Texts by Ami Barak, Ian Alden Russel and Steven Music.

Ami Barak – Curator of Celeste Prize 2013

The power of a Community

Being in charge of the destiny of the 5th edition of Celeste Prize 2013 is not an easy task, especially when it comes to making selections among the many artists which social networks such as Celeste Network are able to involve. It is natural to expect network members to choose one of their peers because they share the same views and because they show more or less the same concerns. Social networks existed long before the internet. A social network is nothing but a group of people or organizations interconnected by the social interaction they maintain. A bridge club or a tennis association or even artists’ corporations were wellavant la lettre!

Today, internet has multiplied networks and interactions between people, which has provided them with a new power. Each network has its own characteristics: professional or casual, friendly or charity, focusing on culture or material life, for young or old, etc. Similar yet different, community sites offer the development of online relationships around common interests. In general, the features of a social network are practical: to gather profiles, invite friends or peers, share files (photos, videos), supply content by posting comments and announce events. All this facilitates communication between distant members of a community, creating an inner circle or a Cenacle. They share information to exchange professional points of view, communication tools and they practice self-development. This begs the question: what is the relevance and degree of acceptance of a prize such as Celeste Prize with its community members? It seems clear to me that in terms of echo and reputation, this type of initiative quickly fulfills its wishes. Announcement of the call for works is made well in advance and the awards, being attractive, ensure that the prize is known quickly and efficiently on networks, all this activity draws the attention of many people especially those outside Celeste’s community. The jury and the reputation of the prize’s partners reinforce the rest, including the guarantee that selections are based on professional criteria and on the contemporary values of the chosen artwork. But doubts remain as to the opinion of community members concerning the result of selections, as they don’t necessarily share the jury’s tastes and artistic visions. However, it seems to me that this problem exists in all awards. We know this from our informal experiences, and maybe research exists on this. Given the highly selective nature of such a venture it cannot please everyone, far from it. Conversely, the prize itself will financially please several candidates and probably not only from a material point of view. Acclaimed by their peers, the winners will feel that they have come a long way and in the end their work and their artistic vision will have found great echo having been judged by all 40 finalist artists.

In the end, comments and remarks by disgruntled members following the announcement of selections will always exist, but in democratic terms, the prize’s particular system of selection and adjudication has fully achieved its purpose. By browsing the final shortlist, I found a great variety of artists’ profiles. Among them are unknowns, emerging and experienced artists, young, mid career and old fellows. Some have a curriculum that contains entries as prestigious as Documenta in Kassel, the Venice Biennale, Sao Paulo, Istanbul, Lyon Biennials or solo and group exhibitions in esteemed institutions, major museums or experimental art centers, while others have to date had a more modest career, but nothing is to prevent a marked career improvement in the future, on the contrary!  All finalists will in the end meet on the same finishing line at the Rome exhibition, and I feel it will be a question of a thousandth of a second, a photo finish somehow and that is good.

Over one thousand artists applied to the prize and I shortlisted 120 of them. I used my personal criteria for which I am personally responsible. I tried to distill works and approaches that have the power to distinguish themselves, to say things in a different way, which are able to surprise. I don’t appreciate repeated things, aesthetics without reason and pretentiousness. With this in mind, I made my own choices and I demand the inalienable right to make errors because nobody is perfect. After I made my shortlist my distinguished colleagues in the selection panel took over each choosing five artists in each prize category – the artists which received a majority of preferences became Celeste Prize 2013 finalists. In the third and last stage of selections the finalist artists themselves will choose the winners. I hope many of you will be in Rome to celebrate together and to thank the organizers. Especially Steven Music who worked with enthusiasm and without sparing efforts to ensure   that the event reaches maximum visibility and the prize continues to reach new heights and recognition. The organizers have built their reputation on the continuity of ideas and have been able to aggregate around their website and network talented artists, present and future personalities, which will make the Celeste family larger and proud of its seedlings and of its members.

And because the notion of community is at the centre of the debate, I believe such an explicit issue addresses an interesting cultural debate. It was Jacques Rancière in “The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible”  who pointed out the importance of access to visibility and audibility since these are what enable or prevent access to a community. "The distribution of the sensible makes visible those who can participate in the community according to what he or she does. Thus, a particular activity determines who is and is not capable of being communal." From his perspective, aesthetics, visibility and politics are causally linked. In their endeavour to overcome the implications and imperatives of community thinking and to re-think community as a political demand, authors such as Maurice Blanchot, or Georgio Agamben enter a contradictory plea, which finds expression in phrases such as 'community without community' or 'unavowable', or the 'coming community'. Therefore, it can be said that the "quintessence of the thinking of community consists not only in a reformulation of the notion of community, but most of all in a different politics of community.” The idea of a prize in this case is not a reference to an identity, which produces exclusions. It is for this reason that the new thinking of community manages to avoid such proximities. "Never identity, always identifications!" (Jean-Luc Nancy). The idea is to think of community not as an entity, but as relation that maintains its autonomy, and to characterize communal being as a singular plural being: We are singularities, not to be confused with individuals, who never exist in isolation but always with others. The communal dimension is rather something, which connects many with each other. An individual meaning cannot exist without relating to others at the same time. An award is at least a good deal of disambiguation. What emerges from its dialectics, therefore, is that otherness and difference can be sufficiently differentiated.

Ian Alden Russel – Curator, Selectors Panel

The works selected for exhibition in this year's Celeste Prize present a rich and diverse range of styles and techniques from an exciting group of emerging and mid-career artists from around the globe. As a curator I am drawn to work that is distinguished both by a clarity of artistic and conceptual intent and an elegant execution of that intent through considered and skillfully deployed technique. It was a great pleasure, in reviewing the works, to see so many strong, considered, and well-formed works in so many different media. I found the works I selected for shortlisting noteworthy for their understanding and control of their medium, presenting finely resolved compositions and clearly and consistently executed conceptual intentions. It can be difficult to identify themes within works from an open call for submissions; however, I found it noteworthy that a number of these works share sensibilities of and approaches to documentation, the processing of history (both social and personal), and the reconciliation of sentiment to site. In particular, works in video, photography, and installation strongly resonated with each other in their approaches to history (or the past more broadly) as a compositional process undertaken in the present. Many of these works stand as affective documents or archives testifying to the vital place of art-making in how we make sense of our shared world and the opportunity of the art work to propose alternative visions and readings of the constitution of our personal, social, and political ecologies. It is always humbling to have the opportunity to consider the work of so many promising artists from an open call. I would like to thank all the artists and the Celeste Prize team for giving me the opportunity to encounter such wonderful work, and I wish the very best to all the artists who have submitted this year.



Steven Music – Founder, Celeste Network


5 years on

Celeste Prize came into being in 2009 at a time when post-modern ideals of mixing high and low were current and Homo Socialis  as we know him today was not yet born. Five years ago, email and rudimentary promotion on the internet were the way forward for artists to show their work to a new and as yet unknown public. The prize found its raison d’etre in that era, enfranchising finalists with the right to vote significant prize money as well as demand that each curator in the selection panel publish online his or her choices.


Today, after nearly 10,000 works submitted to the prize, the paradigm: name your work/sign-up/vote/receive prize, appears a little simplistic. Just as it is impossible today for artists to simply create and expect results, so too an art prize cannot step back from engaging with the multifarious aspects of participation and promotion. A prize must inspire artists to look beyond mere representation in works. It must encourage a variety of approaches, from observation of specific individual artistic traits, to reflection on real local interests, to the wider global issues of the day. A prize must facilitate how artists’ ideas are viewed by permitting them to tell their story, find ways to illustrate the forms and aesthetics in their work in the easiest possible ways. This can be done by providing a ductile, programmatic base to uploads as well as multi-faceted, online presentations of artwork. A work submitted to a prize should no longer be considered a single entity, it should be presented as part of a larger, creative fusion which might include present or past projects which gave birth to the candidate work; or an endless project or performance which can always be added to; or a multi-media/multi-perspective ‘creation’ which does not necessarily anticipate a temporal end.


It seems to me that artists are increasingly becoming facilitators of understanding - addressing personal, social, political and scientific issues, by drawing on professional or research experiences, leaving behind their art class skills more concerned with form and aesthetics.  Instead, a ‘practical’ aesthetic emerges, which reflects a de-idealisation of the subject which requires the removal of the personal or the human in order to lay bare ways to understand the complex.


About eight years ago I decided that an online community could provide the platform necessary to support the multifaceted and hybridizing modes of work which artists were increasingly imagining and submitting to the prize. Celeste Network was born in 2006. Interaction and participation have grown steadily since then, allowing artists to show all aspects of their work in support of their submissions to the prize – I cannot imagine Celeste Prize today without an online community to support it!


Hand in hand with the development of the online community came clear and open selections by art curators and critics in the selection sanel. Their willingness to adhere to an un-orthodox system of selection has been a guarantee for artists who submit works ‘at a distance’ via internet. The process confers legitimacy and accountability to selections, which are reinforced by participants’ knowledge that the organiser is in no way involved in choices about which submissions become finalist works.


I would like to personally thank all the curators and art critics who have over the past years committed themselves with patience and professionalism to Celeste Prize thereby helping to establish it as one of the most participated art prizes in the world today. And of course my heartfelt thanks goes out to my friends and colleagues at work who have been developing the prize, in particular a huge thank you to Silvia Li Pira, Michela Del Forno, Giulio Machetti, Damiano Trisciani and Alessio Toce who are at the centre of our activities; thank you to Ami Barak curator of the prize this year and all members of the selection panel: Ferran Barenblit, Iara Boubnova, Katrina Brown, Florence Derieux, Dominique Fontaine, Christian Fuller, Mihnea Mircan, Gean Moreno, Ian Alden Russell, Alia Swastika, Gaëtane Verna; and thank you to all artists for your continued support in Celeste –  you have never hidden your love/hate relationship with the prize, which on the one hand represents a stepping stone to a career, on the other hand a competitive arena requiring an economic and personal commitment to a system in which choices are made by others. Thank you!

November 2013