Established in 2012 by artists John Reardon and Son, Hyemin, the Growing Manual project is an evolving, interdisciplinary project with artist collectives across the world that explores how artists are organising and improvising in response to the social, political and economic challenges they are currently faced with. It works through a sustained engagement with the artist collectives invited to participate in the project and to share knowledge, materials, resources and opportunities. The Growing Manual project is part publication, exhibition, market place, temporary architecture, experiment in planting and growing, micro-economy, network of relations, and pedagogical project. It is currently in an expansive phase as it goes through the process of expanding from 11 to 20 artist collectives. The project developed out of our interest in makeshift, amateur, informal, unofficial, autonomous, activist, non-institutional and self-organized practices and how the social, political and economic conditions under which we work shapes how we work.
We launched the project with Volume I of the Growing Manual publication, a simple paper archive describing the context and conditions each artist collective is working with. 500 copies were distributed to participating artist collectives (20 copies were sent to each collective with a request, to redistribute, in turn, to relevant groups, institutions, organisations, and individuals) independent bookshops, institutions, artist run spaces and so on.
Following the publication of Volume I, numerous conversations and exchanges took place between collectives including invitations that were taken up to do a performance and exhibition in Taipei, participate in a series of seminars in Indonesia and Malaysia as well as return visits to Seoul to participate in seminars and performance in HBC our event space in Haebangchon Seoul by Taiwanese and Indonesian curators and artists
In 2015 we were invited to do the first major exhibition of the Growing Manual project by Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA). This gave us the opportunity to bring various kinds of individually and collectively produced organic and inorganic material together in the space of the museum. We organised this material around three themes: matter, utopia and collectivity (transcribed conversations with Jessica Wyman on matter [in relation to the work of Karen Barad] Neil Spiller on utopia, Blake Stimson on collectivity were also included in the exhibition) in order to make a loose series of connections between ideas, images and circumstances. The aim being to describe a circumference within which the exhibition could be considered. The principal image of the dream – rhizome-like in form – was the enabling capillary tissue across these connections, between the exterior world of facts and the interior world of emotions, between what is imagined and what is given. These indirect, glancing narratives and descriptions we felt pulled one in slightly different directions so that what results through the exhibition is a sense of the diversity and range of work that came together – at that moment – under the sign of the Growing Manual exhibition, through working with the interdependencies of cyber, geographic, and logical infrastructure, matter, opportunity and chance encounter.
Running alongside the exhibition in SeMA was the Growing Manual Market as well as numerous related discursive events with collectives in Korea and Japan. The Market contained books, T-shirts, jewellery, posters and DVDs, anything capable of being sold and, or bartered which they subsequently were with money and materials being returned to the collectives.
Most recently we have been invited to show the Growing Manual project in the 2016, Setouchi Triennale in Japan. This gives us an opportunity to again reimagine the project in terms of how it can be shaped by the site and context specific ‘local’ conditions that frame the Triennale as well as by the particular themes and interests that arise through ongoing conversations with the other collectives and includes for example a current interest in fermentation as a practical engagement with food and chemistry but also as a metaphor for how we work and how the Growing Manual project works, how matter is transformed and how disparate and diverse materials-people-contexts can be configured and reconfigured in new and particular formations. As part of our engagement with the Triennale, we have begun to research the contemporary history of artist collectives and collectivism in Japan through making contact with collectives, past and present as well as recording conversations with people thinking and writing about these such as Art Historian Reiko Tomii and others.
The aims and purpose of the Growing Manual project is to create a research active, interdisciplinary, materially-diverse, self-sustaining network that shares knowledge, materials, resources and opportunities. One with the breath and flexibility to engage with the current social, political and economic challenges we are faced with.