What lies beyond the practices and activities we are accustomed to classifying as art? Art itself has been investigating this question for a century at least. Its hunger for new experiences, aesthetics, and contents has been fueling a permanent search for novelty. Artists and art institutions tirelessly seek to expand the field of what can be considered art; still, myriad forms of private, even individual, practices are located on the periphery or in the blind spots – in a local culture, a hobby, or private and intimate practices – of this expansion.
The French Jesuit and philosopher Michel de Certeau called these sprawling practices – the games, methods, and tactics that persistently intersect with institutionalized knowledge and established order – “everyday arts.” Quaint, often neglected, and rarely documented, these practices exhibit extraordinary savviness and shrewdness – cultural memory without a language. These practices and the knowledge they preserve provide the focus of our current topical cluster “Crafts”.
The contribution by Maltese artist Jimmy Grima, published on 22 October, provides a first foray into the world of such crafts. More specifically, he introduces readers to Malta’s “Fire Masters” at home and at work in the island state’s coastal landscape. Grima’s essay offers an example of the poetic ardor inherent in this un-institutionalized practice of appropriation, which undermines imperial, military, and legal structures. The fire master’s craft is one that combines ritual and celebration – and perhaps also art. Only glimpsed among scattered archival material and occasionally encountered as a rumor, this particular practice, as Grima’s research reveals, represents an expansive corpus of knowledge and precise craftsmanship.
The next contribution consists of a three-part series by curator Eva Neklayeva, which presents the knowledge the author gained through her participation in the sex-positivity community, both as an individual and in exchange and collaboration with colleagues, and how this knowledge has impacted her curatorial practice. Her portrait elucidates how her involvement in the scene helped her to sharpen her awareness and understanding of important dramaturgical and curatorial questions: How does one ascertain consent about what is happening with everyone involved? How far does one go, and how does one establish a framework that allows for taking risks while respecting everyone’s integrity? And how can bodily experience and sexuality be given a place in the production and experience of art outside of provocation and prurience?
The most recent contribution, an essay by the Kuwaiti artist Monira Al Qadiri, focuses on an artistic practice from the Persian Gulf, a practice that developed in tandem with the tradition of pearl-diving. The author’s grandfather, a musician, was a member of a pearl-diving crew, for whom, so Al Qadiri writes, music primarily was an integral part of a hard workday – a workday and culture that no longer exist in this form. The essay and photos originally were commissioned for a comprehensive publication project, including a book that has just been published, by Flee Projects.
We will continue expanding the cluster on “Crafts” over the coming weeks with, among others, a collaboration with independent publisher Ignota Books, whose catalogue focuses on practices classifiable as spiritual and esoteric, which in turn not only occasionally intersect with but enter into a meaningful dialogue with art.