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Group image by Maria-Alejandra Huicho

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“My practice, and this Pavilion, is centred around amplifying and collaborating with multiple and diverse voices from many different histories; with an interest in themes of identity, community, belonging and gathering. The past year has drawn these themes sharply into focus. Through Support Structures for Support Structures, we are working to deepen the Pavilion’s intent and focus through a fellowship that heaps nurture the practice of individuals and collectives that hold space for communities to gather across London. I am excited to work with the Serpentines Civic Projects team and make this followup a lasting legacy for the 20th Serpentine Pavilion - to seed, support, grow and imagine different networks, structures, and bodies of knowledge in the arts. One of the most integral parts of this commission has been to extend the ethos of the Pavilion and its various commissions over the summer and beyond. This fellowship truly gives us the opportunity to expand the reach of the Pavilion beyond its physical lifespan; and points directly to our collective role and the responsibly that architects have in working towards systemic change.”

About

Support Structures for Support Structures is a fellowship programme initiated by Serpentine, that supports up to ten artists and collectives working at the intersection of art, spatial politics and community practice. The fellowship consists of an unrestricted grant of at least £10,000 to develop creative ideas. It will also invite grantees to join an interdisciplinary network for support, development workshops and mentoring.

Support Structures for Support Structures is conceived in collaboration with Sumayya Vally, the architect behind the Serpentine Pavilion 2021, and Amal Khalaf, Serpentine's Civic Curator. The initiative is grounded in the history and current work of the Civic and Education programme, which for over a decade, has been supporting artists to work with people and communities across London to respond to the complexities of social change.

Announced on the occasion of the 20th Pavilion, this initiative creates a legacy for this unique commission and builds on Serpentine’s history of working with artists in communities across London as part of its Civic Projects programmes.

The fellowship recognises that many practitioners that work across art, spatial politics and community practice are often not supported by grant programmes or institutions in a sustainable way. Support Structures for Support Structures aims to bridge this gap by nurturing and supporting emerging and existing practitioners, and creating pathways for learning, exchange and contemplation amongst the fellowship cohort.

Speaking to Support Structures Series

For this series, Serpentine asked each of the fellows in the 2021 Support Structures cohort to reflect on their work in the context of community. Serpentine Galleries Art & Ideas 2022

The Garage by RESOLVE Collective during their Sheffield S1 Art Gallery Residency. Photography by Vishnu Jayarajan.

RESOLVE Collective

Tell us about yourselves and your practice.

We began by working with networks of practitioners who we still collaborate with today. Our idea of using design to ‘platform’ began with celebrating the work of peers in our local area. This extended to a range of places, from Birmingham to Berlin, allowing us to ‘read’ and learn from other cities, and to bring people together in otherwise unforeseen, unpermitted, or undesigned ways.

An integral part of our process is designing with and for young people and under-represented groups. Here, ‘design’ carries more than aesthetic value, encompasses both physical and systemic intervention, and is a mechanism for political and socio-economic change. The onus is for us to continuously and critically develop ways to practice ‘infrastructurally’: working in ways that radically decentralise resource; creating spaces in which access is a verb, not a noun; and upholding dissipative practices. These are performative, responsive, and redistributive modes of operation that cause leaks and loopholes in organisational structures, in which communities of care and networks of maintenance can flourish.

Why is collective work important?

Our practice owes a considerable amount to ‘the collective’. We work with and learn from many collaborators. It’s important for us to acknowledge the messiness of any collaborative relationship and notice the moments where it becomes porous: leaking into and drawing from people we practice around and those who practice around them. This means our project shout-outs often read like Homer’s Catalogue of Ships or the credits on a DJ Khaled album, but when practicing collectively, it’s important for us to not only put respek on names but to put names to the social production of our habitats.

Spatial collective practices – in which multiple practices and people can mobilise and organise in a plenum – are important to us. We understand the plenum as a space and moment that doesn’t place you, but that catalyses an ability to place yourself amongst others. Our projects – from community visioning strategies in Northolt to art installations in Sheffield – are a result of collective practice in that they are both ways and products of coming together.

Finally, though collectivist approaches to design can be beautiful, they are also difficult and fraught with challenges: from the problem of fairly remunerating labour in the creative industries to the work required to address socio-economic, gendered and racial divisions in any socially-responsible practice, to difficulties discerning institutional validity that many of us navigate. We have to face the fact that often, this means we are almost or not quite fulfilling our dream of truly practicing collectively. In some instances, we’ve found that the only way to be faithful to the ideals of collective practice is to not engage in it.

How do you define community?

In our field, ‘community’ is often used and abused to exhaustion. Perhaps because of the English-language fetish for treating words like museum artefacts – to be inspected, coddled, incarcerated – the word ‘community’ has become a sort of currency used to suggest a project’s apparent public value. It is a word that we, and many other practitioners, rely upon to communicate to institutions, funders and local authorities how deeply invaluable local peoples’ actual needs and desires are in shaping spaces.

The actions that hold ‘community’ are far more delicate than the word we lean on. Behind the taglines, bids, Instagram posts, and exhibition speak, we exist in worlds where community is never one resolute state of togetherness. Community-focused design has more to do with actively deconstructing unitary notions of ‘community’ than with constructing objects or products that serve these assumptions. We often find stark differences between ‘communities of geography’ and ‘communities of interest’. The former exist in (and sometimes think of themselves as belonging to) some definition of an area, while the latter exists over cross-sections, or even deep lacerations, in geography. Between these camps are paradoxes true to experience, such as neighbourhoods that are made prominent by locals who are not residents and invisible boundaries that create multiple realities out of one, seemingly discrete ‘community’.

Members of Skin Deep with other Support Structures fellows, at the mural outside 198 Contemporary Arts & Learning in South London in winter 2021. Photo: Maria Alejandra Huicho.

Skin Deep

Tell us about you and your practice.

We are dedicated to building capacity for Black creatives and creatives of colour to think beyond crisis and survival, and to dream of just futures. Since 2014, we have been hosting immersive live events and creative workshops, publishing thoughtful online storytelling, and producing bold and beautiful print magazines. We work with Black and POC artists, activists and audiences in the UK and across the globe. Our work is collaborative, original, non-reactive, and hopeful. We celebrate joy and dreaming.

What does support look like in practice?

There are many ways of understanding what support means in practice, but for Skin Deep, the two embodiments of it that are key to our work are organisational and interpersonal support systems. From an organisational standpoint, funding is essential, as is recognising the limitations imposed by operating under capitalism. We favour long, slow relationship-building – whether that’s with partner collaborators or funders – in which we’re able to establish trust and to truly understand each other and the shared goals we are working towards. This deeper relationship allows us to recognise the scope of each other’s needs, and facilitates a more holistic and human approach to work.

Interpersonally, it’s important for us to check in with each other and foster a culture of care. We strive to show flexibility and anticipate each other’s needs, being aware of different people’s capacities and requirements. We seek to be open and clear about our boundaries and commitments, so that others can be open about theirs. Love is central. To effectively exist within a structure like this, we need to build in time and space.

Why is collective work important?

Skin Deep is a collective – we all have our own individual practices, but we come together to work towards our common goals by sharing skills, resources and dreams. The nature of our work means we actively seek to work collaboratively with other collectives and individuals who share in our goals of racial justice.

For us, working collectively means building landscapes, industries, and societies that do not inherently marginalise black people, people of colour, queer people, people with disabilities, and all others facing oppression. The people we collaborate with are like our family, so our relationships are committed, reciprocal and responsive to specific needs. Working in this way requires more time, care and consideration, but from our experience it can lead to long-term change for our communities that is meaningful, nourishing and generative.

This work is important because it requires us to be continually learning from collectives with different practices or communities. As we intend to contribute to a different kind of scaffolding for our local and global communities – a support that builds capacity, redistributes resources, and contributes to a legacy of hope, justice and creativity – then we need to keep looking beyond our own experiences and knowledge bases.

Students experimenting with lights during a workshop organised by Other Cinemas. Photo: Arwa Aburawa.

Other Cinemas

Can you tell us more about what Other Cinemas does?

We regularly host film screenings in ways and spaces that serve our communities in London. At the heart of these is the informal atmosphere we create and the in-depth post-screening discussions which take our audience seriously. All our events are free, so that there are no financial barriers to access. By being visible at all our screenings, we build a welcoming atmosphere and let our majority non-white audience know that these events are for them and by them.

Other Cinemas also runs an informal film school with young Black and non-white filmmakers, supporting them to tell their own stories in their own ways. We want to centre the work and effort of Black and non-white filmmakers and to challenge the colonial legacy and exploitative modes of operation that are central to traditional filmmaking. These two central strands of our work are deeply connected as we know that we can only find a more equitable way of making and sharing films through this interaction between filmmakers and their communities.

Why is collective work important?

If our desire is to create a world or community or space that centres justice, it is only through collective work that it can be achieved. The structures that require dismantling – whether global or local, macro or micro – are deeply rooted and unyielding. They are bigger than a single person, and the thought, strength and imagination needed to dismantle them requires collective work. It is only through collective imaginings that we can create spaces that accommodate multiple ways of being.

Collective work is difficult and requires much unlearning – but it has a built-in accountability that can make our work more ethical and effective. The structures of power that we live under encourage an individualism and centring of the self that limits radical imagination. Working with and amongst others helps to unlock ways of thinking and working that an individual doesn’t have access to on their own.

What is support in practice?

Support in practice is motivated by compassion. It requires long-term commitment. It isn’t performative. It can be difficult and draining, but it doesn’t seek acknowledgement. Sincere support doesn’t crave visibility.

This is difficult to embody in practice. We attempt to do it by committing in the long-term to our communities and the filmmakers we work with, established and aspiring. We don’t believe in one-off events or workshops – the energy they create dissipates too quickly. Our screening programme is long-term and as regular as our resources allow and our first film school programme ran for eighteen months. With our students, we encouraged an ethical working practice embodying care and mutual support.

We attempt to create a space that is supportive to alternative ideas and ways of being that centres our communities rather than whiteness. This has meant working outside of institutions because we often doubted that we could work within the them without being co-opted, or create supportive spaces for our communities in hostile environments. In all our work, we try to create a space where everyone feels welcomed, at home and centred. We always try to make ourselves available, both in the moment and in the long-term. To make sure our programme is accessible and relationships are non-transactional, we’ve always kept everything we do free.

Members of Nawi Collective singing in the Serpentine Pavilion, 2022. Photo: Harry Richards.

Nawi Collective

Can you tell us about your practice?

We utilise song to be in connection with our ancestors and with each other. The spaces we create when we sing together offer a powerful healing against a world that does not value or give space to Black people and our abundant possibilities, experiences, and collective imaginations. Since we formed, this Collective has become a community of artists, activists and creatives – people who collaborate together to heal, grow, and learn. We sing at protests, collaborate with aligned groups, and lend support to local and global struggles. Our practice is centred on the needs of our members, as well as those we seek to serve. We use our time together to care for ourselves and each other.

What is support in practice?

Many elements aid in the long-term sustainability of a supportive practice when working and growing together as collectives and groups. As nuanced and fluid needs arise, it is foundational to have politics and practices of care that meet the needs of the collective’s members, and those we serve and connect with. One aspect of this is accessibility and making space to financially, emotionally and practically be present with access needs. Another is ensuring that people can turn up in ways that are real for them, and the full lives they lead. Support helps us when it is rooted in care, deep listening and efforts to meet people where they are now, as well as where they are working towards.

In a capitalist society, money and consistent access to accessible spaces would deeply support our practice and ability to create the works we seek to create. It would mean we would not have to divest most of our energy from our collective care and creative work into the struggle of handling structural and logistical concerns which become more pressing when many of us have one or more jobs, children, care responsibilities, and our own wellbeing to tend.

Why is collective work important?

We define a collective as individuals assembling to work together towards fulfilling common projects. We do not rely on hierarchies, and we act as one voice. Nawi Collective started with the aims of uniting and honouring ancestral traditions of vocal assemblage, and embracing the healing that comes from singing, gathering and supporting ourselves and one another. Recently, we have been figuring out what it means to meet and support each other within systems that harm our communities by denying the seriousness of the pandemic, climate change, racism, and more.

Collective work can be a means of addressing the isolation, over-work, and disconnection experienced under white supremacy and capitalism. During the continued pandemic, rising fascism and everyday colonial realities, collective work is especially important as it gives us a space to co-exist, play, experiment and be in ways that may not be supported in many other parts of our lives. By collectively working together and tending to the group, we create fertile space to imagine and connect with creative possibilities that emerge when we dream, sing and commune.

Carole Wright, Photo: Anna Deacon

Blak Outside

“My practice, and this Pavilion, is centred around amplifying and collaborating with multiple and diverse voices from many different histories; with an interest in themes of identity, community, belonging and gathering. The past year has drawn these themes sharply into focus. Through Support Structures for Support Structures, we are working to deepen the Pavilion’s intent and focus through a fellowship that heaps nurture the practice of individuals and collectives that hold space for communities to gather across London. I am excited to work with the Serpentines Civic Projects team and make this followup a lasting legacy for the 20th Serpentine Pavilion - to seed, support, grow and imagine different networks, structures, and bodies of knowledge in the arts. One of the most integral parts of this commission has been to extend the ethos of the Pavilion and its various commissions over the summer and beyond. This fellowship truly gives us the opportunity to expand the reach of the Pavilion beyond its physical lifespan; and points directly to our collective role and the responsibly that architects have in working towards systemic change.” Sumayya Vally

Abbas Zahedi, The Boulevard, harvest celebration at Tate Britain, 2018. Photography by The Dots.

Abbas Zahedi

How do you navigate personal and collective work?

I am collaborative by nature: I consider ways to involve others, together with spaces, histories, ideas, and materials, in ways that feel meaningful and sensitive to the work. This means I can end up in somewhat unexpected settings. To help navigate this, I try to imagine myself as the guest I wish to host via my work and make myself vulnerable to a working process; establishing a space where I can feel, think, fail, and enact experiments. I try to relay these complexities in a manner that feels open to feedback and change, acknowledging the collective within the personal and vice versa.

How do you define community?

However difficult to pinpoint, I would define my community as the people and places with whom I can be in dialogue. This is not necessarily a direct communication through words or language. For me, dialogue means finding a sense of exchange which can help to demonstrate the ways in which my own experience is both rich and limited, whilst also acknowledging the realities of others. In this way, I believe that communities can be fluid and time-bound. They can be ways of holding space together, to honour our need for collective strength, which also gives us the support we require for our own individual journeys.

Jacob V Joyce's intervention at a Support Structures for Support Structures gathering in 2021. Photo: Kes-tchaas Eccleston.

Jacob V Joyce

Tell us about yourself and your practice.

I see myself as part of a long history of artists who believe that the function of art is to show each other what freedom looks like. I keep reflecting on the anti-colonial and queer work I have made in institutions which were not built to hold those kinds of transgressions, and what that work affords those institutions. It’s like ­– if you dry your wet socks in the microwave, the microwave does not become a tumble-dryer. The machine remains true to its original function, regardless of how many times we use it for something else.

That’s why my art practice, between moments of rest and regeneration, is about trying to build a new machine: one that doesn’t think of Black people, or disabled people, or poor people as an afterthought. It’s an archive which isn’t dead like in museums and galleries, but alive in communities and nature. I’m talking about a spaceship and its beautiful, but I don’t want to describe it too much – I want you to touch it and define it through the ways it incites you to move. Liberation is a collective process of action, and my job is to make you feel excited about participating in it.

Why do you think collective work is important?

Because the goal of white-supremacist, hetero-patriarchal, ableist capitalism has always been to rule through division, collective work is vital – now more than ever. An ongoing pandemic has accelerated imperialism, increased alienation and shown us how little value society places on people of colour, disabled people and the elderly.

The pandemic has also highlighted the inadequacies of an education system which was already struggling to hold space for the mental wellbeing of children, especially those with marginalised identities. And of course, the pandemic was accompanied by a barrage of regressive authoritarian policies which attempt to remove our human rights and restrict the ways we can protest in the UK. Teachers, nurses, healers, and any artist with a soul can sense the urgency with which we must come together to build new systems of sustained, disruptive, regenerative care.

Our feelings of pessimism and powerlessness are not arbitrary, they are not random occurrences or seasonal depression. We are experiencing the death rattle of a colonial project which will drag us to hell with it unless we dig in our heels and reclaim our bodies, our land, our history, and our collective futures.

What does justice and liberation look like to you?

I am not sure if I believe in the existence of justice. The concept feels too rooted in ideas of law and order which have never been just. Maybe my idea of justice would be something akin to queerness, a horizon that we can only move toward. I feel like justice is the head of a bubbling fountain, something that must rise faster than it collapses, something volcanic that can never stop bursting up, up, up with the force of fresh water. Something to nourish us when we are thirsty and tired, something to cool our spirit when we are burning, a sweetness to catch in your mouth, something sensual and embodied and free.

And if oppression is a hydra – a greedy, dominating organism that catches and devours us all in different ways – then liberation must also be a beast with many heads. One day, liberation might look like a moment of peace in which to be creative and critical, another day it might take the form of access to gender-affirming health care. Right now, I’m choosing to think of it as a process of reanimation, bringing something that the dominant narrative tried to kill back to life.

Support Structures 2021 fellows including Beverley Bennett during a gathering in 2021. Photography by Kes-tchaas Ecclestone.

Beverley Bennett

Can you tell us more about your practice?

Although I’m connected to multiple ways of making, my work has three main concerns: the importance of sound in art, investigating the idea of the archive, and modes of collaboration. My practice provides spaces for participants to become collaborators. In a methodology I’ve cultivated over time, I try to provide a point of focus from which groups can unpack ideas about what art can be and for whom it is generated. I enjoy working with people, listening to their stories, and learning from them: my work comes alive through connection.

How do you hold and who holds you?

I hold through interaction. I always begin an invitation to collaborate by introducing myself, the project and my intentions, then asking for the person’s perspective and what they would hope to gain from the experience. I listen, placing the focus on them, and if they decide to take part I regularly check in with them. I treat every project like a relationship, no matter its timescale. Due to the nature of what I do, this relationship-building starts with me setting clear boundaries, holding confidentiality, and making sure that collaborators can be offered support, whether by me or an external provider such as a therapist.

In terms of who holds me, I share a lot with close friends and family members. In the past, I’ve had therapists support me through more personal projects. It is funny, because I try and provide a lot of support – but on reflection, I sometimes hold a lot by myself.

How do you build supportive relationships with organisations and others?

When working with institutions, it’s important to set clear boundaries, work together to define the timescales for projects, and schedule regular check-ins. Ideally, this is all established before the actual ’work’ begins. You need time to understand whether both parties are compatible – and even though this time is rarely afforded, setting up these working relationships is a priority of mine.

I’ve also learned to relieve the pressure for ‘productivity’ or a finished outcome. It’s all about time and pacing – we should try to be gentle with ourselves and our collaborators. Initial plans sometimes fail or change, but allowing a project to unfold and evolve can lead to interesting places. Conversations, interactions, or simply acts of sharing can be outcomes. The work comes out in the process.

Barby Asante and other participants during Jacob V Joyce's intervention at a Support Structures for Support Structures gathering in 2021. Photography: Kes-tchaas Eccleston.

Barby Asante

How do you hold and who holds you?

I hold you with my attention With my belief in your beauty And your right to life I hold you as you unravel, undo, and unlearn As you discover that you are not alone That we are interdependent That we owe each other everything And that through us working together Bringing with us our flaws and vulnerabilities Our bad habits and our viciousness We bring this with our love and our desire to be loved The care we share The joy and laughter that we generate And the visions we want to bring into being And you hold me in becoming my very best self Bringing forth my vision of our collective work Expressing our interdependence Our possibility Our incredible force for transformation Despite it all

What is support in practice?

Support in practice is the ultimate offering you can give to another person as they unfold and unlearn. It’s like being a doula for another’s creative energy. Sometimes I have experienced this support myself, when I hadn’t recognised that I was too caught up in the grind that burns us all out – and in fact, does not allow us to produce the ideas or creations we really want to bring into the world. In these moments, one of my dear sistas in creativity, life and love reminds me to breathe, reminds me to rest, asks me to take a walk with them. Then, I remember the beautiful reciprocity in the circle of support – that it’s not giving and taking but a never-ending flow from the ones that came before to the ones that will come after. We build on the foundations and prepare the way. We pay it forward and accept that we too will become ancestors. And our legacy will be the work that those who come after us create, which springs from our own work.

Support Structures 2021 Fellows including members of FerArts during Jacob V Joyce's intervention for a gathering in 2021. Photography by Maria Alejandra Huicho

FerArts

Can you tell us more about yourselves?

We are a growing community of 48 artists from across inner-city London, 85% of whom identify as artists of colour. Our collective strongly represents working class and south-west Asian and north-African artists. We are mostly second-generation Londoners, and our lived experience of immigration, refuge and resilience shapes our values, perspectives and motivations for change – all of which we aim to communicate through visual arts, film and photography.

Why is collective work important to you?

Because we are community-led, collective work is vital to our ethos. We think about community in a wider sense – beyond the place or culture we belong to, we are part of a community in society, where we can share perspectives and open space for dialogue. Collective work means acknowledging how we are all different and valuing those differences. Together, we can create more impact and hold space for others.

As a collective, we are united around a shared aim: shaping the direction of the contemporary art scene by amplifying marginalised voices, advocating for diversity, supporting a rising generation of artists, and sharing thought-provoking and innovative works with new audiences. We thrive on learning from others as socially-engaged creatives. We collect oral histories, we platform unheard voices and we collaborate – then, we make this visual and accessible to as many people as possible. This approach is always structured around the communities with which we work.

What do justice and liberation look like to you?

Growing up at a pivotal time in history – where immigration thrives yet racism soars, where innovation overrides integrity, and where questions are met with more questions – we are constantly seeking routes to live our truths. The injustice in the world can hold us back from doing this – building fear that stops us moving forward. But when we come together, we rise and shed light by raising awareness, making noise and taking up space. When we shift power, we can reach a more liberated state of being and create a change in the world. This could be a tiny victory against censorship or triggering a major policy shift.

As a collective, we champion issues that have limited support from institutions where marginalised voices are in the minority. Creatively, we platform these issues to a wider audience and invite open dialogue, which builds momentum for change on a larger scale. We collaborate with advocates, community leaders, and grassroots organisations – making steps closer to justice, liberation, truth. In all this, we draw on our lived experiences to establish respect, perseverance and equity. Our best creative work is developed through our experiences – how we see the world and what we leave in our legacies.

Downloads

The fellowship was awarded through a nomination process and a selection panel consisting of: Sepake Angiama, Director, Iniva Pooja Agrawal, CEO, Public Practice Leopold Lambert, Editor in Chief, The Funambulist Rita Keegan, Artist Sumayya Vally, Counterspace

The panel was chaired by Amal Khalaf, Civic Curator, Serpentine Project Curator: Natalia Grabowska, Serpentine

Selected Press Links

Serpentine Offers £100,000 Step Up to POC Artists, Ocula