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European Mobility Award Report: Aly Grimes

Recipient of a European Mobility Award, curator Aly Grimes, reports on supporting the completion of her year-long curatorial residency at Konstfack University in Stockholm and the realisation of her final project.


Aly Grimes

Aly Grimes is an Independent Curator and Co-Founder of STRYX - an artist-run project space and studios located in Birmingham, UK. Her curatorial work is concerned with new media art, collaborative methodologies and interdisciplinary modes of practice.

Currently resides in Birmingham


Report:

I am a Birmingham-based independent curator whose work is centralised around new media art, collaborative methodologies and interdisciplinary practices.


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I applied to the EUCIDA Travel Award Fund for support towards the completion of my year-long curatorial residency at Konstfack University in Stockholm and the realisation of a final project. The programme is split into four sessions of two intensive weeks at a time and the financial assistance from EUCIDA helped me to cover my travel and accommodation expenses for the last session in May 2018. Each year, the residency programme entitled ‘CuratorLab’ assembles an international cohort of curators from around Europe to work together on a collaborative project as well as their own independent projects in order to share a learning experience and develop expertise. The course also connects participants to many key players of the international art world from the curatorial staff of Moderna Museet to world-renowned artists and theorists such as Rosella Biscotti and Michael Hardt.

The 2017/18 collective project took the life and work of the Bolshevik revolutionary and former Ambassador to Sweden, Alexandra Kollontai, as  it' s point of departure. 2017 also coincided with the centenary of the October Revolution. More relevant than ever, Kollontai’s radical ideology on the family unit, women and workers’ rights, sexual relations and childcare also provided the main inspiration behind an exhibition entitled ‘Red Love’ by Spanish artist, Dora Garcia, at Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm. Due to this thematic crossover, CuratorLab residents were invited by the konsthall’s director, Maria Lind, to present their individual projects as the exhibitions’ public events schedule.

Keen to insert a digital element into the programme, I invited new media artist, Antonio Roberts, to collaborate on this project. This was due to many overlapping interests, his expertise in creating large scale installation works and experience with developing public facing, interactive artwork. I also shared the research on Kollontai from the collective project with Antonio to see whether we could approach her ideas in an innovative and technological manner. Due to her many strands of thought surrounding reproductive labour, and home and social life, we began to develop a new body of work investigating how our perception and understanding of ‘domesticity’ is changing today in the Global North.


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Historically sites of production and industry, our homes now only resemble places of consumption. We wanted to explore how the ‘the home’ is becoming an increasingly digitised milieu and how its appearance, function and purpose are being radically transformed through the colonisation of internet-enabled objects and artificial intelligence. We also wanted to investigate how the invasion of media through the use of smart devices and wearable technology is also re-shaping how we inhabit domestic space and socialise within it. Anyone born after 1989 will never know a world without the internet. Due to the proliferation of voice-activated smart phones and speakers which are set to outnumber the worlds’ population by 2021, our physical and virtual realities are becoming increasingly intertwined. “We are always on” (Nina Power, Transmediale, 2018). In the lead up to the delivery of the work at Tensta Konsthall, Antonio and I met each week at Vivid Projects in Birmingham to progress the development of the concept and its physical manifestation. We also both travelled to the Transmediale digital conference in Berlin in February, where we first encountered the ideas of Xenofeminist, Helen Hester, and were very drawn to her ideas of how technologies might be repurposed for progressive gender political ends. Hester’s work inspired us to analyse the use of smart speakers in the home in particular.

Our research materialised as a performative lecture entitled ‘The Digital Domestic’ which played out through direct interaction with an Amazon smart speaker and was set within an abstracted household setting. The work examined the impact of automation, smart devices and digital assistants on domestic labour and opened up many new lines of enquiry which I plan to develop further. The performance also payed homage to key historical theorist Hannah Arendt, author of ‘The Human Condition’. Arendt believed that the Twentieth Century was the most deplorable period in the history of mankind. This was due to the declining implementation of traditional and religious practices and the resultant deterioration of society and mass-alienation. For Arendt, to be human was to ‘think’. Appropriating her ideology to the Twenty-First Century, we hypothesized that the continual use of artificial intelligence to assist everyday menial chores could stunt our ability to think and make our own choices. It could make us more easily influenced and lessen our interaction between other humans perpetuating Arendt’s alienated society. We were so bold as to propose that Amazon is striving for a world where we stay at home all day and consume with no reason to leave the house. We reflected this idea by positioning the performance inside a large cage-like structure and projected a series of glitched imagery of post-apocalyptic scenes onto its surface.


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Inside countered this visual by conveying a safe, cocoon-like space which housed several screens and augmented reality QR codes inspired by the ‘Hyper Reality’ work of Japanese artist Keichii Matsuda.

Marketed to optimise efficiency in everyday life, in reality digital assistance devices harvest enormous amountsof personal consumer data and are a huge threat to our personal privacy. Through the medium of art, the performance sought to create an awareness of using these objects in the home and highlight the darker agenda of their global manufacturers. This was a key goal that I think was very successfully achieved.

The transcript of The Digital Domestic performance will feature in a new reader called ‘Red Love’ which seeks to compile the year’s-worth of CuratorLab collaborative study and research outcomes in one publication. This is due to launch in September in Stockholm and will be distributed by Sternberg Press. On return to the UK we extended the project by inviting UK-based digital art practitioners to present their work

in our respective homes by initiating the first British iteration of Living Room Light Exchange (LRLX). These are monthly salons dedicated to new media forms and dialogues amongst artists and cultural theorists.

I am extremely grateful to EUCIDA for providing me with the opportunity to expand my audiences in both Sweden and the UK, support knowledge exchange across Europe and complete my international curatorial training.

In the past two months and as a result of my time on the CuratorLab programme, I have been invited to mentor on the Near Now digital art fellowship programme and also to participate in a new exchange between Stockholm-based Centrala Gallery and Studio 44 in Stockholm. I will also be pursuing many new lines of enquiry brought about by the CuratorLab residency and aim to compile this work into a new exhibition at theend of the year.