Learn about the development of Slought as an institution, and our responsiveness to cultural and socio-political changes in Philadelphia, the World, and the Cloud. This subjective history highlights particular projects and collaborations with artists, communities and institutions. It provides a context for these projects by documenting their implications and our motivations. We hope this history will be as enabling for you as it has been for us. Browse using the timeline below.
Slought Foundation begins informally as an inter-generational collaboration and negotiation between a curator, a philosopher, and an artist - Aaron Levy, Jean-Michel Rabaté, and Osvaldo Romberg. It is committed to bridging artistic and cultural histories. The name of the organization derives from the word 'slough,' to suggest ecological metaphors of rejuvenation, reinvention, and openness. The use of the word 'Foundation' by an unfunded and emerging organization is intended performatively as a critique of a closed and insular institutional culture, which was pronounced in Philadelphia at the time. Slought's website, developed in-house, creates a virtual presence for sharing media. Work begins on archiving newly restored recordings of New American poets from the 1960s, which will become one of the largest media archives on the internet at the time.
Slought formalizes as a 501c3 non-profit organization. Space is leased in a former Art Deco/Beaux-Arts bank from 1924, located at 4017 Walnut street. The location is peripheral to the concentration of cultural institutions in Philadelphia, and on the edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus and West Philadelphia neighborhoods. This symbolizes Slought's commitment to border conditions and responsiveness to different communities. Throughout, Slought struggles with the financial and institutional resistance it meets. The inaugural exhibit, Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting, playfully revisits an avant-garde 1970's film classic and invites the public to identify a missing artwork and it's collector. Jasper Johns, Sol LeWitt, Gerhard Richter and other artists are exhibited within the bureaucratic aesthetic of a converted office.
Slought begins to undertake research initiatives that encourage conversation across disciplines and institutions, and empower individuals through critical thinking. The difficulty of organizing these conversations leads the organization to consider other ways to develop cultural programs and facilitate social trust. Emphasis is placed on programs that take place in multiple sites in the city, and that explore the relationship between Philadelphia and the world. The project Cities Without Citizens opens both at the Rosenbach Museum and Slought. Through exhibitions, public programs, and publications, publics are introduced to historical and contemporary understandings of citizenship and statelessness. This research initiative signals Slought's commitment to human rights discourse, public memory, and exploring new forms of advocacy.
Slought actively considers its socio-political position in society, one that builds upon avant-garde legacies of cultural progressiveness and institutional critique. The organization commences a series of programs revisiting leading artists from the 1960s and 1970s whose work expanded cultural understanding in its time. Projects include the work of conceptual artist William Anastasi, who covers Slought's walls with thousands of pages of writing about Alfred Jarry, James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp; artists and architects Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins, whose Architecture Against Death manifestos explore the relation between architecture and health; and musicians Rashied Ali and Marshall Allen, whose presence symbolically reunites John Coltrane's and Sun Ra's legacy for the first time. These projects are complemented by a series of contemporary provocations, foremost among them Kovert Konflagration Kovenant, an exhibition and public art project by sculptor David Stephens. Responding to Pennsylvania's history of racial injustice and a recent Supreme court case affirming the right to cross-burning, Stephens invites the African-American community to symbolically re-appropriate the meaning of this act. The organization receives national press coverage for the first time.
Slought's fascination with histories of cultural provocation continues, with a focus on the body as a site of experimentation, and the artist's body in relation to the social body. Performance becomes a metaphor for how the organization views its activities and the cultural landscape more generally. More and more, the organization itself begins to take the form of a provocation and performance, as it navigates a restrictive socio-political landscape. This performativity applies to the organization's alternative economy, which recognizes the value of community and social relations in developing collaborations with artists and others. Through this approach, major projects begin to take place in Philadelphia with European artists and thinkers from the 1960s and 1970s. These include CONFLICT, organized by curator Lorand Hegyi from Le Musee d'art moderne de Saint-Etienne, whose exhibition challenges prejudices about the contemporary culture of Central and Southeastern Europe. Viennese actionist Hermann Nitsch also comes to Philadelphia for the opening of Die Aktionen: 1962-2003, a video retrospective and subsequent publication.
Slought's curatorial focus shifts to film and projected media, which it perceives as a more accessible medium in an increasingly digital era. It is also more economically viable for the organization, which continues to struggle with financial sustainability and program funding. The organization also begins to reflect on how artists are transitioning from conceptual to architectural practice, and private to public space. In response, the organization organizes projects around urbanism, architecture and spatial politics. Among these, a seminar about cities by French poet, playwright and philosopher Helene Cixous, following Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans. Other programs include Film as Critical Practice, an exhibit and conversation about the cinematic and architectural work of Guy Debord and the Situationist International. Slought continues to debate how culture can resist habitual ways of creating and thinking, and the function of its online presence. One outcome is more expansive textual commentary that further contextualizes the projects. Another outcome are programs about issues that are typically avoided in cultural institutions, such as Bareback Subcultures, which explored gay pornography, risk, and alternative approaches to kinship.
Slought approaches its fifth year - the final year in what was originally intended as a five-year experiment. A formal collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania's School of Arts and Sciences infuses Slought with a sense of possibility and hope for future sustainability. Instead of closing, the organization decides to continue its programs despite its precarious condition, and to further expand in the world. A variety of projects enable the organization to negotiate the relationship between these new modes of local and global activity. In Philadelphia, Slought initiates discursive and public art projects. The Casual Passer-By I Met at 3.01 pm, Philadelphia, a series of portraits by international artist Braco Dimitrijevic of casual passers-by are displayed on historic facades in West Philadelphia to create perturbations in the public's habitual engagements with the public sphere. Evasions of Power, an international conference, explores the relationship between literature, architecture, and geopolitics and takes place at Eastern State Penitentiary and other sites. In the World, Slought organizes Slought in Berlin, a traveling exhibition about its history, in the spirit of the conceptual information shows of the early 1970s.
Slought begins to explore how its work can inform new curatorial and pedagogical models in the humanities, and public culture more generally. A series of courses are developed with the Department of History of Art and English Departments at the University of Pennsylvania that join practice-based learning with intensive theoretical inquiry. Students and faculty, as well as artists and philosophers, are invited to take on curatorial roles and participate in organizing cultural activities at the organization. This interest in expanding the traditional identity and role of the curator begins to inform Slought's global activities. Projects that foreground inter-cultural dialogue and polycentered conversation begin to emerge. These include Helene Cixous' Dissidanses (sur Nancy Spero), at la maison rouge - fondation antoine de galbert, and Günther Holler-Schuster, Christa Steinle's and Peter Weibel's Another Tomorrow: Young video art from the Neue Galerie in Graz. In Philadelphia, Slought opens Power Fields, a retrospective exploration about the work of Vito Acconci and Acconci Studio, which transforms Slought's galleries through a newly commissioned poetry table and other immersive media. North, an installation with Territorial Agency, further transforms Slought's understanding of cultural display by submerging the organization in a thin layer of water as a commentary on rising water levels in the Northern hemisphere.
Slought is concerned that an era of privatization has eroded the public sector and its sense of social responsibility. The organization engages architects, urban researchers and activists who are collaboratively addressing social and environmental conflicts. It explores how others are creatively engaging publics and institutions and harnessing hidden resources in the private, public, and non-profit sectors. Through these conversations, Slought begins to recognize architecture is not just about physical infrastructure, but also about social relationships. Into the Open, an exhibition foregrounding this sensibility, is selected by the US State Department and the National Endowment for the Arts to represent the country at the Venice Biennale. With 60 days to prepare, Slought must temper its reflective approach and negotiate an administrative culture of compromise and complicity. Engaging a mass public for the first time, the organization's volunteer model is tested on a global scale. Slought struggles to represent both the nation-state and its marginalized institutions and enable dialogue and modesty within a culture of spectacularity. One response is a 90 foot image of the border fence between the US and Mexico, by Estudio Teddy Cruz, which becomes a metaphorical and actual passageway into the pavilion. The exhibition later travels to Parsons The New School for Design in New York and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia - all for a fraction of the typical exhibition cost of the US Pavilion.
Slought continues to consider questions about the relationship between dialogue and display, and the importance of cultivating critical and creative publics. The organization begins to develop a more dialogic approach, in which artists and curators continually rethink their practice and in discussion with others. Rather than commission essays or exhibitions, Slought begins to organize open-ended conversations that actively critique specialized discourse and the passive staging of existing knowledge. One example is Architecture on Display, a two-part research initiative and publication with the Architectural Association in London, which explores the forgotten history of the Venice Architecture Biennale through the directors who established its particular discourse. These findings, together with a new generation's interest in questioning architecture on display, act as the catalyst for the second phase, which features conversations with fifty practitioners - from designers and historians to editors, funders and students. The organization also begins to formally define its values as well as a series of institutional, cultural and educational principles, which have intuitively shaped its activities but have never been officially documented.
Slought recognizes that culture is overdetermined by politics and economics, and seeks to extend its activities beyond the cultural sector. The organization also becomes interested in how social movements occur, and how it can contribute to the development of activities that no one institution or individual can claim. Slought convenes a group of philosophers and diplomats, who propose a series of conversations that are intended to continue beyond their initial staging. The Perpetual Peace Project and its activities are organized around Immanuel Kant's foundational essay "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch" (1795), and bring together a diverse group of institutions including the International Peace Institute, the Syracuse University Humanities Center, the United Nations University, and the European Union National Institutes of Culture. The project is spatialized through a symposia, exhibitions, lectures, as well as a feature film that enable conversations in Pakistan, Rwanda, and China and across the United States. This interest in thinking spatially leads Slought to diagram and notate its institutional activities as one would performances. Slought also partners with the John Cage Trust to develop a long-term installation based on John Cage's How to Get Started (1989), an experiment about thinking in public. Drawing upon Cage's realization as a script in effect, the public is similarly invited to extemporize on ten topics of interest, as a sound engineer captures and subsequently layers their monologue.
Slought is concerned by the breakdown in social trust between publics and institutions. The organization develops a historical understanding of how small agencies in Philadelphia like the American Philosophical Society have enabled trust by building relationships and sharing practical knowledge. Slought begins to rethink its own relationship to the publics and institutions near where it is located, and how its activities can mitigate the invisible borders within the city. An uneven distribution of public resources, institutional access, and socio-economic class is evident throughout the ten blocks on which it is located. Mixplace Studio, an urban education model, is developed with youth and two nearby institutions - People's Emergency Center (PEC) and PennDesign - to address these disparities. The studio enables conversations and projects which advocate for public education, political representation, and neighborhood empowerment, to re-negotiate and re-imagine the city in powerful ways. It seeks to foster a comfortable, process-based learning environment in which youth researchers develop agency, civic imagination, and interpersonal trust, and link the knowledge of communities with the knowledge of institutions. Slought also launches Fairytale Project, an online archive undertaken in collaboration with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei shortly after his release from detainment by the Chinese government that seeks to negotiate contemporary geopolitical realities. The research initiative revisits his 2007 project "Fairytale," which featured the extraordinary event of 1001 Chinese citizens traveling outside of China, many for the first time. The project involves translating, archiving, and curating their experiences and stories concerning identity, memory, love, dreams and the possibility of cross-cultural understanding.
Slought quietly celebrates its tenth anniversary, a major milestone in the history of a volunteer organization. This presents an opportunity to reflect on how Slought has transformed over the years, how it can remain responsive and continually in formation in the years ahead. The complexity and scale of Slought's many projects and initiatives prompts the organization to develop a new organizational identity and website to enable better legibility and communication for volunteers and the public alike. Support from The Andy Warhol Foundation enables the organization to hold intensive workshops and pursue research. This support affirms Slought's commitment to rethinking its role and responsibilities as a small, progressive cultural organization. A flexible identity is produced, which systemizes the organization's values for its growing network of collaborators.