Saturday, September 20, 2008

History of Experimental Music in the United States, John Cage

Once when Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki was giving a talk at Columbia University he mentioned the name of a Chinese monk who had figured in the history of Chinese Buddhism. Sukuki said, "He lived in the ninth or the tenth century." He added, after a pause, "or the seventh century, or the twelfth or thirteenth century of the fourteenth."

About the same time, Willem de Kooning, the New York painter, gave a talk at the Art Alliance in Philadelphia. Afterwards there was a discussion: questions and answers. Someone asked De mooning who the painters of the past were who had influenced him the most. De Kooning said, "The past does not influence me; I influence it."

A little over ten years ago I acted as music editor for a magazine called Possibilities. Only one issue of this magazine appeared. However: in it, four American composers (Virgil Thomson, Edgard Varese, Ben Weber, and Alexei Haieff) answered question put to them by twenty other composers. My question to Varese concerned his views of the future of music. His answer that neither the past nor the future interested him; that his concern was with the present.

Sri Ramakrishna was once asked, "Why, if God is good, is there evil in the world?" He said, "In order to thicken the plot." Nowadays in the field of music, we often hear that everything is possible; (for instance) that with electronic means one may employ any sound (any frequency, any amplitude, any timbre, any duration); that there are no limits to possibility. This is technically, nowadays, theoretically possible and in practical terms is often felt to be impossible only because of the absence of mechanical aids which, nevertheless, could be provided if the society felt the urgency of musical advance. Debussy said quite some time ago, "Any sounds in any combination and in any succession are henceforth free to be used in a musical continuity." Paraphrasing the question put to Sri Ramakrishna and the answer he gave, I would ask this: "Why, if everything is possible, do we concern ourselves with history (in other words with a sense of what is necessary to be done at a particular time?" And I would answer, "In order to thicken the plot." In this view, then, all those interpenetrations which seem at first glance to b hellish - history, for instance, if we are speaking of experimental music - are to be espoused. One does not then make just any experiment but dos what must be done. By this I mean one does not seek by his actions to arrive at fame (success) but does what must be done; one does not seek by his actions to provide pleasure to the senses (beauty) but does what must be done; one does not seek by this actions to arrive at the establishing of a school (truth) but does what must be done. One does something else. What else?

In an article called "new and Electronic Music," Christian Wolff says: What is, or seems to be, new in this music?... One finds a concern for a kind of objectivity, almost anonymity - sound come into its own. The 'music' is a resultant existing simply in the sounds we hear, given no impulse by expressions of self or personality. It is indifferent in motive, originating in no psychology nor in dramatic intentions, nor in literary or pictorial purposes. For at least some of these composers, then, the final intention is to be free of artistry and taste. But his need not make their work 'abstract,' for nothing, in the end, is denied. It is simply that personal expression, drama, psychology, and the like are not part of the composer's initial calculation: they are at best gratuitous.

"The procedure of composing tends to be radical, going directly to the sounds and their characteristics, to the way in which they are produced and how they are notated."

"Sound come into its own." What does that mean? For one thing: it means that noise s are as useful to new music as so-called musical tones, for the simple reason that they are sounds. This decision alters the view of history, so that one is no longer concerned with tonality or atonality, Schoenberg or Stravinsky (the twelve tones or the twelve expressed as seven plus five), nor with consonance and dissonance, but rather with Edgard Varese who fathered forth noise into twentieth-century music. But it is clear that ways must be discovered that allow noises and tones to be just noises and tones, not exponents subservient to Varese's imagination.

What else did Varese do that is relevant to present necessity? He was the first to write directly for instruments, giving up the practice of making a piano sketch and later orchestrating it. What is unnecessary in Varese (from a present point of view of necessity) are all his mannerisms, of which two stand out as signatures (the repeated note resembling a telegraphic transmission and the cadence of a tone held through a crescendo to maximum amplitude). These mannerisms do not establish sounds in their own right. They make it quit difficult to hear the sounds just as they are, for they draw attention to Varese ad his imagination.

What is the nature of an experimental action? It is simply an action the outcome of which is not foreseen. It is therefore very useful if one has decided that sounds are to come into their own, rather than being exploited to express sentiments or ideas of order. Among these actions the outcomes of which are not foreseen, actions resulting from chance operation are useful. However, more essential than composing by means of chance operations, it seems to me now is composing in such a way that what one does is indeterminate of its performance. In such a case one can just work directly, for nothing one does gives rise to anything that I preconceived. This necessitates, of course, a rather great change in habits of notation. I take a sheet of paper and place points on it. Next I make parallel lines on a transparency, say five parallel lines. I establish five categories of sound for the five lines, but I do not say which line is which category. The transparency may be placed on the sheet with points in any position and readings of the points may be taken with regard to all the characteristics one wishes to distinguish. Another transparency may be used for further measurements, even altering the succession of sounds in time. In this situation no chance operations are necessary (for instance, no tossing of coins) for nothing is foreseen, though everything may be later minutely measured or simply taken as a vague suggestion.

Implicit here, it seems to me, are principles familiar from modern painting and architecture: collage and space. What makes this action like Dada are the underlying philosophical views and the collage like actions. But what makes this action unlike Dada is the space in it. For it is the space and emptiness that is finally urgently necessary at this point in history (not the sounds that happen in it - or their relationships) (not the stones - thinking of a Japanese stone garden - or their relationships but the emptiness of the sand which needs the stones anywhere in the space in order to be empty). When I said recently in Darmstadt that one could write music by observing the imperfections in the paper upon which one was writing, a student who did not understand because he was full of musical ideas asked, "Would one piece of paper be better than another: one for instance that had more imperfections? He was attached to sounds and because of his attachment could not let sounds be just sounds. He needed to attach himself to the emptiness, to the silence. Then things - sounds, that is - would come into being of themselves. Why is this so necessary that sounds should be just sounds? There are many ways of saying why. One is this: In order that each sound may become the Buddha. If that is too Oriental an expression, take the Christian Gnostic statement: "Split the stick and there is Jesus."

We know now that sounds and noises are not just frequencies (pitches): that is why so much of European musical studies and even so much of modern music is not longer urgently necessary. It is pleasant if you happen to hear Beethoven or Chopin or whatever, but it isn't urge st to do so any more. Nor is harmony or counterpoint or counting in meters of two, three, or four or any other number. So that much of Ives (Charles Ives) is no longer experimental or necessary for us (though people are so used to knowing that he was the first to do such and such). He did do things in space and in collage, and he did say, Do this or this (whichever you choose), and so indeterminacy which is so essential now did enter into his music. But his meters and rhythms are no longer any more important for us than curiosities of the past like the patterns one finds in Stravinsky. Counting is no longer necessary for magnetic tape music (where so many inches or centimeters equal so many seconds): magnetic tape music makes it clear that we are in time itself, not in measures of two, three, or four or any other number. And so instead of counting we use watches if we want to know where in time we are, or rather where in time a sound is to be. All this can be summed up by saying each aspect of sound (frequency, amplitude, timbre, duration) is to be seen as a continuum, not as a series of discrete steps favored by conventions (Occidental or Oriental). (Clearly all the Americana aspects of Ives are in the way of sound coming into its own, since sounds by their nature are no more American than they are Egyptian.)

Carl Ruggles? He works and reworks a handful of compositions o that they better and better express his intentions, which perhaps ever so slightly are changing. His work is therefore not experimental at all but in a most sophisticated way attached to the past and to art.

Henry Cowell was for many years the open sesame for new music in America. Mos selflessly he published the New Music Edition and encouraged the young to discover new directions. From him, as from an efficient information booth, you could always get not only the address and telephone number of anyone working in a lively way in music, but you could also get an unbiased introduction from him as to what that anyone was doing. He was not attached (as Varese also was not attached) to what seemed to so many to be he important question: Whether to follow Schoenberg or Stravinsky. He's early works for piano, long before Varese's Ionization (which, by the way, was published by Cowell), by their tone clusters and use of the piano strings, pointed towards noise and a continuum of timbre. Other works of his are indeterminate in ways analogous to those currently in use by Boulez and Stockhausen. For example: Cowell's Mosaic Quartet, where the performers, in any way they choose, produce a continuity from composed blocks provided by him. Or his Elastic Musics, the time lengths of which can be short or long through the use or omission of measures provided by him. These actions by Cowell Mae very close to current experimental compositions which have parts but no scores, and which are therefore not objects but processes providing experience not burdened by psychological intentions on the part of the composer.

And in connection with musical continuity, Cowell remarked at the New School before a concert of works by Christian Wolff, Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, and myself, that there were four composers where getting rid of glue. That is: Where people had felt the necessity to stick sounds together to make a continuity, we four felt the opposite necessity to get rid of the glue so that sounds would be themselves.

Christian Wolff was the first to do this. He wrote some pieces vertically on the page but recommended their being played horizontally left to right, as is conventional. Later he discovered other geometrical means for freeing his music of intentional continuity. Morton Feldman divided pitches into three areas, high middle, and low, and established a time unit. Writing on graph paper, he simply inscribed numbers of tones to be played at any time within specified periods of time.

There are people who say, "If music's that easy to write, I could do it." Of course they could, but they don't. I find Feldman's own statement more affirmative. We were driving back from some place in New England where a concert had been given. He is a large man and falls asleep easily. Out of a sound sleep, he awoke to say, "Now that things are so simple, there's so much to do." And then he went back to sleep.

Giving up control so that sounds can be sounds (they are not men: they are sounds) means for instance: the conductor of an orchestra is no longer a policeman. Simply an indicator of time - not in beats - like a chronometer. He has his own part. Actually he is not necessary if all the players have Somme other way of knowing what time it is and how that time is changing.

What else is there to say about the history of experimental music in America? Probably a lot. But we don't need to talk about neo-classicism (I agree with Varese when he says neo-classicism is indicative of intellectual poverty), nor about the twelve-tone system. In Europe, the number twelve has already been dropped and in a recent lecture Stockhausen questions the current necessity for the concept of a series. Elliott Carter's ideas about rhythmic modulation are not experimental They just extend sophistication out from tonality ideas towards ideas about modulation from one tempo to another. They put a new wing on the academy and open no doors to the world outside the school. Cowell's present interests in the various traditions, Oriental and early American, are not experimental but eclectic. Jazz per se derives from serious music. And when serious music derives from it, the situation becomes rather silly.

One must make an exception in the case of William Russell. Though still living, he no longer composes. His works, though stemming from jazz - hot jazz - New Orleans and Chicago styles - were short, epigrammatic, original and entirely interesting. It may be suspected that he lacked the academic skills which would have enabled him to extend and develop his ideas. The fact is, his pieces were all expositions without development and therefore, even today, twenty years after their composition, interesting to hear. He used string drums made from kerosene cans, washboards, out-of-tune upright pianos; he cut a board such a length that it could be used to play all the eighty-eight piano keys at once.

If one uses the word "experimental" (somewhat differently than I have been using it) to mean simply the introduction of novel elements into one's music, we find that America has a rich history: the clusters of Leo Ornstein, the resonances of Dane Rudhyar, the near-Eastern aspects of Alan Hovhaness, the tack piano of Lou Harrison, my own prepared piano, the distribution in space of instrumental ensembles in works by Henry Brant, the sliding tones of Ruth Crawford and, more recently, Gut her Schuller, the microtones and novel instruments of Harry Patch, the mathematic continuity of cliches of Virgil Thomson. These are not experimental composers in my terminology, but neither are they part of the stream of European music which though formerly divided into neo-classicism and dodecaphony has become one in America under Arthur Berger's term, consolidation: consolidation of the acquisitions of Schoenberg and Stravinsky.

Actually America has an intellectual climate suitable for radical experimentation. We are, as Gertrude Stein said, the oldest country of the twentieth century. And I like to add: in our air way of knowing nowness. Buckminister Fuller, the dymaxion architect, in his three-hour lecture on the history of civilization, explains that men leaving Asia to go to Europe went again the wind and developed machines, ideas, and Occidental philosophies in accord with a struggle against nature; that, on the other hand, men leaving Asia to go to America went with the wind, put up a sail, and developed ideas and Oriental philosophies in accord with the acceptance of nature. These two tendencies met in America, producing a movement into the air, not bound to the past, traditions, or whatever. Once in Amsterdam, a Dutch musician said to me, "it must be very difficult for you in America to write music, for you are so far away from the centers of tradition." I had to say, "It must be very difficult for you in Europe to write music, you are so close to the centers of tradition." Why, since the climate for experimentation in America is so good, why is American experimental music so lacking in strength politically ( mean unsupported by those with money (individuals and foundations), unpublished, undiffused, ignored), and why is there so little of that is truly uncompromising? I think the answer is this: Until 1950 about all the energy for furthering music America was concentrated either in the League of Composers or in the ISCM (another way of saying Boulanger and Stravinksy on the one hand and Schroeder on the other). The New Music Society of Henry Cowell was independent and therefore not politically strong. Anything that was vividly experimental was discouraged by the League and the ISCM. So that a long period of contemporary music history in America was devoid of performances by Ives and Varese. Now the scene changes, but the last few years have been quiet. The League and the ISCM fused and, so doing, gave no concerts at all. We may trust that new life will spring up,since society like nature abhors a vacuum.

What about music for magnetic tape in America? Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky call themselves experimental because of their use of this new medium. However, they just continue conventional musical practices, at most extending the ranges of instruments electronically and so forth. The Barrons, Loui and Bebe, are also cautious, doing nothing that does not have an immediate popular acceptance. The Canadian Norman McLaren, working with film, is more adventurous than these - also the Whitney brothers in California. Henry Jacobs and those who surround him in the San Francisco area are as conventional as Luening, Ussachevsky, and the Barrons. These do move move in directions that are as experimental as those taken by the Europeans: Pousseur, Berio, Maderna, Boulez, Stockhausen, and so forth. For this reason one can complain that the society of musicians in America has neither recognized nor furthered its native musical resource (by "native" I hat resource which distinguishes it from Europe and Asia - its capacity to easily break with tradition, to move easily into the air, its capacity for the unforeseen, its capacity for experimentation). The figures in the ISCM and the League, however, were not powerful aesthetically, but powerful only politically. The names of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern are more golden than any of their American derivatives. These latter have therefore little musical influence, and now that they are becoming quiescent politically, one may expect a change in the musical society.

above copied from:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Collaborative Art and Relational Experiences in Public Space, Jordi Claramone, Javier Rodrigo (La fiambrera Obrera)

What’s all this about collaborative art?

Conventional public art tends to be defined as an aesthetic object by its relationship to a physical place; in contrast, the emerging practices of public art in the 90s constituted interventions in the public realm that included the processes of discussion and construction of a community will and a project of community, able to house all meaningful subsequent work. It is about this that we wish to speak.
Collaborative work does not mean, as some seem to have thought, that what was negotiated before with some “authority” (installation of a dolt on a horse) must now be framed by a more or less ethereal and un-localizable “community”.
We do collaborative work because artistic processes tend to be inextricably bound to the processes of constructing an identity and a public realm currently threatened by the neo-liberal steamroller.
Much of all this used to fit into the concept of “empowerment”, essential to collaborative work, which sustains “the creative values of the fragmented, -decentralized and democratized- power to develop local narratives against the great globalized discourses of the power groups…” M. Miles. At this stage it should be clear that “empowerment” is useful to us as a challenge to the deconstructive postmodernism that began by negating the very possibilities of the processes of significance.
Having reached a medium in which the political appears so directly, surely someone will make us note that all this is fine and good, but is it still art?
(whoever doesn’t care that much about this question, as we “fiambreras” don’t care may stop reading now without further hesitation, because what follows is hardcore theory)

The person who does care to answer this question faces the task of reconstructing history from the avant-garde and even before, spinning the thread that consistently shows how the practice of art is wholly united within these processes of the radicalization of democracy:
Adorno asked us to consider how art could be saved in so far as it included a bunch of things that were not- yet- art. In that sense, Rosalind Krauss develops a possible connection when she speaks of minimal art as a practice capable of inciting the environment that envelops the work; that the piece incites that which it is not and puts it into operation as space. Hal Foster also goes in this direction when he affirms the identical function in a more social rather than merely topographical sense, as in works by Buren or Haacke regarding exhibition spaces and powers. From there, it’s not hard to imagine a model that puts the work into different categories of relation and tension with the social and political context in which it is produced and distributed.
The October theorists read the Frankfurt School theorists who in turn had read the old enlightened scholars and so on, no matter how many turns we make, that’s where we’re heading: to Diderot, who calls beautiful “everything that contains in itself something with which to awaken the idea of relation in my understanding.”
Watch out, because thanks to encyclopedic old Denis, we can take on a whole bunch of things, in a very clarifying way, that the moderns had such a hard time separating under the names of art and life and such. Let’s get used to thinking about the relevance of that which awakens in us the idea of relation, and that it does so, to follow with the Enlightenment, without being limited to concept.
And therefore recall Proust, for example, speaking of how no artist succeeds in contributing more than a single beauty, which is to say a single relationship or kind of relation, a kind of production, of conception therefore, an ontology and a pragmatics (a “representational space” Lefebvre would have said; a play on words the other would have said)

I know we’re moving very fast, but if we are with Diderot, with Proust (with Valery or with Mondrian) in that the practice of art has meant putting into circulation ways of relating (whether it be in music, painting or narrative) which can be read as ways of life… it so happens that the specificity of collaborative art is now limited to contextualizing that practice within the current conditions of the production and distribution of signs, representations and discourses… (Conditions clearly marked by a growing impossibility for the autonomy of lives and consciences.)
And in doing so, we have to accept from the start (or from the end) that our work can no longer be confined in any way to the artworld, our work must take on, as its specific morpheme, the combat against unitary or monolithic thought (or unitary, monolithic life) and its small un-astonishing agents: if in our work we run across rehabilitation plans that eject residents, bishops that rob parks and so many privatization plans, it is because together they form a kind of puree whose common enemy is the proliferation of relational liberties that in another time were called art… or life.
In the end you make collaborative projects because you find that you “can’t” do anything else; that is to say, you know that any other thing doesn’t have to be what it says or wants to be: at another time in history you could compose a sonnet and imagine that with it, you made art, that is to say, you put into circulation the elements of a certain way of relating (new or not).
Now, as soon as you try to do something like that, you’ve got to be a real imbecile not to notice that neither the publishing channels nor much less the art galleries are free spaces for the free circulation of relational proposals. You have to see that they are taken over and stagnant worlds. And that the freedom of others to take our proposals and our own freedom to propose them and live them, these liberties I say, are not some piece of information, they are something to be constructed and defended.

For that reason, we call collaborative art the process by which a group of people construct the specific conditions for a setting of specific freedom and in doing so free and release a way or a handful of ways of relating; that is to say, it frees a work of art…
We know that the choice itself for this discourse to circulate is its insertion in a certain “way” or fashion that has carried a most NGO-like spirit to the world of art.
Even the professors, who yesterday celebrated the jinx of postmodern incommunicability, today are all mixed up in signing manifestos against this and against that. That’s why we trust even less than ever those who waste their breath in idle chatter and distinctions, the purisms, that’s why it is crucial that the practices do exactly as they please, that the discourses last just enough and that we meet each other on the streets.

Domesticated and staged experience. Problems and contradictions within collaborations.

The public space simply cannot be considered a neutral and willing setting for the experience (aesthetic or not) of a specific agent (the artist or cultural worker). The experience that one seeks to represent passes for genuine and unique, even though it is totally artificial. That is to say, it is established and described within certain parameters of contention set by the artist and above all by the institution from which the artist gets the experiential field for the aesthetic experience.

The spectator appears as a participating-passive element, given a setting in which the subject matter is already fixed, as the means and conditions of distribution of the product, and in which the activation of the work always remains subordinated to an institutional frame from which its distribution and repercussion are controlled. They may sometimes go no further than the walls of the museum or the temporary spatial frame in which the author’s intervention is set. The dichotomy museum and public space, or museum and streets, no longer serves as a means by which to catalogue the work of a political activist or socially committed person. To the expansion of sculpture, proclaimed and celebrated as the liberation of the 90s, one now adds the expansion of the field of art and the creative sector to all public space. Perversely, with several and uncontrolled effects, culture appears like a custom to exploit or a mine to proliferate its social and clearly speculative dimension. In this way, the gallery, the museum, the biennial, and even Documenta (standards of the art institution) expand the terrain of the public, but very much to our chagrin, nowadays so too does the cultural market (present in the creative industries, in the agencies of urban renewal that municipal governments manage and in the public art projects), as spaces of colonization and the re-appropriation of certain social modes and currents that are captured and represented as a value in the third sector.

Additionally, in these settings, the artist or group of artists (this question is of no importance in terms of the degree of experience contained or packaged to be sold) construct their image and profile as the only active agent capable of constructing a meaningful experience and therefore set themselves up as the true Enlightened leaders of the inexperienced masses, or rather, of the un-identified or over-identified masses: the groups that are worked with have had certain classifications imposed on them which help us central Europeans or members of the white middle class feel good in our work in a kind of enlightened populism which serves to clean our social conscience.

This relationship entails the “stretcher” effect of the NGO, also called aesthetic messianism by Kester or sub-contracted services. The artist, artists or cultural workers (there are several labels…) construct a relationship of service and temporary assistance to the other and this other in turn lends them their social representation. This other is determined as the needy, the underdeveloped or the subordinate class. Since these people’s experience does not allow them to see beyond their meted and decimated horizon of life, they show us that it is the artists who regulate a kind of activity that, it seems, will reveal the path of their liberation, their emerging consciousness (the famous “conscience raising” or “empowerment” that feminism and the politics of identity defended so necessarily in the 80’s, now refashioned into a social advertising campaign seen everywhere). This collaborative relationship is founded after a prior tacit agreement, like a Rousseauian contract; from the start it establishes a continuously asymmetric relationship between the artist and the collective and maintains a kind of experiential production that limits and annuls the complexity of the social, the contradictions of the field and the diverse tensions and differences that always arise in the public space. With it, the experience appears already canned and delimited, its design, its contents, prefixed, and it is imprinted like a recipe book on the communities or groups with which it has had its shindig (where needless to say the experience does not emerge, it is designed and staged ostentatiously). And we say “shindig” to refer to the celebratory range of the production of this docile space where the artists create these temporary and unlikely contexts for social coexistence: call them soup kitchens, a clothes exchange fair, open air videos or projections, or streaming in real time between who knows who or what. In all of these artificial settings, the important thing is not so much their degree of fiction or intervention, which actually could be feasible and effective for certain situations or for certain works, even as an engine for later work (who doesn’t remember the projects of the grandfathers of public space at the end of the 80’s such as Holzer or Wodyzckwo?). Rather, our argument here rests on the nullification of the conflict, the obliteration of the multiplicity of views and above all on the later instrumentalization of this experience in the Art Institution for its benefit only, in detriment of any work or reciprocal benefit for the community or social network with which it has been developed, beyond the mere excuse of “giving voice” or raising “critical consciences in the subordinate masses” (and other messianic proverbs).

We believe, and we emphasize as an ideological point of view, that this kind of experience is pre-described, pre-assigned and programmed beforehand so that it is staked out in the public space in order to be sufficiently pleasurable and celebrative of the social space, and at the same time, minimally transgressive for the cultural institutions or cultural policies that promote its celebration. That is to say, transgression and conflict are minimalized or symbolized in order to make a profit for the culture market. So this transgression often consists of a site outside of the museum, or an interaction with collectives, translated into events that do not “bother” anyone and do not work on the institution’s political structures (and if they are given the label of educational, better yet). We believe that the key point of any work with meaningful experience resides in an organic and articulating element, since it is impossible to delimit and much less to constrain experience to a given enclave, since it can always flow, interact, relate and be collectivized in unexpected places, and with that, possibly, create agency.
Here, much to our regret, the unpredictable nature of the social space is domesticated into the cultural institution, and the critical autonomy of culture is planned and simplified in the field of the social. The experience understood as “modal” in so far as it can be reiterated and appropriated evaporates. Only the postmodern superficiality of the event remains, that point where “it seems” as though it’s beyond everything, while the experience disappears and will be replaced by another postmodern event the next week: one day it’s counter-cultural hip-hop, the next it’s children’s story telling. The experience is quickly consumed and we can’t digest it or make it meaningful beyond the symbolic spectacle it’s served for the museum or cultural institution (that spends its money afterwards in making catalogues or in representing these social events in great marquees). As we see, this kind of preconceived, canned and rapidly digested experience can well be described as a “fast food” or cultural “junk food” that loses the contextualization and ecological and articulating depth of the experience as a space of long-term collaborative work.

In these pseudo-participative relationships with the experience as a collective element, we finally see how the relationship with the field of public space is limited by a vertical regulation towards the other, through a degree of contained experience. This degree can be quantified, though at a qualitative level, in order to be made visible at a later date, that is, documented, packaged and institutionalized as a product for sale . Here the experience that supposedly is constructed as collective is really canned to be sold as a symbolic value within the institution. The cultural capital of the people involved in the experience (or better, their lack of cultural capital in the institution’s eyes), whether they are communities, a group of people or the X-group, is sold as a group experience, meaningful and emancipating for the art institution, without bothering anyone. Much less can it be re-appropriated, so that in the end its subversive capacity has been neutralized at the end of its distribution.

Articulation from practices: final considerations
To conclude this text, we think that seeking to translate this rhetoric into concrete projects would be the best way to discuss the statute of intervention necessary for collaborative practices, if we really want to construct a continuous articulation. Throughout these years, and among the successive people who have crossed our paths and produced their forms and ways of making and doing within our works, we have been able to see how the collaborative experience always emerges invisibly from between the nooks and crannies of systems, and how it was extended, constructed and appropriated contagiously in an infinity of settings and very different situations (we have made a great number of friends, comrades, but also enemies).

It is curious that most of our works that have lasted the longest (or that others have continued and disseminated) have been precisely those which, as they were set at the edge of legality, were always articulated by different collectives and already active as social networks for their dissemination. It is there that a part of the work, as continued, delayed or submerged activism--we would speak of long-term collaborative practices--has gotten people talking and has probably been more effective in its behavior and continuous articulations. Thus, always thinking about some kind of DIY policies (“do it yourself” policies), an “I cook it, I eat it” collective, has helped us conceive collective projects in which people teach and follow instructions on how to rob as a form of life, having only to download the famous red and purple books, and thanks to that, acting out themselves in an endless variety of different supermarkets and fashionable shops. We have also been witnesses to a process of how to develop amusing and ironic means of representation in order to advance the use of public space, taking parks with the effective help of the neighbors, and even, why not, sexual relations from a setting of independence and work in action (well, this work in fact made us come out in the media and even in the tabloid gossip pages).

In all of these projects, the idea of articulation as a space in which people produce their modes of making and doing was key, since it entails the real use of a contagious autonomy in a specific space and structure. Our objective, if it can really be reduced to one, was precisely to produce the most effective tactical means of intervention for the organic structuring of experience. However, or fortunately, - each can judge for him or herself- projects like the agencies meant a weakening due to the illegalization of the very organism of modal practices, and above all a factual demonstration that work which articulates experiences may well include collateral effects that an institution or a museum sometimes cannot stand, as well as direct reprisals (the burning of the bus of the agencies). Events that demonstrate in the end, how much power this kind of collective experience brings together when it is precisely transformed into that: agencies.

Also right now, we have been able to see another direct line of work which we will talk about a bit more and which again responds to this need to create networks for a work of constant articulation. This project is the Bordergames. While not new in its design, we have spent several years with the idea; yes, it means a provocation and a challenge for us in many respects, which furthermore has allowed us again to contrast our collaborative aspirations with the day to day reality and work with networks in other cities and situations.
On defining Bordergames we’ve always known that saying that it was a participatory videogame made by young people, and such things we tend to say (see the Web page of the project, was limited. We also became aware that people confused the the entire project of autonomy, on the one hand, as a space of compulsive metonymy according to which something symbolic could be put forward or carried out. Thus, some people over-identified with the business of aesthetics of the actual videogame, new technologies and art, while others were overwhelmed by the idea of free software and new uses of the web, or even saw in it a great project for working with young people on digital literacy– these are all aspects we’re always pleased to see taken into consideration and in fact form part of the project-. However, nobody talked about the idea of the web as a network, and of the relational-autonomous work that bordergames sought to set in motion. Here the issue was that of bringing together an initial modal proposition with articulation as the final goal: we always imagined groups of young people working and making their own versions at other sites and afterwards making workshops for other people.

We continue our travels and incursions with the first Bordergames under our arm and have been lucky enough to experience its dissemination in two different workshops: the first one in Figueres, with the help of Náu – Coclea, and a second one in Berlin ( within a project of street theater, with the help of Raumlabor during the first stage. Our drifting through these cities has had positive results in terms of the project’s articulation: those of us who wanted to make a Bordergames were no longer a few enlightened types, no, we had a meeting place and space for collaborations with different networks that gave rise to the structuring of autonomous work teams in both cities. Additionally, very different teams emerged, with entirely contextual stories, and above all a network of collaborative work. On reaching out this point, we now also work in Barcelona, thanks to the partnership with an association of social educators working with young people called TEB (Ravalgames will soon be released ). We are also working in Morocco, thanks to the collaboration with Rifsystems at the city Al-Hoicema ( "Rifgames" on the way, as well) and in Gijón thanks to the youth association Mar de Niebla and the Laboral Arts Centre.

In all of these enclaves, collaborative work has meant negotiating and working with the networks and people in each place, with their means and their contexts in order to activate reflection on the public space, and also, make its constant articulation possible thanks to the videogame and the workshops that come out of it. Here some of us still work face to face with educators and other agents, and we continue learning and collaborating – and sometimes even have a few beers—together. Additionally, in this sense, collaborations with new members of the network have been created, fostering team work, in the hope that in a second year round, in different centers, the participants themselves – or some of them- might give the workshops and create their own experiences beyond our presence. For that reason, the work of articulation has always been in tandem, on two fronts, as we don’t only wish to create the setting in which the modal relations may be spread through the different workshops and city representations, but we also think that this work should be activated by the networks themselves in an immediate future. We think that our collaboration with bordergames has served as a toolbox, so that each person can use and create his or her own recipes and methods in each context (or make their own repairs and arrangements). This helped Bordergames to serve as a network and therefore as a mechanism of distribution. With it, we believe we are pointing to the construction of another mechanism of articulation to be used and re-used constantly, in each situation, in addition to an exchange among the different nodes of the network. This is part of the history of Bordergames, which we also hope will soon become disseminated.

Above copied from:

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Some months ago contemporary introduced the artist and the filmmaker to each other electronically. What follows is the fruit of a week of emailed conversation.

MF: Dear Jeff, I’m just leaving LA. I’ve been shooting a small film, trying out some radical (for me, that is) new approaches to filming - I will get into that later. Thought it was time to kick this off. My first thought is this. I started to read an interview between you and Arielle Pelenc and what struck me was that I have no idea what you are both talking about. The references are all to do with other art, art from the past, etc. After a short while I felt very shut out, almost denied my own interpretation of what I saw. Is it important to you that I understand the context of your work within the confines of art history? I’m fascinated by the relationship between art and critics and audience. This is something I’m trying to deal with in cinema as well. Best, Mike

JW: Dear Mike, I’m sorry you had that impression of the conversation. One tends to talk to the person one’s talking to and not think about how it will sound to others. It is not important at all to me that you or anyone else should have this or that knowledge of anything written or recorded about my pictures or anyone else’s. It’s about experiencing the pictures, not understanding them. People now tend to think their experience of art is based in understanding the art, whereas in the past people in general understood the art and were maybe more freely able to absorb it intuitively. They understood it because it hadn’t yet separated itself off from the mainstream of culture the way modern art had to do. So I guess it is not surprising that, since that separation has occurred, people try to bridge it through understanding the oddness of the various new art forms. Cinema seems more or less still in the mainstream, as if it never had a ‘secession’ of modern or modernist artists against that mainstream. So people don’t tend to be so emphatic about understanding films, they tend to enjoy them and evaluate them: great, good, not so good, two thumbs up, etc. Although that can be perfunctory and dull, it may be a better form of response. Experience and evaluation – judgment – are richer responses than gestures of understanding or interpretation.

MF: I’m back in London now. Forgive my somewhat crude opening move. To put it another way – you, the artist, create an image and then submit to a critical gaze and then discuss it in detail – how it fits into an historical art context. Sometimes I feel that critics use language as a demonstration of their own knowledge and it tends towards elitism. I first became aware of your work in a book store in Amsterdam some years ago. I immediately bought the book and have been a fan ever since. I now have a number of your books and am very interested in what you’ve written about cinematic imagery in your work. Have you thought about making a film? Would this be of any interest to you? I imagine not – film seems to demand a literal linear progression because of its use of a set period of time, whereas what you are doing seems to be about a moment of time that is full of ambiguity. Most films start well, with moments like this, set pieces which are designed to fire imagination, and then the rest of the film is usually downhill.

JW: 30 years ago I thought I would make films; I thought that film was the art form. I spent a couple of years, 1974 and ’75 I think, preparing myself somehow to do that. During my years in London (1970 – 73), when I was ostensibly a student of art history at the Courtauld Institute, I spent a great deal of time looking at film with the still vague intention of getting involved. I went to the film clubs, the ICA, the NFT, and everywhere I could see the things I wanted to see – which were experimental and art films, from Peter Gidal and Michael Snow, to Jean-Marie Straub, Fassbinder, Robert Kramer, or Godard and Eustache. When I got back to Vancouver I was convinced I had to find a way to make films. I thought I had to do something that related to structural film but which also depicted events, or had a narrative element, some kind of fusion of Michael Snow’s La Region Centrale [1971] and Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore [1973]. And done in Vancouver! When I returned here, I worked on some video projects with my friend Dennis Wheeler, then some scenarios with him, and then on my own. Dennis tragically got ill with leukemia at that time, and passed away soon after. I wonder what would have happened if he’d been lucky and we’d gone on working together. Slowly, I began to believe that cinema was essentially rooted in its storytelling nature, and that, therefore, I had to take that on in earnest. In the interview with Arielle Pelenc you mentioned earlier, I discussed one aspect of this decision. I said I’d lost conviction in the kind of anti-cinema exemplified by Godard, felt that its structures and results just weren’t as compelling artistically as those achieved by apparently more ‘conservative’ filmmakers, like Bergman, Eustache, Bunuel or Fassbinder, who didn’t explicitly call the form of a film into question but internalised some of that critical, negative energy within the narrative form itself, making it stronger, more original, more intense. I tried to go in that direction, by attempting to write scenarios for those kinds of films, with the hope of somehow finding the means to make them. I did think even then that video could work, even though at that time we used these heavy reel-to-reel ‘portapacks’. I thought that if Jean Eustache could make the films he made with what looked like just a bit of money, so could I. But as I worked on those scripts, I realised that I wasn’t the person for that kind of thing, and I felt that there was no possibility that I could raise the money I’d need. That, in retrospect, proves I have no aptitude for filmmaking because I think filmmakers always believe they can get the money! Still, I learned a lot about image making in that process, and I know that when I finally reconciled myself to the fact that I was some kind of ordinary visual artist, probably a photographer, I was able to make use of what I’d learned and struggled with in film.

MF: I agree with what you say about Buñuel and Bergman following a more psychologically complex narrative rather than going the route taken by Godard, but for me Godard throws up more interesting ideas about cinema, particularly in his use of sound. Also his ironic humour is something I can relate to whereas Bergman seems to get more and more pompous as he gets older, which makes it harder for me to love some of his films. Buñuel is altogether a different kettle of fish. Do you like Lynch? Very few filmmakers get through to me the way Kienholz and Segal do.

JW: I don’t want to make a polarity between the two kinds of films because I think Godard did create really interesting structures, exemplary modes and forms. I notice, though, that many of his films are not aging well. Maybe it’s because of the ironic treatment of the people he’s depicting, the insistent detachment from them, the way they’re treated as signs, as emblems of ideas. Ideas, particularly the kind of arch-political ideas Godard has, come and go, and what remains is the feeling created by the depiction of the beings and objects present in front of the camera at the time. The more formally conventional cinema is maybe more conventional because those conventional forms have accepted a different (I won’t say better) notion of the things and creatures being depicted.

MF: It seems to me that in order for photography to be taken seriously it has to be seen to be the result of a long and hard process of creativity - reading about your work process was fascinating to me. Is it important for you to arrive at a result that is the culmination of such an intense period of work? To put it another way, could a ‘snap’ be as satisfying an image as, say, The Flooded Grave [1998 – 2000]? I have these feelings about my own work. Thomas Ruff’s book of nudes had porno images downloaded from the internet, which he then made aesthetically acceptable on a computer – my first reaction was that they really weren’t his own images, he should have taken the pictures himself. But I don’t feel the same about Richter, even though his images often look like digital computer-enhanced photographs. This is because I imagine Richter worked longer and in a more involved way by painting them. But it gets confusing when computers are involved. I picked up on, and appreciated, something related to this that you once wrote: ‘If you could tell (that it was a computer montage) the picture would be a failure’. I was really interested in the fact that you do everything ‘in-house’. This must be very satisfying. I am trying to do the same with cinema and it throws light on some interesting differences between us, differences that are indications of the worlds of cinema and visual art. I have become very bored with conventional cinema and its insistence on ‘reality’. You mention in your email that cinema is still in the ‘mainstream’. It is, and one of the reasons for this is the way it has been designated the ‘story’ medium. It has very limited technical demands – 35mm imagery, clear sound, etc – and as time passes a stronger and stronger economic relationship with the music industry and the corporate multinational companies of the USA. In order to break away from this tradition of clean imagery I have found it necessary to go through a period of more impressionistic, disposable filmmaking. Right now I use DVCam and quite a lot of cheap consumer equipment. What this does allow is the ability to be in-house, to make a film (usually a very expensive process) without outside influence. I imagine you work closely with one or two assistants.

JW: Are you dissatisfied with the form of the narrative film, or with the economic constraints? You’ve been very successful making what I consider really personal films apparently within that context, like Internal Affairs [1989] and Leaving Las Vegas [1994]. Internal Affairs is a film I have always liked. I connect it to the style and feel of some of my favourite films of the ’70s, like Straight Time [1978]. Ulu Grosbard is a really interesting, under-appreciated director. I tend to think of filmmakers as gigantic people, capable of mammoth achievements, and so the making of a ‘movie’ in the conventional sense, which has serious artistic qualities always strikes me as an almost superhuman accomplishment. But I guess that scale of cinema is not what it appears to be when looked at from the outside. I get the feeling that, for you, it’s a heavy obligation, too heavy to be moulded into an authentic artistic expression anymore. Do you think ‘lightweight’, impressionistic filmmaking is a real alternative to the mainstream cinema, one that audiences could appreciate – or is it something you want to do, no matter what the audience?

MF: Within the mainstream of cinema, form and economics go hand in hand. When I first went to LA, to make my second film [Internal Affairs] I really did have the sense that it would be possible to work in a studio system and still make films that had artistic merit. It worked because I was not under scrutiny at that time, I was under the radar and no-one was watching. Studios are for the most part very sloppy organisations run by committees. A friend of mine, Agniezka Holland, has worked in both Hollywood and Communist Poland and she says there is a strong similarity between the two. After Internal Affairs there was not a single film of mine that didn’t have some kind of major restraint on it. Leaving Las Vegas was made outside of the system, using 16mm and financed in France. I had final cut and total control of the film. Studio filmmaking is slow and wasteful and most of the energy is diverted into non-artistic functions. It’s hard to maintain the right kind of energy. There is also the sense of a deep boredom in cinema audiences and cinemas themselves are not exactly places of inspiration. The marketing of sugar-based food and drink doesn’t help. On my last trip to LA I noticed most of the billboards were for adult-kid films like Two White Chicks, Anchorman, etc. So with all of that in mind I would say that, yes, lightweight impressionistic filmmaking is the way to go for the moment – until we can redefine and reclaim cinema.

JW: Now I’m older I notice I don’t go to the cinema very much any more. Partly because the youth films are not for us, but also because I find myself restless with the experience of the duration itself, of the unrolling of time. I notice I feel oppressed and even trapped by that, by the replaying of a recording, essentially. I feel much the same about listening to recorded music. Recorded music always seems to intrude on the place I’m in and dominate it. The unorganised, random soundscape of everyday life is so much more interesting, beautiful and even serene, than any music can be.

MF: I agree. I am a big fan of bad speakers though, transistor radios playing quietly within a bigger soundscape, someone singing quietly hanging out the washing. I remember Bill Forsythe saying something in an interview I did with him...’the way rain drops fall on leaves in an irregular way (and he demonstrated with his hands – – I like to watch this kind of movement’. I did a video installation last year in Valencia and had all the screens on random cycles so that nothing ever repeated and different coincidences were constantly taking place. I try to resist the temptation to control because computers invite us to do just that. With Timecode [1999] I tried to combine some new technology with some very traditional ideas – paper and ink for the planning, wristwatches for the timing. Now I screen the film and do ‘live’ mixes using the separate soundtracks as source and always changing the music with each performance so that the meaning of the film changes and it is no longer a ‘recording’. I think you put your finger onto something very important there, this cultural obsession with recording things, because we have the technology to do so.

JW: When I was concerned with cinema in the ’70s, I remember liking very much going to places like the Filmmakers Co-op [London]. It wasn’t a cinema in the standard sense. The films might be very short or very long, any length, so there was no set interval for the replaying of the recording. You could also walk in and out more easily. That suggested a kind of ‘smoker’s cinema’ (to paraphrase Brecht), where the audience was more detached, mobile and intermittent than they are in the normal cinema. They aren’t there to see a play, but to contemplate some instance of motion pictures, formed in some other way. It is more like going to an art gallery and encountering this or that work, each different in scale, medium, etc. That whole scene seemed to fade away after a while, I guess because the films couldn’t make money and also because the young film artist moved in different directions. But the new lightweight film you’re talking about might be part of a reconsideration of that experimental art-cinema of the ’70s.

MF: I saw my first art films at the old Arts Lab [London] and then places like the ‘Milky Way’ in Amsterdam. I’ve been trying to establish the idea of a peripatetic cinema – all you need now is a fairly small digital projector and a DVD machine and the cinema can be anywhere.

JW: This brings me back to your earlier observation about my trying to do all my technical work ‘in house’, in my own studio. When I began working in colour on a large scale, again in the ’70s, I was obliged to get the prints made in commercial labs because I couldn’t obtain the equipment I needed; I couldn’t afford it or the place to house it. But I wanted to do that, and that was an aim that I’ve almost managed to realise, struggling toward it for nearly 30 years. Artists need to have as much authority and control over their work as they can. The essential model, for me, is still the painter, the artisan who has all the tools and materials they need right at hand, and who knows how to make the object he or she is making from start to finish. With photography this is almost possible. You could say that the photographer purchases unexposed film the way a painter purchases new canvas or paper; chemicals for development are analogous to paints. The camera and the enlarger are new technologies and not parallel to anything but, using those machines, the photographer can expose that film and produce a final print all in one in-house activity. Any extension of that, into collaboration with other technical people, or into having aspects of the work done outside the studio, could be thought of as just circumstantial events that don’t disturb the basic structure. I always thought working in labs was just a temporary situation. If we photographers extended the work process outside the studio, we could feel confident that we could bring it back there when necessary. Even though, now, many would never even consider doing that, the thing we call ‘photography’ still retains that potential – the capacity to be done at the highest artistic levels on a very modest technical scale.

MF: Yes, I agree. I’ve been working with digital stills cameras over the past three years, and hold the same philosophy as with the cinema ideas. You take a different kind of photograph if you know it remains a private experience until the moment that you are ready to expose it to others. I recall in the past having very strange conversations with technicians in labs...we’d be talking colour and sometimes the image would be quite strange, but never referred to.

JW: The artisanal nature of the practice is an enormously significant kind of freedom, artistic freedom and personal freedom. Many artists have abandoned it because it seemed too conventional and they needed to explore the space opened up by the idea of technical collaboration and everything related to that (all this defined by Duchamp and Warhol). That is as it may be, but in some sense we always know we can still keep working in the absence of those extended capacities. Film in the large sense of it, always assumed it wasn’t an artisanal activity, but an industrial one. That was the enthusiasm of the earlier filmmakers and theorists, I think. It was the mark of film’s difference from all the other, previous arts. That’s true enough, except it blurs over the sense in which artistic freedom is connected with the scale of the work process. Industrial film is large, like opera used to be; now the costs of putting on a large opera seem miniscule in comparison to the cost of making even a middling movie. Your idea of lightweight filmmaking seems to be an approach to the older artisanal form of art. This idea has been around for quite a while, as I said, and it’s worked well, for the most part, as long as you have no ambition to reach a huge audience. I like to think that serious art is not at all exclusive, but it is not for everyone; it’s for anyone.

MF: When directing films I would often hear the cry ‘We’re all making the same film’ from a producer or studio head. One such boss once asked me if I’d seen the trailer they’d cut for my film. I said I hadn’t and he said ‘Take a look, it’ll give you an idea of the film you’re supposed to be making’. There is a huge pressure in the film industry to try and make something that everyone will like, i.e. a hit. But it is such a relief when you realise that this is not really possible. I may steal your quote: ‘it is not for everyone; it’s for anyone’.

JW: John Waters put it this way once; he said to me, ‘You artists have it great. You make your art and if it is unpopular, that’s perfect. You make a film, you have to show it at the mall and then change what the people at the mall don’t like!’ There has been this tremendous incursion of video and film projection in art galleries over the past 15 years. Exhibitions often now look like a kind of film festival with dozens of little dark cinemas, side by side, each showing their one projection, the sound clashing endlessly. I like to think that motion pictures as an art form, as what we can generically call ‘cinema’, are something fundamentally different from the more conventional visual arts – painting, sculpture, photography. It’s a peculiar circumstance that finds all this cinema presented as if it were visual art as such. But the main reason for this is that people who want to make non-conventional motion pictures can only find support from the art institutions and the art market. The film industry, public or private, has no interest in this kind of film. Even though I don’t like these projections taking the place of art works, I like the fact that people who want to make film can see that the artisanal scale of visual art stands as a viable model for them, and therefore, as it has been for a long time now, for ‘another cinema’. I guess the conflicted thing here is that a lot of the film-art people aren’t quite convinced about the idea that, if it’s art, it isn’t going to be for a big audience. It will have some sort of audience, but one more like the public for the fine arts as such. A lot of the film-video-art people still have this sneaking hope for a huge public, and that’s really an illusion.

MF: I have very mixed feelings about gallery projections and art films. I see things and usually feel that it’s not very well made and that the artist is getting away with murder. Usually the acting (or performance as it is called) is dire and self-conscious, the images are held for too long with no acknowledgement of the fact that everyone watches TV and movies and therefore will be used to a far quicker editing style which, like it or not, has affected the way we expect film images to progress on the screen. And, although I am no fan of the Hollywood product, the technical aspects are of a very high level. The tricky thing about Hollywood is this – they pay really well and it is very difficult not to delude oneself by saying ‘Just one more film and then I’m out of here’.

JW: The fact that the shot is held for too long is one of the main markers that it is cinema in the realm of visual art. It has become formulaic. It tends to mean ‘this is not the kind of cinema we normally call cinema, this is another way of looking at the world’. That’s interesting and valid in principle, except that by now it is another very well-worn way of looking at the world. It’s interesting that there are by now so many new conventional ways of being different. Dogme, for example. The aesthetic strictures they set down were in themselves nothing new, just cinema verité. But I noticed, at least in the three or four Dogme films I have seen, that this ‘verité’ effect always seemed to involve a lot of hand-held camera. That seems very unreflected-upon, since it seems that all the other criteria of Dogme could be satisfied while holding the camera very still (even if tripods aren’t allowed). Maybe a different verité-Dogme-lightweight cinema should combine the immediacy that you are looking for with the severity of long, static shots, the way the art-video people do it? There’s something tragic and sinister about the ‘one more film’…

MF: What it seems to come down to is that filmmakers are determined to leave their ‘mark’ on the film. So Lars von Trier insists on retaining the right to wobble, (the right to punish the audience?) but in fact it constantly reminds us that we are watching a Dogme film. For me this is all too self-conscious. I have invented a rig for digital cameras which allows hand held work without wobble. Aside from that I am a huge fan of the tripod and the locked off frame. We probably don’t have enough time to get into this but what intrigues me right now is the contract we have with an audience; the suspension of disbelief contract. I feel it is something that needs to be constantly re-affirmed and can never be taken for granted. It seems to me that this is an area you are also interested in. For me it is the reason to constantly examine form and structure so that I can maintain some tension with the audience. Another thing that really separates filmmakers from ‘artists’ is this – you will create either one, or a small series of works. I will try and make as many copies as possible on DVD or tape so my film will never be special, unique. But surely the future is going to be all about this multi-editioning and shouldn’t art try not to be so iconic? Hasn’t our culture really moved away from the principles that created this uniqueness?

JW: But that accepts that the cinema, in its industrial form, is the measure of all the arts. That seems old fashioned, the kind of thing they talked about in the ’30s and ’40s, that cinema, the ‘seventh art’, would be the model for everyone. But I’m arguing for the at least equal validity of artisanal methods and approaches, and at least the equal and simultaneous validity of different models. The fact that some kinds of works can do perfectly well as innumerable copies doesn’t affect the fact that others can do just as well as a unique thing. With a painting, the uniqueness is inherent in the nature of the medium anyway. So the question is really posed to photographers because we are the only ones in the artisanal field who have the feasible possibility of making works in large editions. It isn’t really feasible in the older graphic media, like etching or lithography, because the printing plates or stones aren’t capable of reproduction past a fairly limited point. So, in a way the question never really comes up seriously for people who paint, draw or make those kinds of prints. That seems to mean that they will never really be absorbed into any sense of mass-produced art, except through external, mechanical reproduction of their work. Since they cannot give us the mass of copies we might request from them, we’ll just have to let them continue on their way with their single works or small editions. But I don’t see that as out of date, since it is happening now and for inescapable reasons; so it has to be part of ‘now’ and presumably, of the future. The question is posed most meaningfully to the photographers. Even though it is again not very easy to make very large numbers of copies from a photographic negative. That would be really slow work, since each print would have to be done individually, by hand, and, even if you have all your settings just right, there will still be variations from print to print. Even letting that pass, and accepting that photography can actually give us the large editions, there are obstacles. For me, the main obstacle is that, insofar as a photograph is made with an artistic aim akin to a painting or a drawing, there is no inherent reason to make any particular number of prints from a negative. If your aim is to make a picture by means of photography, then one picture is enough. The God of Photography is content when a negative is transformed into a positive. The act of photography is complete. Making a second print, then, might be only the response to an external stimulus of some kind, one that actually has nothing essential to do with photography. So, since uniqueness seems to have a strong status in this way of looking at it, there isn’t any powerful reason to abandon it.

MF: I was at a film conference in Portugal and a man raised an interesting point. He was in his sixties. He said that when he first started seeing good films by Buñuel and Bergman (and Godard, of course) he would go to the cinema knowing that perhaps he would never again have an opportunity to see this film. I quite like this notion of uniqueness. Something that lives in the memory and modifies internally as we age, by the organic process of memory. When I see a strong film I have no desire to see it again.

Jeff Wall has a solo exhibition at Schaulager, Basel, in May 2005 which travels to Tate Modern in October 2005

Mike Figgis is currently in pre-production for a feature film to be shot in New York City. His exhibition ‘In The Dark’ travels to Lodz, Poland for November’s ‘Camerimage’ Festival. He will be the chairman of this year’s Venice Film Festival jury

above copied from:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

SOME CALL IT ART: From Imaginary Autonomy to Autonomous Collectivity, Gregory Sholette

Isn't it rather, all things considered, that I remain suspended on this question, whose answer I tirelessly seek in the other's face: what am I worth? - Balzac

Western culture has, at least since the enlightenment, defined the artist as set apart from the rest of society. The best known version of this artistic autonomy is the constitution of the solitary genius. Today, that imaginary realm of independence is increasingly visible as an ideological construction. Yet, like other myths, including those of nationalism and race, the manifest falsity of artistic autonomy remains operative within specific circles as a mechanism of control (As Slavoj Zizek quips, the subject of ideology knows very well, but… [1] ). The target of this control is the potential power to excel management, something all creative work represents. By necessity, this control includes the administration of the working artist herself, a practice that dates back at least as far as Plato's writings about the ideal republic. Curiously, the idea of artistic autonomy has played a dual role in this regulatory logic. This separation presents a symbol of transcendent freedom that has been especially useful to bourgeois ideology.

Art and museum culture is the secular religion of capitalism. It provides a space for inner meaning in an otherwise spiritually empty world. The return of Art for art's sake as exemplified by the neo-conservatism of critic David Hickey proves just how durable this mythology can be. At the same time, the idea of autonomy implies that art, as well as labor, can stand alone and be self-sufficient from the managerial class. This is the version of autonomy that draws my attention here. The question I pose asks if it is possible, perhaps even necessary, to retool the bankrupt idea of artistic autonomy, not as a means of withdrawing once more into a closed-off aesthetic sovereignty, but instead as a model for sedition, intervention and ultimately political transformation that reaches beyond the realm of art itself. If such a redemption is conceivable, it first requires a final emptying-out and decomposition of artistic autonomy as a bourgeois ideology. That task raises another set of questions. How and for whom is this evident fiction useful? Perhaps this is more clearly stated in terms of when is the term art invoked and in whose presence? It is an inquiry that can not be addressed without taking into account the social and economic changes taking place at both the local and international level that are in turn directly affecting the actual practices of artists themselves. This transformation is most evident in the cultural climate of the United States.

Despite the so-called "boom" years of the 1980s or the purported "new" economy of the 1990s, most working people in the United States today are financially worse off than their counterparts of the 1960s who enjoyed far more evenly distributed income levels, lower housing costs, and strong welfare support systems. [2] According to economist Doug Henwood "Overwork is at least as characteristic of the labor market now as is underwork. Nearly twice as many people hold down multiple jobs as are involuntarily limited to part-time work (7.8 million vs. 4.3 million) - and well over half the multiply employed hold at least one full-time job." [3] Facing the dismantling of the so-called safety net and increasing unemployment, workers were forced to compete with each other and with overseas labor while intensifying productivity. Longer work hours and multiple job holdings now extend the work-week beyond the forty hour limit once fought and died over by working class movements in the nineteenth century.

Artists, especially sculptors, painters, and crafts people, are in an even poorer state than most working people in the United States, especially when compared to other specialized professionals. While the overall artist population has grown considerably (doubling between 1970 and 1990 [4]) and while some 164 programs offering graduate and undergraduate art degrees became available in 1980, the actual median income of visual artists today remains concentrated in the 10,000 to 20,000 dollar range, not enough even to afford housing in cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. [5] In addition, the rate of unemployment for artists during the past few decades has averaged about twice that of other professional workers. [6] Since approximately half earned less than $3000 from their art and a quarter earned only $500 from art sales in 1990, not surprisingly, most have little choice but to work several jobs, often in an alltogether different field, in order to maintain a close to living wage. [7] The "drop-out" rate among artists is also high and unlike in other professions carries a financial reward. According to an unpublished study, one third of those who graduated from a major U.S. art school in 1963 had given up making art by 1981 and were actually earning more money than those who continued being artists. [8]

As difficult as it has always been to be a practising artist in the U.S., artists today must also contend with the withering of public support and an increasing dependency on private money. In practical terms this means learning how to market oneself. While museums and other support structures for artists claim cultural autonomy from capital, as Chin-tao Wu points out, the new corporate enterprise culture only appears to be at odds with the institutions of art. "Indeed multinational museums and multinational corporations have become in many ways inseparable bed-fellows. Despite the fact their proclaimed aims and purposes may be worlds apart, they share an insatiable appetite for improving their share of a competitive global market, their ambition involves them in physical expansion and the occupation of space in other countries. It also involves making aggressive deals in an open marketplace and maneuvering capital (money and/or art) across different borders." [9]

Perhaps this new global cultural hegemony is best summarized by one of its own: the director of the Guggenheim Museum chain Thomas Krens who, without a trace of self-doubt, boasts of the museum's corporate alliance stating, "We have put this program of global partners in place, where we have long-term associations with institutions like Deutsche Bank and Hugo Boss and Samsung." If the museums and palaces of high culture have appeared in the past as a shelter for civic life, set apart from the vulgarities of capitalism, less than two decades later the effect of the massive economic restructuring that started in the 1980s is evinced by the increasingly eager and unashamed embrace not only of corporate money but also of corporate values. This open display of affection for the private sector flows not only from artists and museum administrators, but also from institutions of public education, civic welfare, even criminal incarceration. [10] Nor is this condition of privatization likely to remain localized within the United States or Great Britain. As the entrepreneurial model gradually takes hold in museums as well as state and civic institutions of every kind, the aura of artistic autonomy cannot help but be jeopardized. According to cultural critic Masao Miyoshi, under pressure from the totalizing influence of trans-corporate capitalism: "…museums, exhibitions, and theatrical performances will be swiftly appropriated by tourism and other forms of commercialism. No matter how subversive at the beginning, variants will be appropriated aggressively by branches of consumerism". [11]

Even if Myoshi's bleak prophecy is not our collective future, at least in the United States the effect of corporate hegemony has already forced into view a confrontation between the symbolic position and actual practices of art. It is most apparent when one looks at changes in the institution that occupies the symbolic center of American high culture: The National Endowment for the Arts. Recently the National Endowment or NEA has been involved in heavy campaigning to regain the support of the United States Congress and the populace at large. It has approached this by attempting to prove that art is not a purely symbolic or autonomous activity, but is instead a kind of labor that contributes to the overall well-being of society in direct ways, including public education and community service. A recent document entitled the American Canvas Report, sponsored by the NEA supplies the blueprint for a post-Cold War approach to public patronage in which artists and arts agencies are encouraged to venture into: "a broad range of community-based activities. In 1996, fully two-thirds of the 50 largest LAAs [local arts agencies] addressed five or more of the [following] issues: Community Development Issues, Cultural/Racial Awareness, Youth at Risk, Economic Development, Crime Prevention, Illiteracy, AIDS, Environment, Substance Abuse, Housing, Teen Pregnancy and, Homelessness". [12]

One post-script to artistic autonomy therefore is the recognition of the artist as social worker. However, the indirect consequences of this cultural utilitarianism in a capitalist economy are just as predictable. Let me again quote from the NEA American Canvas Report which celebrates this shift in the most unabashed language: "While there are no one-size-fits-all models for the integration of the arts into community life, two areas in particular -- urban revitalization and cultural tourism -- are especially popular right now, and both were the subject of much attention at the American Canvas forums. In many respects, of course, revitalization and tourism are simply two sides of the same coin: as cities become more "livable" and more attractive, they'll prove increasingly alluring to tourists, whose expenditures, in turn, will help revitalize cities. As mutually reinforcing pieces of the same puzzle, moreover, both urban revitalization and cultural tourism invite the participation of arts organizations. The arts can come to these particular "tables", in other words, confident that they won't be turned away." [13]

Here is a new, post-public, post-cold-war artistic pragmatism. It accepts the need to "translate" the value of the arts into more general civic, social and educational terms that will in turn be more readily understood, by the general public and by their elected officials alike. Nevertheless, such phenomena as gentrification and the displacement of low income residents that accompanies the movement of artists into cities is one social problem not even on the NEA radar screen. Meanwhile, cultural tourism and community-based art practice must be thought of as a local consequence of the move towards a privatized and global economy. If the remnants of public, civic culture aim to make art appear useful to the voting population as a form of social service and tourism, then how long can the idea of artistic autonomy and its celebration of individual freedom, even in its current, transparently bankrupt form, remain useful to the de-territorialized needs of global capital? In other words, what position can artists expect to hold, symbolically and economically, in the coming, trans-national corporate hegemony?

In the universal language of finance, the "fine" arts make up a pretty thin slice of the overall leisure and entertainment industry [14]. Still the image of artistic freedom and autonomy has for some time now presented a colorful (if imaginary) life-style choice for the overstressed and over worked professional. (Consider the way lawyers, brokers and psychiatrists rush to buy "lofts" in gentrified art ghettos.) Yet that role may be on its way out as popular culture and advertising have come to bestow an artistic aura on basketball players, movie stars, rock musicians and now corporate entrepreneurs. Perhaps it is not the apparent autonomy of the artist but her actual productive constitution that, in terms of Hardt and Negri's thesis, serves the global economy as the very prototype of the new worker. Far more than most other workers, artists are in fact trained - in fact train themselves - to adapt to changing and unstable economic conditions. Consider the way the artist is at once highly specialized, yet infinitely re-trainable, willing to volunteer enormous time and labor to generate cultural capital (that is typically accumulated by others), while in theory remaining subversive towards institutional power, even though seldom is the artist willing to subvert the power that most affects her: the art industry itself.

Privatization and the "new" economy also have other, more immediate consequences for artists who continue to think of themselves as autonomous producers that make art for galleries and museums. For one thing, expanded work schedules (in those other paid jobs that support one's artistic career) simply allow less time for making art. This might be seen reflected even in the choice of materials contemporary artists' employ. Think of easel painting, modeling in clay or casting in bronze. During the early twentieth century these were overpowered by more direct methods of art making such as collage, photography, steel welding and assemblage. As life (and production) speeds up, time-consuming methods are broken down or eliminated. Today, even these relatively instantaneous techniques for producing art require quantities of time beyond the means of many artists. For them, the computer combined with graphic applications is the art studio of our day. This is especially true in such hot real estate markets as New York City and is a logical extension of what the late artist and art historian Ian Burn describes as a "de-skilling" of artistic craft. Together with critic Lucy R. Lippard, Burn argues that in the 1960s conceptual art did away with artistic proficiency as a means of avoiding the commodification of art. According to Lippard, the process culminated in the total disappearance of the art object. [15] The unanticipated outcome of de-skilling is the merging of high and low art and a contemporary generation that serves as aesthetic service providers rather than object makers. [16] Art historian Brandon Taylor refers to some of this new de-skilled work as "slack art." [17] The use of ephemeral materials, dead-pan performances and aimlessly shot video appears to avoid major investments of labor and materials while it thumbs its nose at the over-produced art of the late 1980s (such as Koons, Holzer, or Longo). Yet with a slight shift of context, "slack art" becomes indistinguishable from many other informal practices among people who do not identify themselves as artists. For example, how, other than by location, is an arrangement of products purchased through a retail catalog or borrowed from someone's attic any different from the work of Jason Rhoades, Laurie Parsons or Sylvie Fleury? The Duchampian argument that context is everything no longer satisfies. While readymades provoked questions about the definition of art by working against a normalized artistic tradition inside the museum, in the current dissipated, post, post-modern world, such work is indistinguishable from advertising and pop-culture that has already adopted the legacy of subversive art itself. When a prestigious museum like the Guggenheim displays motorcycles and Armani suits, is this not an inevitable response to the breakdown between the fine arts and other forms of artistic-like production taking place both inside and outside the museum?

Meanwhile, the publicity-machine that drives consumer culture has always required a great deal of moderately skilled, visual labor, even if this labor is repetitive and uninspired in nature. For every Marcel Breuer or Olivetti there is an army of lesser artisans who perceive graphic design not as a profession but as toil that is nevertheless still preferable to sheet-rocking apartments or waiting on tables. Graduates of fine art programs (artists) are finding employment laying-out innumerable retail catalogs, book covers, movie posters, liquor ads, travel brochures; and most of all producing website designs. Globalism accelerates this trend. As the borders that once separated national economies implode, the demand for design, packaging, and commodity labeling explodes and with it the job market for "creative" labor. This phenomena is already affecting academia, as evident from the growth of visual culture studies. Concurrently, at the level of artistic practice, a very small gap appears to separate the production of so-called fine art and that of commercial, visual culture. Simply from a practical perspective, the increasing throng of artists using digital technology in their art makes it impossible to draw an absolute line between the kind of artistic labor done for money and that performed in the service of fine art. Indeed, a new ethos appears to be emerging among some digital practitioners that sees no contradiction between an avant-garde world-view and entrepreneurial business skills. Like the early avant-garde, the post, post-modernist digital artist claims a new utopianism. The one crucial difference is that now avant-garde practice must also be viable as a business enterprise. By using modern marketing techniques, actually operates in a vanguard, productivist mode, treating the consumer as a producer, even as its artistic agenda mixes aesthetic play with profiteering. All of this puts a new spin on the classical avant-garde call to transform art into life, a point I will return to below. Yet, where does this leave the traditional idea of artistic autonomy? What purpose has artistic autonomy served the state, and is its practical demise truly a reason to celebrate?

According to enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, the special categorization of art as a human activity that transcends the material world depends upon an a priori separation between nature and culture. At the same time the artist can breach this divide through that singular person known as the genius. Perhaps the most influential art critic and theoretician of the post-war period, Clement Greenberg, made use of Kant's aesthetic theories to articulate and ground his version of modernist art. If Kant "used logic to establish the limits of logic" and "withdrew much from its old jurisdiction" what was left was "all the more secure." [18] The resulting art object affirms its own conditionality and celebrates its freedom - its autonomy - from representation by rejecting any association with literature or illusory space. Greenberg's aesthetic axioms proved especially useful to post-war capitalism because, unlike the official culture of Stalinism or Maoism, modernism in Greenberg's Kantian revision offered the intellectual an aura of imagined freedom from all social constraints. I say imagined because recent scholarship has uncovered historic alliances between Greenberg's promotion of a modernist concept of autonomy and the cold war politics of the United States. [19] Today, supporting the autonomy of the artistic genius to ward off the chill of communism is no longer a viable rational for public art spending. Indirectly citing this dilemma, Bill Ivey, the outgoing Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, recently commented, "Cold War thinking lay just beneath the cultural policy of the last century". [20] Public funding agencies, including the NEA, now must struggle to reestablish a rationale for government support of art even as citizenship is increasingly measured by one's participation in the economy as a producer/consumer, rather than by transcendental beliefs such as nation. In this post-national environment, the very notion of artistic autonomy, together with art's symbolic value, is bound to be both marginalized and absorbed by global marketing as one more brand for specialized leisure products.

There is a different approach to artistic practice that comes from the philosophical tradition of Hegel and Marx. Cultural critic Walter Benjamin, for example, called on artists and intellectuals to put themselves at the service of the working class in their struggle against capitalist exploitation, to make art that actively transformed artistic means of production. He cited as examples of this utilitarian art the epic theater of Bertolt Brecht, Soviet newspapers that were authored by their readers, and the photomontages of John Heartfield. [21] Ironically, the avant-garde promise to drag art out of the museums and into life is today remarkably visible in all the wrong places. Museums and foundations now claim to nurture art as social activism, multiculturalism drives the cultural tourism industry and what remains of public funding agencies call on artists to end their isolation and become civil servants. In the post-Cold War and anti-socialist United States, the Left has joined the center-liberal establishment in its call for a utilitarian and serviceable art that integrates "the arts into community life". [22] Meanwhile, if the private sector still upholds an idea of artistic autonomy, that altruism comes with a leash which discourages artists from overtly challenging the economic foundation of their patronage. In sum, the collapse of artistic autonomy would not be so profound or irreversible if not for the changes under way in the post-Cold War political economy. As already noted, one of these changes is the privatization of civic life and the disappearance of the nation-state. The other permutation is the generalization and visibility of art-like, creative production within the collective arena of mass culture.

In the past, such things as home made crafts, amateur photography (and pornography), self-published newsletters, fanzines and underground comics had little impact beyond their immediate community of producers and users. Today, an ever more accessible and sophisticated technology for manufacturing, copying, documenting and distributing "home-made" or informal art has dramatically ended that isolation. Today, one cannot escape the spread of this heterogeneous and informal art-like activity. It radiates from homes and offices, schools and streets, community centers and in cyberspace. Its contents are typically filled with fantasies drawn from popular entertainment as well as personal trivia and sentimental nostalgia. In form it can range from the whimsical to the banal and from the absurd to the obscene. It is a qualitative shift unique to the last ten years, and I will argue in a moment, the increased visibility of amateur and often collectivized cultural production is more than any other factor accelerating the withering of autonomous artistic practice as such.

The computer hacker mentality of today is not so far removed from the organized fence cutting tactics of farmers in Nebraska in the 1880s. Culture "Jamming" the system is not so different from the tactics of the Industrial Workers of the World who, at the turn of the century, battled anti-free speech laws in places like San Diego by overloading the local jails with arrested protestors. However, up to now these activities remain divided from each other, their political relationship fragmented and diffused. Yet even the most conservative analysis would find it difficult to ignore the expansion of unregulated and inventive activities made possible by the growing accessibility of communication and reproductive technologies. Without dismissing the enormous number of people still laboring in traditional manufacturing and agricultural industries, especially in developing countries, global capital's dependency on communications technology virtually assures the spread of digital networks and information technologies. One of the tasks of activists must be to see to it that the market's cellular and digital circulatory system is infected by the demands of non-technical laborers. Once again, it is less that art is being disseminated down into society from on high, than the social matrix is itself predicated upon a submerged collective creative capacity. As Negri and Hardt explain: "Labor is productive excess with respect to the existing order and the rules of its reproduction. This productive excess is at once the result of a collective force of emancipation and the substance of the new social virtuality of labor's productive and liberatory capacities." [23]

*Therefore, alongside the passive consumption of commodities and popular entertainment there emerges a different realm in which unofficial and informal cultural capacity is exercised. The more these informal cultural producers become aware of their own capacity for creative and transformative action, the more the privileged space once reserved for "trained" artists recedes. Already, this generalized artistic activity mixes together consumption, production and exchange as it recycles and redistributes, purchases and appropriates. It is evident when people download commercial music for
free, duplicate copyrighted images for personal use and in so many ways re-direct or simply loot institutional power. Many of these activities also circulate within ungoverned or ungovernable economic zones including flea markets or through the postal system or over the Internet in what I have described elsewhere as "creative dark matter." [24] They vary in form from the criminal to the radical to the insipid. Each garners equal space within the expanded and informal cultural sphere. Thanks to the exploitative needs of global capital, the cost of making visible one's subjective and creative excesses is falling. In theory it is a short distance from group visibility to collective autonomy.

A selective list of current art activist practices suggests that an informal political aesthetic is already in existence, much of it emerging from loosely structured autonomous collectives focused on production, distribution, intervention and disruption. In certain cases these groups are so interdisciplinary that the art world discourse just ignores them. This list would include some or all of the work of RTMark, Critical Art Ensemble, Reclaim the Streets (various locations, in both digital and actual spaces,) REPOhistory (the NYC based group co-founded by the author that makes site-specific public art about alternative histories), ABC No Rio (NYC space dedicated to all forms of counter-cultural practice, from music to graffiti to housing activism), Reverend Billy (also based in NYC, the "reverend" executes anti-corporate performances with his accomplices in Starbucks coffee shops and at the Disney Store on the new Times Square), Ultra-Red (a Los Angeles based group of audio-activists), The Center for Land Use Interpretation (also in LA with projects that produce tours of radioactive and ecologically damaged environments), Ne Pas Plier (French activists using art to focus attention on housing for guest workers), WochenKlausur (Austrian group that stages encounters between elected officials and marginalized peoples), A-Clip (Berlin-based media activists), Collectivo Cambalache (originally from Bogata, CC creates alternative exchange economies in public spaces), Temporary Services (disseminates art and information in Chicago streets using newspaper dispensers), Blackstone BicycleWorks/monk prakeet/Dan Peterman (a recycling, organic garden and art center on Chicago's South Side), The Stockyard Institute (Jim Duignan works with urban school children in Chicago to produce "gang-proof" armored suits), and the group Ha Ha (Laurie Palmer and John Ploof develop projects on AIDS, ecology and housing in Chicago and elsewhere).

These informal, politicized micro-institutions have made art that infiltrates high schools, flea markets, public squares, corporate websites, city streets, housing projects, and local political machines in ways that do not set out to recover a specific meaning or use-value for either art world discourse or private interests. At the same time, the pressures of privatization combined with a generalization of artistic activity that is most clearly visible in digital form, have sapped the words "art" and "artist" of their previously imagined autonomy. While Joseph Beuys prophesized that his social sculpture would transform everyone into an artist, the ordinary routines of the populace have done more to achieve that goal without professional artists to guide them. [25] What remains of artistic autonomy is now a specialized marketing tool of both the high-culture and mass media industries. As such, it now openly manifests itself for what it has been for some time - a label for a specific brand of cultural capital called "art".

However, the closer this idea of autonomy nears extinction or outright exposure, the more interesting becomes the possibility of its rescue. Only when it has hit the floor and gone cold might a version of this archaic idea possibly be infused with new value. If Benjamin argued that only a redeemed mankind could hope to win back its entire historical legacy, our redemption of artistic autonomy could not be a nostalgic return to the past, especially not the disengaged and heroic individualism of modernism. Nor would it be grounded in either the Kantian ideal of disinterested beauty or the Hegelian or even Marxist notion of an evolving totality. Rather this autonomy would have to recognize the end of the once powerful contradictions between artist and society, nature and culture and individual and collective. This new, critical autonomy would not even be centered on artistic practice per se, but would recognize the already present potential for political and economic self-valorization inherent within contemporary social conditions. Instead of asking what is art, it would instead query what is politics? Instead of asking if "they are allowed to do that?" or worrying about the uncertain status of art's social capital, this critical autonomy would proceed to activate cells of artistic producers not afraid to utilize and manipulate the entire range of culture making (and culture-thieving) technologies and strategies that are now multiplying within the circulatory system of the global body. The autonomous status of these informal working groups or cells might indeed leverage discursive power from the lingering aura of the Kantian/Greenbergian aesthetic. They could for example borrow the idea of freedom (exemplified by art) for doing politics. What a radical notion! [26] However, they would do so in a utilitarian (thus anti-Kantian) manner, not to insure art's usefulness to the liberal, corporate state as much new genre public art appears to do, but as a model of political and economic self-valorization that is applicable for social transformation in the broadest sense. The point is to begin to recognize and bring to light what already exists and to re-direct or retool this so that its practitioners become self-conscious of their already present collectivity, a force potentially independent from what Negri and Hardt term the Empire. [27] Here a final displacement is possible. Politics superimposes itself at all levels as a practical art that is at the same time symbolic. But it does so only if we understand politics as the exploration of ideas, the pleasure of communication, the exchange of education, and the construction of fantasy, all within a radically defined social practice of collective, critical autonomy.


[1] Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989), p. 33.
[2] Lawrence Michel, Jared Bernstein and John Smitt, in State of Working American: 2000-2001 (Economic Policy Institute: 2000).
[3] Doug Henwood, "How Jobless the Future?," Left Business Observer #75 (Dec. 1996).
[4] Joan Jeffri and Robert Greenblatt in Artists Who Work with Their Hands: Painters, Sculptors, Craft Artists and Artist Printmakers: A Trend Report, 1970-1990, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts Research Division, (Washington: NEA, August 1994), p. 28.
[5] Note too that the US poverty level in 1998 for a family of four was $16,000 (US Dept of Labor) while the median income for painters and craft artists in 1990 was only $18,187. Compare this to the $36.942 average for professional workers in other fields. Jeffri & Greenblatt, p. 36.
[6] Neil O. Alper and Gregory H. Wassall, More Than Once In a Blue Moon: Multiple Jobholdings by American Artists, Research Division Report #40, (Washington: NEA, 2000), p. 97.
[7] According to the same NEA report: The most frequent explanation provided by artists for holding multiple jobs was that they needed the additional earnings generated by the second jobs to meet their household's expenses. This was the same reason most other professionals held a second job. Note that "Visual artists were almost three times as likely, on average, to have worked in the [professional] service industries than other artists (31% versus 11 %)." Ibid, pp. 44 - 46.
[8] A study of 300 graduates of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago were tracked between 1963 to 1980 by researchers Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi, Jacob W. Getzels and Stephen P. Kahn in Talent and Achievement (Chicago:1984, an unpublished report), p. 44.
[9] Chin-tao Wu, Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Intervention Since the 1980s, (London: Verso 2001), p. 213.
[10] Consider the term cultural capital employed by Pierre Bourdieu. It is a phrase that appears to "save face" for some sort of sophisticated artistic practice, and yet implicitly acknowledges the triumph of the marketplace over every aspect of life. Consider also a recent report entitled Unseen Wealth: Report of the Brookings Task Force on Understanding Intangible Sources of Value by Margaret Blair and Steven Wallman in which the authors argue that "organizational and human capital, "goodwill" and other intangibles, as well as other items that are not usually viewed as "assets" are becoming the real sources of value in corporations." The authors call on economists to use such "intangibles" for future analysis "as the dominant drivers of economic activity and wealth shift away from manufacturing toward information-based services".
[11] Masao Miyoshi, "A Borderless World? From Colonialism to Transnationalism and the Decline of the Nation State," Critical Inquiry
[12] American Canvas Report, op. Cite.
[13] Ibid.
[14] The United States Entertainment business is ranked the 18th largest industry in Fortune Magazines's Fortune 500 with Time Warner ranked the 128th largest corporation and Disney the 176th in the global top 500. To get a sense of how small the "high" art world is by comparison, contrast the combined annual revenue of $6,763,989 -- based on total sales, receipts and shipments -- from museums and historic sites in the U.S. to the nearly ten times larger revenue of $60,331,549 just for gambling, amusement and recreation spending.
[15] Ian Burn, "The Sixties: Crisis and Aftermath (Or The Memories of an Ex-Conceptual Artist)," Art & Text (Fall 1981), pp. 49-65, and Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years: the Disappearance of the Art Object (Praeger, 1973).
[16] Andrea Fraser, "What's Intangible, Transitory, Mediating, Participatory, and Rendered in the Public Sphere?" in October #80 (Spring 1997), pp. 11-116.
[17] Brandon Taylor , Avant-Garde and After: Rethinking Art Now (New York: Abrams,1995), p. 153.
[18] Immanuel Kant, "The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement," collected works, (Chicago: William Benton, 1952).
[19] Eva Cockroft "Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold War," Artforum (June 1974), pp. 39-41, and Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).
[20] Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Bill Ivey speaking at the National Organization of Arts Organizations, Brooklyn, NY, June 2000
[21] Walter Benjamin, "Author as Producer," Reflections, trans. Edmund Jephcott, (New York: Helen and Kurt Wolff, 1978).
[22] American Canvas Report, op. cite.
[23] Hardt and Negri, op. Cite., p. 357.
[24] See my essay, "Dark Matter, Las Agencias, and the Aesthetics of Tactical Embarrassment" in The Journal of Aesthetics and Politics, on-line at:
[25] It could be argued that it is precisely this Kantian/Greenbergian tradition that provided the theoretical framework for the self-analysis leading to a more politicized art practice, including the work of Hans Haacke, Daniel Buren and later the "institutional critique" of younger artists like Andrea Fraser and Renée Green. Without dismissing the logic of this claim, I have tried to show elsewhere that this approach gives far too little credit to non-art world influences, including politics and popular culture, on the work of these artists. See Gregory Sholette "News from Nowhere: Activist Art & After," Third Text #45, (Winter, 1999), pp. 45-56. For a German version of this essay see the book "Metropolenkultur. Kunst und Kulturpolitik der 90er Jahre in den Zentren der Welt", ed. by Jutta Held (Weimar, 2000)
[26] The School of the Art Institute's student newspaper recently carried an article proclaiming that art was a "major force binding and guiding" a reawakening of political activism in the United States. While there is an old if unwritten history to this affiliation, the fact that young people are making these connections in the "heartland" of America is significant. Meanwhile, similar links between pirate radio broadcasters, puppeteers, culture-jammers, and direct action groups is apparent in all of the recent protests against the World Trade Organization. Joanne Hinkel, "How Art is Helping Activism" F Newsmagazine (October 2000), pp. 14-15.
[27] What we need to grasp is how the multitude is organized and redefined as a positive, political power…Empire can only isolate, divide, and segregate…the action of the multitude becomes political primarily when it begins to confront directly and with an adequate consciousness the central repressive operations of Empire. It is a matter of recognizing and engaging the imperial initiatives and not allowing them continually to reestablish order; it is a matter of crossing and breaking down the limits and segmentations that are imposed on the new collective labor power; it is a matter of gathering together these experiences of resistance and wielding them in concert against the nerve centers of imperial command." Negri and Hardt, op. cite., pp. 400-401. See also Gregory Sholette, "Counting On Your Collective Silence: Notes on Activist Art as Collaborative Practice," Afterimage (November 1999), pp.18-20. #19 (Summer 1993), p.747.

Originally appeared in Eva Sturm / Stella Rollig (ed.), Dürfen die das? Kunst als sozialer Raum , Wien: Turia+Kant 2002, and online on eiPCP (European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies) in January 2002.

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