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Art autonomy

Fragment of Field Theory’s installation Bunker. The photo taken by author of this blog on 7 July 2017 upon visiting the opening of the exhibition Greater Together at ACCA.

In The Mimesis of Thinking, Boris Groys described two situations: an autonomous artist’s freedom through expression (yet within the systems of market and institutions) and an autonomous artist’s work as a system producer [1]. Today both of these situations mostly operate through market or institutional mechanisms. Are we even able to think art outside set formats of distribution and “product” value, without disbelief? Of course, artists will always think independently and their autonomy is an a-priori condition of being an artist. But if systemic (external) impact on art is unavoidable and art’s autonomy is always relative: how is then autonomy addressed?

In that same article Groys mentioned humour – understanding of the finite conditions in which artist operates in comparison with utopian project-oriented production modes of modern bureaucratic systems. Groys therefore identified humour in minimalism and other formal movements that grew out of systems thinking [2]. Empathy, in addition to humour, can be seen as another approach – outside of purely representational art making. Some artists develop what could be described as “empathetic bureaucracies”: they crowd-source data for creative work through a process of personal attention to each contributor. One example is Bridget Nicholson’s long-time project of shoes that she sourced in various events by wrapping people’s feet in clay.

Humour seems to be a good tool – a way to look at consumption value of art. Many artists have taken up commercial strategies. It feels that entering the market directly as the field of practice is a way to face economic relationships shaped by neoliberalism. Technological art also appears to provide a field for criticism – if it makes itself autonomous from the Silicon Valley inspired dreams of the fusion of creativity, tech and business.

Self-supportive and possibly rebellious collectives and networks, in which the curatorial role of distribution becomes dissolved, is a convincing format of autonomy, but problematic. Firstly – how to produce and survive? Secondly, what are the methods of organisation? Geert Lovink drew attention to techniques for art’s autonomous organisation in the age of “social media.” He asked – “is there enough time to organize the grassroots in the age of Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook live?” [3]. For Lovink, social media is “weak ties” but autonomous organisation requires productive (and most likely, off-line) space and time. The long-time internet critic was right – the dream of social media is over: it now seems that social media most efficiently works for marketing and mass media.

[1] Boris Groys, “The Mimesis of Thinking”, in Open Systems: Rethinking Art c.1970 (exhibition catalogue), edited by Donna De Salvo, Tate, 2005.

[2] Boris Groys, “The Mimesis of Thinking”, in Open Systems: Rethinking Art c.1970 (exhibition catalogue), edited by Donna De Salvo, Tate, 2005.

[3] Geert Lovink, Organised Networks: A Model for Autonomous Organisation, http://networkcultures.org/geert/2017/06/09/organized-networks-a-model-for-autonomous-organization/

Image –¬†Fragment of Field Theory’s installation Bunker. The photo taken by author of this blog on 7 July 2017 upon visiting the opening of the exhibition Greater Together at ACCA

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