Notes about the Paramaribo SPAN project

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Span is a word common to English, Dutch, and Sranan, via different etymologies, and with a range of meanings, nuances, implications. It is the space between two points, the means of crossing that space, a linking or pairing, a tension, a tightening, an excitement, a fullness, a reaching out.

Paramaribo SPAN is a conversation about contemporary art and visual culture in Suriname, about art practice in a particular location at a particular time. The project has three separate but interconnected platforms: an exhibition, which will open in Paramaribo in February 2010; a book to be published in three editions (Dutch, English, Portuguese); and this blog, which is at once a journal, an archive, and an independent creative undertaking.

The project is, in part, a culmination of the ArtRoPa initiative, a four-year series of exchanges between artists based in Paramaribo and Rotterdam, intended to promote creative dialogue between these very different locations which are nonetheless linked by elements of history, culture, and language.

The physical and social topography of each city has been changed in recent years by the construction of an iconic bridge. The Jules Wijdenbosch Bridge in Paramaribo, opened in 2000, links the city to the eastern region of Suriname. The Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam crosses the Nieuwe Maas River and is a conscious symbol of the city's cultural ambitions.

Paramaribo SPAN is itself conceived as a kind of bridge, between histories, social groups, countries, cultures--reaching between realities and aspirations. Between Suriname and the Netherlands, but also between Suriname and the Caribbean, and all the farther-flung locations that contemporary Surinamese artists engage with.

The project is not an encyclopedic survey of Suriname's art history, or an inventory of "national" culture. Rather, it seeks to start a creative dialogue about individual artists' imaginative sovereignty, about public space and vernacular forms, about new media, about artists' slippery negotiations with the local and the global, and about possible future directions.

The curators, writers, and others shaping the project come from Suriname, the Netherlands, and Trinidad, and draw on a long collective experience of tackling these questions, crossing these bridges.

The Paramaribo SPAN blog, conceptualised by curator Christopher Cozier and realised in collaboration with editor Nicholas Laughlin, is a space for sharing working notes and fragments, not finished drafts; questions, not statements. It is a journal of the entire project, of the process of creating the exhibition and book. It draws on resources in Dutch and Sranan, but is written primarily in English, the global lingua franca. It examines the work of a range of contemporary artists, but also maps the whole creative space in which they work--images and sounds of contemporary Suriname, the urban topography of Paramaribo, literary perspectives, intersections with the wider Caribbean region. The blog will run for approximately eight months, from July 2009 until the end of the Paramaribo SPAN exhibition in March 2010, and thereafter become an online archive of the project.

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