Casco Art Institute operates several intersecting study lines around art and the commons. The study lines guide and shape the program, as they each express the concerns of diverse communities around us and entail a care-filled, long-term, and non-hierarchal cooperation. This way we do not only talk about the commons but practice it, and in this process, a different form of institution and ways of living together are prefigured.
There are currently eight study lines, as follows:
Center for Ecological [Un]learning deeply cares about the environment and practices an open space where learning and unlearning new ecological ways of living take place, especially with communities of the Leidsche Rijn, one of the newest neighborhoods of Utrecht.
Diverse Economies explores diverse forms of exchanges, transactions, and accountabilities among diverse communities beyond capitalist ones.
Angry Letters delve into conversations, writing and publishing, in particular through educational-institutional contexts in the Netherlands, as sites where oppressor/s are decentered as to actively explore modes of coexistence with regards to freedom and liberation.
Poetics of Living brings together the values and practices of non-normative ways of living into consideration with rapidly changing discourses around sexuality, health, communal life, and death.
Unmapping Eurasia imagines the Eurasian commons beyond the geo-cultural and geo-political divide such as Europe and Asia.
Commonist Aesthetics reflects on what and how art serves the commons in consideration of the existing theories of art and aesthetics.
Language and Dissemination practices alternative modes of communication, mediation, and circulation of art for and of the commons.
Site for Unlearning [Art Organization] questions and changes embodied knowledge and organizational patterns and habits from the perspective of the commons, taking art organizations as exemplary sites.
A group of artists have opened up the old Terwijde farmhouse in Utrecht’s Leidsche Rijn area and transformed it into a new commons! The farmhouse is now open for your visit and you are welcomed to make use of it for collaborative or autonomous activities.
The revitalization of the farmhouse is central to Erfgoed (Agricultural Heritage and Land Use). Erfgoed is the first project by Center for Ecological (Un)learning (CEU), a long-term co-initiative by The Outsiders and Casco to cultivate art-ecological practice in this new part of the city of Utrecht.
The farmhouse was once part of a large tract of farmland in Utrecht, most of which has now become residential land or commercial infrastructure, including a shopping mall and a train station. The land lay fallow until 1998, when it was developed into Leidsche Rijn and annexed to the city of Utrecht.
2017 marked the Erfgoed pilot period in which the CEU sought to unravel stories about the farmhouse and establish it for common use. Since then, Leidsche Rijn-based The Outsiders and Utrecht-based Casco have started operating the farmhouse in earnest. This operation is made possible with the support of many local artists as well as the Van Vuuren family, owners of the farmhouse, and neighbours of the farmhouse.
Terwijde farmhouse has a kitchen, library, and garden with composter, as well as a chicken coop and insect hotel, and—importantly—an area for exhibition making and communal activities. There are also various workshops relating to the farmhouse, its direct surroundings, and the mission of the Center for Ecological (Un)learning (CEU).
You can find Terwijde farmhouse at Louis Armstrongboulevard 30/50*, opposite Terwijde Train Station. The farmhouse is open every week from Thursday to Saturday, 12:00 until 21:00 hrs, Sunday, from 12:00 until 18:00 hrs. Follow the diverse programing on the Erfgoed Facebook page or on our website.
*Please note that the farmhouse address is Louis Armstrongboulevard 30, but appears as 50 on Google Maps. The farm is visible from the Utrecht Terwijde train station.
Eurasia is a landmass that embraces a space between the western end of “Europe” and the eastern end of “Asia”. Taking this (albeit simplistic) definition of Eurasia promises an exploratory, open-ended journey into one of the most complex ways of thinking through the region, which questions existing borders and distinctions in all dimensions including the geographical, cultural, political, and social—and in turn calls for new connections and pathways across cosmic, geologic, and spiritual dimensions.
Unmapping Eurasia is a long-term trans-cultural project initiated by Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons that takes an itinerant approach. It will evolve as it travels—in “movements”—where encounters, studies, discoveries, and speculation over other kinds of movements, institutions, infrastructures, resources, and cultures will take place in collective forms. Each movement will generate pathways that lead to and materialize as artworks, maps, and/or texts. Unmapping Eurasia is envisioned to be a warm, welcoming gesture that opens up one of the largest fields for commoning practice, and invites institutional and non-institutional partners on board to be co-initiators, researchers, and cartographers in the collective project of (un)mapping Eurasia.
“In order to live one’s life—one’s madness as well as one’s neurosis, desire, melancholy, or even one’s quotidian “normality”—each individual is bound to refer to a certain number of public or private myths.” Félix Guattari, Soft Subversions
“The most vital meaning has always come out of a dicey collaboration of intellect and imagination. The intuitive nature of this (inherently playful) balancing act makes it hard to fully know what one is doing while one is doing it.” Joan Retallack, Poethical Wager
Both “poetics” and “living” have normative measures and connotations, as the global regimes of neoliberal governmentality continue to impose and enforce jurido-political principles that govern, structure, and determine what it means to live, investing value and worth in those lives worth living at the expense of others. The expendability of the lives of others is now a a biopolitical reality that contours how we navigate through the world and live with others in ways that are ethical, ecological, and sustainable.
To consider this further, Poetics of Living is initiated as a long-term research project to study the aesthetic and affective forms and practices of social life derived from our most ubiquitous shared experiences, modes of relation that inform rapidly changing discourses around sexuality, health, communal life, and death. This project is informed by Black, crip, and queer intellectual aesthetic perspectives that remain sensitive to the increased marketization of visibility. The aim of Poetics of Living is to highlight the practices of those whose social lives are constructed around different ways of inventing and generating collective forms of sociality and care that survive the regimes of state violence, and its range of policing, surveillance, and biopolitical control. Poetics of Living considers poetic practices of writing, studying, and art making, as counter-repertoires of living.
Anti-psychiatry clinics, nightclubs, intergenerational queer communes, care collectives, brown queer punk groups, decolonial art and activist collectives, and radical health networks have their own unique organizational, visual, choreographic, and architectural forms, and are some examples that inspire our research trajectory. Collectively, we aim to learn from these social infrastructures and the people who participate in them, particularly how they common together through mutuality, difference, and affective registers of joy and struggle. Our programmed events and study sessions show how the contemporary landscape of poetics and ethics is changing in ways that reflect the shifting grammars of subjectivity, identity, access, property, and forms of community filiation.
Poetics of Living works collaboratively with artists, theorists, and activists. We organize into presentation moments over time and across media—and generate programming in the form of seminars, exhibitions, film screenings, performances, collaborative writing projects, and improvisational actions at Casco Art Institute, its host-site in Utrecht, Netherlands, and beyond.
The research process involves the Gender Studies program at Utrecht University as one of the most active communities around Casco Art Institute, and whose students, faculty, researchers, and graduates alike are involved in numerous translocal and transnational collective endeavors. We warmly welcome further institutional and organizational partnership and collaboration.
This project builds on artistic research related to the queer commons, indebted to theorists like José Esteban Muñoz and others, and provides “actual” references for these local communities/project participants in the Dutch context and elsewhere. Furthermore, it opens a framework to think with artists and academics already focusing on deeply urgent and fraught political, aesthetic, and legal questions that attend the global framing of queer personhood, simultaneously considering how identity and desire relate to collective initiatives to cultivate life in the general area of the commons, which is to say, both in strategic relation and resistance to state formations.
Poetics of Living is initiated by Rizvana Bradley (Assistant Professor, Yale University) and Staci Bu Shea (Curator, Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons)
Angry Letters works with the magazine as a repository medium for collating tools that de-center the oppressor/s in conversations on freedom and liberation. The inaugural ‘issue’ is developed with Open! Platform for Art, Culture and the Public Domain and takes a text-to-workshop form for opening up and applying discussions in real time. The outcome will thus comprise of online and print components to be published in the fall of 2019
Angry Letters aims to speak to and with blackness without asking its subjects to defend or apologize for themselves. It is not a request to assume some kind of posture in order to remain vigilant, but rather asks how to avoid being crushed by oppressive forms of control still common to many social and political systems today.
Decolonizing projects frequently guide thinking away from dominating hegemonies that reinforce systemic forms of oppression in order to dismantle them, even making use of the same literature, objects, and rhetoric to do so. By reworking the way in which information is received, it is possible to move past the boundary of neoliberal conceptions of “diversity” that limit the extent of potential change. Angry Letters seeks another path: to “do our own thing”, to shift the emphasis or departure away from hegemonic forces and address what is necessary, specific to those from the different territories in which the project lands. It is neither a de-Westernization project, nor a response to whiteness. Angry Letters seeks tools for coming out from under the colonial / modernity’s matrixes of power whilst taking care not reproduce this warped accumulative logic in the process and in the quest commons for liberation, also not to thrive off of the backs of other people of color. Angry Letters is both an ancient and a contemporary project, using the magazine format as a forum for discussion, and its social life for practicing and wondering beyond the page.
Practically, the magazine project also looks to experiment with modes of circulation as to really reach the audience each issue wishes to address. As such, p/re/distribution models will be developed alongside each issue as informed by its theme and the agency of social situations.
The inaugural issue The freedoms they most desired (working title) analyzes scenarios in which the meaning of Blackness is at stake and attempts retrospective remedies. The territory of this first issue is its birth place and context, the Netherlands and its universities. Black subjecthood here is a seemingly banal topic, until we confide in one another, that identity is needed to have access. And academia in the Netherlands, and indeed elsewhere, is rife with racially contentious moments: in December 2017 at the University of Amsterdam, a lecture was put to a halt by mostly students of color of the Amsterdam Research Centre for Gender and Sexuality protesting a visiting Canadian scholar speaking on black radical thought without a local black scholar to share the stage; Sandberg Institute only this year formed the Black Student Union; a black American scholar left their tenured position for fear of being tokenized after finding out they were the only first person of color employed in their department; and finally this year in 2018, an invitation to perform at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie extended to an artist duo who use racist and misogynist language as provocation, exposed the school’s lack of position on racism, a lack symptomatic of the country’s institutions in general.
Site for Unlearning is an ongoing, collaborative research project by Vienna and Utrecht-based artist Annette Krauss that takes place in various situations. Its point of focus is how rarely we question the social norms and structures that we internalize, and thereby sustain. Krauss deploys “unlearning” as a tool to collectively reflect on our (unconsciously developed) habits, so that we can adapt our ways of behaving and thinking towards a more common practice. A key question for the artist is how to “unlearn one’s privileges” ( quote by postcolonial critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak). This is not meant to be taken as turning our backs on these privileges; rather, the aim is to think how they might help us in individual and communal ways of envisioning non-capitalist futures that embrace social values like wellbeing, care relations, and collective responsibility.
Since March 2014, on the occasion of preparations for Casco’s inaugural exhibition New Habits at its new home, Krauss and the Casco team gathered together to work on a particular case of unlearning: the art organization. Until today, the main question we have been exploring in our weekly “unlearning” discussions is what we could unlearn to institute a more communal way of working. Casco’s public “front”, meaning its exhibitions, events, research projects, and publications, propose the commons as a viable alternative to capitalism (for more information on what the commons can mean, see the Casco website). If we adhere to the motto that we should practice what we share with a public, the “back” of the organization should be a sound reflection of what you, the viewer, sees and hears from us. The questions then arise: How do we deal with the contradiction between having a responsibility to the public in a neoliberal society (Casco is a public institution after all) and the desire to unlearn many of the core values of neoliberalism? What is the role of an artist in all of this? And how can we actively practice a commons-based approach in our daily work?
During meetings each Monday, the complexity of the task came to bear in seeing each answer begging new questions: Why are we always so busy? Why do we feel the constant need to be productive? What does being productive mean to us? How does this particular feeling of responsibility affect our bodies and our minds? We realized that running a business, the business of an art institution, is irrevocably tied up with our personal feeling of “busyness”, the latter bringing stress and nervousness. Moreover, it became apparent that we continuously undervalue certain reproductive tasks, such as cleaning, cooking, hosting, and non-public administrative and organizational tasks. However, without this “domestic” work, our institution would not exist. So we asked: How can we unlearn this form of valuing productivity, and how can we value reproductive labor as an essential part of productivity and dismantle the rushed feeling of always being too busy?
In response to these questions, we have been striving to narrow down our focus and invent our own specific methods and tools for unlearning. We talked, sat on wobbly chairs while hanging onto each other for balance, we drew diagrams and mind maps to discern our passions and things that hamper their fulfillment, we argued and laughed; we also transcribed audio recordings, then edited transcriptions. And we did the Unlearning homework we assigned ourselves, sometimes with reluctance because we surely should not spend our precious time on something that wasn’t immediately “productive” in the narrow sense of the word. Slowly but surely, key issues started crystallizing: if we want to unlearn busyness, we need to unlearn devaluing reproductive labor. We also need to find a form of sharing this un/learning process and situating it within a broader context so as to distinguish “busyness” from dedication or commitment.
We started with cleaning, inspired amongst others by the Manifesto for Maintanance Art, 1969, by artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles. At Casco each team member used to have a responsibility to keep the space clean. But because there is so little time, cleaning often does not seem as urgent as sending out a press release, preparing for an exhibition, meeting with artists and our public, and so on. Due to a resultant lack of collective contribution, interns along with the team members who take care of production matters would take on all of the cleaning work, while being no less “busy” than the rest of us. To solve this pressing practical issue, as well as to think through standardized notions of work and productivity, we decided to make it into an Unlearning exercise: each Monday, right after our weekly staff meeting, the whole team cleans the space. We put on music and get to work. By cleaning collectively, we not only schedule time for it, we make it into a new common habit. The work gains visibility and becomes valued. And in fact, “chores” are actually much more joyful when you share them.