Free School for Art Theory and Practice
Miriam Bäckström, artist and Anders Kreuger, curator
An Exercise in Speculation
September 21-23, 2007
We have collaborated, often rather intensely, for the last four or five years. Our collaboration has ranged from the rather conventional division of labour between an artist and a curator to the joint preparation of texts based on in-depth conversations and the complex entanglement of mutual consultation and inspiration.
One of the recurring topics in our conversations is the importance of speculation, as an attitude (speculative thinking as a pro-active mirroring of the future, in the etymological sense of the term that derives from the Latin word speculum) and as a method (speculation as an act of defiance, a refusal to make do with given topics and approved opinions).
We would argue that speculation, in these two senses, is crucial to creativity and artistic practice. Speculation, it is true, is more to do with the opaque process of thinking than with the transparent pursuit of knowledge. In The Life of the Mind Hannah Arendt suggested a definition of thinking which also describes what artists and curators must be able to do: speculate meaningfully about the unknowable. A warning is due, however. Speculation can create meaning and clarity, but also mystification and confusion.
Speculation is frequently the answer to one of the most important questions in art: What is interesting? Insecurity, unease, even ignorance, may be more interesting than their corresponding positives. When art is uninteresting we understand it has not lived up to its purpose, even if we do not know what this purpose really is. Speculation works rather well when we hope to achieve the freedom and unpredictability that is sometimes the only antidote for meaninglessness.
Qualitative notions such as Hannah Arendt’s speculation or thinking or Henri Bergson’s duration and intuition are closed and unaccommodating in the sense that that they do not yield to quantification. It is perfectly possible to speak of speculation in various contexts, but it is more difficult to tell what the notion actually contains, to enumerate the concrete operations it comprises, to accurately describe the field it covers. The notion of speculation may, in fact, be so open and accommodating that it functions only in art and nowhere else.
In Budapest we plan to approach the topic of speculation from two angles. We will use Miriam Bäckström’s recent films Rebecka (2004), The Viewer (2005) and Kira Carpelan (2007) as illustrations of how an artist may use speculation as an attitude and a method. We will also perform a close reading, together with the workshop participants, of extracts from Henri Bergson’s last and too-little-known book The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932), which is unapologetically based on speculative thinking.
What we hope is that the workshop will convert itself into a mirror – a speculum – of the unknowable, of things to come. We hope that An Exercise in Speculation will be meaningfully unpredictable.
Born 1965 in Sweden. Curator at Lund Konsthall and dean of the Malmö Art Academy and the Soedertoern University College. Independent curator and writer since 1999. Curator of the 6th Periferic Biennial in Iasi, Romania, 2003, and of several other international exhibitions. Director of NIFCA, the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art, in Helsinki 1997-99. Director of the Nordic Arts Centre in He lsinki 1995-97. Director of the Nordic Information Office in Vilnius 1991-95.
Born in Stockholm in 1967. Lives in Stockholm. Graduated in Crafts and Design in 1998 at the Academy of Photography, Konstfack / University College of Arts, Stockholm.
Selected recent solo exhibitions: Impakt filmfestival, Miriam Bäckström (Rebecka, The Viewer, Kira Carpelan: Installations of videowork) Centraal Museum, Utrecht, NL, 2007, Kira Carpelan, (w/ Kira Carpelan), curated by Jan Åman and Daniel Daboczy, Färgfabriken, Stockholm, S, 2007, All Images of Another Person, (w/ Carsten Höller), curated by Joerg Bader, Centre de la Photographie, Genève, CH, 2006, Amplified Pavilion, (representing Sweden w/ Carsten Höller), curated by Åsa Nacking, Nordic Pavillion, 51st Venice Biennial, Venice, IT, 2006, Betraktaren/The Viewer, Elba Benítez Galería, Madrid, ES, 2006
Recent selected group exhibitions: Det möjligas konst/Art of the Possible, curated by Anders Kreuger, Lunds Konsthall, SE, 2007, El puente de la visíon, curated by Salvador Carretero Rebés, Museo de Bellas Artes de Santander, ES, 2006, Unlimited ID, the portrait as concept, Dazibao, centre de photographies actuelles, Montréal, 2006