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The Pool Within

We have been invited twice to spend time in Bari and think together with other organisations about what kind of art institutions our society needs. And, even more importantly, about the practice of instituting.

What does it mean to invite an empty pool? Last summer artist Navine Khan-Dossos conceived a site-specific project at Swimming Pool that, perhaps for the first time with such a directness, functioned as a figurative response to the premises of the space, addressing the empty pool architecture. Mostly interested in potentiality, Pool Paintings Part I was countering discourse, history and politics of pools as symbols of luxury and leisure but also as something that leads to the subconscious. The eight series of abstract figurations (all together 60 paintings) drew on different aspects, creating a panopticon of imaginary pools. The empty pool is a space of great possibility, but also impossibility, said Navine to me. An empty pool will always pose various questions.

In her essay "The Octopus in Love", Chus Martínez talks about artist Raphael Montañez Ortiz, who founded El Museo del Barrio, and his idea of creating a rainforest room in the atrium of the museum as preamble of any form of art presentation to follow. For Martínez, this forest is the opposite to the "white cube" – in terms of scale, exhibition, legibility and ideology. Also, it does not perform judgment and does not carry out a critical project as it is a "travel beyond judgment": It functions as an ongoing performative speculation about ways of affecting and being affected, as well as ways of naming.

The pool is also an opposite, an other, and here it finds a specific expression: as emptiness. The emptiness allows to think this architecture as a shape and, thus, an abstraction, as something liberated from purpose, dysfunctional, not signified, as such open to propositions. The blank pool space replicates the gallery space, but in an opaque way as it dissolves both cubes in a myriad of deviations. Abstraction provokes thinking – both the very motion of addressing or not addressing its subject. Being always empty while always central to space, the pool provokes us constantly towards questioning, which is a practice of instituting rather than institutionalising. A blue cube within a "white cube" – the latter being one of the paradoxes of modernity – and, thus, allows us to think the institutional space and its politics differently.

Practices of instituting are positioned within the discourse of institutional critique. However, instead of criticizing or transforming the central art institutions, today we observe the emergence of many small and medium-size projects, spaces and initiatives that all together carry a different abstraction in itself, as to provoke speculative thinking. Interconnection becomes crucial indeed – in this context I see the invitation towards Swimming Pool as well as the encounters with so many other international spaces, along with Spazio Murat and 63rd-77th STEPS – Art Project Staircase as a platform for knowledge transfer, joint thinking, response, care, connectivity and infrastructure parallel to the modes of globalization, however outside the terms defined by neo-liberalism.

Martinez applies to the forest the figure of chiasmus – a reversion that produces a total confusion of identity; this is where a "still-forthcoming" community is inventing itself. Instituting on such terms would mean to embrace such practice of inventing. With Emanuele Guidi and Lorenzo Sandoval we can also talk of "spaces of anticipation", understood in the meaning of "looking forward, taking care ahead of time, and enthusiasm", and related to reframing the discourse on institutions and "their, supposedly inherent, nature of becoming while being grounded in the present."

Almost ironically, an empty pool always speculates with the anticipation of being filled one day. I was recently introduced to ideas of hydrofeminism as developed by Australian feminist Astrida Neimanis who thinks of water, which constitutes approximately 80% of our body, as the linkage of all organic and inorganic things on this planet in a constant cycle, going in and out, blurring boundaries. We need to anticipate this interconnection. There must be always an empty pool within.

–Viktoria Draganova, 2019

Chus Martinez, The Octopus in Love, in: e-flux 55, May 2014.
Emanuele Guidi and Lorenzo Sandoval, Spaces of Anticipation, in: On Curating 36, 2018.
"Interconnection: On Bodies of Water", an exhibition at Swimming Pool, Sofia, curated by Veronika Čechová and Tereza Jindrová, 2019.

This essay was published in a publication on the occasion of Souvernir Summer Camp at Spazio Morat, Bari in 2019, edited by Paola Luchante.