This report was written for Re-Imagine Europe in February 2020, to reflect on what re-imagining means and could mean in practice for cultural institutions. Specifically, the report reflects on two commissions developed with the artist Jordi Ferreiro for Bergen Kunsthall (Bergen, Norway) and Lighthouse (Brighton, UK). Jordi’s projects stemmed from his practice as both an artist and educator – consistently asking what and how are we learning from the projects we do.
“Who’s doing the washing up?” was an 18-month programme of multiple artist commissions, events and research across Bergen Kunsthall and Lighthouse between 2018-19 curated by Eva Rowson. The programme set out to explore what ‘re-imagining’ in our cultural institutions would look like if it moved away from a rhetorical and theoretical platform dictated by the same people in power, and started to include the voices, perspectives and experiences of those who are actually putting the re-imagining into practice, and maintaining it on an everyday basis.
The programme began with a lot of questions: Who gets to decide what ‘re-imagining’ looks like and how it happens? What if the cultural workers who are delivering the re-imagining – the operations workers, the cleaners, the security teams, the front of house workers, the educators (who are also often the lowest paid, on precarious contracts, and the first to be outsourced in organisational reviews) – had a voice in how their own cultural organisations, activities, buildings could be re-imagined? What would re-imagining look and feel like then? And how much further could re-imagining be actively enacted and sustained?
Now, in the context of coronavirus (COVID-19), with so many cultural institutions closed indefinitely and moving towards a future we can’t yet know – it feels even more crucial to take care of the question of who is leading the re-imagining. And with the tragic news of many redundancies of educational, freelance and part-time workers, educators and artists by major museums internationally in the past month, this report is a call for all cultural institutions to re-imagine re-imagining. And to recognise that right now, there is a real chance to re-prioritise how we consider investment, cultural production and communication – and embrace maintenance, care, hospitality, cleaning and learning at the core of this.
The intention of “Who’s doing the washing up?” was not to find out the answer and be done with it, but to keep on bringing the question into every stage of re-imagining. So that we start to think differently about the values placed on particular types of work in our cultural organisations and the intellect, knowledge and agency attributed to them. And then perhaps, re-imagining may become less of an imagining and more of a work in progress towards a new reality.
Courtesy of the organisations