This article introduces the process (Process-oriented) of researching eligibility criteria in art open calls as part of a 10-month research residency at the School of Commons. It opens up with questioning what it means to be eligible, explores positionality of the researcher, introduces a collective research glossary, approaches conversations as broad processes, shares the documentation of a performance-installation, collective writing and imagines possible future happenings.
The Eligibility Criteria (and beyond) lab started researching with a simple question; who is eligible to apply to art open calls? This question arose from a curiosity to understand how artists were navigating the application requirements listed in art open calls in the UK (Doubting). Back in 2020, I was living in the UK with immigration permission, and feeling frustrated that I wasn’t eligible to apply to some art fundings due to the restrictions on my visa category. This frustration made me question how one’s residency status was closely tied to the access to so-called art opportunities and jobs in the sector.
I was curious about how other artists who were working under immigration permission were reacting to the restrictive criteria listed in open calls. I was also curious about whether they were trying to fit into the restricted image of an immigrant artist, or react (Active Imagination) to that image in their own ways (Artistic Practice). These curiosities were closely tied to my own experience, unsurprisingly, in a time when I was subject to historically drafted categorisations.
In the first months of the residency, I was simultaneously preparing to reach out to artists for an interview and questioning my own positionality as an artist and researcher (Research). Sharing the process of self-reflection with the fellow READ researchers at the School of Commons led to discussions (Discussion) around how we do research. We explored new ways of writing (Writing) collectively, created a novel research glossary (not in an alphabetical order), and wrote about our individual research experiences. These gatherings resulted in a collectively-initiated open-source publication, titled Researching the Researcher: Noticing why it wanders .
Spilling out the reflexivity and hesitations into a print publication, I felt better about contacting artists (Conversation) to talk about their various reactions to eligibility criteria in art open calls. In the beginning these conversations were planned to be semi-structured interviews. During the sessions, I felt less restricted by the disciplinary methodologies and followed the flow of the conversation. One day we mostly talked about why an artist made one specific body of work that is heavily based on their immigration history, another day we talked about how an artist quit creating to fit into the category of what their new work permit allowed them to do. We also talked about categorisations beyond visa restrictions, such as being called a young or emerging artist, being an artist with or without formal education, being an artist who uses unconventional materials, being a research-oriented artist in the time of the output-oriented art market. These conversations called for a broader look at eligibility criteria (Doing), one that was clear to continue after the end of this residency, in other geographies, traditions, formats, and in different ways of working.
Around midterm of the residency, I had to make a Schengen visa application to join the School of Commons gatherings in Zurich. During the application appointment in Ankara, I was asked detailed questions about my job, whether I was an artist or a researcher, with requests for documents to prove my institutional connections through official papers. I had an official invitation letter from the School of Commons, inviting me in person to present my research, but I still had to answer many questions unrelated to the reason for my visit, such as questions to demonstrate my connections to my own country. As if they were trying to understand if I was coming back to Turkey, and how they could track me down if I wasn’t. I found it ironic that while researching issues around eligibility remotely, my body’s freedom of movement was heavily restricted by my passport (Walking), once again. The frustration of this experience, yet another barrier, made me consider performing (Performance) in territories where I wasn’t eligible to visit without going through bureaucratic investigations. When I visited Zurich, I installed and performed the Bureau of Commons  and invited the School of Commons community to question the existing authorisation systems that determine some people’s freedom of movement.
Most of the conversations I had throughout the residency made me imagine what an open open call might look like (Active Imagination). Towards the end, I facilitated a collective writing (Collectivity) workshop , where people were asked to comment and rewrite problematic criteria anonymously. I also invited artists and curators to question the existing writing style used in art open calls and to create their utopic versions of them. So far, Beril Gür, Can Akgümüş, Didem Toy, Metehan Törer, and Nergis Abıyeva responded with their calls. These new creations will be part of an exhibition that will be further developed after the research residency ends at the School of Commons.
After the School of Commons residency, the Eligibility Criteria (and beyond) research will continue in different platforms. It is becoming a cross-institutional (Cross-institutional ) research, with an aim to initiate global conversations that are independent of institutional expectations. In 2022, the research will continue at the Istanbul Biennial Production and Research Programme . In this new phase, I hope to collaborate with artists living in Turkey about their perspective of being eligible to produce and show their work internationally.
In play with the title, I did not list the merits of eligibility by categorising people into further desirable or undesirable beings. Instead, I presented how a simple question of who is eligible to apply could start new conversations when people share the grounds for commoning (Commoning), unlearning and reshaping.
 Researching the Researcher: Noticing why it wanders, published by the School of Commons, 2021
 Performance Installation: Bureau of Commons
 Collective writing workshop: Open open call
 The Istanbul Biennial Production and Research Programme
Eligibility Criteria (and beyond)
by Betül Aksu
Betül Aksu is an artist and researcher with a background in media arts, cognitive science and linguistics. Her work explores what it means to be permitted to live, work, and breathe in a certain territory. Her School of Commons research titled Eligibility Criteria (and beyond) explores the ways in which eligibility criteria create barriers in the lives of artists. This research questions who is neglected in the categorisation of eligibility criteria, and how this neglect affects the production of new art works. Through conversations with artists, Eligibility Criteria (and beyond) research looks at how criteria reproduces oppression through bureaucracy and aims to start a dialogue between artists to re-examine application requirements in art open calls.
How have the collaborations and conversations encountered through your research influenced the project?
Collaborations and conversations completely influenced my project. I started with a more or less defined plan and I ended up exploring a wider territory as conversations appeared.
I was part of the READ Lab which consisted of 5 members that regularly met, talked about where we were within our projects and how we felt about it. These conversations made me think about the role of the researcher in a different way, considering my own positionality within my subject. Unplanned, we turned those conversations into a publication.
I had brief chats with artists, curators and researchers about the ways eligibility criteria are written in art open calls. These brief chats turned into a set of responses that will be exhibited somewhere in 2022. Both the publication and the exhibition were not part of what I planned initially, yet happened due to conversations.