The sweet taste of failure
Under certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of low theory being in the world.
Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure
In 2018, In Rejection We Trust announced Open Call: Rejected Proposals — an open call for art projects rejected by competition committees. Back then, as a couple of artists just after graduation, we tried to rebel against the existing reality. We began challenging ‘defeats’ into critical energy, thus liberating artistic practice from the patterns of hierarchical thinking. This allowed us to maintain a healthy distance. We are interested in what is invisible, abandoned, and second best. We examine competitions that take place in the field of art. In late capitalism, nonproductivity and failure can become a revolutionary tool for building a new utopia within the art world.
For artists, competitions are a kind of placebo — they give an illusion of participating in the art world. In the end, they rarely offer benefits, and often leave us with a competition hangover. The contribution of the ‘dark matter of the art world’ to global circulation of the competition model is the basic condition for the functioning of the art world. Applying to competition is time-consuming, unpaid labour and often requires the payment of additional fees. We are inundated with information about numerous open calls and grant competitions, scholarships and residencies. Their organizers are academies, institutions, foundations, but also consortia, corporations, and governments. Applying has become commonplace in other areas of life, e.g., when applying for a job, a place in nursery or at the university.
We asked artists about the pros and cons of taking part in competitions. Most often they mentioned their democratic character. The chance to network in new places is a plus, but the large amount of invisible and unpaid labour that is required is demotivating. The effort is not proportionate to the outcomes, and the lack of feedback from the organizers affects the artists’ emotional state: a sense of wasted energy, despondency, comparing oneself to others.
Once we discovered other similar artistic practices, our own project evolved into curatorial activity. Research exploring the workings of the competition system has led us beyond the artistic mainstream. The potential for collective actions, sharing knowledge resulting from queer practices or withdrawing from the field of rivalry appear to be a progressive way of building an artistic utopia.
All artworks presented at the Rejected Proposals exhibition fit the “art is not sport” motto. The post-pandemic “new normal” seems to be the perfect moment to halt the fast-moving machine for random selection. Competitions, such as Turner Prize or Chalupecky, have already seen artistic gestures of participants sharing the main prize with their competitors / other participants. Is this just a short-lived trend? After all, the artists still need their bread and sponsors need their games.
The map of competitions is a diagram consisting of quotes, memes, drawings, and fragments of e-mails. They are all linked by the idea of “competition” and create a mind map.
The curator’s expanded their investigation by entering into direct dialogue with five interviewees — people working in the art world: Karolina Babińska, Małgorzata Szaefer, Yuriy Biley, Post Brothers, Veronika Čechová. The exhibition juxtaposes systemic analysis with practice. The artworks denote various strategies of coping with the existing rules of the world in which they function.
Ul Pazniak built mock-ups of a library space. They reference strictures that organized the free time of labourers in the Soviet Union. In order to create his own utopias, Pazniak utilizes illustrations from old textbooks from the communist period. Books selected by In Rejection We Trust for art workers are available in the exhibition space — it is a typically practical solution that allows for self-education.
FAILED ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL is an absurdist institution that presents a critical and humorous discussion about (artistic) failure. Florian Egermann offers membership of the losers’ club — you need to fill out an application form, it will only take five minutes — and invites visitors to join the frank discussion about the professional and economic situation of cultural workers.
A Thicker Skin, a support workshop by the Haft collective is aimed at anyone who would like to join the process of collective empowerment by converting anxieties, stresses and insecurities into creative activities.
Nina Budzyńska and Małgorzata Mycek, known as the Bomba publishing house, use the Open Call form as a platform for an exchange of ideas. For the exhibition, they created ZIN — a guide on how to cope outside the artistic mainstream. They advise on how to create publications, organize exhibitions without owning a space, and organize fundraisers or music events. They answer the most difficult questions that plague artists in late capitalism — where to get money from or how to do without it. This brochure is a DIY guide on how to stay afloat without relying on competition prize money.
Artists: Ul Pazniak, Florian Egermann, Boma Publishing: Nina Budzyńska, Małgorzata Mycek
Curators: In Rejection We Trust: Olga Dziubak, Jolanta Nowaczyk
Interviewees: Karolina Babińska, Małgorzata Szaefer, Yuriy Biley, Post Brothers, Veronika Čechová
Diagrams accompanying the interviews: Iwona Mysera, Karolina Babińska, Post Brothers, Andreas Gajdošík
Accompanying programme: Haft Collective
Graphic design: Marcin Dzbanuszek
Special thanks for sharing materials: Marianna Dobkowska, Mateusz Sapija, Lotny Dom Wydawniczy, Lue Lu / Brut Now Foundation, Mykola Ridny