Introducing: InCubate

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #5 in October 2007]

Institute for Community Understanding Between Art and The Everyday (InCUBATE) is a research institute and residency program dedicated to challenging current infrastructures, specifically those which affect artistic production. As art historians and arts administrators, our goal is to explore the possibility of developing financial models that could be relevant to contemporary art institutions, as well as collective or individual artists’ projects working outside an institution. Particularly, we are exploring financial models which are less constrained by external controls and market concerns and which are more effective, more realistic, and more relevant to both art and the everyday. Our goal is to continue to conceptualize new possible situations, document these innovations and processes, and then make this information available to everyone. In ways that have only become possible in the past few years, artist collectives and experimental institutions have begun to actively re-imagine alternate art worlds and different models of organization in an attempt to disengage from the traditional strategies governing the current art market. We see a growing practice of artist collectives and working groups creating models of self-sustainability that fall outside of the traditional artist/patron system. It is important that these frameworks artists develop—which test the boundaries of the institution of art—do not go unnoticed.

In Chicago, there is a rich history of contemporary collective practices that offer a chance to reconsider the status quo, in terms of the modes of production and distribution available that support artistic and knowledge production across a broad range of politics and contexts. InCUBATE hopes to add to this ongoing practice by creating participatory research tools, researching independent infrastructures and emphasizing a political engagement with site-specificity as a method of critiquing the institution of art. Our projects are generative and result from working collaboratively, thus new projects address needs found from previous research. This mode of working ensures that our future as a group and as a research institute is open-ended. We hope that in recording our process we will become a resource for others.

Maria Lind, curator and critic, addresses the idea of “institutional mediation,” in “When Water is Gushing In,” an essay published after the collapse of Manifesta 6 (a European art exhibition). The demand for the spectacular has trumped the attention once given to artistic projects that fall outside the realm of traditional exhibition strategies, projects that take risks that can result in failure, and those that focus on the more abstract relationship between knowledge production and the economic infrastructure that supports it. Lind asks, “What do we do with art when the process is as important as the art? What new forms of mediation arise when art works are radically heterogeneous, art works that willingly relates to its surroundings and shares many common interests with those who are not specialists?” We find it as necessary to examine and create open infrastructures that allow for a research-oriented approach, one that makes more transparent the institution within which the work is made and creates open-ended and often generative results. The issue of relations with people who are not art-world “specialists,” as Lind calls them, is important as well in order to counter the fetishizing of “knowledge” as belonging only to a certain class of people or those within the institution.

InCUBATE does not have non-profit status. Instead, we see our role as exploring new possibilities beyond the established models of 501c-3 organizations. We are interested in creating a network of opportunities and creative discussions, as well as sharing resources for imaginative urban and community planning and self-sustaining conditions for making art. These activities include investigating current practices in public/private partnerships for arts organizations, debating the pros and cons of non-profit incorporation, and alternative means for financing “under-the-radar” arts projects. In addition, we have an ongoing residency program that lasts from one to three months, where persons of any discipline do self-directed creative projects. We look for people who are interested in the discussion between art and the everyday; who want to do interdisciplinary research and work in tandem with the members of InCUBATE to facilitate their projects.

Centered in a storefront space adjacent to Chicago’s historic Congress Theater in the changing Logan Square neighborhood, we consider our location to be an integral part of our activities and mission. Through hosting exhibitions and symposiums, we aim to engage local communities, while addressing contemporary theoretical concerns. When we say local, we mean both approaching our immediate surroundings with openness and respect but also investigating a network of Chicago-based cultural producers who take part in the “art-world” in various and diverse ways.

An outgrowth of re-thinking resource-sharing resulted in the Here/There Video Archive. This project will examine the notion of the archive as a conceptual tool of information-sharing and education, using the archive as both a metaphor and a practice to address issues of site-specificity, identity, and the historicization of critical art practices—and to provide alternative models for research and strategies. Conducting informal discussions with artists, curators, organizers, and collectives—and then making the video documentation public— InCUBATE hopes to create open structures for the participants to engage in the personal and the incidental as a means of critical reflection. These conversations will take place both on a local level and beyond Chicago as a way of connecting location with practice. The Here/There Video Archive has no aspirations to be a comprehensive survey or a canon, but instead provides a space for ongoing research to find connections and engage in dialogue.

At this point, conversations have resulted in a wiki platform called WikInCUBATE. Through using the open source software MediaWiki, InCUBATE plans on creating a wiki that will function to collect information for projects and gather historical and contemporary data about discursive art making, as well as information directed by the wiki users. While researching alternative spaces, economies, and infrastructures in Chicago, the United States, and the rest of the world, we found it difficult to find detailed information and histories about such projects. Originally, we intended to just use Wikipedia, but after testing the waters our entries were quickly removed. This is understandable, considering the encyclopedic nature of Wikipedia, which is not meant to be an original source of information. WikinCUBATE hopes to function as a resource for all interested in art practices, innovative politics, philosophy, the local, reinventing histories, doing it yourself, radical infrastructures, the Internet as annotation of physical interactions, tactful technology, and more.

Our current project, in collaboration with placekraft (an interdisciplinary research module devoted to the study of tactical urbanism and neo-geography) is “You are Here: Mapping your Chicago Art World.” The project focuses on the colloquial ways that people reference “the art world” as if it is a monolithic entity. We resist this idea, instead hoping that in figuring out personal relationships to the public sphere that we participate in, we can address imaginative spaces, matters of inclusion/exclusion and locality through specificity. Terms such as “site,” “location,” and “place” should no longer be abstracted as simply the generic “borders, boundaries, margins, peripheries, migrations and centers,” but instead used to reaffirm and reclaim the importance of actual location in terms of the physical, social, political and geographical local in reaction to a globalized [art] world. As Brian Holmes writes, “[The] illusion that a single, globalized, or “networked” logic could account for the diversity of conditions across the world has come to its close. We must go back to making careful judgments that assess our own local situation with respect to very different ones.” We agree with this, and for this reason we must consider the state of arts and culture in Chicago by asking those involved in the equation of artistic production to articulate how they fit within their own real or imagined artworlds, with Chicago as a geographical starting point.

InCUBATE and placekraft seek articulations that depict, in varying ways, relationships to the Chicago art world created by individuals, groups and institutions. These maps are a way to situate differing viewpoints within local worlds, and to establish historical and contemporary connections. It will work to assemble a collection of broad perspectives that undermine the notion of a monolithic art world. In addition to the mapping of art worlds, this collection will make visible the modes of working, systems of relationships, and other infrastructures that wouldn’t be easily observable.

Submissions/Maps may take any form, whether it’s a traditional two-dimensional drawing, three-dimensional spatial analysis or a textual analysis. Submissions will be presented via an atlas/book in addition to an appropriate public display based on the nature of the contributions.

Those wishing to participate can submit their maps via email at youarehere[at]incubate-chicago[.]org or drop them off at InCUBATE located at 2129 Rockwell Chicago, IL 60647.

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