Curated by Kris Dittel and Aneta Rostkowska
Kinships are often thought of as blood relations, even more often understood with reference to the Western model of the nuclear family. This exhibition aims instead to contemplate and envisage various implications and forms of kinship, camaraderie, comradeship and belonging outside of the social reproduction of norms that the nuclear family entails.
As curators, we believe that kinship is not given, it is to be imagined and made. And this process of kin-making involves a critical revision of the promises and fantasies of the nuclear family, as well as a collective search for new possibilities and structures that are yet to emerge. The starting point of this exhibition project grew out of our personal interests and experiences, in search of a variety of ways of establishing care and love relations and to imagine other kinds of sociability than the nuclear family structure. And as happens with such fundamental questions, we could not do this by ourselves or by solely relying on theoretical and discursive resources.
Therefore, while considering the critique of the nuclear family, we aimed to expand this critical spirit into practices of collective learning, sharing and contemplating being in and with the world differently. To do so, we approached artists, theoreticians, curators, thinkers and our audiences to be our conversation partners, which first came into being as a series of Forms of Kinship study group events and later this exhibition, which we hope will not conclude but rather generate ideas to be carried on afterwards.
“This is not an art project”, one of us noted in our preparatory writings, and albeit this does not exactly correspond to the truth, this impulse signalled the project’s nature – one that is intertwined with the personal, professional and political. We also realised the limitations of aesthetic (re)presentations and blueprints that relations can be modelled upon. Yet we believe that kinship must be reproduced spatially, temporally, materially, in order for it to expand and affect – and art has the capacity to provide for these potentialities. We see the role of art and artists as important in this respect. Beyond bringing exposure to it, the artists in the exhibition also consider kinship in its doing, living and making of an unfixed web of relationality. Therefore the project brings together a group of practitioners whose work has been consistently aligned with the aforementioned doing while being highly aware of representational regimes.
The exhibition presents various temporal and spatial imaginations, disorientations and understandings of kin-relations. They prompt us to imagine the present and the future differently, to envision a world in which solidarity, interdependence and other forms of intimate association and belonging coexist, one where we can make space and time to see one another in our abundance.
While conceptualising this project, we had in mind the words of Judith Butler, who notes that since kinship is defined by legal, social and economic systems, as well as religious codes and laws, norms and traditions, any effort to distinguish the study of kinship from those power relations ends in its obfuscation and idealisation.
Unruly Kinships reckons with the fact that no ideal version of kinship exists, there is no blueprint which relations can be modelled upon. And yet it strives towards perspectives and approaches that anticipate new solidarities, affinities and alliances, ones in which freedom in love and self-determination can be attainable for everyone. It is a leap into the unknown. How about then imagining collectively other forms of kinship? The unruly ones – not subjected to the imposed societal orders? Those which do not submit to known ways of living? They are disobedient, riotous, resourceful. How about reimagining kinship and asking again: How would we like to live? How would YOU like to live? The endeavour contemplates various possibilities of kin-making and care relations in our contemporary society. It presents various ways we relate to each other and the unexplored potentialities of these relations, starting from everyday interactions to artistic genealogies and queer lineages.
On the Problems of the Nuclear Family
But first things first. The nuclear family, as a technology of capitalism, showed its teeth to larger parts of the population over the past few years during the global pandemic. Many articles popped up in mainstream media, pointing out the flaws of “family life” that were accelerated during the period of forced nuclear togetherness. But why this anger towards the family, you may ask. What we propose is by no means to cut ties with one’s biological kin or partner, but rather, to think of ways to expand those relations that are not tied by blood, inheritance or a sense of ownership, but by a sense of justice, which demands care, love and freedom for all. We build this critique on the work of thinkers who have been persistently calling out the injustices arising from the nuclear family system and imagining the (utopian) possibilities of expanded relations: against the backdrop of the nuclear family’s privatisation of care (Sophie Lewis), the institution of heterosexuality, monogamy and compartmentalisation of relations (Bini Adamczak) and by pointing at the ways we are oriented towards certain structures more than others (Sara Ahmed). These thinkers prompt a reimagining of kinship as a notion of extended (and what if, even, all-encompassing) community, one in which future forms cannot be delineated nor forecasted.
All these “symptoms” might be linked to a general condition of our society which is a very narrow, standardised and hierarchical understanding of kin-relations. This understanding reduces kinship to a relation based on blood or marriage and privileges the nuclear family (a family group of parents and children living together). The family operates on the one hand as the basic building block of capitalism, with its social relations regulated by the state, while on the other hand it is simultaneously being undermined by the increasing demands and pressure of neoliberal forces. It is not unrelated to issues of gendered labour and its unequal distribution, domestic violence and loneliness (it is proven that marriage separates people from their social connections), which are societal debates that have gained attention in the past years.
Of course these issues are not new. Many have previously experienced and voiced the disappointment, discomfort and violence of the nuclear family structure. There’s an existing history and complexity to a discourse that aims to rethink the notion of the nuclear family. Many artists, theoreticians, thinkers and writers have been expressing their ideas about multitudes of forms of kinship and care systems. For a variety of reasons, to many the nuclear family has never been a viable option, many have faced its violence and limitations early on, or were straight up excluded from forming such relations.
The social history of the family is very helpful here as it shows that the existing situation is not a necessity: family is a historical entity taking different forms throughout the centuries. The nuclear family that is so present today is in fact more an exception than a rule. It is a result of the development of the so-called bourgeois family (bürgerliche Familie) in the 18th and 19th centuries, itself a result of the emergence of the bourgeoisie class with its particular economic existence.
Throughout history we have moved from bigger, interconnected and extended structures, which protected the most vulnerable people, to smaller detached units mostly comfortable for the privileged. We do not believe in returning to this notion of the extended family, but rather we seek more open and expansive structures. Even when desired, the nuclear family seems for many impossible to sustain, as contemporary sociologists and economists alarm us that the so-called “middle class” is being increasingly impoverished.
Unruly Kinships at Temporary Gallery
The artists participating in the exhibition and its public programme not only rethink but also re-enact “unruly kinships” themselves, albeit usually not in the known format of socially engaged art. The participants of this project not only encourage us to reimagine existing kin-relations, they also search for different ways of sustaining them.
For example, Jay Tan’s large-scale sculptures, resembling an ant-formicarium, housing a series of scenes dedicated to various artists, musicians and writers with whom Tan shares a surname. The work references form of altruism, questions of nepotism, kinship selection and eusociality in social superorganisms, like ants and humans.
Similarly, Geo Wyex in his poetic sound work draws on artistic lineages, family members, memory objects. These “shout outs” are personal acknowledgements and public expressions of greeting and praise. In this work Wyex asks who or what matters, and how calling things aloud might become a temporary measure of liberation.
Rory Pilgrim shows us alliances and connections between climate activists. They point to how climate change is forcing us to rethink the existing ways of living not only because the old ways degrade the planet (just think about the energy consumption of single-family houses in comparison to larger collective dwellings) but also because fighting anti-climate policies requires intense collective effort.
Clementine Edwards’s unfolding miniature landscape, made of rice, gold, silver, copper and found materials, prompts us to think about the promise of the nuclear family, its unfolding, and being at peace with its possibilities and pitfalls.
Selma Selman considers what values and relations society attributes to people, labour, relations and material objects, as she recycles scrap metal with the help of her family. Throughout the exhibition’s duration she transforms electronic waste into golden earrings for her mother.
Lena Anouk Phillip’s fragile paper sculptures employ the mechanisms of the gift economy to reinforce amiable connections.
In Krõõt Juurak’s and Alex Bailey’s performance, not only does their son Albert disrupt it and contribute to it, he also takes an equal role in its creation. The work speaks to questions of child-parent relations, parenting and emotional labour.
Liz Rosenfeld’s work features holes, openings, portals, orifices and pores that are impossible to fill. Their work explores desiring and leaking bodies through the narrative of cruising.
Pauline Curnier Jardin founded the Feel Good Cooperative together with the help of photographer and sex worker Alexandra Lopez and architect and academic Serena Olcuire. The cooperative is a space for expression, inspiration and financial support for sex workers in Rome whose work is linked with the fragility of daily existence.
iSaAc Espinoza Hidrobo and Joanna Stange, together with the maiskind collective, perform a choreographed ritual of care and kinship. They invite the audience to join in their dance, joy and moment of collective transformation.
Designer, artist and researcher Yin Aiwen’s live action role-playing game (LARP) is a life simulation and a generative social experiment that takes peer-to-peer caring relationships as the cornerstone for a commons-oriented, caring society.
The exhibition is accompanied by a rich public programme. For example, it will include a series of gatherings, which combine lectures, performances, readings, music and food in an informal atmosphere. We would like to envision the space of the art institution as a space in which thinking about kinship develops in a collective way, a space in which kinship relations are nurtured.
An important role in the development of the exhibition was played by the Forms of Kinship study group, which has been running throughout 2022 and constituted the public research phase of the project, operating as an open research platform. The guests included writer and researcher Dr Sophie Lewis, who spoke on the topic of family abolition and its decolonial perspective; professor Mi You (documenta Institute and University of Kassel), with whom we developed a seminar on the social and economic history of the family; Clementine Edwards who shared her research on material kinship together with Joannie Baumgärtner who spoke on the nuclear family's relation to capital; curator and LGBTQ+ activist Georgy Mamedov, who introduced us to the radical potential of dreams; curator Khanyisile Mbongwa and healer and researcher Li’Tsoanelo Zwane, who spoke about ancestral spirits and Indigenous knowledges; artist and political writer Bini Adamczak, who unfolded for us the theory of polysexual economy; artistic researcher and social responsibility coordinator Francisco Trento, who spoke about neuroqueer intimacy; and curators Karina Kottová and Barbora Ciprová, who shared their research on the (feminist) contradictions of parenting. Many events from this series have been recorded and are available on the Temporary Gallery's YouTube channel.
In the booklet accompanying the exhibition an infinite love letter by Kris Dittel provides a personal account of the Forms of Kinship study group series. It is followed by “Mayday” by Suzanna Slack, a fragmented memoir that touches upon the construction and violence of the nuclear family, gender and class. Alexis Pauline Gumb’s Black queer feminist genealogy puts forward the concept of revolutionary mothering (in a verb form) as opposed to motherhood as a status that is selectively granted. Only when more of us pursue “unruly kinships” can a larger societal change happen. This however would require governments to recognize the necessity and support different ways of living on a structural level. We hope that that text by Johanna Brenner expresses in which direction this could go. You can find the booklet here.
The project is part of a larger endeavor called "Islands of Kinship: A Collective Manual for Sustainable and Inclusive Art Institutions”, in which CCA Temporary Gallery works with six international partner institutions: Jindrich Chalupecky Society (Prague), Latvian Center for Contemporary Art (Riga), Frame Contemporary Art Finland (Helsinki), Julius Koller Society (Bratislava), Faculty of things that can't be learned (Skopje) and Stroom den Haag (The Hague). Islands of Kinship is co-funded by the EU Program Creative Europe.