Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reading Responses

The following are general summaries of the texts. Below I will, hopefully, make some meaningful connections between them.

How to Reclaim the Common

Doina Petrescu discusses the loss of things public in socialist Romania and proposes lines of thought in how artists can approach the facilitation of community space and memory. Petrescu describes how the abuses of the state government lead to the deterioration of public/community spaces/property such that the people and the public became psychologically detached. This leads to the destruction of the community itself, and when there is no sense of community there is no sense of respect for the shared public spaces, buildings, and services. To heighten this detachment, the Romanian government began to privatize parks, rivers, and streets in the post-Communist transition. “[Romanians] internalised the fact that the city has no value and no memory to preserve.” He proposes that artists should, instead of setting a trajectory for success on the ‘art market’, become political agents as the medium through which communities can reconnect with each other and the past, and in the process beating a path for the future community. “Artists should be the keepers of the sensible memory of the past and the holders of the radical imagination of the future.”

Use a Bicycle - The Apprentice in the Sun

Skimming over his personal history with the bicycle, Rainer Ganahl takes us through the role of the bike in the development of the auto-based society and the influence of the bicycle on his navigation and interpretation of this world. “I realized very early on that I pedaled back and forth between different social worlds and different classes I wasn’t meant to juxtapose, to synchronize, to visit together.” Ganahl saw the bicycle as a way to bypass the social and physical pathways that were the result of the auto-based world. It taught him about the ideas of relativity (literally with speed but more loosely as adapted in his Bicycling Flann O’Brien works), and imparted on him the idea of “‘back’-revolutionizing mobility, rethinking urban design, and for down-machanizing ourselves”. His exposure to Duchamp’s ‘The Apprentice in the Sun’ seems to have helped guide his work as well. With the neon ‘use a bicycle’, he plays on the incongruence of the works demand and the implications of the conditions in which the sign would be legible (not necessarily safe for a cyclist). ‘Don’t steal my Mercedes-Benz bicycle’ plays with the idea of Kryptonite locks and their implication of their other-worldly strength (and value) vs. the value of bicycles and the symbolic value of a secondary (and generally ineffective) brass chain, with the hopeful result that the installed bikes are stolen, and the locks left, as a commentary on the obsession of security and the value we place on it. Overall his obsession with the bike seems to be his viewport of the world, and he relates the mechanization of the world to the downward health of the world both physically and mentally, and focuses on ‘de-mechanization’ as a tool for reinvigoration.

This Is Our Real Job

The introductory article to Art Work reads as a call to arms for artists to reclaim a position in a capitalist society that is viewed as an equal contributor to any other market-driven profession or service and for artists to band tegether to essentially pull each other up by the boot straps. Temporary Services calls for artists in tenured academic positions to use that position to steer resources to those outside the academic environment and for those in adjunct positions to essentially milk the resources for all their worth by borrowing equipment for public sessions, scanning and copying books that are only available to those in academic reach of them.

Watch Where You Are Putting That Pencil

(very brief summary...)

Anthony Elms expounds the hardships of supporting oneself as an art writer, from getting paid pennies-per-word, to nothing at all, as well as the implications of the lack of pay on the entity being written for in terms of funding, staffing, and editing - mostly the lack thereof. These faulty systems lead to undesired alterations of text, which in turn can lead to the embarassment of both publisher and author.

State of the Union

Gregory Sholette digs in to the history of Federal programs for artists and their short lives. Federal programs during the Depression created employment opportunities for hundreds of thousands of artists, however these programs did not allow much room for production by minorities, women, or any sort of questioning/controvercial work. Because of this many independently organized groups were then formed to use as leverage in implementing more fair practice and hiring in the Federal programs. The article goes on to talk about artistic pruduction, which seems to be a crossraods at which artists and funding meet. “Marx believed that artistic production is the inevitable outcome of an artistic nature, but the introduction of collage, montage, productivism, appropriation, conceptual art, and, most of all, te readymade has generally upset this tidy assessment. The de-skilling of art has its corollary in the rise of digital technologies that allow even laptop-toting preteens to turn out sophisticated-looking aesthetic products.” (emphasis my own). What I take this to imply is that funding is more likely to happen for artistic ‘products’ which do not challange or question the world at large, whereas anything with a conceptual or questioning intent is more or less forbidden.

What does all this mean?

It’s beyond obvious that artists generally struggle to survive. It’s hard to imagine any state government funding anything that would question it, its allies, its practices, its intentions. It’s also hard to imagine any artist in their own right not to question those very things at some point or another. For me, art is the ability to imply that which science can not empircally state, and that can be dangerous for those entities that wish to remain opaque. Unfortunately those entities are often the structures of power which operate the framework of our lives. If the power is not with the people, it is generally with the state, and the state doesn’t like its holes being shone through. When Petrescu speaks of artists recreating a community memory and experience it seems entirely possible, for me, because the reaction is in response to a state that was largely considereded ‘bad’. But what happens when a new state reforms and sets foot, becoming powerful, maybe democatic - will their state fund artists which question it? Not that every artist will, but is the idea that those few with strong voices and unwanted ideas strong enough to push that funding to the side? Are the state unions discussed by Sholette possible to resurrect in our current economic environment and at a time when the “99%” occupations are nipping at the capitalist fabric? I think what these articles are getting at underneath it all is that we need to figure out how to independently organize our own support systems. Maybe that’s exactly what the articles were getting at but it didn’t seem to be the italicized point to me when I read them. So how do we really do it? Is it possible? Can artists really band together to help each other or will it just try to operate within the state framework they exist in? Sholette hit on this point: “As critic Craig Owens commented at the time, East Village artists of the ‘80s surrendered themselves ‘to the means-end rationality of the marketplace.’ while mimicking the subaltern culture they were helpinh to displace. Nevertheless, some artists continued to self-organize for the greater equity at a time of rapid defunding of the public sphere though targeted cuts in nonmilitary state expenditures.” My ideas on the whole thing are starting to get cyclical - it is a difficult debate, but one which I don’t think is okay to shrug off. Going back to the “99%” occupations, the general feeling is that overall specifics are very broad but the message is ultimately of discontent. If self-organization for artists is to gain solid traction I think a benchmark of anticipated standards needs to be addressed in order to form a framework around it. Not that I have any good ideas on the matter, but it is something I do not see in any of these articles.

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