Art channel

We wanted to reject the system that made us atomized competitors

photo: Laura Lulika: Steam, 2018

How would you describe Sickness Affinity Group (SAG)? 

It’s a self-organised resource-sharing and support group. It is made up of chronically ill and disabled artists and cultural workers, as well as people working on the topic of accessibility, mainly in relation to the art world, but also in relation to greater institutional systems.

How did SAG emerge, do you know about its history?

My involvement with SAG came out of my collective COVEN BERLIN, Inga Zimprich as a part of Feminist Healthcare Research Group, and Zofia nierodzińska competing for the same arts grant, and realizing we all really liked each other’s work, and wanted to reject the system that made us feel like atomized/individualized competitors. All of us decided to rather find a way to collaborate, and shared our network and time with each other.

How are SAG meetings run? What is its structure?

Our core function is a three hour meeting every two months, where we talk about how we’re doing, what we’re busy with, and ask the group for input, resources, help, support, advice, etc. This can be questions from, “Do you know a good pain clinic in Berlin?” to “How do you make sure your work on health and accessibility isn’t commodified by the art market?” to “Does anyone want to go swimming this week?“. It’s important to us to separate the questions of ‘what we’re busy with’ and ‘how are we’, because we often conflate these two, as over-worked and precarious cultural workers, who are often asked to define their identity by what they produce and make. It is also important to us that the main SAG meetings are not spaces of productivity, but discussion and connection. We have ‘garden’ projects (so-called garden projects come from the idea that groups can’t attend to all ideas at once, thus some are planted in a „garden“ where they can develop at low maintenance until the group can attend to them and decides to grow and foster them – ed.) we can work as smaller groups outside of SAG, where we actually work on something together (that mainly means, right now, looking for funding, but also means generating writing, developing workshops, etc.).

What meaning has SAG for you?

It is meaningful to connect in a way not productivity-oriented, where the main goal is to have an accessible space and meeting, and not to „produce“ something.  Sometimes it can be hard because I’m so used to go into productivity mode in meetings, it can be vulnerable to not have many notes or agenda points. The main task is to be present, express yourself, and listen.

Are there things from SAG you have learned for yourself and/or you can recommend to other groups, artists?

I think SAG’s centering of accessibility, during and after a meeting: assigning people not only to do the administrative tasks like making meeting times, but also to have someone collect access needs from the group before meetings; someone who specifically organizes food, drinks, and cleaning up; having a large core group so that when someone can’t make it to a meeting due to needing to take care of their child, an illness flare up, or anything, the group can still move forward.

The founding of SAG as consciously rejecting the competitive and individualised nature of the art world was also a learning moment, that we can reject the structure we’re in collectively, and that people you admire can be open to not compete but to share.

Fran Breden is a cultural worker engaged in curating, arts education and outreach amongst others currently at neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst (nGbK). Fran is a member of the collective COVEN BERLIN and Sickness Affinity Group and lives in Berlin.


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