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WHAT IS CIRCA?



CIRCA is an art and culture platform with purpose.

We stop the clock on global billboards every evening at 20:22, and mobilise the world’s greatest creative minds to broadcast unique works of art that consider our world circa now.

Each month, we sell time limited and editioned prints by our exhibiting artists to generate funds for the #CIRCAECONOMY initiative – a circular model we designed to support our free public art programme and create life-changing opportunities for the wider creative community.

Our story began in October 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, with a manifesto that challenged the concept of public art by pausing the adverts on London’s iconic Piccadilly Lights for three minutes each evening. For 365 days since, 50 artists (and counting) have presented new and immediate responses to the NOW across a growing network of screens in London, Tokyo, Times Square, Milan, Melbourne, Los Angeles and Seoul – sparking a dialogue both online and in the public space.


“CIRCA is a beautiful if modest new model of its kind, allowing access through a normally commercial medium that has world wide reach, in order to give artists’ visual thoughts a new unexpected platform, and whose financial profits can be ploughed back to enable further vital creative impulses to flourish.”

Norman Rosenthal, Chairman of CIRCA Advisory Council


What started off as a simple idea to reimagine the potential of Piccadilly Lights has quickly evolved into a global movement that is reconsidering the social impact that media spaces across the world can have when they are brought together and utilised with a common purpose beyond advertising.

This very purpose that defines CIRCA and drives the community we are building, forward. Our vision to invest in the future of art and culture has united us with artists such as Ai Weiwei who called for social action with an autobiographical series of 30 new films; Tony Cokes who broadcast the final, devastating words spoken by Elijah McClain before his untimely death at the hands of police in the US; Vivienne Westwood who celebrated her 80th birthday by demanding that the world embraces nuclear disarmament; David Hockney who’s global message of hope marked the beginning of a new chapter post-COVID, AA Bronson + General Idea who continue to destigmatize HIV/AIDS by turning the conversation viral; and Patti Smith whose prose projected a vital message of hope and unity around the world, as we entered a New Year without direction.


“I’m delighted to see the fantastic outcome from our Let’s Do London collaboration with CIRCA. The curated series of artist led projects on London’s famous Piccadilly Lights became real talking points throughout 2021 and played a huge role in building confidence and attracting people back to central London. This is a wonderful legacy that will help to support London’s artists and curators of tomorrow.”

Justine Simons OBE, Deputy Mayor of Culture and Creative Industries



MANIFESTO

CIRCA 2022
“AND NOW WE BUILD WORLDS”

A year of collective self-creation.(1)
The year to become world-builders. A time for new dreams.(2)

Since CIRCA first broadcast on Piccadilly Lights in October 2020, a new conception of freedom and imagination has begun to take hold, one that reminds us of our collective potential to remake the world we inhabit. Together, emerging and established voices are recentring both art and social change, not as the fringe activities of elites or radicals, but as roles essential to human life. CIRCA 2022 will comprise twelve acts of revolutionary imagination, each of which will express the freedom to build worlds.

In their new history of humanity, The Dawn of Everything, anthropologist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow describe three primordial freedoms that have been critical throughout human societies but are neglected in our own. They are: the freedom to escape and start anew, the freedom to disobey, and the freedom to make new social worlds. CIRCA 2022 will commission and connect visionary artists and thinkers to explore these themes through the critical and under-expressed freedom of world-building, producing new works across a global network of screens and artistic spaces in London, New York City, Milan, Tokyo, Melbourne and Seoul.

Surveying tens of thousands of years of human history, Graeber and Wengrow reveal anew the social and political creativity of our species. ‘What if, instead of telling the story about how our society fell from some idyllic state of equality,’ they write, ‘we ask how we came to be trapped in such tight conceptual shackles that we can no longer even imagine the possibility of reinventing ourselves?’ The authors join a succession of thinkers and activists who have challenged us to not simply critique the systems we find ourselves bound in, but break them, and to become world-builders again.

To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.

bell hooks

Our potential to create new worlds is not lost but sleeping. Influenced by the science fiction writer Octavia Butler, author adrienne maree brown argues that ‘all organizing is science fiction’; that together, we imagine a better world, then fight to make it real. Last year, CIRCA asked ‘Where Do We Go From Now?’, inviting voices from across the planet to respond, and finding – in the words of archi- tects Indy Johar and Jenny Grettve – that ‘art is a praxis, a tool, to reconcile and challenge our place in the world and thereby re-con- ceive ourselves’. We see this waking spirit again in Indigenous protests that challenged world leaders’ inaction at the COP climate summit in Glasgow and in the demand by Txai Suruí, climate activist of the Amazonian Paiter Suruí people: ‘It is always necessary to believe the dream is possible. May our utopia be a future on Earth.’
 

Octavia E. Butler, notes for Parable of the Talents, ca. 1996.
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. © Estate of Octavia E. Butler

Such statements invite unrestrained creativity but also coalesce as a duty. Faced with a planetary trajectory whose endpoint is destruction, we must build new worlds: seize the visionary fictions it takes to bend the future toward social justice; embrace the task set out in the pages of science-fiction to ‘terraform’ (3) our own planetary ecosystem; join and lead projects to remake our cities, our politics, and our social realities. In CIRCA’s core mission, we find the role we wish art to play in this inherently creative process.

CIRCA was born and has multiplied through screens that face out onto the very epicentres of our contemporary mode of civilization — at the heart of technological, infrastructural, and urban networks. From these points, we are cultivating a new creative ecology and economy to support the work of this imaginative transformation. The commissions of 2022 will form a roundtable of dissenting and heterogeneous voices. But this will be untied by a set of shared beliefs:

We are (all) world-builders Now is the time to awaken this potential New forms of justice and liberation are imaginable and achievable through collective, creative action.
 
 


 
1. ‘We are all projects of collective self-creation,’ David Graeber and David Wengrow write in The Dawn of Everything. ‘What if we approached human history that way? What if we treat people, from the beginning, as imaginative, intelligent, playful creatures who deserve to be understood as such?’

2. A Time for New Dreams is the title of a book of poetry by Ben Okri, published in 2011. In 2019, Grace Wales Bonner curated an exhibition by the same name at Serpentine, London, which examined spirituality and mysticism as ‘means to imagine other spaces, other worlds.’

3. A term typically used in science fiction meaning to transform (a planet) so as to resemble the Earth, especially so that it can support self-sustaining ecosystems and human habitation. Benjamin H. Bratton turns this project back toward our own planet to analyse how centuries of urbanisation have harmfully affected Earth’s life-sustaining capacities and to visualise a ‘planetary design initiative of the next centuries’ to ensure Earth remains a viable host for its own life.