serialworks a space in which to cut the bean

serialworks as a project space was established almost by accident. It is the name under which I have practiced as a curator, researcher and editor since 2001. But happening upon a suitable physical space matched a certain ongoing frustration regarding how we consider the various registers of where art is made, displayed and discussed. The possibility of creating a modest alternative to gallery display – and the demands associated with that option – became viable.

In ‘Cut The Bean’ [1], founding editor of Cabinet magazine Sina Najafi describes Cabinet’s research practices and resulting product as the amplification of one fundamental principle: curiosity. Setting the terms of his case, he describes a first encounter between André Breton, Robert Caillois and a Mexican jumping bean, on the evening on December 26, 1934. Both Breton and Caillois were equally awestruck by the bean, yet Breton was deeply offended by his companion’s suggestion that they cut the bean to discover its secret. Breton’s refusal to engage in this kind of research method prompted Caillois to resign from the Surrealist movement the next day, on the grounds that he could not comply with Breton’s unwillingness to accept the possible compatibility of ‘poetry’ and ‘research’.

Cutting the bean suggests that an empirical method will result in a rational explanation. For Breton, who prized the irrational and the imaginary as primary routes to insight, cutting the bean would have only brought an end to the numerous imaginative possibilities that one could project onto the bean as to how and why it jumps. For Caillois, the marvellous is not only invested in the mind, but is an intrinsic property of the world itself. Further investigation – cutting the bean – could only increase imaginative potential. His amazement is not the slack-jawed sort, but an active quest. In their respective commitment to inquisitiveness, they end up in a dialectical impasse.

What makes this analogy so apt to describe a position for serialworks is not only Breton and Caillois’ contradictory attitudes towards what constitutes ‘proper’ investigative practices, but its association with Cabinet’s wide-ranging, idiosyncratic and informative sensibility which I endorse at every opportunity. It speaks to that one criterion without which there would be no research of any sort, professional or dilettantish, creative or scholarly, whatsoever: curiosity.

With serialworks, I would like to redirect focus towards first encounters with art; that is, to encourage discussions around practice and studio research, and away (somewhat) from the stylistic conventions of display that tend to dominate our encounters with art in the various evocations of the ‘white cube’.

serialworks hopes to nurture conversations with critically-engaged artists, curators, writers and performers about their respective practices, and introduce these practices to individuals committed to ideas, conversation and taking risks. Thoughtfulness is critical; a sense of humour imperative. 

Kathryn Smith 

Cape Town 2009



[1] Najafi, S. ‘Cut the Bean’ in Holly and Smith (eds) What is Research in the Visual Arts? Obsession, Archive, Encounter. Yale, 2009