Archive

Art autonomy

“Submitting to a voice”- me listening as part of an artwork at Liquid Architecture exhibition Eavesdropping at Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, August 2018

I’m reading the introduction to the book Locating the Producers: Durational Approaches to Public Art, 2011 (edited by Paul O’Neill and Claire Doherty): it takes big steps – from willing to commission dynamic “place-based” art, understood as constellation of social relations, –  to open-endedness of process to defy instrumentalization of art [1]. However, with parameters such as  “place-based” art and “public art” taken as genres, impacts, and meanings, there is a kind of mindset and text already elaborated – from which it is perhaps too hard to jump out anyway. How to handle the big claims of “public art”? Perhaps, scale down to a situation, a project and art work, but also make them even bigger thinking “public” in  the sense of humanity. This makes me think of the manifesto-like Theory of the Minor by curator Chris Sharp. There he defends the rights for art to be “minor” and so to be against what is called “major.”  The major/minor contradiction is one reflexive mechanism that simply displays the question of art autonomy on the banner and provocatively asks – hey, what about art just being itself?  In Chris Sharp’s words –

“the major, like allegory, instrumentalizes. [..] Seeking the lowest common denominator, which is often found in either spectacle, topicality, or use value, it continually asks what art can do, as opposed to what it is or can be, which  it almost always takes for granted” [2].

The reality is  specific. The  art world is composed of people: artists, audiences, and other agents. Reference systems and policies are language, voices, that come through our own words and mold our thinking, perceptions and emotions. Some sort of voice or rhetoric “often” resonates the value with leaflets, FB posts and information panels. People require and expect translations. In reality, the institutions are made of people, and policies are drafted by (mostly) passionate art-loving and practicing people. On deeper level, there is no contradiction between groups of agents, and there is a “common interest” overarching the whole “art field” including practitioners, insiders-politicians, producers and organizers. Making a separation between information and the field of reality can be a methodology.  What if we read through/behind buzz-wordy statements that claim the use value of the arts sector and rather locate people, human beings separately. What if we reshuffle and deflate the focuses on “public art” and “place-based art”.  The point is – isolate the language and ask – who is speaking, or – where does it come from, “whose” voice is it, what process is behind?

Cutting through the icing of the cake when dealing with language as text, information, words, is not idealistic but practical. Being in the shoes of a producer of information and translations, I find it interesting and fair that the speaker identifies themselves, or maybe manifests their absence. Authorization is transformed into communication between agents.

 

[1] Paul O’Neill  and Claire Doherty (eds.), Locating the Producers: Durational Approaches to Public Art (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2011).

[2] Chris Sharp, Theory of the Minor, Mousse Magazine, 57, 2017.

Advertisements

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 Organisationhttp://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