What would it feel like or even mean to exercise art?
The invitation to lead an online debate on the occasion of the upcoming Seminario Fundación Cisneros, Acts of Learning, seemed like a timely opportunity to pose some of the questions we’ve been dealing with as we organize The Wilson Exercises, a project by Rivet with artists Anna Craycroft and Marc Vives. This is a three-part project about exercise as a collective modus operandi. The topic at hand was inspired by several conversations with artists and fellow curators in which we noted an increasing interest in learning-by-doing. It’s a form of going back to basics or a paring down of scale, with a distinct interest in hands-on, material engagement, defining art as practice. (We understand this resurgence as a turn away from defining art as practice, instead favoring project over product, and emphasizing discursive activity.) It may also highlight self-schooling over enrollment in particular curricula or programs.
Within the framework of this current shift to a more unapologetic doing or making that is characterized by continual learning, we’re interested in thinking a bit further about the term exercise, a term more frequently used in Spanish-speaking artistic contexts than in the Anglo-Saxon realm. Whereas exercise in Western culture mirrors late capitalist forms of labor with one’s own body as a desperate act of self-improvement that is bound to be insufficient, the exercise in art still seems to anticipate the unexpected and revelatory while simultaneously being dependent on time, temporal rhythm, maintenance and routine in the present. The aim is less to compensate for what is lacking or to improve, than to learn and persist, and in so doing, to expand registers of attention and the imagination, or even to distract that looming, responsible subject called “artist” into acting as agent of the exercise.
We invite you to consider whether, in your context, it makes sense to think about art and exercise, or art as an exercise? Is there something to be gained by embracing art-as-exercise as something that one wants to do, but also as an activity that is born from a keen sense of time and rhythm, including routine maintenance-like aspects, and the possibility of falling off the wagon? Could the awareness of time, repetition and even routine help us conceive of art as a type of activity that feeds less directly into exponential surplus value (and as the privileged ground par excellence for wild financial speculation)? Could the exercise yield an unregimented freedom essential for art making that may have gotten lost in over-emphasizing “practice” as umbrella term? And, for the public viewer, might an art that calls itself an “exercise” disarm set expectations?