For many art workers, working across borders is an essential part of the job, many of us travel or collaborate across the globe, or invite artists from around the world into our organisations. Even if our organisations or our practices are strongly locally defined, we are often still keeping in relation to what is happening in the broader art field. Discourses and trends quickly cross borders. While working beyond and despite borders, we are not necessarily working ‘inter’-nationally; meaning using our nation states to define us. But rather ‘trans’- or ‘post’-nationally; queering or diminishing the importance of national borders and placing the similarities and differences elsewhere than in national identity. We might hope that this perspective brings about awareness, empathy and inspiration. However, this kind of movement also holds some risks. Artists, curators and researchers might have become privileged carriers of new knowledge(s), making overlooked realities visible, breaking down grand narratives, constantly eroding otherness. But the urge to travel, to constantly meet ‘the new’ or ‘the other’, can become an unsustainable practice reproducing destructive tendencies in our society, in the light of climate change, in the light of personal stability and sense of place and connection. During our Reshape process, we looked at the risks inherent in trans- and post- national practices in order to work on tools that can guide us towards putting connection rather than movement central in our work. Coming from different corners of a continent (Europe) and a sea (the Mediterranean) we wanted to shuffle together the puzzle of our situated experiences. We want to reshape the journey not only to include highways but also footpaths, detours and alternative routes. 

We analysed the unsustainability of trans- and postnational practices as the following risks: 

– Self-congratulatory hypermobility, where the art worker jumps from residency to presentation venue, never really touching ground and taking this mobility itself as a measure for success. This often comes with the risk of exhaustion and burn-out.
– The lure of othering and exoticism, a practice where experiences are organised in categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’ within a Western gaze, and every encounter is seen as an exotic novelty, rather than a personal meeting. Related to this is the creation of an artistic monoculture, where the specific context of arts practitioners is seen as inferior to the ‘festival canon’. Work coming from different places starts to look more and more alike. Specific ideas around ‘good art’ and ‘taste’ or ‘quality’ are being exported, without a critical look at what these ideas are grounded in. The art world is being seen as having a centre and margins, where the margins have to assimilate to the centre. 

– Exclusion of those who can not or choose not to be mobile, either due to visa issues, socio-economic context, or the non-recognition of certain practices as valuable.
Ecological neglect, due to excessive travelling in unsustainable ways.
– Especially in COVID times we observed a tendency of conforming, everyone moving online at once, the lack of development of other formats, the pressure to continue just like everyone else.

We dared to speculate that falling into these risks has a strong impact on the mind, our capacity to connect deeply to others and therefore our political possibility for action.

We exchanged on the following questions:

  • Which are the dialogues and non-dialogues between nomadic artists and the temporary communities they inhabit? In our search for the other, how can a true encounter be achieved? 
  • How is travel affecting my personal life and my sense of connection?
  • How to recognize dynamics of othering?
  • How does travel or exchange not increase diversity of practices and understanding, but rather promotes a homogenisation of artistic practice or the establishment of a new canon coming from a specific Western or European gaze? 
  • Who is given the possibility to travel? Who is not invited? 
  • How are people traveling and to which extent is the ecological impact of these choices taken into account? 
  • Which actions can be regenerative, on a human and ecological level? 
  • What is increasing the pressure to act in a certain way?

While trying to give an answer to these multiple issues something unexpected happened. A novel condition that showed the vulnerability, and the limits of our practices. Indeed, the global pandemic has forced many to be immobile, to live in lockdown. The rapid spread of the invisible thread, its unstoppable journey, has sharpened some questions, and made other reflections emerge:

– In this shifting and unpredictable context, how do we reconnect to each other from a place of isolation? 

– How do we extend solidarity when we can’t physically meet? 

– How do we create and inhabit spaces of dissonance, where different voices can be heard? 

– And how do we develop artistic practices when one of the core premises – that of humans gathering to experience something unknown –  is no longer possible? 

These are some of the questions we wish to give provisional answer to.

Transnational and Postnational Artistic Practices is a Research Trajectory of RESHAPE composed by Marta Keil, Pau Cata, Ingrid Vranken, Gjorgje Jovanovik, Heba el-Cheikh, Martinka Bobrikova & Oscar de Carmen, Marine Thévenet, Dominika Święcicka, Petr Dlouhy.