The Age of New Babylon: Chelsea SU Residency
Curatorial statement: we are an interdisciplinairy group of BA/MA students from UAL, RCA and The Cass and have been using the SU space at Chelsea as a live-archive, research base and a point of convivial departure to think and feel our way around collaboration, education and imagination.
Over eleven days we have hosted a series of self-initiated workshops and actions – ranging from a discussion on Childish Gambino and simulacra, to a collaborative painting workshop inspired by 1980s North African art, to a series of group-dance exercises based on Anna Theresa de Keersmaecker and even found the time to make a tactical intervention in the Tate Britain whilst wearing sarees.
Much of this research and activity has been instigated by our successful bid to host the first ever student-curated show in the Lethaby Gallery at CSM this coming November. To keep up to date with our activities please follow our Instagram channel: @ofnewbabylon.
Some Initial Reflections Upon Closing the Show
The artwork New Babylon was an anti-capitalist city perceived and designed in 1959-74 as a future potentiality by the architect and visual artist Constant Nieuwenhuys. It is through the invention of this utopian vision that Constant realised the horror of his endeavour and was subsequently filled with an overwhelming sense of dread; “New Babylon was meant to be the figure of good that took the name of the cursed city and transformed itself into the city of the future” – Henri Lefebvre.
In her critique of Bishop’s Relational Aesthetics, Emma Cummins states that “the progressive ideals of the modern metropolis – with all their utopian promise – have in many ways failed to consider the emotional life of the individual. Lost by the wayside of breath-taking advancements in transport, trade and technology, he (the individual) lives in a world which eschews him.” And thus our invocation of The Age of New Babylon follows on from this, as a challenge to utopian and binary visions of the future. Especially as we now find ourselves situated in a combination of neoliberal ethics and ubiquitous data capture which has created a fundamental paradigm-shift, causing an expansion of capitalist power, beyond even the wildest fears of Constant.
In this new reality the space for individuality and autonomy are shrinking further and so artists and theorists such as ourselves have had to pick up on the innate desire for meaningful, communal experiences, which have been readily replaced with a networked form of solitude. In addition to this, we wanted to develop our practices and expand our understanding of art and the multiple worlds which we inhabit, through the establishment of a living space that could serve as a live-archive.
The decision to take this convivial approach to peer-learning was borne out of working through and reflecting on the above ideas. Now that our residency at Chelsea has ended we are reflecting on how to frame such a space. The notion of ‘safe space’ feels too prone to binary splits and so this form of overt antagonism has the risk of eschewing artistic engagement for a kind of siege mentality. So maybe the answer is not about having a safe space with limited connections but rather to create a space where we don’t try to control the connections and then through that be open to learning and discovering meaning via genuine playfulness and curiosity.
It seems that our interests have shifted us away from a vertical sense of inverting hierarchies and towards horizontal connections with our peers and fellow human beings. And it is this curiosity in one-another and notions of Difference and being Other that is driving the energy we have witnessed on this site during the last eleven days.
We are very aware that our existence in the art school (or any institution) is a form of resistance on multiple levels. And that by prioritising art we are engaging in a de-colonial and psycho-political process against technologies of power, which many of our ancestors could not escape. We feel that by engaging in artistic workshops with our peers we have made a genuine effort to sidestep away from of old hierarchies and towards narratives that are new and beyond the scope of yesterday’s fascism – whereby resistance to the latter is too often represented as being woke; but it may be the case that in order to dream, we must allow ourselves to sleep sometimes.
Participants: Hannah Akanbi, Yemi Alade, Gianni Antonia, Bunmi Agusto, Wilfred Cisse, Sara Gulamali, Jannat Hussain, Jerome Ince-Mitchell, Maria Mahfooz, Timothy Nyakuyedzwa, Gbolade Oludare, Federico Pompei, Samboleap Tol, Dami Vaughan and Abbas Zahedi.