Artist Run Festival: Third Session with Tim Dallett and Adam Kelly from Artifact Institute

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Tim Dallett and Adam Kelly from Artifact Institute. Image courtesy of Suada Demirovic

On Sunday morning the keynote presentation was given by Tim Dallett and Adam Kelly from Artifact Institute. The Artifact Institute is an artist project which conducts research, collects artefacts, provides services, gives workshops, presents exhibitions, and produces publications. It positions these activities in a “hybrid space  between contemporary art, technological practice, and critical inquiry to create multiple points of access and engagement.” For instance, one of their projects from 2007 consisted of collecting old and out-of-date technology from artists’ centres across Canada. What at first appeared to be  a straight-forward archival project soon unfolded into a delightful and ingenious project where collecting the detritus of older technologies was only part of the process, they also provided services, such as advice and help with people’s relationship to the artefacts. It isn’t as simple as repairing old technology but also helping people to decide what to do with the older stuff. Adam described the collection space as bringing together two unlikely activities, “a repair shop and a psychotherapy space.”

The main focus of the keynote was the presentation of their project Study 1, commissioned by The Institutions by Artists Convention (Vancouver, 2012) and conducted during the 3-day Convention.  This project proved to be really fascinating. The “study” was a very well thought out survey of artists and their relationship to artist-run initiatives. Although the Study was couched in a broader notion of the role of the group in current art practice as opposed to the individual artist. “Groups appear to be an increasingly common context for the activities of contemporary artists.”

It consisted of a questionnaire for artists, initially carried out at the Convention, but later including an online survey. For their keynote they selected about 20 of the most interesting questions to discuss showing the results with percentages and figures and pie charts. For instance “How do you fund your individual practice?” For the majority of respondents (92%) the answer is “personal investment.” Another question “How does the group make decisions?” A range of possibilities were cited from “Entire Group Decides” (48.6%) to, surprisingly,  “Board makes some decisions.” (51.4%).

As they themselves acknowledge, their survey does not pretend to be a comprehensive survey of artists and the groups that artists form. Rather, as Tim described it, their approach was as “a thought experiment: what happens when you try and do a survey about artists and their relationship to groups that they initiate, form or are part of?”

This project has many parallels with my own – and I couldn’t help nodding my head in affirmation when I read their online introduction to the Study: “Attempts to categorise groups [artist-run] are frustrated by exceptions and counter-examples. The wide variety of group forms, types, locations, and activities resists classification. The possibilities for obtaining representative samples of both individuals and groups vary widely with context, location, resources, and access to social networks. Research on artist-group dynamics will thus inevitably have a contingent and partial character.”

Tim and Adam presented their projects from the Institute with a seriousness that belied their often humorous and witty nature. Their final report is online and definitely worth checking out — Study 1.