Britain’s first Festival of Administration14-16th February 2019Bristol

RADICAL ADMINISTRATION. This phrase produced very different reactions when we mentioned it to people in the run-up to our trip. For some, it was curiosity: “How can administration possibly be radical?” For others, it was a mixture of disgust, almost revulsion: “That sounds excruciatingly boring,” they would tell us with an ‘I’m-pretending-to-be-remotely-interested’ semi-smile. For us, it was intrigue and excitement, there was immediate resonance.

As TAS, we are indeed trying to take a radical approach to administration. We acknowledge that administration takes up a huge amount of our time and energy. We see that many pre-existing systems do not work for us. And knowing this has pushed us to go against the grain and look beyond the norm for seriously creative solutions. You can imagine the joy we felt when we heard that a group of fascinating people were going to get together and discuss this very question that is a driving force for The Amber Spark: WHAT CAN ARTISTS DO FOR BUSINESS?

It’s been a just over week since the events of this festival. The whole experience was so intense  that I am just about recovering from it, physically, mentally and emotionally. I could never put into words the value of those three beautiful days, the range of things we learned, and the power of every single precious encounter that I will carry with me always. I will attempt to just speak about it, to share my personal experience, to hopefully encourage and inspire others to jump on board the RADMIN train when it goes off on its next journey.

RADMIN tackled the question that is a driving force for us:WHAT CAN ARTISTS DO FOR BUSINESS?

THURSDAY.

Our first event: a Gala Dinner ‘The shares: A meal’, hosted by The Viriconium Palace (a combination of playful hosting forms and designed tableware) in the magnificent Arts Mansion, Ashton Court. As we walked up the winding country road to the historic mansion, we crossed paths with Rosalind J. Turner, an interdisciplinary artist who told us that like us, she is on a journey of trying to define what she does – a clear sign that we were on the right track. We would cross paths with Rosalind quite frequently throughout the weekend, discovering many connections between our work and hers, our journey and hers.

Seeing our golden name tag was a proud and tingly moment for us sparkians.

— Niels & Flo

After registration, we were summoned into the stunning hall of Ashton Court, and around the round tables, we shared a delicious vegetarian meal. The food was laid out beautifully, yet precariously, possibly to provoke some playful physical engagement and dialogue when passing around the many different dishes of food. This sense of game and mystery was a pervasive theme throughout the whole festival: I was often unsure whether certain happenings were serendipitously whimsical, or carefully constructed performance-interactions that fell on a fine line between dream and reality. Both options seemed viable at any moment in time!

I luckily found myself next to Maya Kuzmanovic of FoAM, a perfect opportunity to properly meet one of the people I’ve heard so much about from Greta and Jo, (who have recently established the FoAM Filfla cell). Our little pockets of conversation amidst the unfoldings of the night were very precious to me. It was a simple exchange of words with someone I deeply admire, reminding me that ultimately… honest human connections are our most valuable currency.

The main event of this night was certainly the bucket of cash in the ladies’ toilets at Ashton Court.

Yes, a bucket of £780 was left in the ladies’ loos, and we were told very early on in the night that this was an experiment being carried out by the hosts of the evening, The Viriconium Palace, and we were allowed to interact with this money in any way that we pleased. At first, the discussion seemed to lean towards ‘that money will grow, nobody would possibly take it’. We were intermittently given more information about the actual significance of this money: we were told that it was the wages of the people who prepared the food; and lastly, we were told the truth, that it was the equivalent of the material cost of the dinner. People played around it with, tossed it, threw it, took photos of it, and… interestingly enough, £40 was left by the end of the night. Many of us were shocked, I certainly was. Yet this curious experiment was the subject of many a discussion over the days we shared in Bristol, and beyond. It was £780, which to me sounds like a lot of money, but realistically, is it? Why does such a number drum up such a strong emotional response in us? How are numbers tied with emotions?

Getting back to Bristol centre was another experience that was done differently. We were given plenty of instructions for different ways to get back – walking, bus, taxi, hitchhiking – but the route we opted for was car sharing. Ingeniously, people with cars could fill in a little sheet of paper stipulating their general direction and the number of spaces they have to offer in their car. We were lucky to find someone going our way, so we pencilled our names down. This is a wonderful way to meet people, save extra travel expenses and fuel consumption, and get to share a ride with someone local who knows the ins and outs. We were offered a ride by Clarrie Maguire, a volunteer at the Cube, who has her own small business, Problem Chimp – bookkeeping services for small businesses. As we drove back to town, Clarrie and her husband pointed out their favourite pubs and venues and told us all about their perception of Bristol. We got home safe, and exhausted!

Our home away from home in Bristol.

FRIDAY.

The Convention at the Arts Mansion. After a short introduction from wonder-woman Kate Rich, one of the main driving forces behind RADMIN, and many other super cool wide-ranging entities, we moved into our first session, ‘Embracing Polarity’ by organisational psychologist Tim Malnick of Different Space. Tim spoke of his interest in human systems, how he recognises pioneers and experimenters who are trying to do things differently within these systems, how parts of what artists know can be very valuable for ‘business-as-usual’. He explained how we can use our bodies to access other parts of the human experience, the parts that are forgotten when we sit down around a table for hours. He then guided us through an exercise where we physicalised that which we consider the opposite of our current polarity… a businessman in a suit, a member of the city council? We held onto this opposite state for some time and observed how our bodies felt when we exaggerated it. We observed some surprising similarities and interesting differences that were very useful tools. This ‘othering’ exercise is applicable to so many situations. This really stuck with me – there was tangible discomfort in the room as we held on to this awkward ‘other’ state. It made us face a deep-seated fear and consciously try to understand it with both our bodies and our minds.

We next moved on to some workshop sessions where the groups were split up. I attended a session called ‘Redrawing Economy’ by Rosalie Schweiker of  Keep It Complex. Rosalie invited us to use our personal personal positions to understand systemic problems of the arts world. She gave us a set of questions to help us evaluate our organisations/structures: What are you working towards?; Who supports you and who is against you?; How do you work?; How do you earn money?. We then listened to some guest speakers who answered these questions about their own journeys, while allowing ourselves to draw/doodle these stories onto pieces of paper. Fozia Ismail spoke to us about Arawelo Eats, a platform for exploring East African foods in exciting ways, and Guy Lochhead from Bristol Co-operative Gym, “a gym for people who hate gyms,”.  The room ended up covered in our doodles, and we were given some time to choose a few that we connected with. We then discussed these little drawings with someone else in the room. ‘Making sense’ was another pervasive theme of these stories. Many artists seem to be driven by a need to make sense of things on various levels. This is something that we seem to be experiencing ourselves in TAS – in our investigation of the bridge between art and business, we find that knowledge from one side often helps to make sense of things on the other side.

We then broke for another delicious, nutritious lunch made by The Ad Hoc Collective. For the next session, I attended ‘Legal Eagles: Doing Things Differently’, by Teresa Dillon and Anna Grear. Teresa and Anna spoke about how we require an ontological shift as a next step towards commoning – a reframing of what it means to be human, a radical reorganisation. With law as a main mode of hyper-regulation and control, they proposed the question: how do we change things when we are so controlled? Anna went on to explain how most laws relate to people or property, wherein a person in the eyes of the law is most often a white, eurocentric, heteronormative white male property owner, so personhood is connected to dominance of property. We looked at legal non-excludability as a possible area for hacks, and also the idea of commons and commoning: shared ownership, responsibilities and benefits. Commoning allows the formation of social relationships among individuals and their resources, where the nature of connections is what really matters. Is this the way forward? These were all difficult words for me at first, but this workshop really helped me to open up my mind to other ways of living. It also made me more aware of how powerful the tool of knowledge is in this world where we need to know where we stand in order to know where we would like to go. As a small reflection of this intense session, we were invited to paint images, words or phrases that stuck with us. It’s always fun to see the different things that people connect with when we do this.

The final session of the day was one of the highlights of the whole festival for me. It was a lecture, or rather performance, given by Maya Kuzmanovic, written by herself and Nik Gaffney, founding members of FoAM, entitled: Dark Arts, Grey Areas & Other Contingencies. With an eerie soundscape in the background, the room in total darkness except for the slideshow of mysterious, dark, seemingly but definitely not random images, Maya held our attention in the palm of her hand for the whole hour. They began by comparing dark magic to funding applications: the spells that require clear minds and contemplation, the magic that is found in advanced technologies, the faith you need to retain that is a kind of meta-belief. They proposed that in order to deal with the inevitable burden of administration, one may think of it as an out-of-body experience, where the artist leaves their body for a while, to carry out admin tasks, before re-entering themselves to go on creating. This kind of practice may allow us to create a clear distinction between the things we do because we have to, and the things we do because we want to. Some tiny snippets of inspiration that I picked up included the famous Einstein quote, “Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible,” and another quote from Rebecca Solnit in Hope in the Dark, “Hope is not a door, but a sense that there might be a door at some point, some way out of the problems of the present moment even before that way is found or followed.” I do hope that this masterpiece of writing-lecture-performance will be published so that I may keep reading it over when I need a boost of courage!

And that was not the end of the day… The Cube RADMIN Office Party was next up. We were invited to the Cube Microplex for an all-access evening of drinks and performances. There was a nail bar in the projection room, DJs on the decks, tours around the whole building, a Sound Check performance by embedded researcher Pia Louwerens, and a very striking performance by Ingrid Vranken from FoAM. Ingrid’s performance entitled ‘My apologies for the late reply’ offered us a peek into, “How production and labour in contemporary life are made invisible […] endless overwhelming tasks that create the desires of retreat and the risk of getting burned.” Ingrid essentially sat and worked at her computer for 60 minutes, while we witnessed her workflow in action: scheduling appointments; keeping an eye on the time; tending to the endless amounts of emails from different inboxes, different people, different subjects, different ways of communication, different emotional responses, each requiring a carefully-composed response often starting off with the seemingly omnipresent phrase, ‘Apologies for the late reply’. So often I find myself starting off an email or a message with this phrase. I know I’m not alone when I feel like I’m constantly behind, always chasing optimum efficiency and never really getting there. In a world where we’re so frequently bombarded with requests for communication from every possible angle, how do we find space to deal with all this, and to stop apologising for the ‘late reply’? A few days here and there often doesn’t make the slightest difference. – I guess it’s all about keeping things in perspective and remembering that we’re all in the same boat.

SATURDAY.

This was the day for the Professional Development Bonanza at the Cube: drawing exchange, a radio show hosted by the founders of Bite the Biscuit (a neighbourhood economies market in Hull) a trade show, an art sale, an experimental raffle, cinema usher training and a feature film.

Trade Show 03 organised by Centre for Plausible Economies and Feral Trade displayed, “business itself as an art material, an interface for everyday creativity, a unit of investigation, meaning-making and radical work”. Do look up more about the organisers and participants because they are all truly fascinating! Some that particularly caught our attention were: Common Wallet – a group of people sharing a single bank account in a radical experiment of trust; Company Drinks – producing drinks through a cycle of growing, picking, processing, branding and bottling, in which the commercial supports the communal and cultural; Cube Cola – a craft-made cola with an open source recipe (you can order your own Cube Cola concentrate and make it yourself using the recipe!); COVERSLUT® – a fun, anti-capitalist fashion producer that communicates bold messages and uses a Pay What You Can (PWYC) system to keep funding the creation of new clothes; madeinroath – a hyper-local festival and artists’ collective from Roath who were using our help to rewrite their manifesto; Minipogon – an experimental production plant that processes plastic residues and transforms them into useful objects, which giving refugees on the Balkan migration route in Serbia an opportunity to work while they are in the ‘buffer’ zone; Rabbits Road Press – a community risograph print studio in London; Starter Culture – bringing people together through natural processes of fermentation, breadmaking and composting; TOFU (Technology of Future Utopia) – artistic intervention into logistical systems, different ways of transporting items in a sustainable way.

The Art Sale session led once again by Different Space’s Tim Malnick, was another highlight of this trip for me. Tim sat with artist Siena Barnes, who had very graciously offered up some of her art work to be sold. Together, Tim and Siena slowed down the process of selling an artwork, bringing consciousness to each step. We went straight in to the taboo of Money, its emotion, its value. Tim invited us to become aware of the physical reaction we have to certain phrases associated with money. He allowed us space to speak about our money stories with other people in the room, to look at how our family and our culture have a big influence on our relationship with money, and to realise that once we become aware of this relationship, we can actually do something about it, but if not, the patterns will keep on repeating themselves. As an artist, I acknowledge that I have a physical reaction to the word ‘Money’, or ‘Rates’ or ‘Fees’, I feel so uncomfortable discussing numbers with other people. I recognise that my perception of money is very negative and this session really gave me a push to tackle this rotten relationship and make some big steps forward. I will always be grateful for these precious 60 minutes!

Snippet of Siena's provocative artwork that was up for sale.

Next up was the Business Experiment Raffle Draw. We were given the opportunity to purchase a £1 raffle ticket – one per organisation – to enter a draw for which the prize was £2,500. The prize money was donated by someone who wished to remain anonymous, and in order to validate our tickets, we had to give a 30-second pitch of an idea of what we could do with this money. The pitch itself didn’t affect our chances of winning, the winning ticket would be drawn out of a hat, but it just pushed us to throw some ideas around and share them in any way we felt we would like to. So many curious and beautiful ideas emerged, and deep down, I wished that every single one could win, though there was only one winner at the end, and it happened to be someone who entered the draw at the very last minute. And to accompany the pitches, a group of performers from the Cube who called themselves Hendø Audio-visual Raffle Baffle-ment Solutions, were creating a live projection feed made up of 4 screens, onto which they were loading a constant flow of extremely amusing and ingenious images to go with every single pitch in real time. I loved the fact that this experiment just pushed us to be creative, it wasn’t a competition. It was a safe space where anything and everything was valid, and we all appreciated this.

By now, my brain was on serious hyperdrive, but we trudged on! The next session was an all-you-need-to-know to become a Cube Usher led by artist, filmmaker, long-time Cube volunteer and RADMIN co-producer Chiz Williams. Chiz had been present all throughout, weaving in and out of the crowds, seeing to things, taking care of us, and dropping in some very witty banter. Though now, we finally had the chance to sit and listen to him, and not only to share in his extensive knowledge of everything Cube-related, but also to feel the sincere love that he feels for this marvellous place and her people. We ran through the whole process of opening the theatre, welcoming and ushering guests into the auditorium, what to do in case of emergencies, and all other important points. On top of this, we learnt a bit more about how the Cube is run – it’s quite impressive to see that it has been running with the support of volunteers for so many years. This space clearly has some kind of magic that makes people feel welcome, at home and part of a family! And finally, we all sat down and ‘switched off’ to watch the film ‘Sorry to Bother You’. A sci-fi comedy that to me, asks a lot of the right questions that the world needs right now.

Totally overwhelmed by the events of the day and the intense film, we slowly said our goodbyes and made our way away from the first and certainly not the last RADMIN. And lastly, a quick closing-off dinner with one of our RADMIN companions Dan from The Newbridge Project – we spoke of the crazy couple of days we had, of the lives we were to go back to the next day, the challenges we share, possible collaborations, and our hopes and dreams for the future.

 

Something was telling me that this was just the beginning. I left the rough yet vibrant streets of Bristol with inspiration, energy, hope and above all, a newfound sense of courage to keep going, to keep pursuing what I believe in, to keep challenging norms, to keep questioning everything we take for granted, to keep making, sharing and living my art, and to never stop dreaming!