Dirty Art Manifesto

  1. Dirty Art Manifesto

    1. Manifesto: The Dirty Art Department offers itself as an open space for all possible thought, creation, and action. It sees itself as a dynamic paradox, flowing between the pure and the applied, the existential and the deterministic, and the holy and the profane. It is concerned with individuality, collectivity, and our navigation of the complex relationship between the built world and the natural world, other people and ourselves. It’s a place to build objects or totems, religions or websites, revolutions or business models, paintings, or galaxies.

      The Dirty Art Department comes from a common background of design and applied art; it seeks, however, to reject the Kantian division between the pure and the applied. Since ‘god is dead’ and ‘the spectacle’ is omnipresent, it sees the creation of alternative and new realities as the way to reconsider our life situation on this planet.

      The Dirty Art Department is open to students from all backgrounds, including designers, artists, bankers, sceptics, optimists, economists, philosophers, sociologists, independent thinkers, poets, urban planners, farmers, anarchists and the curious. Please enjoy the trip.

      The aim of the Dirty Art Department is to develop singular individual and collective practices, regardless of medium or subject, and to give an insight into how to place these practices into the existing contexts of: art, design, performance, writing, pizza making, etc. The final challenge is to create a new context - a transformed reality. The Dirty Art Department promotes a strong theoretical and philosophical agenda and is open to dangerous attempts and spectacular failures. It sees itself as a journey, and wherever it stops off, it remembers that ‘Any Space is the Place.’ - Taken from the Dirty Art Department website, May 2020.

    2. Q. How to do a Dirty Art Department?
      A. Don't do it

    3. For this issue, the department has asked 2018 alumni and current Research fellow, Tom K Kemp, to give a decentralised reflection on the department and its manifesto. His films and installations use RPG design, improvised filmmaking and animation to collaboratively parse the eerie consequences of global bureaucratic and economic systems on intimate and immediate human relations. Section of this text were generated from a series of RPG playtests with students of the department as part of a research fellowship at the Sandberg Instituut.

  2. It’s lying there, slowly palpitating on the white IKEA MELLTORP table by the window. Dust and pollen from the park have gradually collected in spectral, flowery patterns on the table’s surface - caught in the drying residue left by the homunculus. I had not expected the organism to last this long. This morning, I arrived to find it silently collapsed like a meringue, its component parts strewn across the table in no conceivable biological order. It is remarkable that it still moves now - reflections of the sky rippling over its glossier parts as it slowly respires. I sprinkle fish food on its raw surfaces and close the curtains.

  3. If dirt is simply displaced matter, then Dirty Art is a site of displacement. It’s for applying methods where they aren’t normally applied, and for transporting people who don’t want to be where they are. It’s a rejection of notions of inevitability – for graphic designers who don’t want to do graphic design, artists unconvinced by exhibitions, musicians who don’t want to start a band. On an institutional level, it’s a school that desperately tries to escape being a school. Thomas More’s Utopia was not a natural island, but an act of geoengineering – a labour intensive exit strategy from the real, piles of earth transported from the mainland. Before I started, this is what I understood Dirty Art to be doing too: taking what you and the other students already knew, and relocating it to a new context, piling it up it into an island.

  4. I spend a few days away from the studio, and to my embarrassment, it takes some time for me to notice the homunculus’s next development. While I wait for my computer to boot up each morning, I register that its hot water bottle silhouette remains unchanged, and that its varying sections still retain their quiet, clenching waves of motion. I become engrossed in administration. It is only when I stay past sunset one day that I realise the organism has grown something new for itself.

  5. Dirty Art once described itself as a spaceship – something that could travel, land anywhere and survive in any atmosphere. The idea was to create a hyper-adaptable practice, one that created its own context, and accordingly the department would launch its students from place to place in order to see what would stick. ‘Danger’ was a grading category and there was a sense that risk, or contingency, was important. While I was there, we planned, and partially achieved: the construction of an autonomous school building, a €10,000 new year’s eve party in Milan, and a walk from Delphi to Athens, meeting ‘Bifo’ Berardi in Delphi, and camping along the way.

  6. The organism’s new appendage is disarmingly familiar: a human nose, erected and deflated nightly like a fleshy tent stretched over cartilage. If it were planted squarely in the centre of the mass, there would have been a chance at an anthropomorphic reading of the organism’s layout: an aged and distended Halloween mask would be leering up from the table. Instead, the organ is awkwardly curb-parked on the edge of the homunculus, listing in its puckered matter like an iceberg. The nostrils, fluttering, are aimed at the window.

  7. As with any self-organised pedagogy, there were meetings upon meetings, with filter coffee and mandarins. Statements and ambitions were complicated, grit thrown in the mechanisms of bombast. Unresolved questions, footnotes and agenda items collected and built up on the ground along with orange peel and coffee grounds. Concerns about our status and privilege as majority northern European students trekking across Greece were consistently raised. Compost slowly piled up under the loose circle of pastel coloured chairs in the department, and in this way a zigzagging form of group agency was fermented.

  8. I return to the studio to find a faint note of vinegar hanging in the air. Although the shape and perimeter of the homunculus has not changed, the IKEA table is now spotlessly clean - the grey, residual flora and smears of cleaning product appear to have been entirely erased or absorbed. A powdery white layer now lies atop certain areas of the organism; its new nose has a snowy peak. This flocking slowly ruches, cracks and reforms over the moving parts of the homunculus like a thawing river.

  9. The spaceship metaphor kind of works for the department, but implies a seal, a sense of hermeticism and clinical neutrality. Even more inaccurately it implies calculation and clear direction of expertise and algorithmic precision. The imagining of alternatives and the rejection of the current must contain a dimension of the amateurish . As William Davies writes: to imagine different systems and premises of value, even if clumsy, is to resist the dystopian ideal that there is nothing that can evade the logic and calculation of software algorithms, risk and finance. So perhaps we were more like Draculae than astronauts as we travelled with the department, shovelling all our home soil – the meeting-mulch – into crates and bringing it with us on the ship so we could sleep on the long journey from our castle, leaving muddy handprints on the controls and seeping soil into the sensors.

  10. I redouble my efforts to care for the thing, regularly watering and feeding it with droplets of milk and fish flakes, and hiding it away from the sun when it gets too bright. Its powdery phases seem to ebb and flow regularly, and with each cycle the organism turns more waxy, translucent. In the afternoons when the light is right, I’m able to see its veins from a certain angle - a splintering network of filaments; thousands of insect legs trapped in amber.

  11. In preparation for the trip to Athens and as an alternative to meetings, I designed a roleplaying game to simulate what might happen; to collect all of our assumptions and footnotes and turn them into narrative. We told the story of a parallel group of students travelling to Athens and attempting a residency; the game spinning our speculations into unexpected territories, using dice rolls to grant them a palpable, independent agency. Roleplaying games are inherently about risk and granularity – they don’t work like other stories, they have no respect for the inevitability of third acts. A bad dice roll can lead to complications and unhappy agents. They not only generate chaos and dirt, but make the players live through it. Our fictional art students, amongst other things, ended up accidentally killing a dolphin off of the Attica peninsula. In this potential dark timeline it was obvious that, despite these extreme events, the department would still go on to try and capture all this in an institutionalised group exhibition, and so I rendered it as an exhibition proposal.

  12. In strong sunlight, the homunculus no longer casts a solid shadow – instead, light is refracted into primary coloured caustics, projecting slow patterns upon the table top. At night I try to replicate this effect with the torch on my phone, but it stubbornly remains dark. Parts of the organism have begun to fade - a kind of blurring, or heat shimmer at its edges. The nose, barely opaque, is inflated for far more hours of the day. I begin to notice less and less the dust accumulating around the studio. The desiccated husk of a silverfish, resting on the windowsill for months, has disappeared.

  13. Having arrived in Athens, we cohabited in a semi-renovated building for several months which had previously been a children’s hospital and refugee centre - the walls that had not been sledgehammered down were covered with colourful crayon drawings of princesses. I caught mononucleosis from an unwashed fork. I ran the roleplaying game again, but this time retrospectively. Instead of our assumptions it was now the group’s experiences, in-jokes, calamities and conflicts, generated by several months of camping and squatting, that were collectively channelled or perhaps exorcised into the fiction. An exhibition was generated that included the fallout of a student being imprisoned for being too individualistic, a terrible, fatal arson and a series of failed business proposals attempting to commodify mosquitos. When it came to our physical graduation, it felt necessary to present these misadventures, and so, a render of this hypothetical exhibition was hung on the outside of the building like an architectural hoarding - a window into unspoken potential.

  14. A few weeks have passed. Most of the organism is now imperceptible; it appears to fade into the table top, clinging to the surface like a persistent form of heavier air. When I kneel or bend over to get closer in an attempt to find its edges, my vision blurs. The only real indicator of its limits are its veins. An impossibly balanced structure of Murano glass strands; a web of spun sugar; they spill over and reach out from the table top.

  15. Last year, I ran the game again as an installation at La Casa Encendida, Madrid, for different groups who made use of the building. This time, the narrative involved a fictional group taking over the institution itself, repurposing it for their own ends. Surprisingly, very little of anyone’s time was spent organising cultural events, and instead other concerns trickled through. The space became a nursery where the children went on strike, a lion sanctuary, and the new headquarters of the Real Madrid Ultras after an outreach program got out of hand. It was filled with the phantoms of trophies, prizewinning vegetable sculptures and more than one new documentary film directed by Werner Herzog. The space under the game table began to fill up with layers of compost again.

  16. Like a detective's red string, the veins are growing towards a single point: the window. It is not until the light hangs low in the sky, with the type of sunshine that makes a room feel impossibly dusty, that it becomes truly noticeable . The organism’s tiny needles appear to penetrate the glass, boring near-imperceptible holes in its surface. For the first time, the homunculus has touched the outside.

  17. Earlier this year, I was in a LARP run by the artist Susan Ploetz. We played as magically attuned islanders who had snuck onto the mainland to warn its inhabitants of a coming disaster. This mainland was represented by an exhibition space. We, as the islanders, decided that we had to try and re-wild the mainland - to break open its hard surfaces, introduce a fictional soil biome, to seed plants, to grow snails. Almost every attempt to do this was met by resistance from the gallery’s polished concrete floor - it would not give way, fictionally or physically, to the stamping of our feet and our mimed tools. We could not break it open, and even imagining it broken open was almost as impossible.

    Sometimes Dirty Art felt a similar way to me – often we just ended up stamping on the floor in our socks, our ‘mainland’ context remaining indelible. But, every so often, we were able to overlay another possibility, see hairline cracks in the art world, and break them open to reveal rich soil underneath.

Tom Kemp is a British artist currently based in Amsterdam, NL. Since graduating from the Dirty Art Department he has focused his practice on the generation of “weird fictions” through installation and film.