Writing in a foreign language is akin to living with a stranger in one’s mind. The struggle between the “me” me and the English-speaking, -writing, and -thinking me gets tiring at times. Who is this stranger in my head? What kind of English am I specifically referring to—made-up Soviet school English, academic British English, everyday Singlish (peculiar to Singapore), American English? Returning to my mother tongue, I am enveloped in familiarity and ease. The feeling of being at home with myself makes writing in my native tongue flow, interrupted only occasionally as I pause to consider a more expressive or precise word.
The foreigner in my head, the other tongue, requires a different set of skills to calm the vulnerability and frustration of an adult learning to speak anew. But my struggle with a new language also reveals that the mother tongue imperceptibly, in the background, carries with it much more than just the ease of self-expression. Audiences and communities, cultural identities, and personal, intellectual, literary, and national histories have all blended in the Russian-speaking “me.” My writing in English, then, is also a testimony to new intellectual and personal histories, communities, and audiences that have welcomed and challenged the English-speaking/writing me. Many members of my various communities worked to make English more welcoming to people like me who will always speak, think, and write with an accent. Collectively, I am grateful to them for the encouragement to write in my own voice.
There is also a question of genre and audience. When I started to work on this book I envisioned an enjoyable read about the art of welcome. My target audience was everyone interested in contemporary art. I told myself that this new writing would be different from my previous book, which was purposefully theoretical and academic. My first bump on the writing road happened when I discovered that creating enjoyable writing is hard—and not a highly exercised muscle in an academic. After trying on my own, I decided to seek professional help. I am grateful to Jennie Nash, Kemlo Aki, and Kathleen Furin for their editorial advice, patience, and good humor.
Though I never approached hospitality uncritically as a solution to all social problems, as my writing progressed the topic of hospitality proved even more difficult to feel good about given contemporary political realities. I am grateful to those colleagues who were generous with their critical and engaged feedback on earlier drafts of this book: Charissa Terranova, Anna Greenspan, Silvia Lindtner, Anna Fisher, and Antoine Traisnel. Silvia Lindtner, Anna Fisher, Antoine Traisnel, and I formed a writing group, and I am happy that their books will be published around the same time as mine. Reading each other’s writing works!
I thank Paul Domela for inviting me into discussions around hospitality and contemporary art in Liverpool. The MFA students in my 2013 graduate seminar Testing Hospitality at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan contributed to many conversations on the topics raised in this book; Michael Bianco, whose own creative and intellectual practice encompasses questions of community and sustainability, was especially helpful in this regard.
Raqs Media Collective members Monica Narula, Jeebesh Bagchi, and Shuddhabrata Sengupta have continued to inspire my ideas. Conversations with them, Victor Misiano, and the students at the Curatorial Summer School in Moscow in summer 2013 helped me to consider various connections between the political and aesthetic realms of hosting. My collaboration with the Feminist Kitchen collective, curator and scholar Oxana Sarkisian, and artist Maria Chuikova at the MediaImpact Festival of activist art in November 2013 in Moscow was productive for my writing about artworks.
I benefited from invitations from Alla Mitrofanova, Marina Gržinić, and Aneta Stojnic to speak about this project in St. Petersburg, Vienna, and Belgrade, and I am grateful for those often-heated discussions late into the night. Jeffrey Clapp and Emily Ridge provided useful feedback on my earlier thinking and writing about risks associated with hosting. Natalie Loveless and Sheena Wilson introduced me to a warm and rigorous community of artists and researchers around the world who reinvent academia and art. Patricia Zimmermann and Marla Jaksch have been inspirational in teaching, research, and activism.
My thinking about bioart and hospitality to animals owes a lot to conversations and interviews with Amy Youngs, Marta de Menezes, and a biomedical researcher who preferred to remain anonymous at Cultivamos Cultura Foundation, Portugal, in the summer of 2016, as well as Oliver Grau, Wendy Coons, and students of the Media Art Histories Department at Danube University Krems. I thank the participants and the audience for their questions to the panel “Unbecoming Animals” at the 2014 conference of the College Art Association. Olga Shishko and Assimina Kaniari engaged with my thoughts about hosting animals and published my earlier texts on the topic in their collections, for which I am grateful. Zafos Xagoraris generously shared his work, ideas, and references at later stages of the writing of this book.
I thank Marianetta Porter and Patricia Hodges for our discussions around American cultures of (in)hospitality. Our conversations mattered. Lisa Nakamura and Christian Sandvig have been part of my Ann Arbor community, and I am grateful for their friendship and support.
My work on this book and at the University of Michigan was encouraged at crucial moments by Sara Blair, Patricia S. Yaeger Collegiate Professor of English and vice provost for academic and faculty affairs; Professor Jane Prophet, associate dean for research, creative work, and strategic initiatives; and Professor Elona Van Gent, associate dean for academic programs at the Stamps School of Art and Design. I am grateful to the Stamps School community of faculty, students, and staff who contributed in different ways to this book. The university and the school have also been very generous with grants and funding at various stages of this project.
I thank the team at the University of Minnesota Press: Danielle Kasprzak, Pieter Martin, Anne Carter, Laura Westlund, Ana Bichanich, and Eric Lundgren. They have been a pleasure to work with. Three anonymous peer reviewers for the Press offered detailed suggestions. I was fortunate that Rachel London, a brilliant student at the Stamps School, was my thoughtful research assistant; she “saved” the “rat monologue” in chapter 4 from being taken out at the last minute.
Gabeba Baderoon has been a role model of a welcoming person since I met her in 2006. She and other friends in State College, Pennsylvania, and Arani and Shumita Bose in New York helped me feel welcomed into a new country. They made a difference. Susan Squier and Katherine Behar provided intellectual and personal support that has sustained me during the past several years.
Finally, this book is primarily a result of the generosity of the artists. I hope my writing does justice to the depth and impact of their creative works. Lee Mingwei, Mithu Sen, Ana Prvački, Kathy High, Faith Wilding, and Ken Aptekar spent numerous hours with me in person and online in conversations about hospitality and art. I am deeply grateful for their kind permission to reprint images of their art, and I thank Edi Hila for permission to reprint an image of his work. Joël Curtz, whose film La Mariée enabled me to write about Pippa Bacca and Silvia Moro, has been very gracious in sharing his film and ideas. I thank Curtz and Natalia Trebik at Le Fresnoy, Studio national des arts contemporains, France, for permission to publish stills from the film.
My family and friends in Russia and Singapore nourish me with their love. I am lucky to have them in my life.