Into kin

An introduction to this Almanac

By Kobe Matthys, Justine Maxelon, Nicolas Galeazzi, Charlotte Gruber

Story of a Fair Arts Almanac becoming Kin

Since 2014, the SOTA platform (State Of The Arts) has been discussing, researching and promoting fair practice in the arts along five axes: solidarity, diversity, transparency, ecology and relationality. Though different from each other, these aspects of fairness are deeply intertwined. Fairness in general is always situated and deserves a continuous, ongoing societal debate. That is why in 2017, SOTA chose the format of the almanac - a yearbook - as a practical tool to cartograph and share examples of good practice.

In 2019, SOTA’s almanac group published the first Fair Arts Almanac. Much of the book’s final content was gathered during a week-long summer camp in 2018 with about 70 contributors. The result was a rich collection of tips & tricks, statements & demands, visions & ideas, dates & data, testimonies & voices, addresses & announcements on fairness in the creative sectors, organised as a weekly calendar. This first edition was deliberately associative and open for debate; full of contradictions, loose ends and inconsistencies. It was finalised by a core-group of editors, who compiled to a complex network of contributions from artistic, political and economic spheres. A vast amount of handwritten notes and recorded discussions from the summer camp were transcribed by the core-group into a useful readable tool for stimulating further discourse and engagement – the Fair Arts Almanac 2019.

When SOTA’s almanac group started to work on the second almanac in 2020, we wanted to expand the experience of the first almanac. We wanted to include more and different voices, we wanted to generate and develop the topics over a longer period of time, and we wanted to distribute the editorial responsibility among more heads and hands. In short: we wanted to expand and diversify the editorial family, with relational bonds that had time to grow deeper, so that we could nurture and contest the content (and our ways of working) collectively over time.

In the meantime…

The situation in 2020 was very different from 2018. In 2019, SOTA had just gone through the important, big protests in front of the Flemish parliament, related to the previously elected Flemish Government with Jan Jambon (N-VA) as new minsiter of culture and the cutbacks of up to 60% for project subsidies in culture. Right after this important movement, we fell into the pandemic crisis early 2020, and the cultural sector was the first to be locked down and the last to be reactivated. Culture seemed to be considered irrelevant, not a priority to society. SOTA, which as a platform mainly works through collective gaherings, was forced to move online entirely. The almanac group in turn had no other choice than to continue their preparations within these new conditions. Later in 2020, the Flemish Community received ‘relaunch budgets’ from the European Community, which in turn were distributed in Flanders as socalled ‘activiteiten premies’. SOTA and the almanac group decided to use that budget to finance a series of 12 events. Each of which was dedicated to a topic of concern with respect to the conditions of art making in this country, this society and these crises. It was planned that each event would be organised and hosted at a different place by a different group, collective or organisation, and that these groups would come up with the topic. While some in-person events took place, a real relaunch remained impossible due to the second lockdown of 2021, and we were again forced to hold a third of them online. Discussing ‘fairness in the arts’ under the new extreme conditions which the cultural sector had been suffering due to the pandemic, brought about many challenges and conundrums. It became apparent how intertwined and inseparable all the topics, problems and precarities really are. Simultaneously there were a lot of projections and demands tied into the discourse of fairness. Time and time again, we had to face the fact that the standards that we advocate for were often impossible to meet by ourselves due to the circumstances or decisions we found ourselves in. More than ever we were made aware that this is a paradox in the cultural field, and that it asks immense dilligence, time and care of many people – people who need and deserve support.

Why Kin Now?

‘Fair’ was a handy term – for quite a while. People intuitively understand what it is about, and everyone seems to agree with fairness. We assume it is associated with justice, equality, chances for everyone, good practice, respect and tolerance, non-violent behaviour, etc., Things we might generally all be in favour of. But many of these concepts are blurry and hard to grasp. At first we thought we could describe what we meant more explicitly by starting from the term ‘fair’ and diving into related aspects. But once we got more into the details, we realised the fuzziness of the concept. Fairness is a very generic term, especially when attempting to take care of each situation individually. We learned how it swelled up to an imprecise buzzword for whatever people think is kind of an okay practice.

Eventually we also found ourselves conflicted with the term’s etymological roots and cultural history – and this was a hard landing! ‘Fair’ comes from blonde, or white and is inseperably connected to the politics of skin colour. The positive connotation of the word is rooted in colonial history and carries the violent distinction of the slave-trade, where virtues and value of human beings where projected onto the concept of race, created based on skin colour. The white race was socio-culturally rendered superior to the race of ‘others’; as a tool of extensive multilateral systemic exploitation. It has continued to be used until today and developed into a term describing all kinds of ‘good practice’ – one either complied with these standards or not. Its imprecision and its horrific legacy forced us to strike, or annotate the term and replace or contextualise it with one we love to relate to and want to discover in all its depth.

In a conversation between Kobe Matthys and Omar Jabary Salamanca, they came up with the proposition to use the concept of kinship – kin instead of fair? It intuitively made sense: We hovered in thought through fields like solidarity, relationality, ecosystems, diversity, cooperation etc. discussing the term of kinship as common denominator. As the discussions went on, more and more links appeared between the content of the new almanac, our experience of the inseparability of the topics we address, the community of people involved, the people we wish to support and what kin means to us. Of course, this term is claimed by many contemporary authors, from Donna Haraway to David Abraham and others. The term titles a beautiful special series of five volumes at the Center for Humans and Nature Press edited by Gavin Van Horn, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and John Hausdoerffer. Its subtitle names perfectly what touches us: Belonging to a World of Relations.1
Rules and conditions, distribution of resources, ways of communication and willingness to understand, the capacities of expression, empathy to all beings, etc., depend on the kind of relations we live. Recognizing our interdependent relations with each other, including all things and beings, is recognizing the kinships we live. Therefore we wish and speculate to think and set up cultural life from the perspective of kin.

What Structure does kin need?

The decision to shift from ‘fair’ to ‘kin’ was taken in the middle of the process of assembling this almanac, and had several consequences for its structure and content. The multiple voices featured in the first edition of the almanac were calling for more autonomy in the second edition. At the same time we wanted them to work even closer together, weaving a tissue of knowledge through collective writing, editing and descision making. Reading, annoating and enriching each other in parallel and as consensual cross-overs. To connect the various topics and to allow readers to draw personal parrallels to their political, social and spiritual lives, we wanted to propose shome shifts in perspective. One of which was to acknowledge the seasonal aspects typically associated mainly to farmers’ almanacs. Instead of primarily following the Gregorian calendar used by most of us, we decided to follow an alternative relation to time. One that is more linked to ecological, social and relational apects: For this almanac we use the circular system of zodiacs based in Mesopotamian astrology as a the structural element.

Departing from the series of twelve thematic events in 2021 and the topics they raised, we looked for correlations in the twelve astrological zodiacs – and found surprising matches! The characteristics assigned to each zodiac not only added an inspiring otherworldly view ‘from another planet’ on the topics, but also expanded its context and opened our eyes to personal and spiritual relations. The twelve monthly events were a way to be attentive to how mooncycles and their seasonal qualities affect people working in the arts. The zodiac system proposes a cosmic, all-inclusive and interdependent view of life.

This choice enlarged the almanac’s editorial team to twelve independently working editors. Based on the outcomes of the twelve events, each editor consulted different contributors and worked with them towards a unique chapter. Each chapter has its own cover and backcover page. It is introduced by its specific zodiac and corresponing planet and its particular style, structure and approach to the topic.

Through thick and thin: A book of kin

In 2022, the SOTA almanac group started to work with OSP – the Brussels based collective of designers and programmers called Open Source Publishing – to finalise the second almanac.

But a series of personal, political and global crises had strongly influenced and also disturbed some of the works inside the almanac group. In many cases, the necessity of not only talking about the issues at stake, but implementing them into our working processes climbed to a new level. Care was not only understood as a general topic, but as a political affect that guided us all to make decisions in continuing the editing process.

It became increasingly apparent that the communal-kin-care aspect of this book became the core value of our approach. This almanac is a continuous collective process of discussing, writing and evaluating. We didn’t want to offer a secure, closed publication, but one that opens up new narratives, visions and practices.

OSP offered an amazing tool for this process. Based on their practice to see and make design, not from a user interface, but from a self-empowered programmer’s perspective, they proposed a pad-based structure which allows writers and designers to interconnect. Simple codes allow the writers to predefine several aspects of the layout and they can immediately see the outcome by switching into a preview mode. The designers were therefore involved from a very early state of the process and were able to create and adapt the design to the appearing articles.

This emerging way of working also allowed us to print draft versions early on and propose it to a public for early pre reading and collective editorial sessions.

Already throughout 2022, SOTA invited the art field for several editorial sessions. The texts and the concept were opened for discussion, amendment and change. These events took mainly place at our generous residency space MONTY in Antwerpen.

In December 2022, we also organised a public event there as prereading of the Almanac. The twelve chapters were placed in a circle around a central ‘sunny spot’. The unfinished texts were available for reading and the public was invited to gather in small groups, read out loud and discuss them. On setcards, they could contribute their perspectives, critiques and ideas.

With this spirit we kept the process of the almanac organically ongoing and didn’t shy away from making drastic decisions until the last moment.

Renaming the Fair Arts Almanac – according to our understanding of the interwoven topics – to the Fair Kin Arts Almanac is just one example.

The book in your hand is a printed marking point for what is possible. There is an online pendant that allows a vivid continuation of discussions that go hand in hand with this printed version. How to re-think kinship in relation to printed matter – we don’t even claim to have an answer to that.

Let’s keep the conversation going.