During the last years I became increasingly dissatisfied with the idea of being an artist with the outlook of producing objects for an art market. The more I learned about ‘the artworld’ and all its hypocrisies, the more I realised I didn’t want to be another artist producing commodities for a privy elite, and dropping them into an artworld that in the end merely maintains the status quo. Even though art institutions are interested in being perceived as progressive and politically engaged, criticism and political perspectives are mostly contained to representation, and institutions are seldomly willing to change the actual infrastructures in place.
Gradually, my interest shifted towards artistic or cultural practices that focus on building small-scale bottom-up infrastructures, learning together in horizontal ways, and employing creative strategies for political activism. I became involved in collectives, initiatives, and research groups, mostly based in and around the Willem de Kooning Academy as this is the context I am embedded in right now. There, we have been creating a student-led curriculum, organising peer-to-peer feedback moments, reading groups, and get-togethers. The main intention behind these efforts was to foster a sense of community and mutual support among students (and teachers). Trust and solidarity are important prerequisites for a feeling of collective agency and the courage to oppose unjust systems. Through these initiatives, we attempted to embody the change we wish from the academy, become each other’s teachers and students, and engage in creative modes of learning that the academy doesn’t provide (enough). Through informal moments of uncovering the knowledges present within us, we attempted to question and go beyond traditional formats of knowledge and art production. The knowledge gathered and shared was often recorded in the form of publications and zines.
When it came to graduation I realised it would be artificial and unsuiting to my practice to start a completely new project with a product I would show at the end of the four months graduation period. Wasn’t I already practising my practice? So I decided to take this period as a moment to reflect on all these ongoing, entangled and embedded projects, to make explicit what I learned from them, to understand the threads that run through and connect these seemingly distinct initiatives, and to find out where I want to go from here.
So the concept of autoarachnology came into being as a tool for thinking, a model for situating myself, a lens to look at practices, artistic or otherwise, as ambiguous, dependent on many different actors and contexts, shaped by different factors, organic, dynamic. Practices not as producing products, but as engaging in processes. autoarachnology is the study of the self as a spider, sitting in a web of interrelated concerns, interests, activities, and urgencies. This self is not confined to this body, and certainly not to this mind. It emerges along the lines of an intersubjective web, through encounters with others, human and non-human. The web that autoarachnology envisions is not the centralised orb-web, but the more messy space web, that has no clear centre and stretches out into all directions. This website is an attempt at tracing the threads and nodes of the web, of understanding my practice by using the metaphor of the spider/web.1
Autoarachnology is not about systematising my practice, it is about embracing its complexity and ambiguity. A web is not a fixed entity as it is continuously maintained and adapted by the spider; building a web is a nonlinear process. New connections are made with time, others severed. What works, depends on the context and is subject to change. After all, trying to find ways to navigate neoliberal infrastructures while searching for strategies of resistance and recipes for weaving, knitting, stitching, and knotting otherwise2 webs based on solidarity, sustainability, and embeddedness in context is a process that involves experimentation.
1 The term Spider/web was coined by the studio of artist and researcher Tomás Saraceno: “According to numerous studies that have argued that the web is an extension of the spider’s sensory and also cognitive systems - our approach is not to consider the web as separate to the web-building spider, but a living material assemblage we think of in terms of the conjunctive neologism: the spider/web.”
“Spider/webs.” Arachnophilia, https://arachnophilia.net/scanning-the-web/ . Accessed 16 May 2022.
2 I borrowed my use of the term ‘otherwise’ from Elizabeth Povinelli who employs it as follows: “The plane of existence is the given order of existents-as-arrangement. But every arrangement installs its own possible derangements and rearrangements. The otherwise is these immanent derangements and rearrangements.” Zoénie Liwen Deng elaborates: ‘[...] I prefer “otherwise” than “alternative”, since the latter already assumes the binary of “norm vs. the alternative.”’
Povinelli, Elizabeth. “Geontologies of the Otherwise.” Society for Cultural Anthropology, 13 Jan. 2014, https://culanth.org/fieldsights/geontologies-of-the-otherwise. Accessed 27 May 2022.
Deng, Zoénie Liwen and Elaine W. Ho. “Strolling South: Reflecting on Our Institutionalisations & Otherwise Collectivity.” Art for (and within) a Citizen Scene: A Look at Art Primarily Active in the Context of Daily Practices, edited by Iris Ferrer, Emily Shin-Jie Lee, reinaart vanhoe, and Julia Wilhelm, Onomatopee, 2022, pp. 11-41.
Thanks to Juliette Douet and Carla Arcos for working with me on so many projects, among them the Rooftop Garden and the MagaSPIN, for coming up with wild ideas and also having the courage and endurance to realise them, for their enthusiasm, support, creativity, criticality, and care, and for teaching me so much about collaborative working. Thanks for building up and introducing me to SPIN, I don’t know where I would be without you. I would also like to thank Juliette for editing this document. In the context of the Rooftop Garden I also owe a lot to Clara Harmßen and her knowledge about plants, and want to thank Jasper van den Ende for his photographic talent and support, and Maia Lauffs for cooking and organising with us during numerous events and actions.
Thanks also to Senka Milutinović for organising the Reading Rhythms Club and the Re: Writing workshops with me, for their creativity, skillfulness, and knowledge, and for being so inspiring to work with. I also thank our Reading Rhythms regulars Julian Crestian and Arimit Bhattacharya, and again Carla and Juliette, for being there (almost) every time, and for sharing my passion for reading together. Thanks also to Naomi Janssen for her enthusiasm and resourcefulness and for organising the Re: Writing workshops with Senka, Donatas Tretjakovas, and me.
I also want to emphasise how much I learned from the members of the Cooking Something Up group, and want to thank Thao Tong, Freeke van der Sterren, Yusser Salih, and Carla Arcos for the beautiful meals, thoughts, and experiences we shared.
So many of the aspects and questions I am touching upon first came up for me while working on the publication Art (for) and Within a Citizen Scene, and I want to thank Emily Shin-Jie Lee and reinaart vanhoe for allowing me to accompany them on this journey and to learn from and with them.
The Autonomy Lab meetings and workshops were also a big inspiration for this project. I learned a lot about self-organisation and understanding infrastructures from all the participants and I especially want to thank Simon Kentgens and Florian Cramer. The same goes for the Care Research Group, where I learned how important it is to acknowledge and bring in personal experience, and gained a more thorough understanding about what care can mean in theory and in practice. Thanks especially to Michelle Teran for initiating the research group, for her input during numerous events we organised for the Rooftop Garden, and for sharing her knowledge about gardening, sleep, and conflict so generously with me. I am also very thankful for the conversations, organising experiences, and networks of solidarity and support between teachers and students from the AWA group.
I am forever indebted to Kommune, for being my family and for having supported me for my whole life with friendship and care. Special thanks to Lea Dittrich for editing this document and adding a perspective outside of the art bubble. I am also grateful for my housemates Lisette van Oostveen and Maya Zhelyazkova, for the impromptu coffees in the hallway, the shared meals, and for this beautiful weird sibling situation.
I would like to thank my research document supervisor Sonia de Jager, and my practice supervisors Nathalie Houtermans, and Martina Raponi for their inspiration, guidance, and feedback. Thanks also to Lizan Freijsen who compared me and my way of working to a spider in the first place, and for her continuous support.
This list could be endless, the web emerged through relations and shared experiences after all, and I am indebted to everybody who shaped it along my paths.