Off-space No 17: Am Nuden Da

Oliver Basciano, from the December 2013 issue

By Oliver Basciano

Kerstin Brätsch, Sol per Sfogare il Core (Painting as Monster), 2013, Bomarzo, Italy, 31/7/13, one of five exhibitions in the Am Nuden Da series Let’s Not Dispute the Useless. …

What is Am Nuden Da? Well, it is three people. Individually they are artists. Pretty simple as a definition, really. But we’re not here to talk about them as individuals, so don’t think all is resolved quite yet. When they work together as Am Nuden Da, it gets more complicated: the collective’s output can at times be described as a gallery space, a curatorial entity or an artist’s collective, and in each of these roles it has operated as both facilitator and agitator. It has been all of the above simultaneously and none of them at all. As a trio they’re about exploring the boundaries and labels that we apply to the people who operate around art – morphing in and out of roles and wrong-footing audience or critical labels.

Initially Am Nuden Da operated out of a physical space in the East End of London, a lo-fi shopfront on a residential side street, from which they conceived the first seven of their ‘sessions’ (a typically ambiguous and undefined title). These mostly took the form and process of group exhibitions – complete with installation and curating of works, a private view, press release, documentation and all the rest of the ephemera that surround the public manifestation of art. The shows weren’t totally typical, however: blink and you’d miss ’em, they mostly lasted for just two days after the opening. Session_2_Flags saw 41 artists, writers and designers, including Rut Blees Luxemburg, David Raymond Conroy and Charlie Woolley, making flags, which were hoisted for three days in January 2009. Session_7_Words (2009) showed art that explored the ideas surrounding language and words, with contributions from Aleksandra Domanović, Cally Spooner and Cerith Wyn Evans among a host of others. Intermingled with the exhibitions, and equally billed as sessions, a series of conversations was posted online, and an evening of lectures occurred.

In mixing up the order and hierarchy of the exhibition process, they were questioning, and perhaps gently undermining, the status quo of exhibition-making

Then, in 2010, Am Nuden Da gave up their gallery, a move that catalysed a more pronounced form of the institutional critique that had echoed through their previous endeavours. They initiated the Press Release series of sessions in which the trio would provide a fully written press release to a third-party curator, who would be tasked with realising an exhibition based on the text. In mixing up the order and hierarchy of the exhibition process (press releases are supposed to take the lead from the show, not the other way round), they were questioning, and perhaps gently undermining, the status quo of exhibition-making. How should the hierarchy between curator and artist function? What is, or should be, the difference between the two roles? Should concept lead artwork, or artwork lead concept? If the art object is a form of communication, then what the hell is the point of a press release anyway?

Their initial response to an invitation last year by the artist George Henry Longly to take part in a two-stop touring group show was typically immaterial – they conducted seemingly ‘purposeless’ studio visits with each of the other artists (thus questioning and to an extent short-circuiting the careerist expectations that surround the studio visit as a social and professional phenomenon). For the second incarnation of the show, staged at Chez Valentin in Paris, the trio defied categorisation again, however, by producing an actual artwork themselves and not just facilitating the production of work by others. Entering once the show had been hung, but before the evening vernissage, they highlighted the hairline cracks in the wall or areas of filled plaster, by daubing ‘Facebook blue’ across the offending areas. It’s a neat gesture, one that asks whether, like the ubiquitous social media site, the exhibition format is merely a platform and artists are the content providers – and, additionally, who benefits from whom.

If Am Nuden Da’s work thus far has involved rewiring the connections between gallerist, curator and artist, then their latest project, Let’s Not Dispute the Useless. …, seems to be addressing the circuit receiver, the viewer. Under this banner the trio are in the process of staging five solo exhibitions by Gerry Bibby, Juliette Blightman, Kerstin Brätsch, Oliver Laric and Gil Leung, lasting a day each and in purposely cryptic locations (the collective’s website states Blightman’s show was titled The Beach at Trouville and took place in Trouville, France). The only visitors expected are the members of Am Nuden Da and the individual artist, who will spend his or her time talking and fleshing out a fictive scenario to contextualise the show, to be published at a later date. In typically skewering fashion, the viewer becomes a reader, the show becomes dematerialised and the chronology is unhinged. 

This article was first published in the December 2013 issue.