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.