5 questions with… INCA
INCA is a residency based project, with an exhibition space and a public program. Artists Alejandra Salinas and Aeron Bergman opened INCA in Detroit, a city affected by the evolution of economy: the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy during 2013.
1: While you were living in Oslo you opened INCA (Institute for Neo Connotative Action) in Detroit. Can you explain a little bit about the process?
Aeron Bergman & Alejandra Salinas: We founded INCA in 2011 but we had been thinking about it for years. After getting a small artist grant from Norway for art projects and a generous commission from German radio, we decided this would be the time to concretize our plans. We bought a home in the New Center, a vibrant and diverse neighbourhood in central Detroit. We formed a board made up of one person from Detroit one from Oslo plus ourselves. We wrote a mission statement, developed a program and started to search for collaborators in Detroit as well as Scandinavia where we were based. When we started INCA we did so with the idea that it would change and adapt to the needs of visitors, neighbours, residents and different communities we planned to engage. INCA has therefore has been in flux since its creation.
We could add that INCA was founded to fill a what we considered a void in Detroit: there was no shortage of artist initiatives, but there was a serious scarcity of art spaces that had at the core a consistently critical, engaged, and inclusive discourse.
2: In some of your artistic previous work you followed the DIY strong tradition of Detroit, a sort of parallel structure that the community of citizens have been developing for decades. Is INCA part of a movement in the city? Or is a “way of acting”?
AB&AS: Yes, we have been inspired by the spirit of making it happen and building collaboratively, that is very present in Detroit. This DIY and co-operative approach has also informed our art practice, since as artists we have to use the few resources we have and get things done. However what has been most inspiring for us running INCA has been the generous, engaging spirit that we have encountered in Detroit. We have wonderful neighbours with whom we are collaborating to run INCA as well as poets, activists, curators and artists who have been highly supportive with the project in a way that is much bigger than what we could have even dreamt of by ourselves. This spirit has pushed resident artists and scholars to engage and contribute more than in the normal artist in residence program. Residents have generously developed events, lectures, texts and exhibitions, while collaborating with the residents and issues of the city.
3: Your work at INCA is based in residencies; artists spending time in Detroit, working and acting there. How is the interaction with the city?
AB&AS: The interaction with the city of Detroit has grown very organically. At the beginning it was mostly based on us arranging studio visits, meetings with key people and advisers. However now that INCA has established networks and collaborations it is naturally growing more based on personal encounters and affinities. INCA enjoys a healthy mix of ad hoc collaboration with purposeful, directed engagements. For example, the residents normally do an artist talk when they arrive, an exhibition at the end of their stay and write a text for the website after they return home. These various public encounters lead to different forms of engagement with the city. Several artists have returned and will return to the city to continue their work. This is a much deeper engagement than tourism.
4: Detroit is right now in a critical situation on the economy level. Does it affect INCA?
AB&AS: The official bankruptcy of the city of Detroit does not effect many residents of the city in a direct way, not yet, because the city has been more or less bankrupt because of disinvestment and extreme inequality due to corrupt and insane tax distribution (based mostly on racism) that has been on-going for many years. (Michigan has a similar population and GDP as Sweden, so it is clear the issue is not about lack of resources, or a so-called “decline” of car sales.) The biggest new pain that Detroit will suffer in the near future will probably be the thousands of retired public employees such as teachers who will lose much of their pensions because they are less “important” than the business interests who demand their pound of flesh. The issue of the Detroit Institute of Arts having to sell off some of its masterpieces is yet another symbol of the stripping of public wealth into a few private hands that has been happening for a long time. The public library system, the school system etc. have long been under attack and have almost completely collapsed.
INCA is affected by everything in the city, but not in a direct economic way: we are currently funding the project entirely by ourselves and all of our events are free to the public. We have not applied for or expected funding from the city and it will always run 100% non profit. Everything that happens in Detroit affects INCA, but not in a simple cause and effect relationship because we are lucky enough to have public sector teaching jobs elsewhere.
5: INCA also presents exhibitions, has a library and international connections. Has the activity, or the questions about INCA, increased after Detroit’s bankruptcy?
AB&AS: There has been a lot of international interest in INCA since it was formed, and interest has grown rapidly. We don’t suspect this has anything to do with the bankruptcy: people have long seen Detroit as a symbol of corruption, kleptomania, racism and the resulting solidarity generating community spirit and artistic potential. We think that Europeans have begun to notice the devastation wreaked of America’s extreme debt ideology, such as Detroit, because they see the ECB and its interested investing partners following the exact same methods to strip whole European regions such as southern Europe of its public wealth and funnel it into the private hands of a tiny minority of unquestioned psychopaths.
Not much has changed in the city of Detroit in the past 40 years, except that the vile maxim racists have become so bold and public in their plundering of the city, that the world has taken notice. INCA is such a tiny, unimportant part of this wave of terrible ideology that it is hardly worth noting our presence.