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Inter-Artistic Identities within the Socio-Political Space

published in: Cultural and Ethical Turns. Interdisciplinary Reflections on Culture, Politics and Ethics – Critical Issues series Publishing Creative Research, Inter-Disciplinary Press Oxford, UK, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-84888-054-2

Abstract: ART IN PROCESS is a partnership based in Fremantle, Australia. In our work we explore relationships between humanity, technology and the natural environment in a socio-political context. We work together across installation, video, new media, performance and live art. This work addresses notions about how we fit into certain places, what impact we have on our surroundings and what impact the surroundings have on us. The artistic outcome is based on certain explorations through onsite projects (residencies, travel) as well as on a reflection of our own living environment and circumstances. Projects constitute a critical engagement with a number of issues specific to Western, consumer culture and behaviour: our intent is to instigate a change of thinking, a shifting of accommodated world conception within the viewer/participant, in continuously looking for an open dialogue with the public (i.e. through art-interventions, performance art and exhibitions with audio-visual and mixed media installations). The paper focuses on presenting running projects as well as a compilation of past work based on specific aesthetics concerning socio-political issues, especially the 2009 international project series called Intervention, developed in Salzburg/Austria, Evora/Portugal and Kumasi/Ghana about tapping local resources. The paper tries to reveal how the frame of Art applies in the social context of the audience and life itself, how artistic practice should engage with the general public. Questions to be answered: What does it mean to make artistic comments on our world, what triggers them? Why has it become a crucial responsibility for an artist once again to serve as the public voice to the extent to educate and inform the public about issues/ethics that otherwise would go unnoticed or even ignored? This should initiate a thriving discussion about how artists should communicate their ethical ideals in engaging with the broader community through public and participatory projects.

Key Words: Art, intervention, participation, socio-politics, video art, installation, media art, performance art, new technologies.

 

1.         Introduction: The Process – not the Outcome

The work by ART IN PROCESS is project-based, which means the artistic outcome does not solely result in an exhibition. Our interest lays upon the process itself and its development. This often leads to the production of a DVD, Blu-ray Disc or book as a post-productive documentation material.

The following paper concentrates on a personal view, an insight into our work and thoughts. We reflect on recent and past projects, created in the realm of a cultural and socio-political context.

Our overall work dissociates itself from artistic projects that today still seem super-academic in the use of new technologies. It is our aim to create projects that exemplify a performance character. In working with new technology we try to overcome the excitement of its technical abilities and use it as a media to transform artistic thoughts and inspiration into an artwork that mostly derives from a multitude of different media/art forms.

We create work away from elitism and promote art that extends into the social space; believing in art that puts use over meaning.

ART IN PROCESS has pursued a speculative practice, which has extended into a range of endeavours unique to the visual arts community in Western Australia. Over the past few years their visibility within the local cultural landscape has exemplified a model of independent and experimental visual art that is positioned at the forefront of creative thinking and somewhat apart from the market forces of the commercial market.[1]

Travelling and the constant aim to connect to people and different cultures as well as nature lead to our ideas and the developing projects. Ideas are not based on particular theories – but of course, we are influenced by our immediate surroundings, by the contact we make to others, by the media, by education (to an individual and certain degree) and by a long history of our own underlying culture, we grew up with.

In becoming an extremely globalised world the western image of art and the exhibition space per se have died. Art lives now in cyberspace, it happens within the social space; it spreads out into our daily surroundings. Artists/people are suddenly able to participate in the creation of a new artistic era that connects them with different places and different cultures, away from exclusion and one-sidedness. [2]

But how far can globalisation be applied as a constructive element within the arts in general and not only within the western world?

Following pages give an overview of ART IN PROCESS, starting with the 2009 project series that questioned the term of artistic intervention and its possible meaning in the public space.

 

2.         INTERVENTION an International Project Series in 2009

The project series explored the term of intervention in its artistic meaning and beyond. It has resulted in a book of photographs, text and a Blu-ray Disc with video and sound installations, exemplifying our recurrent combination of static and temporal work.  Single elements were based on text (aphorism) written by the artists – interpreted and translated into performances through collaboration with others. The original English text has been translated to serve as a fundamental part of the sound composition: Part 1 in German, Part 2 in Portuguese and Part 3 in Fante.[3]

Part 1 Salzburg/Austria questioned: What does artistic intervention in public and private mean? What is the attempt for such an intervention? How do we fit – as an individual – into a space? This first approach sought to understand what an art-intervention may be able to cause and investigated how reactions from the general public influenced the intervention itself. Standing exposed in public places, wrapped in a white linen sheet. The actions happened quietly and naturally, inserted themselves into the surrounding area, without rebellion, without provocation. Nevertheless the interventions attracted attention. The performing person felt denounced and uncomfortable, questioned by surrounding people that tried to intrude and interrupt the action.[4]

Part 2 Évora/Portugal looked further, examining interventions that happen between people/bodies; how we interact, intervene, interfere and how we individually grow into what we finally are: individual beings, formed by culture, society, language. Explorations in the use of movement, dance and rhythm: dancers created situations together in a public space and in private – building communication through movement; addressing barriers, anxiety and cultural misunderstanding.[5]

Part 3 Kumasi/Ghana explored human beings and their immediate surroundings to discover what actions can destroy others, or interfere with their environment. This part evolved from the discussion about creating appropriate environments for people – both in general and in particular places. It investigated how local resources could be engaged most efficiently, how art might act as a communicator to initiate real action within the social space and to overcome cultural differences.[6]

The Facets of Collaborating, Connecting and/or Interfering:

The term of intervention contains a quite pervasive, irritating element for us at first. It sets free associations about intruding and infantilising a space within an existing space – suddenly found worthwhile to analyse or even criticise. It then extends our thoughts about intervening within humanitarian context, activating a strange feeling about indoctrinating, dominating and finally patronizing someone, i.e. a socially or culturally different group. What does intervention lead to? What can it destroy? Which boundaries does it create? Does intervention actually amplify the already existing narrowness of vanity or does it feed the thought of egotism?

This specific endeavour entitled INTERVENTION did not address the term of intervention negatively or in a solely political context. It had a different, artistic emphasis. The artistic intervention’s term has gained in popularity in line with a socio-political attempt to take art into the social space, foregrounding use over meaning. But can we really break boundaries here?

In context of INTERVENTION we wanted to comment on what the term and its relating actions do to ourselves – observed from a special artistic point of view. What does the person behind such an intervention feel? How is this person influenced by the individual action? In picturing the meaning of intervention we kept imagining two circles that start moving towards each other, finally touching and further invading each other’s shape, creating a new space of existence within this overlapping process. A significant change occurs within the shapes. Talking about human beings, this change is strongly accompanied by feeling and exactly that feeling motivated us, leading to this particular work.

Art-interventions often just state a silent or abstract expression within a social and/or political context, happening in a public, open space or in private. Such interventions just are, creating, not a strong or irritating impact, but simply leading the individual view into a certain direction, manipulating our perceptions and observations, causing reactions. The photographs and audio-visual work were created to illustrate a story: of looking at things, looking at situations, looking into people’s faces. This journey through a number of different countries was influenced and guided by a simple and singular premise: within our differences, we are all the same and intervention is the reality of our daily contact with others. This contact feeds our multiple interventions with other people, our whole surrounding fields. We are the designers of the interventions. We are the ones that form their impact: positive or negative.

A participating artist in Kumasi/Ghana wrote the following:

One performance that really drove home the meaning of “intervention” to me was a scene at Lake Bosumtwi (a natural lake in Kumasi/Ghana). In this performance, I wrapped myself up with a white cloth and sat at the bank of the lake. The interesting aspect of this performance was that when I first entered the scene I was holding the white cloth and interacting with my colleagues. The locals of the Bosumtwi Village were also around but did not react or say anything, but as soon as I wrapped the cloth around me and sat at the bank of the lake (as in white ghost fashion) suddenly, they all stood up in agitation towards my action; calling me a ghost and a mocker of their god. The awakening of the emotions of the natives of Bosumtwi (Kumasi/Ghana) people to react vehemently to this “simple activity” drum’s home the clarification that an “intervention” means different things to different individuals or group; one cannot be certain about its outcome; its outcome might not be only physical but also emotional and sometimes even spiritual.[7]

The work created in this particular context turned the word intervention into a poetic experience and took the notion from a place of fear and resistance to one where it was able to evoke a sense of enrichment, enhancement and belonging.

3.         Recent Participatory Efforts: Onsite Projects, Performances, Video and Sound Installations

In recent years collaborations with other artists and people in general – especially concerning the production of new work – have become increasingly relevant. We wanted to include people that were directly affected, into the actual work process, to be able to tell a story about social issues in society, about problems i.e. occurring through multiculturalism and urbanity and to make others (the audience/viewer) aware of such issues. Visiting an underdeveloped country, taking photographs, and developing our own “white, western” image into an artistic work – that should reflect on a different culture, lifestyle and social injustices – just seemed wrong and far away from appropriate: i.e. Inside (1993-1999) [8]

So we started working on projects in collaboration with other artists/people. We gained much more insight through recording their voice and interacting with them in performances, and further were able to deliver a much better picture to the people somewhere else.

And there is the interaction with young people: providing a slightly driven framework for a process is enough; the collaborative work – developed through the students’ individual effort – results in a more pretentious outcome. Participation projects and collaborations do not mean working with puppets on strings; it is not about giving concise instructions. It is an engaging process, where every single voice counts to build a structure. The artist guides/directs through the process and often – because she/he comes from outside – can contribute some objectiveness.

In recent projects we discovered how public interventions and performances could build a bridge to the general public. This isn’t always comfortable for the performer and often leads to huge self-confrontation within certain situations: i.e. INTERVENTION Part 1 or Victim (2009).[9]

Contemporary art – at least for us – has lost its value to be just a matter of contemplation. Previous decades have exemplified how important the artist’s voice can be and how it can serve as a healthy and balancing antithesis to other common, mainstream thinking.

The Curio Kiosks Project was part of The Kumasi Symposium: Tapping Local Resources for Sustainable Education through Art from 31st July to 14th August 2009 at the College of Art, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Kumasi, Ghana. This arts-based social experiment was designed to provide a context that should stimulate the artist, scholar and activist participants to place themselves and their practice into question through collaboration and cultural/artistic interchange. The Symposium served as a trans-national platform for inter-trading of cultural knowledge in diverse societies. Some of the participants created the so-called Curio Kiosks for a temporary exhibition and discussion forum of their work in public space.[10]

Can you see the sound? A sound installation and performance at the Kumasi Museum of Art, August 2009 happened in collaboration with some of Ghana’s local artists as part of the end-presentation and final event of the Kumasi Symposium. “This is my forest, get out of my forest!” the artist repetitively yelled at the people standing in the museum. Then he suddenly started to run in a circle around the museum-space, telling people to follow him; first inviting, then urging and finally aggressively commanding. As soon as people followed him, he turned around and ran the opposite direction. Again yelling at the people: “You are wrong! You do not belong here!” The performance reflected on the continuing dilemma of cultural differences; how simple actions can lead to misinterpretations. What do we expect from others? What difficulties do we experience ourselves in trying to avoid prejudices? What picture do we draw from what we know about other cultures? In fact, how do we interact and/or intervene with others, or do we even try to create relationships? The audience was invited to question own ways of thinking in where, when, why and how we valuate and classify people differently.[11]

What is out there, an audio-visual installation was the result of a cross-media workshop with year 9 students at Mount Lawley Senior High School Perth/Australia, Nov 2009 (in collaboration with Australian musician Tristen Parr – sound). This project tried to exemplify, observe and translate the question: How would you describe yourself in this world? Single performances at the school-site (outdoors and the theatre) were developed to create a video and sound installation that questioned our individual behaviour in this already quite standardized world. The students were further invited to react to: How do we try to accommodate to certain frames? How could we try to overcome them? Can you grow into confident individuals, able to make positive changes happening within your immediate and extended surroundings? The work-title of who are you finally became a curious question, statement about that is ME, but what is/awaits me out there?[12]

Blue Child, an audio-visual installation with year 10-12 students, was the outcome of a residency at Mount Lawley Senior High School, Perth/Australia, 2008. This project was about discussing student’s fears and concerns within their daily environment. It addressed terms of interaction, tolerance, acceptance and difference. The Blue Child, an animated figure – created as a basis for the audio-visual piece – served as the performances’ background (wall-projection in the theatre room) and as a tool to define a rejected outsider/person. The students did a role-play, in which they should express young people reaching out for attention. Slowly they incorporated the Blue Child into their performances and created connections among themselves and in-between the real and virtual/foreign space (of the Blue Child). The project further questioned the world and its current, global ecological situation. It discussed how people would have to overcome their differences and value judgments to achieve real changes. Students were asked how they felt about tolerance and cultural difference in their own environment and where they thought, ignorant behaviour would lead to exclusion, patronization and general abuse.[13]

4.         The Body, Movement and Expression: Social Positioning in Video and Sound Installations

The body and its movement as well as its general relation to this world have become a centre point of all work we created throughout the last ten years. The outcome varies from showing a single person: i.e. Project X…six transformations of life (2004) to a group of dancers that interact and communicate through movement (i.e. INTERVENTION Part 2).[14]

Standing in the middle of a crowd covered by a linen sheet (i.e. INTERVENTION Part 1) certainly can state a social positioning that is not so much created by the standing still person but more by the crowd’s reaction. Situations like these have found our increasing interest throughout the last few years and have led to interventions in public that again are used (visual material) in our video and sound installations.

First identifications within this context happened on the basis of own staged performances in diverse but not crowded places. Those performances were done in public, but still private, away from any outer/external influences and crowds (i.e. Project X…six transformations of life or Victim).

Asagao (2007) as well as Infertile Future (2008) or EXILe (2008) used real and animated human beings to discover how the body related to society and its immediate environment.[15]

They looked into certain patterns and conditioned perceptions of social behaviour/structures and social masks we inherit. Which possibilities do arise from specific behaviour? Patterns of social understanding; concerning actions and reactions i.e. Human Migration (2008) or Apart from the difference (2009);[16] in context to multicultural societies that originate in individual and cultural differences, signs and meaning (ConceptOne, 2009).[17]

5.         Languages, Sound and Image: Cross-Cultural Connections in Video and Sound Installations

            Languages are a fascinating tool, once we were thinking about how to transmit a feeling of in- or exclusion within audiences; an obvious tool in the multi- and cross-cultural context. To connect to people from a different cultural background does often involve a certain understanding of their language and vice versa. We simply cannot always expect others to adjust to us. We have to find ways to communicate and consider other languages in our daily communication. Other than that we already start excluding and valuing.

              SUEX (2007/08), a four-wall installation, was designed to confront the audience with different voices (and languages) and asked to overcome the need to solely and primarily communicate through language. There is another communication possible, which we have learnt to ignore: the communication through signs and images, which of course also requires us to have a certain understanding of other cultures. (Colours or gestures for example have culturally different meaning.) We used in SUEX the unique sound of language as a central part of the sound creation that combined voice work and composed tunes underlying the visions/images; reflecting not so much on the content of the spoken text but more on creating an emotional context to the spoken word (accompanied by other recorded and composed tunes).[18]

Throughout the last century many artists started to incorporate the use of language in their work. For example we could recall Marcel Duchamp’s various installations, conceptual art in general or Bruce Nauman’s repetitive use of phrases and words – all implementing certain/different meanings, effect and use of language.[19]

In our case language is used to ask the audience and ourselves: do we need to understand the words? Is there an understanding beyond language skills? Does it feel uncomfortable to not understand a language? In how far can we expect others to accommodate to “our” lifestyle/cultural peculiarities and are we willing to accommodate/adjust to theirs?

So far we have used the following languages in some of our recent audio-visual installations: English, Fante (Ghana, around Kumasi), German, Hebrew, Japanese, Noongar (Indigenous language in Australia, Perth area), and Portuguese.

Installations like EXILe further play with the body’s limitations and set the human body in confrontation to artificial life forms that extend human abilities to move. EXILe questions how we try to recreate, re-charge and how we deal with the world around us.

ASAGAO reflects on a certain relation between the human being and nature (as a gigantic force) in a mechanized world. The human body starts to float, loses individualism and independence.[20]

6.         The Nature, Technology and the Human Being: Juxtapositions in Video and Sound Installations

Especially some of our projects address the relation we Westerners deny to have to the world in general and nature in particular i.e. the video-installation series of six, called Maybe It’s Only…Imagine! (2002), Digital Trilogy (2003), manipulated (2005), Identical City (2006), Seafactory or White Net (2007).[21]

This work became popular in recent years, based on a global concern about sustainability and an increased awareness of ecological problems (I am afraid – only because it suddenly seemed an attractive theme used and abused by the media and advertisings). Some of these works are currently represented in a solo-exhibition that tours in Australia from 2008 to 2011 (WA, NSW and QLD). All these works tried to critically engage in a discussion about how we lose and lost control in taking care of nature.

7.         A National Touring Solo-Exhibition in Australia

IMPACT & FUSION questions the social impact of human beings on nature through mass consumption and globally increasing population.[22]

This exhibition presents a dialogue between three sets of wall-objects and three video and sound installations. It gives an overview of work created between 2003 and 2006. Shown are wall-objects (relief-like expressions) that shock-freeze certain images from the digital installations; recalling cartographic captures of nature strips and urban landscape – always in context to the human being – trying to manifest some sort of sustainability. Within a laboratory of monitoring, observation and documentation the viewer experiences contrasts and alikeness of the still and moving images that both present selective, concise studies, ending up in layers over layers, images over images, collected to create collages out of the mass information we consume through the media, education, personal and daily experiences (moving images lead into a manifestation of stiffness – expressed in the wall-objects). The meaning behind the work: to experience this complete alteration in how the world is changing through an artistic insight; we have to learn to look at things differently to understand the present before we can work on the future. [23]

The video and sound installations in this exhibition:

Identical City was created in connection to an unknown Renaissance painting called „The Perfect City“, showing the Central Perspective of city buildings with the absence of any inhabitants. 21st century: what does identity in times of a global union mean? Is there a cultural consciousness (about Western culture) within the anonymous city environment? [24]

Digital Trilogy addresses differences and cultural identities between people; focusing on modern movements inspired by nature and urban settings the digital installation is about how people interact with nature and the modern world. It is a story about changing the view on things in society, nature and life in general; showing slow and fast movements by replacing points of view and by separating nature from the human being, shortcuts and profiles of facing the beauty temples of western society such as soap operas, shopping malls and mass events.[25]

Manipulated deals with questions like how the fragments and remains of pre-existing life forms become the starting point of new creation. Where do we come from? How far are we prepared to go? The urge to take control of nature, genetic engineering and searching for an overall answer are the main issues that find expression in this virtual collage. The work tells its story through the composition of a multitude of scene shots, selected from films and documentations.[26]

8.         Post-Production and Documentation Material

Released DVDs, Blu-ray discs and books in limited editions are distributed by CAM Contemporary Arts Media (Films and Books for Arts Education worldwide).[27]

Further readings and screenings of projects on the ART IN PROCESS website.

Current work: 2010 project series – Emotional Seasons, experimentation with performance art and new media in public and private (in collaboration with other international artists).[28]

9.         The Future of our Artistic Work: Manifestation and Orientation

Globalisation has opened up enormous possibilities of linkages; it ideally means dissemination, diversity and insight into foreign worlds. But other than leading to a broad perspective or enthusiasm about the various aspects of this world per se and its cultures, we must admit that – critically observed – globalisation really concludes in generalisation and uniformity. It has become the ideal platform for broad mainstream, the playground of unquestioned fast food and monopole society. For artists globalisation opens up new ways of engaging and gathering together to produce, able to set a counterpoint to the various and absurd forms of mass consumption. Artistic statements have been political before and they must engage today in a socio-political way more than ever.

Our work is a reaction to the present. It translates our own perceptions into works of art; it transmits our thoughts and feelings/emotions into an interpretive and aesthetic object (a wall-object, a video and sound installation, a social sculpture) that becomes an artistic statement for the audience to engage with, in diverse and personal ways. It tries to connect people – not just through the white cube – exhibition space, but through the work process itself, in which questions are asked, discussion takes place and work is being produced.

 

Notes


[1] P Mudie wrote this in an artistic statement in 2009 about ART IN PROCESS (Associate Prof at the University of Western Australia).

[2] The French writer and theorist Nicolas Bourriaud addresses the shifting of the worldview according to developments within the Arts in various publications and interviews. His theories help us to understand our work within a greater context and to ask: where does our work originate and how will it develop further?

[3] ART IN PROCESS, ‘INTERVENTION an international project series – limited editions publication 2010’. ART IN PROCESS

[4] ART IN PROCESS, ‘INTERVENTION Part 1’. ART IN PROCESS

[5] ART IN PROCESS, ‘INTERVENTION Part 2’. ART IN PROCESS

[6] ART IN PROCESS, ‘INTERVENTION Part 3’. ART IN PROCESS

[7] P Tagoe-Turkson, ‘About Art-Intervention’, in INTERVENTION – an international project series. ART IN PROCESS limited editions, 2010, p. 159

[8] ART IN PROCESS, ‘Inside’. ART IN PROCESS

[9] ART IN PROCESS, ‘Victim’. ART IN PROCESS

[10] ART IN PROCESS, ‘Curio Kiosks Project’. ART IN PROCESS

[11] ART IN PROCESS, ‘Can you see the sound’. ART IN PROCESS

[12] ART IN PROCESS, ‘What is out there’. ART IN PROCESS

[13] ART IN PROCESS, ‘Blue Child’. ART IN PROCESS

[14] ART IN PROCESS, ‘PROJECT X… six transformations of life’ and ‘INTERVENTION Part 2’. ART IN PROCESS

[15] ART IN PROCESS, ‘ASAGAO’, ‘Infertile Future’ and ‘EXILe’. ART IN PROCESS

[16] ART IN PROCESS, ‘Human Migration’ and ‘Apart from the difference’. ART IN PROCESS

[17] ART IN PROCESS, ‘ConceptOne’. ART IN PROCESS

[18] ART IN PROCESS, ‘SUEX’. ART IN PROCESS

[19] Throughout history there has been a tradition of combining text and art in the visual arts. Medieval written manuscripts in Christian Europe were interlaced with pictures, which helped to create layered meaning. Dadaists and Surrealists in the early 20th century combined fragments of found text and appropriated images to open new paths and the Futurists’ use of innovative typography exemplified their belief in the expressivity of language. From the 1960’s to the present numerous artists have woven visual images and verbal symbols together with great force. There are many ways in which contemporary artists explore and look critically at cultural narratives through the use of language in their art.

[20] ART IN PROCESS, ‘EXILe’ and ‘ASAGAO’. ART IN PROCESS

[21] ART IN PROCESS, ‘Maybe It’s Only…Imagine!’. ART IN PROCESSART IN PROCESS, ‘Seafactory & White Net’. ART IN PROCESS

[22] ART IN PROCESS, ‘IMPACT & FUSION catalogue’. ART IN PROCESS

[23] ART IN PROCESS, ‘IMPACT & FUSION exhibition video’. ART IN PROCESS

[24] ART IN PROCESS, ‘Identical City’. ART IN PROCESS

[25] ART IN PROCESS, ‘Digital Trilogy’. ART IN PROCESS

[26] ART IN PROCESS, ‘Manipulated’. ART IN PROCESS

[27] ART IN PROCESS, ‘Released DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and books’. ART IN PROCESS

[28] ART IN PROCESS, ‘Emotional Seasons – international project series 2010’. ART IN PROCESS

Bibliography

ART IN PROCESS, bello benischauer & elisabeth m eitelberger, ART IN PROCESS Fremantle, Western Australia, 2010

Bourriaud, N., Relational Aesthetics. Presses du réel, Paris, 2002.

Bourriaud, N., Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World, Lukas & Sternberg, New York, 2002.

Bourriaud, N., Radikant. Merve, Berlin, 2009.

Nauman, B., Please pay attention please: Bruce Nauman’s words – Interviews and Writings. The MIT Press paperback edition, Massachusetts lnstitute of Technology, 2005

Tagoe-Turkson, P., ‘About Art-Intervention’, in INTERVENTION an international project series. ART IN PROCESS limited editions, 2010, p.159.

Bello Benischauer co-founder of ART IN PROCESS, Australian/Austrian new media artist, uses hybrid media and develops video and sound installations. His interest in different cultures leads to socio-political work with a strong intervention character. Regular exhibitions and projects internationally.

Elisabeth M Eitelberger co-founder of ART IN PROCESS, received her Master of Arts in Philosophy at the University of Vienna; various employments at Austrian Cultural Institutions; currently living in Australia. Managing ART IN PROCESS, she is further involved in the artistic development and independent research of all projects. 2010 marks a ten years milestone for the partnership.

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