Known for “New Life Copenhagen,” an initiative that paired international visitors with host families during the city’s climate summit last year, the collective Wooloo is currently operating “New Life Residency” as part of Manifesta 8 in Murica, Spain. For this project, the group has invited five artists to live and work entirely in the dark. In addition, each artist has been paired with a visually impaired assistant. Here, cofounders Sixten Kai Nielsen and Martin Rosengaard describe their latest project.
WHEN WE WERE PRESENTED WITH the curatorial investigation by Manifesta and the Chamber of Public Secrets into the history of the visual, we found it worthwhile to consider a broader view of this chronicle. We wanted to explore the impact of visuality on human history as a whole—the effects of society’s seemingly uncontrollable production and consumption of images. How could we imagine something different? What would a nonvisual world be like?
We have also been interested in the artist residency as a form. Especially now, in a financial crisis, as it’s the only way many artists can afford a studio. Yet most contemporary residency programs seem to have a very odd idea of isolating the artistic “genius” for him or her to create work. With “New Life Residency,” we wanted to do it differently––we wanted to create a situation that would not be comfortable or give room for the artists to “be themselves,” but rather the opposite.
In short, these were our initial thoughts when we came to Murcia. Then we encountered the city and began meeting its blind community. Being visually impaired in Murcia means walking through the streets to get things done, or working by selling lottery tickets, for instance, on behalf of ONCE, the local organization for visually impaired people. We began talking to these men and women, asking them if they knew about Manifesta; they didn’t. Actually, it seemed like no one locally had heard about the biennial. We began to think even more about the relation between Murcia and Manifesta. And the more we thought, the more we wanted to do something that didn’t pretend to understand the city or region. Because of course we don’t. We wanted to create a situation in which the artists were lost.
Most of the participating artists normally produce visual work. But the most important reason we selected them is for their interest in experimentation and their proposed collaboration with their assistant, as well as their ability to go beyond simply presenting a fixed work in a dark space. The selected artists all demonstrated awareness of the fact that what they initially proposed will most likely end up being very different due to the process. A lot of applicants seemed to forget that this is a residency program, not an exhibition series.
We found the participating assistants by speaking to them. ONCE has also been a tremendous help in communicating our initial idea. Funnily enough, only women wanted to take part. We spoke to several visually impaired men, but they were not interested. For us, this work is not about a challenge of darkness as much as it is a challenge of collaboration; to leave the visual production behind and see what is left. This project is also a lot about translation and communication. And what can be lost (and gained) in that process: A language barrier is present in some of the collaborations, but no more than is already the case between Manifesta and Murcia. We see this as part of the project and an integrated part of working internationally in a local setting.
All of our work explores new ways of living and working together. This has been our interest since we built wooloo.org, our very first social sculpture, almost ten years ago. Today, the website functions as a working platform for artists and cultural producers, but in the beginning, it was also an experiment in online space—long before Facebook and the social network explosion we see now. Overall, the mission of Wooloo is to explore new ways of living together on this planet. Each of our different projects is, in one way or another, a social experiment in collectivism. The antiglobalization movement has this slogan—“Another World Is Possible.” We agree, but we would like to take another angle: What world is possible? Let’s begin the testing now, please.