When asked to think back to an example of engaging with an outside institution in the visual arts, my mind (fairy) immediately went back to what I recall as my first experience of working in such a context. In the second year of my PhD I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Writers Residency at the ZKM Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe.
The ZKM is one of the major venues for contemporary and media art in the world and in 2007 they held a really quite wonderful exhibition titled You-ser, which include some major interactive and participatory artworks. At that stage my work was primarily on the construction of interactive narratives in computer culture and this, along with their extensive permanent collection that holds some very important interactive artworks, meant that the ZKM was a venue I simply had to visit. But at that stage I was based in Australia and the ZKM was seemingly inaccessible, all the way in Germany. Fortunately the University of NSW, where I was studying said that they would cover my airfare and the ZKM generously agreed to grant me a residency, providing accommodation and an office to work in.
My job was basically to write on the ZKM’s collection and the exhibition, which itself was a rewarding experience. But what was more impactful, and has stayed with me over the years since, was the experience of thinking critically in an environment largely populated by artists and curators. There are some insights that can be gained from meeting people in corridors or chatting over a coffee that simply are beyond sitting alone in an academic office. What was, and is still, interesting to me is the way that as a theorist I was addressing the same conceptual problems as the artists. It was just that we were using different mediums.
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