This publication developed from an essay I wrote earlier this year titled “A Tending to [(As) Matter]”, which can be traced back to a thread of thought that I had been weaving for the past year or, perhaps unknown to me, for even longer. A thread of thought that is concerned with what the notion of abolition as curatorial practice could and can be. The multiple ways it could, should, and can come into being.Abolition and Curatorial Practice
To engage the notion of abolition as curatorial practice is not to remove the discourse of abolition from its grassroots or political imperative. As Lola Olufemi and Imani Robinson assert, the ‘act of curation is not the same as the urgent material transformation needed to address the problem of carcerality.‘1 Nevertheless, the discourse of feminist abolitionists directs us to an understanding of abolition that exceeds the carceral, which is articulated as a remaking of the world and of sociality and follows the genealogy and tradition of Black feminist thought. It is this expansive discourse of abolition that the notion of abolition as curatorial practice engages. It is a practice that responds to the limitations and inefficacies of current decolonial curatorial practice, understanding that these failings arise out of its strategies. Strategies that are akin to that of reform. Small and incremental changes that feed the myth of progression, all the while enabling the axiom of power at the centre to retain its hold. But the centre cannot, will not, does not hold, and the projects of feminist abolitionists invite us to imagine the world otherwise — the future as it will have had to be.Moving out from the Centre
Despite the extensive criticism surrounding the discourse of post-Enlightenment thought, there has been a failure to adequately address the systemic function of this figure of thought and its modes of action in relation to its conception and consolidation of racial subjugation. The pillars of post-Enlightenment thought are the foundation for the very architecture of our society (juridical, economic, social), directly influencing Western conceptions of value and matter. The Black feminist poethics that Ferreira da Silva explores, is an activation of the ‘disruptive capacity of blackness’, to ‘quest(ion) towards the end of the world’, that is, decolonisation.2 It is an exploration of the capacity for aesthetics and creative practice to iterate a radically different future by disrupting the modern political order and refusing the pillars of post-Enlightenment thought. Which is to say that it is a praxis that announces a multiplicity of possibilities for knowing, doing, and being.The role of Art and Aesthetics
As the work of Ferreira da Silva attests, it is by way of aesthetics that we come into being, that the world around us, the ground on which we come to stand, is imagined and imaged. The theory of Black feminist poethics orientates us towards the need to radically rethink the relationship between the aesthetic and the organisation of the world. This thread of thought is found across and within the writings of Tina Campt, Rizvana Bradley, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Aracelis Girmay, as well as in and through the poetry of Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, and Simone White, to name just a few. Rethinking aesthetics is a speculative departure from The World, a tool towards the ‘dissolution of the boundaries between philosophy, artistic experimentation, and abolitionist praxis.’3 A means through which to articulate the future as otherwise.Positionality
In order to consider the notion of abolition as curatorial practice, I have positioned my practice as a reading with/in/through a Black feminist Poethics. Understanding this to be an ethical orientation, a positioning of oneself in allyship. It is an alignment with Black feminism in the knowledge that it is an inclusive, expansive discourse in which there can be solidarity across difference, because difference can exist without separability. It is to think alongside a feminism that is founded on fugitivity and futurity, whose history and genealogy has fought and thought against oppression in all its guises, a refusal to live by the limitation and the norms of what is rendered the “good subject” by the external directive of the bourgeoise white man or the heteropatriarchy. It is an understanding that the task of unthinking the world towards its end — decolonisation, is a collective responsibility.The act of Tending
Underpinning the discourse and practice of feminist abolitionists is the notion of radical care. Which is a care-ethic — the idea that as a collective and a community we can hold each other accountable, that there can be justice in life. It is a slowing down, a radical deceleration against the almost compulsive acceleration forwards that society demands. It is an attentiveness to (un)learning.
The role of curator has been defined as a custodian, a person who has a responsibility for taking care of something/someone. As Aracelis Girmay illuminates, the work of art is realised in and through the work of “A Tending”.4 Tending as an act of care. Tending as in tending a garden, an act that lets things grow. Tending as a question of what our tendencies are, a question which for Girmay requires us to consider where we might need to make “critical space”. Critical as in important, necessary. Critical as in a space in which to question and thus to speculate and imagine. Tending as a questioning of who and/or what our work is for.
When I think of what abolition as curatorial practice can and could be, I know that in whatever way it takes its multiple forms, it comes down to tending.Towards As Matter
With all this at the fore of my mind, As Matter began to take shape. I knew that I needed to create a space that tended to the words, both spoken and unspoken, written and unwritten, that tended to the creative practices that had given form to my own over the past year. A space that was out-with the confines of the gallery walls, that challenged what an exhibition could be. That facilitated a space that is critical, a space to imagine otherwise.
Finding its form as an online publication As Matter is framed as an encounter. An encounter as a convergence between publication and reader that exists within a larger tapestry, a constellation of thoughts, utterances, gestures and movements. An encounter as an approximation, which for Kameelah Janan Rasheed is an ‘almost ethical engagement with the imperfection of human knowledge.’5 An approximation as a continual process of (un)learning. Featuring artworks by Désirée Coral and Fairouz El Tom, As Matter is an exploration of the potential for artistic practice to iterate a radically different future.
The writing that is threaded throughout As Matter is in correspondence with and writes to the artworks. But the publication itself isn't simply just about this act of correspondence, or the act of writing, because correspondences exceed the written word. Nor is the publication simply about the artworks to which the writing corresponds. As Matter is as much about the correspondence between as it is about what John Edgar Wideman calls ‘the spaces between writing that are also writing.’6 Which is also to say the spaces between art that is also art. Expanding Wideman, As Matter is also about the spaces between that are sonic, that require us to listen, sometimes even to silence, and the spaces between that are haptic, that invites us to touch what has not yet been made solid. As Matter should not be thought of as words or artworks alone. Rather, in the words of Aracelis Girmay, it should be thought of as a gesture towards ‘every mark we make in the landscape, in the air.’7 A gesture towards tending to the building of the world otherwise. An unthinking of The World towards its end.
The name As Matter is a phrase taken from Rizvana Bradley and Denise Ferreira da Silva's co-authored article, ‘Four Theses on Aesthetics’, which was published in e-flux Journal in 2021. The use of the word “matter” in this context can be found in Denise Ferreira da Silva's writing on the equation of value, ‘1 (life) ÷ 0 (blackness) = ∞ − ∞ or ∞ / ∞: On Matter Beyond the Equation of Value’, published in e-flux Journal in 2017.
Informed by the writing of Denise Ferreira da Silva, As Matter continues the task of unthinking the world towards its end, decolonisation, inviting the reader to depart from The World into the worlds of possibility. In doing so, As Matter draws from the expansive discourse of feminist abolitionists, understanding the future as it will have had to be as something that is iterative, a continual praxis of destruction and care. An act of always already imagining otherwise.
This publication is part of the curator's MLitt Curatorial Practice (Contemporary Art), jointly delivered by the Glasgow School of Art and the University of Glasgow.The curator
Emma-Caitlin Watson is an emerging curator, writer, and researcher currently pursuing an MLitt in Curatorial Practice (Contemporary Art), jointly delivered by the Glasgow School of Art and the University of Glasgow. She grew up in the UK and South Africa and is currently based between Perthshire, Scotland and Charleston, South Carolina. She holds a BA (Hons) in English and Art History from the University of Sussex (2020) where she was awarded the Mary Dove Prize for Literature. She has previously held internships at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Charleston (2018), and more recently at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow (2022).Featured artists
Désirée Coral is an artist and researcher born in Ecuador, and is currently based in Dundee. Her practice explores and examines early global exchanges from and to the Americas and the rest of the world, engaging with and attending to the ontology of materials. Understanding the process of making as thinking, Désirée's practice emphasises the importance of generating contextual material knowledge and its influence on understanding past, present, and future relations with the land. Désirée received her MFA degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is currently a Doctoral researcher at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design at the University of Dundee.
Fairouz El Tom is a Sudanese and Swiss artist who works primarily in photography. She grew up in Sudan, India, Nepal, the US, and Switzerland. This experience instilled in her a fascination with human and natural diversity, and with identity construction. To explore these themes, she combines familiar imagery to create semi abstract works that blur the line between the personal and the cultural, the familiar and the new. She also has a keen interest in exploring how the “beautiful” can be mobilised in relationship to the “abject”. Fairouz is currently pursuing an MFA at the Glasgow School of Art.Designer
Freddie Guthrie is a young graphic designer based between Brighton and Glasgow. He specialises in bold typography and lettering and is currently pursuing a BA in Communication Design at the Glasgow School of Art.