2016! The Dirt Palace is getting strategic (making a plan)!
As part of this process we're visiting some organizations/space that we admire and hope to learn from.
This post is part of a series of profiles of spaces that we have visited. This project is supported by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
STUDIO XX https://secure.studioxx.org/en
Erandy Vergara https://secure.studioxx.org/en/erandy-vergara
Deborah VanSlet https://secure.studioxx.org/en/deborah-vanslet
At a Glance
Budget: $260k (Canadian)
Staff: 6 (part time)
Committees: (Each comprised of board and staff)
Founded in 1996, Studio XX is a bilingual feminist artist-run centre for technological exploration, creation and critical reflection. XX supports independent media arts production and offers a platform for a multiplicity of territories, voices and creative actions by artists who identify as women, trans or dissident in the contemporary technological landscape. Demystifying, providing access, equipping, questioning and creating, these are the aims of Studio XX. We actively participate in the development of a digital democracy that encourages autonomy and collaboration.
Studio XX supports the creation and dissemination of independent media art through its Wired Women Salons, commissions, co-productions, its online electronic journal .dpi, artist residencies, the weekly XX Files radio show, the HTMlles Festival, through professional development workshops and anytime access to its Open Source Lab.
In 2008, Studio XX launched Matricules: one of the world’s largest online archives of women’s digital artworks.
X: The day that we were meeting with Studio XX we woke up early and found that in the night a light snow had dusted the streets of Montreal. The first snow of the season!!! We decided that because we actually had NO practical footwear for a full on winter situation, that we should leave extra time for walking the mile or so there. By the time we hit the streets the snow had resumed falling and we were outside in our ankle moccasins and slip on clogs navigating the slippery sidewalks. While we had stopped to grab coffee at some place with a large psychedelic cat painted on the side of it, this hadn’t taken much time, and we got to the space early. Not acceptably early…but what’s wrong with you people early. So we walked around the neighborhood, which seemed quiet and rather residential. The building where studio XX is located also houses other artist run spaces notably Orboro and GIV (Groupe Intervention Video). I hadn’t put the pieces together before, but at dinner the previous night my friend Katherine reminded me that films of mine had screened earlier in the year at GIV in a program of women animators put together by Emily Pelstring. Ok, the puzzle pieces of the city were starting to click together. Emily was also on the StudioXX programing committee and had done a residency there years before and had spoken very highly of the organization. Also, Daniella - the newest Dirt Palace member, had just spent the last 6 weeks at the Studio XX residency. So there was some overlap between our organizations and I was excited to get to see it from the inside.
We arrived and met Deborah VanSlet and Erandy Vergara. Deborah is the Production Coordinator, and Erandy is the Programing Coordinator. Deborah had been involved with the organization since way back in the day serving as a board member for many years before stepping in as Interim Coordinator General. She’s a freelance videographer and been involved with radio for a long time, specifically the CKUT program Dykes on Mykes, and founded XXfiles Radio a program of Studio XX. Erandy has an academic background with a focus on feminism, global art histories, curatorial studies, postcolonialism, and critical race studies, with a particular interest in recent remix cultures, the strengths and downfalls of science and technology, decolonial uses of media, queer phenomenologies, and the aesthetics and ethics of participation.
P: As an organization based on technology, Studio XX has had to adapt and change many times mirroring the technology shifts over the past two decades. Things like having their own server are no longer necessities, staff and leadership positions have been morphed and redefined several times, and the culture of how Studio XX intersects with different communities has shifted. Maybe it is the constant flux of the very materials they work in that has made Studio XX so flexible in negotiating change.
X: One really cool thing about doing a site visit with Studio XX in person was having Erandy explain all of their programs to us in person. On the website it’s honestly a little bit overwhelming in terms of the shear quantity of stuff that is filtering through the StudioXX universe. Having it explained in real life broke it down and made it manageable. It also underscored that their website is dense, not simply because they do a lot, but because they have an incredible archiving system/philosophy and protocol around it. Literally there are hundreds of profiles (maybe even thousands?) of artists who have been involved with StudioXX. There’s an online image archive, an audio archive, a video archive, a text archive, an events archive; it goes on. It’s smart, it’s searchable, it’s expansive, it’s so impressive!
On the subject of archiving both Deborah and Erandy offered interesting perspectives. For Deborah the emphasis on archiving was about linking the mechanisms of power and memory: “If we’re not keeping track of our own history, it’s gone, that’s how history works”, while for Erandy detailed accounts of the past offered a way of strategizing how to go forward: “we’re writing history with every action, only in looking backwards through the archive did I come to realize what things were missing in our programing”. They joked about the tension in crafting their archive between the hoarders and the “purge queens”. Pippi and I looked at each other knowingly. “Purge queen!” - what a useful and apt term. That phrase was going to get wrapped up in plastic and smuggled across the border with us for sure!
P: I think that they actually hilariously framed it as the BATTLE between the Horders and the Purge Queens. I guess it’s easier to be a horder of data though than of physical objects! It’s easier to find space!!
X: In conducting these interviews, one thing we’re particularly interested is how different organizations have navigated moments of change. StudioXX shared with us a story of a fairly recent transition. There had formerly been a position of “Director General” - that staff member was leaving. The board was in the process of figuring out a transition plan, when the remaining staff came to them and essentially said, “let’s flatten the whole organization. Let’s work less hierarchically.” They offered a vision of an org chart that was much more horizontal but that got all of the responsibilities covered. The board listened to the staff and they’re currently working under this model.
P: Erandy, as the new Programming Director is looking to bring Studio XX into an era of community engagement. At this point, Studio XX is a space that offers many services, but is not necessarily a community. There is not a definitive way to get involved in the organization outside of utilizing the services (taking a class, using equipment). It’s interesting to think about… When the services that you provide are workshops, resources and education, you have no way of tracking or knowing how the resources and skills people have learned have rippled, expanded, ignited other projects in the world. Practically, an artist could take a class and their life’s work and direction could completely change, but without a continued relationship with the space there is really no way of knowing the effect that the services have had. I have a feeling that Studio XX has made many ripples in their community over the years but they haven’t necessarily boomeranged back. With Erandy’s vision, artists can be engaged over time and have ongoing relationships which would feed back into the organization.
Artist Residency Presentation: Daniella Ben Bassat from StudioXX on Vimeo.
Dirt Palace member Daniella Ben Bassat's performance at Studio XX after her
residency there this fall.