Jammie Nicholas is an artist and curator based in London, UK. He is the co-founder and curator of Supralimen and Offsite Projects Curator for Arcadia_Missa and associate editor of How to Sleep Faster. His upcoming projects include the solo exhibition, Surplus Perfume: For the Home at Public House Projects in June and Artist Commision for Art Licks Magazine Issue 8 for which he will be doing a scratch and sniff card to accompany a reading of the magazine.
Sam Korman: We could start with your most recent activity. You’ve just done a fair bit of travel. In October, you came to Portland, where we met and you’ve just recently returned from Sweden. What were the purposes of those trips and what are some of the things that you found exciting in those places?
Jammie Nicholas: Well, I came to Portland because I am looking into continuing my studies on an MA/MFA and for about a year now I have been watching the activities of the PSU MFA Art and Social Practice course. From afar, it seemed like a course that would be right up my alley, from it basis in social relations, non-studio based practices, the theoretical structure/references/bibliographies and the peripheral program of lectures, conferences etc. So I came to sit in on the course for a week, meet the tutors, students and Portland itself. I say from afar, as I am based in London, United Kingdom, so it would be a large decision for the duration of the course (3 years).
SK: Half way around the world.
JN: Ha yeah, I have never been that far that way. It was so close to being perfect for me that is was totally wrong. It was really disappointing, as I now need to find another reason to go to Portland for a longer period of time.
SK: At first, I was pretty critical of the Social Practice program, but now I am thinking a lot more about practice. Lately, some of its less stated philosophy surrounding the nature of practice in general has had me excited. I just read a text by Thierry de Duve, which takes its name from the famous Harald Szeeman show in the 60s that gave some of the first institutional accreditation to conceptual art practice. de Duve sites this as a significant moment when art school became less about the Bauhaus notion of creative methodology or the academic apprenticeship and talent model—that all of the sudden it became important to observe a critical attitude and that is what art school transitioned into teaching a critical practice and artists became culture workers.
JN: I personally think that in relation to that specific course, I had a Euro/US mis-definition of the notion of social practice. Or perhaps I just misunderstood its “definition.” My practice as both artist and curator is based very much in the idea of a social. That is to say the idea of collaboration, social behaviors, interrelations and the validity of multiple voices and opinions. I work closely with Tom Clark, who has done a lot of research into the archives of the University we studied at (Central Saint Martins) and subsequently the development of notions of art teaching/education in the UK and Europe. I don’t know of the text exactly but yeah I agree with the notions of transitional shift for artists to become culture workers, or at least the possibility of it. There are still artists who are hermits.
SK: I can think of several artist friends that fit the latter description (and yet, weed seems to facilitate both types of production!).
JN: It now just makes me sleepy.
SK: The strange thing about both de Duve’s article and the Social Practice department was that in the end, they both proffered an ethical solution for art practice on the one hand and art school for the other. And this is where they lost me. As if do-goodery was the only solution.
JN: That is where I began to get lost, or more frustrated too.
SK: And that is also where it becomes more hermetic, more dogmatic and closes down the range of options possible for art practice.
JN: Exactly. I was sitting in on one part of the course “The History of Art and Social Practice” and that week for some reason was the class on ideas of “The Gift.” I have done a lot of research and writing on ideas of the gift and I think that there is so much potential for creative practices with it. But often the possibilities seemed to be trimmed to the easiest and most pseudo hippy option.
SK: The notion that gifts are positive or reciprocal was taken for granted. Unlike, let’s say, recent YouTube craze wherein he solicited parents to give their children early Christmas presents that were bad presents, like a half eaten sandwich or a toaster oven. The kids freak out. One eight year-old even told Kimmel to suck his balls.
Just as an example of calling this practice into question while still observing some of the ritual—and exploitation, as well.
JN: I attended a lecture by , and one thing was the idea of the Liliputh, which is apart of a Greek mythology and denotes a giant creature that is made up of hundreds of smaller creatures. The interrelations of the smaller creatures and their role in the larger is inherent in all.
JN: How To Carve Totem Poles came as an extension of the work that Tom and I do with . Initially it came from a proposal to an open application that we completed (but did not receive) that was addressing the notion of “focus” in curation. We then subsequently were asked to do it at (before I started working there). It began as a question of a physical manifestation of an online cascading blog space. It came to be more in the development and realization of the cascading blog space through multiple versions of the curation and the relations between visitors and the artists, extending from a standardized display module (initially for cube televisions but then unrestricted to a module for any media). We invited a friend who is an architect, Alex Sprogis and we began to develop what became the template for a triangular infinitely stackable structure.
The artist’s involved were allowed complete freedom within each module (three 60cm cubes), with each work a new commission or an adapted work and we were allowed complete freedom to arrange the totem in any order, as many times as we liked over the exhibition period. The idea with the totem is that it can be produced anywhere by anyone for whatever reason. The blueprint for one face of the module is available on website. So, in essence it can exist with out the initiators, which it now has done in a completely different format. The supports for the modules are arms (like a shelf) and they have been utilized in a friend, Charity’s new gallery, in East London. Alex Sprogis designed the interior of the gallery.
SK: It is possible for the project to continue without you or in spite of you?
JN: We would like to be able to produce another version of the exhibition somewhere completely separate to London; all that we would need is a router and some wood. Hence a general idea of , with hundreds of totems, each the same and different, each with their own meaning, utilizing standard symbols of .
SK: We talked previously about polyphony, or the notion of multiple and concurrent voices. This is a perfect example of it, and though you’ve made it extremely easy to distribute, what are some of the limits to this kind of practice?
JN: The ease of distribution is a symptom of the hyper-contemporary and connected world (Seth Price’s is a well known example). Polyphony as a creative process cannot exist without the understanding of notions of the gift (Bataille’s reading of ) and visa versa. I suppose the limits are what we spoke about in relation to the MFA/SP course, where there is a narrowed trimming of the possibilities, the potential of an event or action. Everyone is guilty of it, so yeah I there are a myriad of limitation, but also a myriad of potentials.
SK: We return to practice and how one may institute it. It has as much actual potential or realized potential as implied potential. It’s a structure on which to be built.
JN: The Totem Pole is nothing but a structure on which to be built, or perhaps not. I am unsure whether there are any realized potentials in something that may be considered polyphonic. As a fully finalized idea, it may never allow for other potentials. Anthony Huberman’s essay, is an interesting text on the ideas of potential and finalization in terms of information and ignorance and definition.
SK: Well, yes and no. I have had similar feelings about this place being something of an art resort—both for the art and for those that conduct the institution. But I feel a bit differently, because it is also very much about a different kind of viewership, one that unfolds over time and becomes a sort of personal discourse that is allowed to expand out from the initial encounter.
JN: I don’t know whether this is a just a condition of the era and method of the works’ production, but there are examples of it everywhere. It seems to be an egotistical reluctance, or perhaps fear, on the behalf of the artist, uber-authorial, not to allow a dissemination of their work. (.
SK: The of this place, for Judd, was in direct opposition to a museum and gallery system that he compared to the entertainment industry, wherein works of art were shipped around and damaged both physically and theoretically by inclusion in sites that were not necessarily appropriate for the work. In this case, he saw the context as completely integral to any sense of experience of the work—after all, that is what he sought with his “specific objects.”
JN: I think that it is a very important decision that he had made. What do you think of the idea of it becoming more a place of pilgrimage? I mean in the sense of perhaps the Mona Lisa or Spiral Jetty, where not many have seen them but understand their image initially.
SK: As opposed to accepting this condition of art and making work about it, like, let’s say boxes, he decided to create a , wherein he created art and architecture that expanded the experience of his sculpture out into the fucking huge and desolate desert. I have my issues with it as well, but it is quite remarkable to be here. Though at times it feels like the cult of Judd. In a way, it is a somewhat traditional view of American individualism, I think. Makes you feel like a man.
It’s definitely affected the town immensely. Housing prices are inflated, because it’s an international housing market now. There’s boutiques that sell $350 shirts, shit like that that just expands the cultural tourism market and is turning it into another Park City, UT (Sundance Film Festival) or Santa Fe, NM. But, as far as the work is concerned, it’s pretty remarkable.
JN: So is the town something that Judd has built or is it the artworks?
SK: Hard to say. I think it all comes back to Judd, really.
SK: Ha, hilarious!!!
JN: It was in my childhood park.
SK: It is definitely possible, though I don’t know where you would go. Mexico is only an hour away.
JN: Marfa is definitely somewhere I would like to go…
SK: The point of Chinati now is a different type of economy, which has everything to do with preservation and the preservation of his vision.
JN: …to experience the lingering essence of Judd.
SK: Ha! I think that people here are here in part to preserve that vision and though there’s an organic grocery and a hip youth culture, I think that in part, it is to preserve the image of this place while Judd was still working. He owned so much of the town that it really was an incredible laboratory for him. And, in a sense, he developed a personal methodology or a practice that involved furniture, architecture, landscape, gardening, art, events, site, etc. Perhaps his brand of practice could only live here.
SK: I suppose it is a more modernist view of practice that does not involve so much the social but rather is more grounded in the mediums themselves. But I’ve read several attempts to link Judd, his furniture specifically, to . The move from viewers to users. Judd expanded his art practice into a social dimension, because he created something with use value and considered that as such. Some of the writers that I read related it to Andrea Zittel and Liam Gillick, whereby they create something that employs a modernist language into design or certain living or office environments to reconsider the social or “relational” ways this language can be employed and critiqued, which is very much involved in a kind of self-critique or practice that Judd involved himself in here.
JN: For me, I feel that a link to the social could stem from memory, or, at the very least, experience. A consideration of what the experience might involve and how the audience experiences both it and what they might believe “the artist wants us to feel.” Ideas of use-value, function and exchange-value are very interesting.
SK: Judd is very explicit in his separation of the furniture from his art. For him, art has a value unto itself, in a particular negation or rather, uselessness, whereas furniture has a use value and it must be immediately perceivable, as such. (He says “as such” all the time in his writing.)
SK: Definitely. It’s what seems to be involved in your curatorial practice, because as you curate, you share the voice with you artists or participants.
JN: Linking to the idea of teaching/education/pedagogy in the book I showed you, the text by Huberman speaks about the idea of didactic and information sharing. There is a continual shift, which might need to he pushed harder, between “I know these things and you will listen” and “I know this, you know that, let’s share.”
SK: Diminishing the hierarchy. It also seems to be linked to the economy with which you conduct the Arcadia_Missa space.
JN: I am unsure. An inherent hierarchy will still exist through (social) obligation and volume of dispersion. Trust is probably a better term. A hierarchy of trust perhaps. At Arcadia_Missa there are a number of us, who collaboratively construct the development of the program. At the moment there are five of us. We are currently beginning to develop a couple of projects that will extend into a broader network of interested individuals, one of which is going to be a form of library where it acts like a middle man between the text, the interested person and the person who owns the book.
SK: But, in a way, it is a self-sustained art economy where production and distribution are linked through studio and gallery space. Not such a new model, but you are doing different things than have traditionally been done with spaces like this, yeah?
JN: It will (hopefully) allow for more information and discussion around ideas and concepts. So you can talk in the library.
JN: I think that we are doing something different, I am not exactly sure what it is, which is important. We are in continual dialogue with each other, the artists, writers and contributors that will be, have and are involved in projects.
SK: I was thinking also about the model of a really awesome band. I am also reminded of , how internally they were linked with the relationship of D. Boon and Mike Watt and then to see D. Boon play and kids in a basement freaking out. There was no hierarchy within the band and then it becomes a reciprocal relationship with the audience wherein both benefit from the experience…
JN: I am listening to !!! and they had a similar formation and method.
SK: I think what is also important to consider is the duration of these kinds of groups or organizations. Minor Threat was only a band for a couple years. Not long at all.
JN: Yes. The gallery I used to co-run lasted a year or so, but we are still asked when we will do another show.
JN: We might be we have no idea.
SK: Like, When’s your next album coming out? Well, I guess I should get going in a minute, but one last question.
JN: Yes yes.
We do not, of course, want this to be merely the production of time-based capital to be floated onto the art-futures market, but to instate the terms of our own economy, production and consumption: where actual value becomes unavoidably apparent. Can you elaborate on that? How would you define “actual value?”
JN: I’ll ask Tom. Tom, Can you extrapolate on the quote from the editorial, especially on the notions of time-based capital in creative processes and the definition of what you describe as a revealed actual value?
Tom Clark: I think that an idea of actual value, or a more apparent making process is important in a time when we are all investing time into an identity-image; especially in the creative industries where uniqueness is our bartering power as more often than not freelancing workers. In the same way the Arts and Crafts Movement wanted to make the creative process more evident, or the modernists want to instate a value in material or actual form, I think collaboration is another way to make the normally invisible (think how you can’t see into factories) process of work and creation of value visible to those around you.
JN: A removal of smoke-filled back offices and cabinet rooms.
TC: Yeah as well as removing this mystical creation of value that comes from behind a public facing frontage—a brand, or the public image of something.
JN: A revealing of the mystical sacred value (or to use gaming terminology, mana) that social relations impart on objects, so a collaboration between not only the initiators of constructed situations/exhibitions/brands but a transparent collaboration between directors, authors, producers, workers, consumers, users, gamers and viewers?
TC: What does mana mean?
JN: Mana and in gaming the little blue bar that lets you do magic.
TC: I see. It’s easier to begin describing how it might work in practice at the level of the latter lot: viewers, because viewers might be more open to being invited into the process of culture, but less interested in collaborating in the work at Coke’s bottling plant or in a sandwich factory. However I think it is important to begin on a path that engenders respect for those who work there—by extension we can appreciate the value of the products, and then things hopefully become less throw away. This is ever more important in a cloud computing age when consumption and productivity are kind of unbounded.