Thursday, October 27, 2011
Response: State of the Union + Watch Where You Are Putting That Pencil + This Is Our Real Job / Use a Bicycle - The Apprentice In the Sun + How to Reclaim the Common?
The issue of financial support for creative producers including--but not limited to--artists and art writers is painted with a dire brush in the trio of selections from Art Work. I am inclined to think that This Is Our Real Job's call for unionization would be more useful than their suggestion that artists and educators "walk out", so I am slightly surprised that the article does not mention the Freelancer's Union, a non-profit organization specifically designed to help provide a safety net (albeit a minimal one) for not only creative producers but many other types of workers. Unfortunately, the Freelancer's Union is not able to provide collective bargaining rights that might allow members to collect higher wages, but this is an obstacle with the US's legal landscape that may be more surmountable if there was broader support.
The revival of New Deal arts programs like the WPA and FAP might be effective, but because they would depend either on a proactive, if undemocratic (there is not much public clamor for government art), act of government or massive changes in the social structure and outlook of our citizenry, they seem to be only distant possibilities. Which, frankly, is a relief to me; I am intensely uncomfortable with the concept of the government--any government--being placed in a position to exert control over what work is made, and who it is made for.
Use a Bicycle - The Apprentice In the Sun + How to Reclaim the Common?
It is interesting to note how the selections from Destroying Public Harmony also feature political and lifestyle prescriptions for artists, albeit not quite as stridently as the articles from Art Work. Rainier Ganahl's text Use a Bicycle - The Apprentice In the Sun seems to be a meandering promotion of a style of "lifestyle art" that is basically a form of mindful awareness. The text could have merely served as an interesting discussion of the sources and symbols of Ganahl's work, but unfortunately he tacked on an unconvincing appeal to a re-adoption of the bicycle as an inspirational muse for a more progressive society. It is annoying not because it is wrong, but because it is probably true--however the fact that the rest of the text is comprised of historical non-sequiturs and descriptions of how he has an erotic fetish for bicycles does not really support his conclusion.
Doina Petrescu's How to Reclaim the Common? chillingly but concisely describes the deleterious effect of catastrophic privatization on Romanian society. However, Petrescu's call for "collective subjectivity" manages to sound more oppressive than liberating; instead of counteracting the corrosive effects of private ownership of public spaces, the adamant prescription of collective action merely evokes a different form of social control that has already been demonstrated to be corruptible.
Art Work: Response
This is Our Real Job by the Temporary Services Group +
State of the Union by Gregory Sholette
Although several of the contributors are listed, it is unclear to me who from the group"Temporary Services" is responsible for writing the introductory section This is Our Real Job. As is the case with many of the texts I have read this semester, the article hammers home the perspective that the artist should assume the role of social activist. In this particular text the proposal is framed by the failing social infrastructure that has taken root as a result of our present deteriorating national and global economies. The author accurately emphasizes the particular difficulty that this economy presents to artists, while suggesting that artists should be highlighting cuts to federal funding of arts programs, the lower standard of living for artists who continue their work in face of the economic hardship, and the negative effect of the even more pervasive infiltration of capitalism into the world of professional art, the author urges the artist to assume the role of activist / change agent. As Gregory Sholette discusses in greater detail, the author touches on theWPA’s Federal Arts Project of the FDR Administration and the lack of or such Economic support for today’s artists as both a symptom and contributing element to the current economic dystopia. The article goes on to note the disproportionate wealth distribution between the “top earners” the rest of the population, mentioning that 20% of the population in actually living in debt (or “negative wealth” is it is stated). The text encourages the academic instructor to push further in the role of the dissenting voice while both advocating and taking direct action toward revolutionary change, asserting that there is no better time for such action. Lastly, the article succinctly urges “…us all to consider how to use this moment to do several things: to work for better compensation, to get opportunities to make art in diverse and challenging settings, and to guide art attitudes and institutions, on all levels, in more resilient directions” as well as provide feedback to artandwork.us to improve the quality of the group’s organization and output.
As an extension of this, Gregory Sholette discusses the history of economic support programs for artists in relationship to the lack funding that today’s artists face. He reintroduces the significance of the FDR era Federal Arts Project and discusses the development of significant artist support organizations such as the Art Worker’s Coalition, The Artists’ Equity Association, and their vital (albeit fleeting) existence as models for the types ingenuity that must be restructured to support the work of today’s disenfranchised artists. Sholette also emphasizes the capitalist takeover that has necessitated the self-invented artist-entrepreneur. Acknowledging today’s socially funded arts support programs as woefully insufficient in the face of corporate deregulation, he notes the shift of artists seeking support through the private funding of such resources as the Artist Pension Trust.
Relative to This is Our Real Job, as a citizen I agree with the basic principles put forth by the author as passionate and well reasoned rhetoric. It seems clear that this introductory article is putting forth a call to action for artist/educators to capitalize on the moment and multi-laterally work to restructure society to empower the artistic community for individual benefit, the benefit of the artistic community, and the benefit of the society at large. It is obvious that intervention is needed. Is the artist hard wired to be an interventionist? Phrases like “we would rather explore ideas for reworking the economy to benefit everyone” featured towards the end of second paragraph seems to suggest that “we” are. (If it is not the artist, then who is the "we" that the author is referring to?) Although I have stated a similar opinion in the past, I feel that the repositioning of my point is relevant to the discussion. As a citizen, I completely agree with the author. I am solidly part of the same ideological constituency and, like the author, clearly recognize that the artist must somehow find a way to weather to economic turbulence of today and the future and prosper. That said, I do not see the role of the artist and activist as essentially synonymous or that it is the artist’s inherent role to change the society at large through socio-political intervention or similarly themed artistic output. Just as there are artists who are, and may want to be, great activists trumpeting the call for social intervention while exploiting the cracks in our dysfunctional capitalist system, there are great artists who position themselves firmly in opposition to such activist policies. Although these individuals may not fit into the social class that bears the most significant hardship of our broken economies, they are still the “we” that the author presumes should be sympathetic to the perspective presented. What immediately comes to mind is Ezra Pound’s “fascist activism” of the 1930s. Pound clearly doesn’t possess the character traits of the “we” the author had in mind. As a citizen, I am in Sholette’s camp as he promotes the concept the artist entrepreneur who is also resourceful enough to find a way to “exploit the exploiter” while embracing the reality that the historical mechanisms that created the social and government arts funding of the past have been trounced by the negative residual effects of the rise in global capitalism. This resonates more with me than the positions presented in This Is Our Real Job. Sholette describes what is needed rather than mandating how I as an artist should specifically address the issue.
Watch Where you are Putting that Pencil by Anthony Elms
Writers are just as vulnerable in this economy as the practioners of other creative disciplines and in some ways have it worse. Elm describes the work of today’s writer as under funded at best that often amounts to volunteer work. Noting the pay structure and employment policies of such publications as Time Out – Chicago, he provides a perspective to just how bad it can be— apparently so bad that working noting that working for free can be more beneficial in the sense that at least “I don’t collect the check and realize how little my input it valued”. After mentioning how he finds writing about artists whose work he likes and those who he has a mutually beneficial relationship with, he continues to discuss the concept of “quality control” as it relates to the problem of this lack of appreciation extending to the role of the editor in writing.. As Elms rightfully points out, the underpaid, undereducated editor creates an issue for the factual integrity of the work published. If an editor does not have the experience or an investment in the subject at hand, the factual accuracy of a written work can suffer. Sometimes a small error can cause a statement to mean the exact opposite of what was intended, He exemplifies how editorial errors can have very serious consequences for an artist written about as well as well as the author and publisher responsible for what is written. Elms speculates that this is, and the highly specialized aspect of art writing, to be the reason that the artist has difficulty entrusting the writer to accurately convey his or her words.
Having friends who are professional editors, I certainly understand the job of editors to be essential to any published work. When Elms mentions that “you get exactly what you pay for” it seems that the stakes of getting it wrong and then sending it to print are simply to high to underpay those responsible for guarding the final integrity of the written work.
Destroying Public Harmony
How to Reclaim the Common by Doina Petrescu
In brief reference to the previous article, either Petrescu badly needs an editor or the publisher in under funding the editorial process. Some of the meaning in this article becomes lost in insufficient translation.
Petrescu discusses the loss of public property and space that has occurred in Eastern Europe over the past decade. Focusing on the theft of the commons that has occurred in Romania beginning in the communist era, Petrescu comments on how such a pervasive societal issue of theft of common goods, services, and institutional values has resulted in deep social apathy and a broad devaluing of the larger community structure. With the development of a transitional government, the socialist oligarchs supported privatization of the public property largely because they were well positioned to purchase it upon its reclassification. With the elements of a recognizable community disappearing around them, Romanian citizens entrusted only the immediate community of the family.
The issue proliferated through the cities resulting the transition of public rivers, parks, and buildings to private property. Bucharest experienced the destruction of Historical common spaces, with the “systematic planning” of the dictatorial Ceausescu regime, which this non-dissenting communist society passively accepted. With the disappearance of the “public”, ownership of private property became the normal goal for the average citizen.
Sadly, this eerily seems like a desperate grasp at same ideal that embodied the now mythic “American Dream” . The social development and satisfaction that results from a connection to fair and functional social system has given way to an embrace of comodification as the norm.
So what can or should we do about it? While also quoting Jacques Rancièr, Petrescu presents her view, that although the politician will fail to implement true reform, the artist is uniquely positioned to help with the process of reclaiming the commons:
“The political creativity is not politicien’s field, they are at the best concerned with creative politics. Political creativity consists in ways of enlarging the scope of political possibility, to use Jacques Rancière’s term. According to him, this political possibility is situated in the realm of aesthetics. Political artworks ‘suspend the ordinary coordinates of sensory experience and reframe the network of relationships between spaces and times, subjects and objects, the common and the singular” in order to transform “the landscape of the possible.”
With her eloquently put statement that “artists should be the keepers of the sensible memory of the past and the holders of the radical imagination of the future”, Petrescu presents a logical premise for why artists of these effected regions should be at the forefront of initiating such social redevelopment.
It should be obvious at this point that I dislike the rhetoric of the ethical position that seems to call for a reassignment of the artist’s role to something “better” or “more” -- a perspective that seems to also suggest that being an artist simply produces work (work that may have no socio-activist premise) is insufficient or outdated, or is simply a recipe for failure considering our present socio-economic reality, Despite my taking exception with this notion, I completely agree with Petrescu that creatively minded individuals such as an artists likely possess the historical sensitivity and creative vision to restore the public commons in a manner that, through its development, would exemplify what is possible. The products of this process could provide an apathetic society with something worth fighting for.
Use a Bicycle – Apprentice in the Sun by Rainer Ganahl
Ganahl describes how his introduction to the bicycle changed his view on freedom of mobility, romance, sex, politics and art. He discusses the effect of DuChamp’s Apprentice in the Sun on his work, describing his reproduction of the original work into the form of a neon sign. Ganahl also discusses the use of the bicycle bomb as a weapon in warfare, the creation of the “Don’t steal my Mercedes-Benz” Bicycle, complete with both Kryptonite and bronze locks, and the bike as the vehicle of a sustainable culture.
Ganahl is clearly obsessed with biking. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, I like biking too. In fact, I like it a lot, albeit not to the point of obsession. His obsession seems to have lead him down the path of creating bad art while publicly professing his love affair with the vehicle. Having watched his video Bicycling Flann O’Brien, On Housing http://www.ganahl.info/videos/onhousing_OK.mov I understand the reference to The third Policeman’s DeSelby and find his presentation to be quite uninteresting.
I do however find this observation on bike theft to be interesting:
“Apart from the fact that most bicycles are today produced in China, reports about the theft of European infrastructures – stolen by the tons - for their raw material value ending up in China add yet another twist to the fear of loss inherent to the material world, but also to love, live and death”
In thinking about his observation I recall being in Amsterdam and being struck by it as a city dominated by bikes— bikes that looked very homogeneic in their generic style. I assume this was to prevent the individual bike being targeted for theft.
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.
"Where are the large-scale ideas that depend upon American ingenuity rather than competition? When did funding the arts and the people that make them become optional? Why is visual art, which can be understood as a basic foundation for human communication, not funded as an integral part of our lives as Americans? Why don’t we think being an artist is a “real job”?" (3).
Perhaps one of the larger parts of the problem - justifying the existence of art/artists - stems from a fundamental disagreement of how the arts function, and who they serve. Temporary Services identifies its role as primarily communicative - and though it is difficult to argue with that, I can't help but feel that this is far too general to serve as any real primary definition; there are tons of capitalist sectors that currently also serve that need, perhaps even more efficiently and easily - and with the spirit of capitalist competition in mind. Art is not an "easy" read, and demands much more of its audience. The reality show "Art Star" provides an easy-to-swallow missive, beamed directly into the home:
"Want to be an artist? Join a reality show and viciously compete for the title of “Art Star” while having your every move be documented for six weeks in the hopes that your witty bon mots and camera-friendly pretty face will result in a one-time cash bonus" (3).
I can't help but wonder if, ultimately, much of the solution remains obscured because of a crisis in imagination - there seems to be an impossibility of imagining any type of system not based upon competition, or a system where the competition is not fouled up by corruption, blind ignorance, prejudice, or inequity. Temporary Services blame the entire capitalist system, but a dismantling of the status quo may prove a much greater challenge as even just regulating or adjusting the current system has proven nearly impossible. So much of the art that is chosen for international viewing are based on a "wow" factor that demands an obscene amount of money to create (take, for example, "Gloria," by Allora & Calzadilla, officially sponsored by Hugo Boss)- and more than that, the process of choosing these artists is largely opaque. Contribution for the pavilion "goes directly to support the U.S. gymnasts and runners performing in Venice" (official word from the website). The entire pavilion is built upon a celebration of an opaque, elitist competition system supporting yet another (arguably completely corrupt) competition system, devoid of any real "awareness raising" or missive from actual U.S. citizens. And while this is, perhaps, not the goal, it doesn't seem unreasonable that the representative art in an international art venue should somehow service those that it represents, not actively obscure them.
Doina Petrescu - "How to Reclaim the Common?"
The thesis throughout this essay concerns the Eastern European (and particularly Romanian) crisis in the devalued and disappearing "common," that is, the public space provided for citizens. Privatization of public lands, after communism, became the norm. Petrescu argues that this act is also a destruction of the concept of the common and community. The idea of community shrunk to the scale of family and close friends, the only real "safe" zone. The struggle now becomes one of influencing psychology; questions revolve around the changing of cultural and psychological habits in order to influence the creation of community support and activism that has disappeared since during, and since Ceausescu's totalitarian regime.
While this article concerns Romania, this is a well-worn crisis explored in the post-modern Western world as well, particularly in urban environments. One needs to look no further than Chicago's Loop in order to explore how public is constantly in battle with the privatized, capitalist space; however, the existence of these spaces is much sneakier than in Eastern Europe, because of corporate funding, advertising, etc. While the park system is largely thought to be "public," every corner of Millennium Park is branded with corporate funding - there are restrictions in all parks concerning what you can and cannot bring in with you and the times you can use it. Even more important, however, is the tenuous control the public has over these lands. When Chicago was in the running for the Olympics, the proposal included the building of facilities some of Chicago's parks, essentially converting public lands into private ones (it's assumed that these corporate-funded facilities would then be converted into privatized condos, fitness facilities, etc.). Occupy protestors have been arrested because their permit for public assembly expired.
Because we know and expect these restrictions on public land usage, it signals how we continue to bend and constrict our conceptions of what public and community mean in the urban environment - our "public" spaces have all become first and foremost commercial spaces. If you are not a consumer, you are loitering, and subject to removal. When community is nothing more than a roving hoard of distracted shoppers, how can we even begin to conceptualize real common space?