Arts Writing

Mutual Adaptation

by Lumi Tan

In the height of the COVID -19 pandemic in New York City, during which my ability to understand what art institutions should be doing alternated rapidly between frantic optimism and deep apathy, I read “Smells Like Burning” by Isabel Parkes in Flash Art, which cannily comments on the growing embrace of the concept of ecosystems within art institutions. Parkes used two primary examples in her article. First, the Serpentine Gallery in London, which distinguished itself as the only arts institution to have a curator, Luisa Pietroiusti, devoted to ecology, and had recently proclaimed a new mission which centers ecological responsibility. This would be a challenge for any institution showing temporary exhibitions of international artists, but perhaps particularly for one whose artistic director, Hans Ulrich Obrist, set the precedent for the curator–as–ambassador for globalization, never staying in one place long enough for the jet lag to settle in. The second example was that of Performance Space New York, whose Executive Artistic Director Jenny Schlenzka announced that, during 2020, a group of artists would have complete control over the programming and budget for the institution, with choreographer Sarah Michelson — who has had a long and involved history of performance there — taking on the role of ecologist, rather than as director or leader of the group of primarily younger artists.


This essay appeared in CONDITIONS, a publication of The Ford Family Foundation. The annual arts journal (shifting title as it progresses) is part of the program element CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS, led by the University of Oregon with partners Portland State University, The Cooley Gallery, Reed College; and PNCA at Willamette University.

The title and concept for CONDITIONS came into focus as the editorial team launched its first issue, FIGURING. Here, we shift from FIGURING’s multiple perspectives on the body and the psyche to examine the cultural and biological mysteries and actualities of life at this tenuous environmental and socio-political moment. As our need for breath and sustenance are foregrounded across an accounting of our shared lives, we hope that CONDITIONS offers a space to meditate on the ways in which works of art (including writing) support us in making meaning from our state of, and provisions for, being. 

Featured Contributors: Amelia Rina, Laura Butler Hughes, Luiza Lukova, Sara Krajewski, Malia Jensen, Lumi Tan, Steph Littlebird, Ido Radon, Alejandro Espinoza Galindo, Stephanie Gervais, Stephanie Snyder, K. Silem Mohammad, Prudence Roberts, Sara Jaffe.