a_part Gives Artists 36 Hours to React
By Daniel H. Rey in conversation with artist-curator Johann C. Muñoz
Published on September 24, 2020
Making an art piece in thirty-six hours does not guarantee sleep but it sure guarantees community-building. I first heard about a_part: A Quarantine Collaboration a few days ago. The initiative was conceived by Miami-based Colombian multidisciplinary artist and curator Johann C. Muñoz. In line with its name, a_part has so far connected 40 artists who, pandemic-hit or not, would have had minimal chances of collaborating in person. It is the very spirit of collaboration that drove Muñoz to launch the project. a_part works like a telephone game, each participating artist has thirty-six hours to respond creatively to the artwork and artist that preceded them. At Global Art Daily, we are thrilled to see independent initiatives embrace the vibrant spirit of global art making. As a_part wrapped up its fifth month, it only made sense to speak with the curator 12,950 km away and get his perspective on cross-cultural exchange, digital curation, the place of Miami in the global art world, and South-South artistic dialogues.
“What is the function of art amid (and post) a global crisis?” With this very question, Muñoz and his newly-found collaborators saw in contemporary visual arts a way of coping, connecting and, once again, collaborating. In the organizer’s own words, “Every day and a half, a new contribution is added to the sequence from a different location in the world, bringing in new information, and branching out into limitless potentialities and meaning.” a_part operates as a cadavre exquis: there is a thread that links every submission, causing the overall project to constantly adopt new shapes.
“What is the function of art amid (and post) a global crisis?”
- Johann C. Muñoz
The idea is bound to outlive its first iteration. When asked about how a seemingly endless chain of artworks comes to an end, Muñoz has a concrete answer. He plans on closing this cycle with the work of K. Yoland, a British artist who precisely engages with borders/limits and “would be the perfect person to close off the collective.” Muñoz further adds that “a_part could go on forever, especially as there is so much uncertainty about what is going to happen post-COVID.”
The duration of the project allows for questioning the practicality of a thirty-six hours time frame. In a similar vein, the pandemic-born initiative ENTER by the Onassis Foundation has been giving artists 120 hours to produce performance pieces at home. About a_part, Muñoz notes that thirty-six hours is a mere intention and that “people have all kinds of life situations going on,” which extends the duration of each takeover. The unexpected length of a now five-month-long project fits the very unprecedented nature of these times while extending art-making across borders.
3. Thomas Bils, Shutterspeed (2020). Oil on Wood. Miami, FL, U.S.A. @gnarlic__bread
The project originated in Miami whose parallels with Dubai and Abu Dhabi are worth flagging. In the words of Muñoz, a long-term resident of Miami, “being in a city that is so transient, so cosmopolitan and international, I have had the chance to meet artists from all over the world.” This description matches how many players in the UAE’s artistic community would reflect on this landscape, both in terms of its dynamism and opportunities. To expand on this parallel, Muñoz notes that "From the beginning, I knew the project had to be an international effort, but I owe that revelation to Miami. Miami is unique in its ability to synergize the abundance of perspectives that come through. We've gotten used to the world coming to us; I wanted to reverse that dynamic." Today, a_part has featured more than 40 artists from the Americas, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Asia at large. The newborn community involves artists that Muñoz himself has connected with while traveling, completing residencies, and “establishing relationships beyond what, at some point, was believed to be outside of the scope of possibility.”
“We've gotten used to the world coming to us; I wanted to reverse that dynamic.”
With artists spanning across Uruguay, Botswana, Hong Kong, Spain and beyond, communicating the idea required multiple undertakings. “The whole thing kind of became this scavenger hunt. There are artists that I didn't know personally. I sat on my computer and said ‘OK, let me push the limits of social media, let me push the limits of this whole new world in which we suddenly found ourselves in and let me see if I can meaningfully connect with others in the field’.”
“Let me push the limits of this whole new world in which we suddenly found ourselves in and let me see if I can meaningfully connect with others in the field.”
As a major highlight, Muñoz shares that “The relationship that I was able to establish with other artists in, for example, Botswana and South Africa has been life-changing. I never thought, especially as a young kid living in Colombia, that I would have the opportunity to experience globalization beyond what I saw in television or other types of media.”
“I never thought, especially as a young kid living in Colombia, that I would have the opportunity to experience globalization beyond what I saw in television or other types of media.”
For Muñoz as a curator with increasing experience, consolidating a globally-minded idea requires a sustainable strategy. “What I did at the beginning was setting the terms: 1. This is the first artist and he’s going to make a piece, 2. This is the list of participating artists, 3. Stay tuned to receive an artwork from this one person and once you respond to it be ready to send your artwork to this other person.”
Upon launching, the curator was able to revisit his very role in this playful experiment. “I think I see myself as a facilitator, more so than a curator,” he adds. In his words, part of such a facilitation with artists is providing a platform, “reaching out to them and saying ‘I saw your work, I really connected with these pieces, I’m putting this thing together, let me know if you’d like to participate’.”
“I see myself as a facilitator, more so than a curator.”
Muñoz acknowledges that every single participant that joins brings in new perspectives and increases the degree of accountability that goes into making the chain of artworks carry on. He seeks to present a_part as a framework for other practitioners to embrace and adjust to their own contexts and networks. Muñoz trusts that by “letting go of power as a curator”, the project becomes evermore democratic, trust-based and collaborative. This echoes his curatorial summary:
“The conversation is not necessarily between me and these artists but among the artists themselves. That is the beauty of this project. The project itself has to be seen through the lens of this pandemic; the pandemic has shown us the fragility of all systems. Systems for exchanges of information, exchanges of goods, systems for the transit of people and therefore the transit of ideas have all been challenged. We live in a hyper-globalized world but we don’t act like we do. We reap the benefits of living in a hyper-globalized world but we are not conscious of what that actually means. This was a start to get artists to have these conversations.”
“The pandemic has shown us the fragility of all systems.”
6. Saaiq'a Ebrahim, A Letter to Someone; to Everyone; to Everything (2020). Message Carved into a Tree with Blade: "To Whom It May Concern, I Am Sorry You Are Suffering, And No One Cares". Durban, South Africa. @acollaredwomxn
a_part hopes to keep on honing into practice as research and vice-versa. Short documentaries about the artists and the process at large are also on the horizon. The whole experience has also awakened the curator’s interest in Palestinian poetry, for example, as well as exposed his artist community to new cultural identities and art forms. The purpose, however, remains one and the same. Muñoz asserts that “It would be a shame to come out of this shared global experience—this pandemic—with the same tools, with the same mindsets and continue carrying on with life as usual.”
With an additional lens, Muñoz also invites creatives and audiences to critically question what role galleries and museums are able to play. “Museums are going through this identity crisis, galleries as well. Galleries are less likely to take more chances. They are probably going to make safer bets because they are driven by markets,” he notes. In order to highlight the value of grassroots initiatives he adds that “When opportunities like these come up in which artists can be represented in a project without allegiance to an institution , things become more open, more democratic, and long-standing power dynamics and hierarchies begin to be disputed.”
“We have the opportunity to look at our own history, to highlight it and, in a way, rewrite it in our own terms.”
8. Cathleen Ching Yee Lau, I_Land (2020). Mixed Media. Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong. @cathleen_ching_yee
Finally, South-South artistic exchanges are becoming a defining feature of the a_part experience. Muñoz highlights that “When you put these two [artists’] worldviews together you are able to fill in some gaps of information—you realize that there are vast similarities in colonial histories, and become hyper aware of the unrealized potential of the Global South. We not only get to cross-reference our historical memories but also get to apply their lessons today.” This bonding ultimately leads to form a community whose exchanges transcend a thirty-six hour time period. Muñoz and the artists joining him remain convinced that “We have the opportunity to look at our own history, to highlight it and, in a way, rewrite it in our own terms.” To add more depth, the curator affirms that “Through South-South cooperation we begin to forge our own ways of seeing, thinking, and doing. We are in a transition. Future generations will not only talk about this moment, they will be built on it.”
“Through South-South cooperation we begin to forge our own ways of seeing, thinking, and doing.”
a_part is an online curated initiative connecting artists from around the world for collaboration during quarantine. The initiative, conceived by Miami-based curator Johann C. Muñoz has involved 40+ artists throughout five months.
Johann C. Muñoz is the curator behind a_part. Muñoz was born in Bogotá, Colombia. He lives and works in Miami, FL. Throughout his career, he has worked on a series of collaborative projects, including DOMESTIC (2019) and Concerto on the River in Washington, D.C. (2019). Exhibitions include Miami Zine Fair (2019), Activist Small Press Fair at Exile Books (2018), 23rd International Biennial in Gabrovo, Bulgaria (2017). Collections include Miami-Dade Public Library. Muñoz is an educator at Art Box and a mentor for Guitars Over Guns, a 501(c)(3) arts nonprofit.