pages. Thank you Joyce and Rob for your inspiring on-hiatus endeavours and participation; we are super happy to have had you at RFAOH! Bon Voyage!
Do you want to come in? Thoughts on “gates” and the art worldS’ currencies
It was so nice of our ex-resident Heather Kapplow sending us an interesting link with a greeting: “This made me think of you guys… hope all’s well in hiatus land.” –> “Goodbye to All That: Why Do Artists Reject the Art World?” Then right after that, we noticed everyone was talking about it, some rather personally and anguished. Others seemed to have just reacted to the catchy headline. It has been a topic for a while — “The Art World” and “the problematic relationship of artists to it”. The discussion is valid and sincere but our questions remain: “Which ‘The Art World’ are we talking about? (Including ‘the art world’ we make in our heads?)” And if any, “Who are the ‘gatekeepers?'”
We have recently been contacted by a few individuals including art students, who have wondered about the implications or “strategies” of RFAOH related to these questions. While we always take time to write back, something we find really curious is the fundamental lack of “professionalism” in the arts contrary to the current debate about the “professionalization” of art practice itself. Arts organizations tend to mete out their responses to inquiries as a way of keeping the hierarchy between the artists and the institution intact, although they often claim it’s due to the lack of time/money. This core problem perpetuates the art world’s “gate keeping”, whose gates are built and maintained ultimately by ourselves (as cultural workers are most of the time also artists), and which creates more “unpaid labour” for art practitioners in their attempt to cross the gates. What we detect here deep down, beyond the money/time issue and besides the self-importance/absorption hallmark to our discipline, is a strong sense of “privilege” in the arts, more complex and nuanced than simple economic or class advantage. We think it’s worthwhile for everyone who participates in this industry [the art world] to consider the ethics surrounding the normalization of its power apparatus at an individual level, in addition to the broader issues of the “art-economy”. In fact, we are most curious about this overlooked privilege as a fundamental condition of the art world since the dawn of time, seemingly clashing directly with celebrated 20th century proclamations of “everyone is an artist” and “art is for everyone”. Though meant well initially as a resistance to bourgeois society and/or as a political stance, it is intriguing how this layered concept has become co-opted and ultimately helped to clear a path for the current “popularization of art”, which we feel might be making artists’ lives actually harder, to the point that many are “leaving”.
In her critical, but also witty article written for e-flux’s journal last fall: If You Don’t Have Bread, Eat Art!: Contemporary Art and Derivative Fascisms, Hito Steyerl explores the notion of art as an alternative currency. Remarkably illuminating the usual melee of vying constituents that imbue this esoteric world with its accepted notions of value (including art as an alternative currency), she then urges us to consider (the “hypothetical possibility” of) art as an “alternative alternative currency”, that could be used for more locally centered solutions as a way of re-imagining beyond the current hierarchy of cliques within a monolithic notion of “The Art World”: “Could art as alternative currency not only circulate within existing systems but even launch not-yet-existing economies (publics, institutions, markets, parallel art worlds, etc.)?” She continues, “…How to make tangible the idea that belonging is in becoming—not in having been? What is art’s scale, perspective, and challenge in de-growing constituencies? Can one transform art’s currency into art’s confluence?”
Her idea of art as an alternative currency (and an “alternative alternative” currency) somewhat resonates with what we wrote in the latest issue of Station to Station on “other kinds of currency”, and is useful if we wish to talk about the next step, the survival of multiple “art worlds” and “art practices/practitioners” in or outside the gates – but perhaps this topic needs a whole separate post.
And speaking of “currency”, here’s another at once brilliant and ridiculous kind of gatekeeping: “Is e-flux the Gatekeeper of the Virtual Art World?” (Unless you can afford at least $299 USD — do not forget the “gatekeeping” happens only when there are folks who want to come in)
As we mentioned in our Roman Toasts post in December, DutchCulture |TransArtists.org was kind enough to ask for our two cents in a short blurb for their current (the 2nd) issue of their online magazine, Station to Station, which has just come out last week. Titled “All that art“, issue #2 compiles discussions around the broader impact of artists residencies, and what happens to the art (works) created or the artists once the residency is over.
Initially, we felt a little funny or counter-intuitive about their invitation to our non-artmaking RFAOH in this issue, but we decided to share our thoughts on production, professionalism, and what constitutes (art)work and not (art)work, while listing what some of our past residents “achieved” and/or what they are doing after leaving RFAOH. And as we had guessed, TransArtists is no ordinary “artist residency directory” so they have brought together a great selection of contributors who have approached the subject from a wide range of angles and personal experience.
A corresponding audio programme has been curated by online art radio collective Ja Ja Ja Nee Nee Nee — when you hit the play for each segment, something funky happens on the screen — Very cool.
Thank you TransArtists for inviting us to be part of this cool discussion!
Something also quite remarkable happened last weekend. We met our most enigmatic current resident Rob Santaguida at his screening in Montreal. Over the past three residency cycles, we have had many different cases and circumstances of artists being on hiatus and going off hiatus but this was yet another unique case that we did not know what to think of it until this happened.
When Rob submitted his proposal to us, he was already on a self directed hiatus and was traveling abroad. He decided to apply for RFAOH to make his hiatus “official”, even though he knew that this screening of his video that he had completed prior to his hiatus will take place seven months later, in January 2017. In our application guideline, we state that if the applicant has an appointed exhibition, presentation, artist residency, or a specific project to start in the future and is simply waiting for it, RFAOH does not consider this as a hiatus.
So we discussed — is this a conflict of interest? On the surface, his case is exactly what our criteria rules out, but Rob claimed to have finished his “last work” and gone actively on hiatus. He did not sound like he was “simply waiting for it (this art presentation),” having not much control over the timing of its premier decided by the venue. (Mind you we did not expect him to be coming back to Montreal for the screening, so it was bit of a surprize)
And we accepted him, because we ourselves were also curious about all these questions — the level or kind of activity or engagement that demarcates one’s status as “on hiatus” or “off hiatus”;what happens to one’s own self-identification as an “artist not making art” when you have to show your old work — do you become a “working artist” for that night and then when that’s over, go back to being a non-working artist?
When we met Rob, we asked him about his thoughts on these questions. (which we hope didn’t make him feel interrogated or something!) He said that this presentation could have taken place without him, (he admitted that he always disliked attending his screenings anyway) and it feels a little like his “final duty before his retirement”. He was in fact going back to Europe the very next day to continue on with his hiatus plan of traveling, with no return ticket. The analogy he gave was as poetic as his RFAOH reports that have become familiar to us : “It’s like having cleaned up the apartment when moving out — the place is now all empty but for a single trash bag that still needed to be taken to the curb.”
It was such a pleasure to meet him in person and hear him talk about his hiatus, his intense experiences in Istanbul (which was his original destination in his proposal) on top of attending his presentation that the organizer described as a “finissage with the artist in attendance”. The audience enthusiastically asked questions after the screening and he answered to them very genuinely and generously.
We wished him a bon voyage and look forward to more reports from the latter half of his hiatus. As we implied in our last post, this has added to our good feelings about how our new year is starting.
It’s now well passed mid January, schools have started and galleries have opened new exhibitions; everyone in the arts seems to be geared up for the new season. RFAOH’s first big announcement of 2017 is that our current resident artist on hiatus, Ramla Fatima has decided not to resume her art practice after January as initially planned, but to extend her residency until the end of our 3rd year in July 2017! We are happy that she’s liking being on hiatus with us — you decide if it is good or bad news (:
Like Ramla, who has already sent a number of reports this month, other residents are also busy with their non-art endeavors into 2017 and are actively reporting. We feel good about the latter half of our 3rd year, contrary to the general anxiety in the world. It feels good to stay on the peripheral but in the most open and open-ended community. Let’s all gather together and continue to re-imagine the true potential of nonsense and new rhetoric at RFAOH!