video screening, 14 min.
All we observe in Marion von Osten
’s The Glory of the Garden are the variously sized wooden blocks, the ones we knew as children—now commonly used in team-building exercises to visualize structural and organizational relaunches—being placed and replaced in a continuous flow of constellations on a dark surface. The moves are prompted by a slow-pace conversation the interlocutors of which remain unseen, though we quickly realize that in fact these are staff members of an art institution analyzing how their art space changed over the last 30-odd years. In this way, Von Osten in fact lets an examination of the institutional transformation of the concrete case of a contemporary arts center in Bristol, UK unfold before us. It is a pseudo-didactic play enacted by the institution’s employees who chart the changes in spatial arrangement, the transformation in language used, and the shifts in management strategies and structures. Spurred by the conservative policies under former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher— whose infamous belief that there is no such thing as society necessarily projected itself onto the outlook and understanding of public (art) infrastructure—art institutions inevitably had to remodel themselves to survive, albeit with little resistance and questioning it seems. The result saw these institutions pressured to accommodate the wider corporate tendency for organizations to become market-fit, competitiondriven, and profit-oriented players with corresponding programing, services, and fundraising policies.