In this final instalment on a series of interviews with the directors of This is Not Art, Eleanor Zeichner speaks with her fellow co-directors of Critical Animals, Tulleah Pearce, Sophie Lamond and Beau Deurwaarder. CA is a festival of creative research founded in 2002 to provide a space for emerging writers and artists to present their work in a non-institutional format, giving them the freedom to take risks and work at the boundaries of their disciplines. A version of this interview features in Critical Animalia: a decade between disciplines, a publishing project reflecting on the anniversary.
Critical Animals has spent the past decade proliferating critical discourse in Newcastle. How would you, as current directors describe the symposium to potential future participants?
Tulleah: Critical Animals is an experiment in non-institutional learning. It brings together writers, researchers and artists of all descriptions and levels of experience and gives them an open platform to present and discuss their work. It looks at things that are not art but still very much part of artistic practice – the ideas that inform our doing. It sits within the TiNA family as a self-reflexive arm that examines the work put forward at the festival.
Sophie: I think that Critical Animals is more than a symposium; it’s a wonderfully amorphous beast. It’s a three-day critical love-in where people can come together and express their deepest and geekiest desires. Quality and passion are the qualifiers for participation, a flexible enough rubric so that we have all manner of creatures take part. Mathematicians, dancers, cultural theorists, artists, political scientists and criminologists are just a smattering of examples. It is a safe space where emerging practitioners can converse with doyennes, a place where people can share and grow ideas.
Beau: I see Critical Animals as a celebration in and of the space between disciplines. CA accentuates the territory between one thought and another, where one thought becomes another, through a unique discussion of what is or is not art. To be a Critical Animal is to embrace what Deleuze and Guattari call becoming-animal, critically, as strangers unified by the pursuit of new ideas. Critical Animals offers the initial thread to stitch one’s thoughts into the conceptual tapestry of collective enunciation… something like that. It’s also a good excuse to show off how clever and creative we all are.
This year the festival celebrated its tenth anniversary. Why do you think Critical Animals is important ten years on?
TP: Critical Animals has always felt like the smaller cousin of the bigger TiNA giants – NYWF and Electrofringe. It was started by Anna Poletti as ‘The New Media: Critical Approaches’ and was renamed ‘Critical Animals’ by then-director David Teh in 2003. Critical Animals still holds a strong community around it, which to a large degree directs the content that the festival presents. Although individual directors bring their own passions to the program (poetry, music, visual art) the open call format sees diversity of form and ideas maintained and allows the festival to inherently reflect and respond to changing critical discourse. The biggest thing I have learnt from being part of Critical Animals is that people are generous and eager to share their own work, they just need to be offered an opportunity.
SL: I hope projects like Critical Animals never stop being important but for us I think the resonance of what we’re trying to achieve is only growing. CA is a non-institutional space for ideas, for thinkers to test those ideas and share with their peers and with people outside the forums in which they usually participate. In the last decade our counterparts, universities, have become increasingly more threatened. Both me and at least one other director have had the institutions we graduated from decimate the faculties we came through. The humanities are becoming irrelevant in an economically rationalist educational model. We have a responsibility to keep spaces like this alive to protect creative ways of thinking.
What were your festival highlights this year? How did it reflect on the principle of interdisciplinary approach which sits at core of the CA project?
Beau: As I’ve found most years at Critical Animals, my favourite moments of the festival weren’t necessarily had at particular events, but rather in the conversations that were held across and in between our program, inspired by the creative pollination and preoccupation of propositions. In other words, a lot of the content in our panels and workshops this year responded to one another in interesting and illuminating ways, and it is this intersection of ideas that interests me most. Some late night conversations with new friends at the Newcastle Baths on TiNA Sunday provoked me to reflect once more about how our symposium works as a whole, as an arena to discuss and enforce the crossroads of interdisciplinarity, and why this critical approach to the arts and research breathes innovation and conjuncture. Curating Critical Animals in this manner, moreover, helps me understand my own research, and weave new ideas in between my own in fruitful and exciting ways. Perhaps the most rewarding moment of this year’s Critical Animals was witnessing the publication process of Critical Animalia, our ten-year anniversary journal. This time last year, this project seemed like a vague dream, and I’m proud to have been part of the team that made its production a reality.
How do you envisage the future continuation of Critical Animals?
SL: I can only hope that the legacy will carry another ten years (at least). I don’t think it needs to grow in size as much as stay strong. The wonderful thing about the project is its flexibility. I look forward to seeing it grow and change and reflect the different interests of its future directors and participants. For me it’s a family; I’m looking forward to being a grouchy old aunt that drops by sometimes.
BD: We’re currently talking about piloting a few different approaches to the delivery of Critical Animals in the upcoming years. In 2014 we hope to initiate a Critical Animals Residency program, which will allow select artists to extend their partnership with CA into a longer relationship. Although Critical Animals happens for three short days a year, it’s a conversation that is held all year round, and we’re hoping to reflect CA’s ongoing nature in new and exciting ways.