Standing in front of the text leading into this year’s Nuart Festival exhibition at Tou Scene, I had a pang of recognition. The words of one paragraph in particular were shockingly familiar. I had written them into a document only days before, in the programme for this year’s Nuart Plus symposium: some words on the creation of utopias and of making and remaking the spaces of the city.
As a scholar, this is a difficult moment and one that I have been encountering more and more as I collaborate and work with artists and arts institutions. Our words and our ideas are our currency as academics. We write, we talk, we share, and we do so within a rather rigid and often restrictive system; one in which ownership of our words and ideas is key. We instantly recognise our words and ideas because of this, and especially so when permission or credit is lacking. There is a paradox here, certainly, for the open sharing of knowledge and ideas is absolutely fundamental to what many of us (idealist) academics wish to do: change the world in some small or some significant way. Yet, the neoliberalising of academia means that we are rewarded or punished based on our numbers of publications which are tallied indiscriminately when we are measured against each other for jobs, for promotions, for funding. When your words end up in someone else’s applications for funding, when they end up on a website, or when they end up on a wall, it can be very uncomfortable. There is an etiquette among scholars that does not often translate into other milieus.
While troubling as a scholar, this is also the beauty of collaboration. When working together with a huge number of people – regardless of your role – you can see bits of yourself everywhere along with the bits of the people you are working with. Though I uncomfortably recognised my words in the entranceway to this year’s exhibition for Nuart Festival, it was also a testament to the collaborative machinations of this event and institution. This is a self-organising system of administrators and volunteers, production crew and press, photographers and bloggers, festival organisers and curators from other cities, artists and scholars, politicians and publics. So many people come together in this organised chaos to make something truly beautiful, sometimes just a few words at a time.