[NetBehaviour] Crisis_at_the_ICA:_Ekow_Eshun¹s_Experiment_in_Deinstitutionalisation

marc garrett marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Fri Feb 12 12:58:50 CET 2010

Hi Emma,

Thank you for sharing with us your own experience and concerns regarding 
the ICA, and much respect for finding the courage to speak out on this 
subject. I'm sure it must be a daunting experience.

 >I may well regret posting this but frankly JJ Charlesworth has hit the
 >nail on the head with this article and I only hope that the powers that
 >be (the ICA board, who frankly don't know what on earth is going on at
 >the ICA and are equally distant from the programme, and ACE) pay 
 >and investigate what's been going on.

I also hope the circumstance do not arise where you would feel any 
regret in posting your comments on here (or anywhere else for that 
matter). Such a move to feels authentic and honourable. Sometimes we 
have to do what we feel is right, and yes it may blur the boundaries 
between art and politics. But if we just sit on our backsides and let 
those who exploit others for their own personal gain and power remain 
unquestioned, then the world would be an even worse place than it is 
now. Can it be worse? Yes!

 >The programmers were on a rudderless ship and frankly did a bloody good
 >job keeping things going inspite of the people at the top (marketing and
 >development, who have subsequently left), who were antagonistic towards
 >the programme and frankly didn't really care about it unless it was an
 >easy sell to sponsors or had marketing potential.

This is all extremely disturbing. The ethics around all of this is a 
mind field - as in the Arts Council's acceptance of allowing him to 
continue his disastrous journey in ruining so much that has been built 
by others. It's an old boys network supporting each other no matter what 
is sacrificed.

> As an ex employee of the ICA I have to say that many of the increased 
> staffing levels came about under Eshun's leadership (I use the term in 
> it's loosest possible sense). Many of these posts were support roles 
> as outlined in the article, Marketing and Developement were given high 
> level appointments and came from non art backgrounds, but hey, they 
> now had a chance to run their own programmes, and it didn't matter 
> that the curatorial teams were struggling to find money and marketing 
> support for the artists they were promoting/supporting, because the 
> agenda was 'fun' and 'youth' so popular music events to raise the 
> profile of the ICA (a profile that was being created independently of 
> the art that was being shown in the galleries etc.) were taking up all 
> the time of these two departments and were the only thing that Eshun 
> really showed any interest in, until recently.
> Now he's had to take stock of the situation. The MD left late last 
> year and Eshun has had to actually take an interest in the place. I've 
> heard from former colleagues that he was calling meetings last autumn 
> (nearly five years after taking over?) with different departments (non 
> curatorial) to find out what they did.
> He's shown no interest in the place, avoiding any films, events, 
> performances, etc unless it's related to a star studded invite list 
> until the proverbial shit has hit the fan.
> He is out of his depth and has been since he started, but instead of 
> surrounding himself with experts (i.e. the curators of the different 
> genres) and engaging with his teams he brought in magazine people and 
> cut himself off from the fundamental role of the ICA - supporting new 
> artists creating high quality art work of whatever art form. The 
> programmers were on a rudderless ship and frankly did a bloody good 
> job keeping things going inspite of the people at the top (marketing 
> and development, who have subsequently left), who were antagonistic 
> towards the programme and frankly didn't really care about it unless 
> it was an easy sell to sponsors or had marketing potential.
> Of course I'd say that Media Arts was /the/ way to differentiate the 
> ICA from other galleries in the arena - such as the Serpentine, 
> Whitechapel, Tate but Grayson Perry never came to any of my events so 
> it obviously wasn't high profile enough. Eshun never got it and 
> finances were a good excuse to close the department once and for all 
> even though my department brought in money and was eminently 
> sponsorable. I'm more than a little surprised that he's now engaging 
> with the whole IT thing and the ambITion programme that ACE have 
> instigated.
> I may well regret posting this but frankly JJ Charlesworth has hit the 
> nail on the head with this article and I only hope that the powers 
> that be (the ICA board, who frankly don't know what on earth is going 
> on at the ICA and are equally distant from the programme, and ACE) pay 
> attention and investigate what's been going on.
> Best wishes
> emma
> 2010/2/12 Simon Biggs <s.biggs at eca.ac.uk <mailto:s.biggs at eca.ac.uk>>
>     The problems at the ICA pre-date Eshun. They are about values but
>     the bigger picture is that they are about an invariable inward
>     looking culture, lack of vision and a gradual loss of relevance
>     within a changing context. A decade or more ago similar things
>     were going wrong. Massive losses, staffing crises, opportunities
>     missed. Eshun was meant to address that, but hasn’t. Is that due
>     to his inability or the immensity of the task?
>     60 years ago the ICA’s original mission was relatively simpler
>     than it is today – to nurture and promote contemporary art in a
>     larger cultural environment that was at best ignorant of it and
>     more often hostile. Both contemporary art and the environment it
>     and the ICA exist in have changed out of recognition. Contemporary
>     art doesn’t really exist anymore in the sense it did in the 1950’s
>     and 60’s. There are experimental streams of arts practice, often
>     hybrid, media based, socially oriented and thus hard to even
>     understand as art within the sort of parameters contemporary art
>     employed then. Then there is the (London) art world, which has
>     embraced contemporary art as a marketing bonanza. This has
>     certainly changed the appearance of the art world but it hasn’t
>     changed its values. Many of the same people still run it and the
>     new ones seek to replicate the business strategies of prior
>     generations. Some new marketing strategies have succeeded (the
>     Frieze strategy, for example) but they are still marketing
>     strategies. First and foremost the art world remains a business.
>     The ICA was meant to stand separate to this. Up until the 1970’s
>     it arguably did. Cork Street and The Mall are only a few hundred
>     metres apart but at that time they were culturally distant.
>     Throughout the 1980’s, which is when I started to go to the ICA,
>     and even be shown there, there was still a sense of mission about
>     the place, seeking to engage emergent practices, often from the
>     ground up. This was particularly the case with the Talks and
>     Cinema programmes. Simon Field and others were the key characters
>     whose personal stories ensured they were well connected to what
>     experimental artists at the time were doing (none of which was
>     being presented in the commercial galleries).
>     Things were changing though. Commercial galleries were getting
>     interested in more experimental practices, many of the artists
>     involved were getting older and more generous (less ideological)
>     about how their practice might be pursued and presented, a new
>     generation of art dealers were more open to this work and in many
>     cases emerged from the same scenes as the artists. The market
>     started to motor and then Brit Art happened.
>     In this context the ICA’s mission had to change. Contemporary art
>     had not only been assimilated, it had become hegemonic. The ICA
>     needed to start looking for and be responsive to emergent threads
>     within a complex multi-cultural environment, whereas previously
>     the interesting artists stood out by being so distinct against the
>     background of a prevailing grey monoculture. The ICA tried lots of
>     different things, some that worked and some that didn’t. Many
>     emerging artists couldn’t see how the ICA might relate to their
>     interests and therefore didn’t bother to find out if it could.  At
>     the same time the siren calls of celebrity and money that now
>     underpinned the art world became ever more attractive to an
>     institution that was struggling with its identity and finances.
>     Charlesworth identifies the impact of this on the ICA. The
>     appointment of Eshun was no doubt the moment when the ICA board
>     succumbed to that powerful song.
>     Eshun was an interesting appointment. Left-field, even. I suspect
>     many hoped he would connect the ICA up with new cultural streams
>     and attendant audiences but that didn’t happen. We can see what
>     has been the outcome. Perhaps that was clear back when he was
>     appointed, perhaps not. However, he was meant to represent the
>     change the ICA needed. Perhaps it was just the wrong change or,
>     alternatively, as Eshun would have us believe, the change hasn’t
>     yet happened.
>     Charlesworth’s article is in large part about
>     de-institutionalisation. In it he laments staff losing their jobs
>     and remits being left in the dust. This is not pretty and real
>     people are losing their jobs at a time when other jobs are going
>     to be hard to get. That is disturbing. However, the ICA has been
>     significantly over-staffed for at least 20 years. I remember Phil
>     Dodds banging his head against the wall trying to achieve cultural
>     change and balance the books and failing, not because he had bad
>     ideas (although perhaps he did) but due to institutional inertia
>     and the self-interest that prevails amongst staff when they have
>     been in the same place for so long. In that sense I can see a lot
>     of value in de-institutionalisation. Perhaps the principle of what
>     Eshun is trying to do is correct, in that the ICA needs to be
>     radically re-shaped with a new mission, even de-institutionalised
>     to the point of becoming some sort of cultural caravanserai
>     wandering through London and beyond.
>     I am not convinced that Eshun’s vision is the appropriate one but
>     there is little doubt that some radical change would be good for
>     the ICA and the people it is mean to serve. Otherwise, given its
>     inward looking and self-interested culture, it might as well be
>     closed down.
>     Best
>     Simon
>     Simon Biggs
>     s.biggs@ eca .ac.uk <http://ac.uk>  simon at littlepig.org.uk
>     <http://simon@littlepig.org.uk>  Skype: simonbiggsuk
>      http://www.littlepig.org.uk/ <http://www.littlepig.org.uk/>
>     Research Professor   edinburgh college of art   http://www. eca
>     .ac.uk/ <http://ac.uk/>
>     *C* reative *I* nterdisciplinary *R* esearch into *C* o *L*
>     laborative *E* nvironments  http://www. eca .ac.uk/circle/
>     <http://ac.uk/circle/>
>     *E* lectronic *L* iterature as a *M* odel of *C* reativity and *I*
>     nnovation in *P* ractice  http://www.elmcip.net/
>     <http://www.elmcip.net/>
>     *From: *marc garrett <marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
>     <http://marc.garrett@furtherfield.org>>
>     *Reply-To: *NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity
>     <netbehaviour at netbehaviour.org <http://netbehaviour@netbehaviour.org>>
>     *Date: *Thu, 11 Feb 2010 18:41:33 +0000
>     *To: *NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity
>     <netbehaviour at netbehaviour.org <http://netbehaviour@netbehaviour.org>>
>     *Subject: *Re: [NetBehaviour]
>     Crisis_at_the_ICA:_Ekow_Eshun¹s_Experiment_in_Deinstitutionalisation
>     Hello Stuart, I have probably said most of the stuff relevant to
>     your comments, on another post, earlier on. But, one individual
>     ruling over others does not necessarily equate to a quality
>     decision. That the ICA's problems are more an example of a wider
>     issue, that 'values' are what's needed at present, and how we work
>     with each other comes into the mix. It all seems rather old school
>     and patriarchal to me, but others may think differently... Looking
>     forward to meeting you tomorrow and your friends, didn't I meet
>     you attend the open Disassembly Event at HTTP? wishing you well.
>     marc s_home at canada.com <http://s_home@canada.com> wrote: > Hi
>     everyone, > > Well, what an amazing discussion. > > Can you feel
>     it? > > The ground is shaking and shifting underneath us as we all
>     speak. > > I must admit, it does feel like there is a big shift
>     going on and it is related with how people view art these days,
>     using networks and not only the usual gateways once provided to
>     find out about art. > > May be there is a new breed of specialist
>     now, and media art (or whatever you call it) offers a different
>     way of understanding contemporary art which was not so known or
>     appreciated before. Very interesting. > > I have only been on this
>     list since the DIWO project, and I have certainly learnt much more
>     already than at college or at normal art galleries since joining.
>     > > My friends, who study art and design who are my age
>     mid-twenties have been going to smaller galleries like HTTP and
>     Spacemedia much much more these days. It's strange, actually, hard
>     for me to explain but I will try without getting too caught up.
>     For me and my friends, the bigger institutions just do not offer
>     us anything that feels as urgent or as authentic. The meaning is
>     so different. Don't want anyone to get me wrong - it's just the
>     way it is. The ideas are more exciting, the work is more relevant
>     to our lives, more connected. And yes, I have seen this word used
>     already on here, it feels more REAL. > > I wish I could say more
>     but I've got student things to do, but some of my chums are
>     subscribed on the list - lurking. I would love to hear from other
>     students also. What do they make of all this? So far we have only
>     heard from those deeply involved in art and culture. It would be
>     great to know what student like myself think about it all. > >
>     Also - furtherfield crew at HTTP Gallery! I'm coming tomorrow to
>     see Annie's show. I would like to meet and have a drink with
>     yourself others from this list if any of you are there, I'll be
>     wearing a large crimson coat and a black baseball cap. Not sure
>     what trousers, you guess. > > We don't need another hero! > > all
>     the best, > > stuart. > > > > > >> ------- Original Message
>     Follows ------- >> From: "james morris" <james at jwm-art.net
>     <http://james@jwm-art.net>> >> To: <netbehaviour at netbehaviour.org
>     <http://netbehaviour@netbehaviour.org>> >> Subject: Re:
>     [NetBehaviour]Crisis_at_the_ICA:_Ekow_Eshun¹s_Experiment_in_Deinstitutionalisation
>     >> Date: Thu, 11 Feb 2010 15:26:31 +0000 (GMT) >> >> >> On
>     11/2/2010, "Rob Myers" <rob at robmyers.org
>     <http://rob@robmyers.org>> wrote: >> >>> The ICA have asserted
>     that JJ [who I once had lunch with with a friend at >>> the ICA
>     bar of all places] was "unsubstantiated and subjective" in his >>>
>     criticism. Mute have responded. See the comments at the bottom of
>     the page >>> containing the article - >>> >>>
>     http://www.metamute.org/en/content/crisis_at_the_ica_ekow_eshun_s_experiment_in_deinstitutionalisation
>     >>> >>> (Via @MuteMagazine on Twitter, who you really should be
>     following, along >>> with @Furtherfield , until they all move to
>     identi.ca <http://identi.ca> ;-) ) >> I don't use twitter on
>     identi.ca <http://identi.ca> - whatever... >> >> I just looked
>     through your identeets (or whatever identi.ca <http://identi.ca>
>     users call >> them) and the link: >> >>
>     http://www.the-source.com/2010/02/matt-asay-joins-canonical/ >> >>
>     seems to tell a very similar/parallel story about Ubuntu as to the
>     ICA, >> don't you think? >> >> james. >>
>     _______________________________________________ >> NetBehaviour
>     mailing list >> NetBehaviour at netbehaviour.org
>     <http://NetBehaviour@netbehaviour.org> >>
>     http://www.netbehaviour.org/mailman/listinfo/netbehaviour >
>     _______________________________________________ > NetBehaviour
>     mailing list > NetBehaviour at netbehaviour.org
>     <http://NetBehaviour@netbehaviour.org> >
>     http://www.netbehaviour.org/mailman/listinfo/netbehaviour
>     _______________________________________________ NetBehaviour
>     mailing list NetBehaviour at netbehaviour.org
>     <http://NetBehaviour@netbehaviour.org>
>     http://www.netbehaviour.org/mailman/listinfo/netbehaviour
>     Edinburgh College of Art (eca) is a charity registered in Scotland, number SC009201
>     _______________________________________________
>     NetBehaviour mailing list
>     NetBehaviour at netbehaviour.org <mailto:NetBehaviour at netbehaviour.org>
>     http://www.netbehaviour.org/mailman/listinfo/netbehaviour
> -- 
> Emma Quinn
> 45 Tunbridge House
> Spa Green Estate
> St. John Street
> London EC1R 4TT
> t. 020 7833 2778
> m. 07799003153
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> _______________________________________________
> NetBehaviour mailing list
> NetBehaviour at netbehaviour.org
> http://www.netbehaviour.org/mailman/listinfo/netbehaviour

More information about the NetBehaviour mailing list