The text below was crafted during an intense 2 day workshop, during the Sonic Acs Academy, 2018 edition. It was an experience which happened in parallel with my taking part in an election process in Amsterdam, which deepened my understanding of what forces are at play in the city. Initially this text was meant to end up on the institution's website - http://sonicacts.com/critical/ - alongside all other contributions. On that website, my own profile picture still hovers ominously, announcing content. This though never happened. The process of editing dragged on and it only produced a castrated vesion of what I initially intended to say. In the noise of it all, the institution took shape and slashed the text down, it tamed it, made it say what it never intended to say, proving that even in an arena called "critical writing", the criticality is required to be subdued, sugary, moderate, digestible. It's a negocitation I'm not confortable with, so I decided to publish the Sonic Acts contribution under my own terms. This is what you're about to read. So, here goes:
Miron Galić - designer, graduate of a Masters programme at ArtEZ, Arnhem, The Netherlands - takes the stage on day 2 of Sonic Acts at Dansmakers, Amsterdam North, February 24th, 2018. With him, displayed across approximately 10 meters of stage there’s a shot of a black travel bag on top of which lies a composite image of Drake, Jaden Smith and, to its right, a duck.
If the names listed might go a bit over your head and you might wonder who any of the first two are, you might at least take solace in the fact that you can still recognise the bird.
This image has a story. They all do. But I believe quoting it in its entirety, might just be the key to explaining the smoky mess that’s called artistic research and it might also give some insight into where society is heading.
On the 25th of August 2013, Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith (most famous for his role in the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) attended a performance by the Canadian Aubrey “Drake” Graham, at the 30th instalment of the MTV Video Music Awards, held at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, New York.
For those of you who lived their childhoods throughout the nineties, mentioning The Fresh Prince might sound vaguely reassuring. But to go back to where we are while listening to the story, in Amsterdam North, The Netherlands, the nineties did also bring with them something more problematic.
“(...) branding and marketing strategies are used to attract new residents to the city or to depressed areas of the city, in order to upgrade them. The creative industry policy appears in the nineties, which makes the attraction of human capital for urban competition into a new policy guideline.”
From social engineering to spatial engineering, Merijn Oudenampsen, May 22nd, 2014
The venue I’m in, Dansmakers, accommodates 500 people at its fullest. It’s located a 5 to 10 minute walk from the ferry crossing the IJ from Amsterdam Centraal. It takes in all of the bodies which signed up for Sonic Acts Academy. In it, we sit down and we listen.
During Drake’s performance, Jaden was seen making a Praying Hands Gesture, presumably out of excitement. The following September, that same year, Drake was photographed performing live at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, wearing a long-sleeved shirt featuring a large photo of Jaden Smith, making the Praying Hands gesture, taken at Drake’s VMA performance of the previous month. Two years later, while browsing for stock photos of Drake “for no apparent reason” through Google Images on his iPhone, Miron Galić learns that a Drake is also the English word for male duck. Surprised and slightly amused, he scrolls through a Google Image search, taking screenshots of thumbnails of Drake paired with thumbnails of ducks.
In this, I realise, we are all Miron Galić. At some point in our lives we’ve all found ourselves endlessly scrolling, searching and collecting with no apparent guideline.
One particular screenshot features a thumbnail of Drake, spreading his arms, mirroring the spread wings of the flying duck on the thumbnail next to it. On Drake’s shirt we see Jaden Smith, making the Praying Hands gesture, now appearing to look excitedly at the flying duck on the second thumbnail.
But it’s the recontextualizing which turns the banal into the exceptional, which reveals the artistic research.
A year later, in November 2017, Miron flies from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, to Shenzhen, Guangdong, China; the city in which his iPhone was built, and where Google is rendered inaccessible by China’s Great Firewall.
Galić is part of a long line of artistic research tourism, or academic tourism. He chooses to be placed in various circumstances, as his presentation website details (Detroit, Brussels, Shenzen, Rotterdam, Amsterdam etc.), he gets thrown in and makes it work somehow. He, same as many others, goes there to witness, as if there’s nothing left which can be witnessed at home. He goes there for 3 days, for 2 weeks, for a month and because he’s a pretty sharp guy he always comes up with “something”.
When visiting a suburb named Dafen (an urban village housing a large number of professional painters, known for their replicas of many famous oil paintings), a man called Ying invites Miron over for tea with him and his wife, after which Miron asks him to make an oil painting of the screenshot of Drake, Jaden and the duck, in the size of his travelbag. A couple of days later, Miron picks up the painting, shakes hands and says goodbye.
In this story, the local Chinese craftsman is a maker without agency over the content, since one important lesson is that for art to be made in current times it takes the conceptual reframing of the self styled "Designer, Student, Human Being, Born in Sarajevo, former Yugoslavia, Residing in Arnhem, The Netherlands." For art to be made with an institution it requires the branding and positioning of the artist, to be at the ‘right’ confluence of trending events. It doesn’t take just someone capable of reproducing an image, but the holder of the meaning of the symbols involved in the image making. That and a few diplomas. For art to be made it takes Miron Galić to happen.
Back in Amsterdam, he takes a photo of the painting using the same iPhone he took the screenshots with and uploads the photograph, as well as this text as JPEGS on his personal website, allowing both of them to reappear in a future Google Image Search.
I’m in the crowd and nervously adjust my shirt collar, while doing a 180. We laugh at Miron’s story, the crowd and me, we laugh because we get it, or we think we get it. It’s for us. Young, old, slim, not so, bodies trained to fit into Nike sneakers and wear their fanny packs diagonally across their chest, bodies used to a bold shirt cut or two, close crew cuts, large bangs reaching all the way back to one's ears, crisp just under the knee pants, jet fuelled, the ones who’ve seen the latest instalment of Transmediale, but found it wanting, "CTM was good though".
We get it, we know who Drake and Jaden Smith are.
We do, though we have no idea about you.
And the moment of truth reaches us briefly when one of the more meaty invited researchers, Charmaine Chua, Assistant Professor of Politics at Oberlin College in New York, is revealed to not having been able to cross the Ocean to be present in Amsterdam and deliver her lecture: “Logistical Monstrosities: Megaships, Megaports, and Violent Infrastructure on the transPacific Supply Chain.”.
Like precious cargo, artists, designers, theoreticians, of which Miron is also one, are currently being shuffled across time and territory for short periods, in dubious and questionable conditions, conditions which they don’t seem to question. The context of this becomes all the more obvious once there’s a glitch in the system - a missed flight, a wrong booking, the ferry not arriving on time. In that moment the spell is temporarily broken, but due to the requested speed of the field, due to the imperative to deliver, on which a wide array of personal needs reside, the error is pushed aside and there’s always a solution at hand. The artist, the researcher, the designer makes it.
There’s something full of hope in the humanity displayed by Miron Galić, as he delivers his speech with comic self congratulatory emphasis, but also something illustrative of the current contemporary artistic condition.
In all this Galić reflects the core of the artist's contemporary confusion, pressed for time, needing to make a pitch, devising small games, desperately admitting that he does not know how to connect, not hiding that behind pleasantries or theories.
He does though have confidence to proclaim that, even in a world of ungraspable intricacies, he holds the agency to making, so long as he has a platform to present.