State of the Commons
CRITIQUE: JOSH WALLAERT
In March 1936, The Chronicle in Hampton, Iowa, published this announcement by the American Farm Bureau:
Are you interested in getting a high line by your farm to enable you to have electricity on your farm? The federal government has made arrangements to finance this program for all interested farmers. To secure this aid we must have enough farmers in the county who are interested to make the construction of the line practical and to organize a cooperative to carry on the work. In order to get some idea of the amount of interest in this project we would like to have each farmer who would like to see this work started send us a card telling us the location of his farm and if possible the names of any neighbors who are interested. As soon the weather and roads permit we will have a series of meetings at which time we will have a representative of the federal government present to discuss the program with you. 
One year after that meeting, the Reeve Electric Association became the first farmer-owned cooperative to receive a loan for the purchase and distribution of electric power from the Rural Electrification Administration, a centerpiece of Franklin Roosevelt’s first term. In four years, the number of electrified farms in the United States more than doubled, from 789,000 in 1936 to 1.7 million in 1940. 
To my knowledge, this is the only online photo of the Reeve Plant that is freely available to publish. It was uploaded to Wikipedia in September by Ann Sullivan-Larson, a graphic designer at a print shop in Iowa, and tagged with a creative commons license that allows others to share and remix the image. Although the plant was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, the National Park Service has yet to digitize its photographs of the building.
Sullivan-Larson’s photo was entered in the Wiki Loves Monuments USA contest held this fall by the Wikimedia Foundation, which received more than 22,000 photos of registered historic places in the United States. Many people submitted photos of popular monuments like the Jefferson Memorial. But many others documented obscure buildings and landscapes that would otherwise remain unseen. All of the images were released to the public domain or licensed to the creative commons, and many are now used to illustrate articles on Wikipedia. In this slideshow, we present a selection of the best.
While it’s inspiring to see the coordinated release of thousands of photographs of historic places, it’s a shame the contest was restricted to the narrow range of sites that tend to make the NRHP list (colonial mansions, lighthouses, military forts). More generally, the photo contest highlights a crucial problem facing public discourse and scholarship in the United States. Our visual culture, and indeed our public policy, depends on the wide circulation of images that support ideas. And yet most online publications cannot afford the fees charged by wire services and many professional photographers. Like our colleagues at The Atlantic Cities, Next American City, Grist, et al, and like Wikipedia itself, Places relies heavily on images in the creative commons or public domain. 
For most of the last decade, the greatest repository of freely available images has been Flickr, a privately-owned public space that hosts more than 240 million creative commons images, dwarfing the 14 million items in the Prints & Photographs Division of the U.S. Library of Congress. Pick any Wikipedia article at random; if it has an image, there’s a good chance it comes from Flickr.
But Flickr has become a ghost town in recent years, conservatively managed by its corporate parent Yahoo, which has ceded ground to photo-sharing alternatives like Facebook (and its subsidiary Instagram), Google Plus (and Picasa and Panoramio), and Twitter services (TwitPic and Yfrog).  An increasing share of the Internet’s visual resources are now locked away in private cabinets, untagged and unsearchable, shared with a public no wider than the photographer’s personal sphere. Google’s Picasa and Panoramio support creative commons licenses, but finding the settings is not easy. And Facebook, the most social place to share photos, is the least public. Hundreds of millions of people who have photographed culturally significant events, people, buildings and landscapes, and who would happily give their work to the commons if they were prompted, are locked into sites that don’t even provide the option. The Internet (and the mobile appverse) is becoming a chain of walled gardens that trap even the most civic-minded person behind the hedges, with no view of the outside world.
Canton Public Library, 1903, Canton, Ohio; entry in the Wiki Loves Monuments USA contest. [Photo by Bgottsab]
Today it’s hard to imagine coordinated public action on the scale of Roosevelt’s New Deal. The president we re-elected this week — certainly the most socially and economically progressive in my lifetime — has repeatedly missed opportunities to expand public programs and services. Meanwhile, the nonprofit Farm Bureau, which published that 1936 announcement, piddles around fighting enforcement of the Clean Water Act, lobbying for lower capital gains taxes, and challenging the scientific consensus on global climate change, instead of promoting socially responsible farming practices and rural cooperative structures. 
For better and worse, public-making in the early 21st-century has been consigned to private actors: to activists, urban interventionists, community organizations and — here’s the really strange thing — online corporations. The body politic has retreated to nominally public spaces controlled by Google, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, which now constitute a vital but imperfect substitute for the town square. Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder draw an analogy between these online spaces and the privately-owned public space of Zuccotti Park, the nerve center for Occupy Wall Street, and indeed online tools have been used effectively to support direct actions and participatory democracies around the world. Still, the closest most Americans get to the messy social activity of cooperative farm planning is the exchange of digital carrots in Farmville.
Imagine a Roosevelt Administration in 2012 making massive investments in public information (words, images, data) as a form of infrastructure. What more would Roosevelt do with Data.gov? Imagine Open Street Map supported jointly by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Imagine the Federal Writers Project dedicated to expanding stub articles on Wikipedia. Imagine the photographers of the Farm Security Administration — Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, Marion Post Wolcott — uploading their work directly to Wikimedia Commons. Many federal agencies do in fact have Flickr profiles where they release images into the public domain; Flickr has even created a special license (“United States Government Work”) for the White House photostream.  But imagine the federal government financially supporting a socially-networked photo-sharing site as it does the Library of Congress and giving it the resources to survive Facebook’s walled-garden challenge. It’s easy to marvel at the powerful new tools the Internet has given us. But let’s not forget how much better, how much more public they could be.
The Chronicle, Hampton, Iowa (March 12, 1936), 12
Robert T. Beall, “Rural Electrification,” Yearbook of Agriculture (1940), 802.
Coincidentally, Places has published photos by members of the Wiki Loves Monuments USA jury. Just last month, the journal published a photo of Camden Yards Stadium by Carol Highsmith, who has donated her work to the Library of Congress since 1992. David Shankbone’s photos have appeared in eight articles. And the Prelinger Archives, founded by a third judge, Rick Prelinger, has been an invaluable resource.
That could change. Yahoo’s new chief, Marissa Mayer, is said to be enthusiastic about reviving Flickr, and she recently installed a former National Geographic photographer to oversee its development. See Michael Zhang, “Flickr’s New Head Used to Be a National Geographic Wildlife Photographer,” Petapixel, November 7, 2012.
Allison Winter, “Farm Bureau Fires Back Against Climate Bill’s ‘Power Grab’,” January 11, 2010, The New York Times. See also the Farm Bureau’s stated legislative priorities.
On the other hand, the 10,000 photos uploaded to Flickr by the National Register of Historic Places are tagged “all rights reserved.”
• 20 May 2013 • View comments
A Primer for Public Plazas
The “Primer on Plazas” provides examples from existing plazas to show the types of elements that make a plaza successful and well-used. For more information on the specific components of the standards, view the Current Public Plaza Standards.
Privately Owned Public Spaces
Privately Owned Public Spaces, abbreviated as “POPS”, are an amenity provided and maintained by a developer for public use, in exchange for additional floor area.
POPS typically contain functional and visual amenities such as tables, chairs and planting for the purpose of public use and enjoyment. Privately Owned Public Spaces are permitted in the City’s high-density commercial and residential districts and are intended to provide light, air, breathing room and green space to ease the predominately hard-scaped character of the City’s densest areas. Since 1961, the Zoning Resolution has allowed for several different types of privately owned public space, including plazas, arcades, urban plazas, residential plazas, sidewalk widenings, open air concourses, covered pedestrian spaces, through block arcades and sunken plazas. POPS are primarily procured through incentive zoning, however some POPS were created as part of a variance or special permit granted by the City Planning Commission or Board of Standards and Appeals.
The most popular and most visually apparent type of POPS are the outdoor spaces – plazas, residential plazas and urban plazas, sometimes called “bonus plazas.” The provisions allowing for these outdoor spaces have evolved immensely since 1961; starting from very modest design requirements to more fine-tuned standards that require well-designed amenities that benefit the public.
In 2007, the New York City Council adopted revised standards for all outdoor POPS, representing a significant update to and consolidation of all previous plaza design regulations into one outdoor plaza designation – the “public plaza”. The 2007 text is intended to facilitate the design and construction of unique and exciting outdoor spaces that are truly public. Since the adoption of the 2007 public plaza text, a follow-up text amendment was adopted by the City Council in June 2009, to clarify certain provisions in order to enhance the 2007 text. The Current public plaza provisions enable the creation of high quality public plazas on privately owned sites that are inviting, open, inviting, accessible and safe.
The current design regulations are guided by the following design principles:
Public Plaza Design Principles
Open and inviting at the sidewalk
Easily seen and read as open to the public
Conveys openness through low design elements and generous paths leading into the plaza
Visually interesting and contains seating
Enhances pedestrian circulation
Located at the same elevation as the sidewalk
Provides sense of safety and security
Contains easily accessible paths for ingress and egress
Oriented and visually connected to the street
Provides places to sit
Accommodates a variety of well-designed, comfortable seating for small groups and individuals
• 20 May 2013 • View comments
CRITICAL PRACTICES AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND DESIGN
Call for abstracts
The Urban Modernities research group is calling for submissions from researchers, curators, theorists as well as practicing designers and artists for an edited text, Undesign, to be published in late 2014-early 2015.
Traditionally, design has been placed in a framework that emphasizes its utility over aesthetic or other non-functional considerations. UnDesign seeks to document new developments in design that connect with science, engineering, biotechnology and hactivism, which operate at the intersection of art and design. Often confounding and speculative, these practices exist outside mainstream commercial design and share many traits with contemporary art. “Undesigning” practices aim to undo the complex designed world by revealing how human designing implicitly structures our world.
“Design must put in doubt its search for all such often well-intentioned design solutions or self-deconstructions, to open the way to explore, discover, uncover, and expose the hidden dimensions of lived experience.” (Wodiczko, 1999)
UnDesign will examine the ideas, speculations and practices that constitute this burgeoning new field of practice that unravels design’s traditional definitions and assumptions in order to develop a very different concept of design practice in the 21st century. The publication aims to combine essays with the presentation of significant works of art and design. It will focus on practices that:
‣ occur at the intersection of art and design;
‣ engage with “our” contemporary real/digital “life world” in a critical manner;
‣ operate as provocative interventions within design thinking and the design environment;
‣ combine practice and research as well as text, action and object;
‣ have redirective design intentions.
SUBMISSIONS DUE 31st of MAY 2013
UnDesign is calling for submission from researchers, curators, theorists as well as practicing designers and artists. Submissions should address the outline above and respond to the following thematic:
‣ Genealogical explorations: Speculative Futures and Alternate Pasts—directions and untold histories that situate critical art/design in a lineage of practice, explaining the conditions that have led to current Undesign practices.
‣ Deconstructive, reordering and redirective readings—expositions of the current condition of design outlining the significance of critical art/design approaches.
‣ Disruptive, strange and redirective experiences—writings as well as speculative, critical design and artistic projects.
The first part in this process is that we are inviting abstracts of 100-200 words detailing your proposed contribution. All abstracts will be reviewed and selected authors will be invited to submit full chapters. We will then seek to organize a symposium around the selected contributions. Inclusion in the final published text will be based on outcomes of an academic peer review process.
Please email abstracts by the 31st of May 2013 to editors [at] undesign.net.au
• 20 May 2013 • View comments
The Institute for Human Activities has located its settlement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, eight hundred kilometers upstream from Kinshasa on the river Congo.
Here, in one of the most burdened yet promising regions in the world, the Institute for Human Activities will launch its five-year Gentrification Program and, in an in vitro testing ground, mobilize the modalities of art production.
With legal structures in Amsterdam, Brussels and Kinshasa, a host of partners and advisors, and a dedicated team of artists and thinkers, the Institute’s raison d’être is to recalibrate art’s critical mandate.
With an array of renowned cultural institutions and corporate partners, the Institute for Human Activities envisions a new model for local development. In the course of its implementation, the Institute will establish a site for love, art and profit. The results will be shared with large audiences in Europe, Africa and around the world.
• 20 May 2013 • View comments
This is a site about the politics of visibility. It is dedicated to those who resist visibility, as well as to those who are refused visibility by mainstream culture. The evolving mission of this site is to provide knowledge, documents, and tools about the history and current practices of culture’s “missing mass.” Its goal is to reinforce whatever degree of autonomy marginalized artists, informal artists, and art collectives have wrested from the mainstream institutions of culture.
“Nobody Remembers TIMETABLE PROJECT: National Association of Artists’ Organizations VINCE LEO Minneapolis, August 1990 WW3 Left Curve #5 & #7
PAD/D a collection of documents about art and politics held at the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) archives The Fox #1 1975 an anti-catalog A Response to the Exhibition “American Art” Whitney Museum of American Art 1976 collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rdArtists Meeting for Cultural change 1977
Art & Artists Black Phoenix #2 Summer 1978 Cultural Correspondence Surrealism Issue Fall 1979
Cultural Correspondence Winter 1983 Cultural Correspondence Summer 1985 The Mass Strike In France
WIN Lip A Survivor’s Guide to Baltimore’s Renaissance
Artist’s Space Diary of a Conference on Sexuality Directory of Arts Activism
Heresies #1 Heresies #6 Red Herring #2
Red Herring Jan ’77 Root & Branch #6 1977 Statements by Lesbian Artists
Dark Matter REPOhistory catalog 1992 REPOhistory: Fordham Urban Law Journal 1999
Committed to Print MoMA 1988 New Museum exhibition catalog 1990-1991 Screen Magazine Spring 1980
Let’s Shut Down Seabrook!: Handbook for Oct 6th, 1979 Direct Action Occupation Urban Encounters: A Public Access Exhibition Issues Public Art
leftmatrix.com: A Curatorial Studies Library Site 98bowery.com: An archive view of the art & music scene of the Bowery, NYC as seen from the top story loft at 98 Bowery groupsandspaces.org: An online archive that gathers together information on people making art in groups and collaborative situations
interferencearchive.org: An archive that explores the relationship between cultural production and social movements.”
• 20 May 2013 • View comments
Working Artists and the Greater Economy began in 2008 with a series of informal discussions between a small group of artists, performers and independent curators in New York City who shared their experiences working with art institutions, and specifically about the common practice of non-payment. These discussions, which took place casually in various apartments across the city, evolved into a series of large, open meetings and public forums held at Judson Church that collectively brought language to this inequity, making it central to W.A.G.E.’s cause.
As this loose affiliation of art workers began to coalesce into a core group of active members, W.A.G.E. responded to the community’s growing interest in the problem by regularly giving speeches, holding open teach-ins and workshops, and participating in panel discussions at a range of venues that included museums, galleries, conferences, festivals, schools, summits, and art fairs. Through education and consciousness-raising W.A.G.E. helped to bring issues of economic inequity into circulation. These remained the focus of the group’s activity until mid-2010 when W.A.G.E. chose to narrow its focus and work towards a single achievable goal: the regulated payment of artist fees by non-profit arts organizations and museums.
This goal focused W.A.G.E.’s platform but it also expanded activities to include information sharing and negotiation. In Fall 2010 W.A.G.E. launched an online survey to gather information about the experiences of visual and performing artists with the payment practices of non-profit art institutions in New York’s five boroughs between 2005 and 2010. With almost 1000 respondents, the results of the W.A.G.E. Survey have become a key tool in concretely illustrating – and documenting – the practice of non-payment at nonprofit arts organizations and museums.
Also in Fall 2010, W.A.G.E. initiated a Certification program that publicly recognizes nonprofit arts organizations that voluntarily follow a best practices model and demonstrate a history of, and commitment to, paying artist fees that meet a minimum payment standard. W.A.G.E.’s first Certification took place at the New Museum in New York via an invitation from curator Lauren Cornell to participate in the group exhibition Free. W.A.G.E.’s contribution as an activist group and not an artist collective was to successfully negotiate artist fees for all participating artists, qualifying the New Museum for Exhibition Certification. But because W.A.G.E. believes that the goal of establishing permanent payment standards implies a long-term commitment on the part of an institution, Certification is now limited to institutions and no longer applies to single exhibitions.
In March 2011, W.A.G.E. and Artists Space began to discuss the implications of W.A.G.E. Certification, and the two organizations formed a temporary Research Partnership in January 2012.
• 15 May 2013 • View comments
Work and Idleness in the Age of the Great Recession
By Kathi Weeks on March 28, 2013 0 Comments
The concept of a “jobless recovery” offers just one more example of the many ways that work is not working as a system of income allocation, pathway to individual achievement, or mode of social belonging. And yet, the only solution we are offered by political and corporate leaders is more business as usual: austerity and job creation; tighten our belts and put our noses to the grindstone. Although there is no scarcity of possible reforms that could help us better to cope with the problems of unemployment, underemployment, precariousness and overwork in the contemporary economy—a shorter legal working day and a guaranteed basic income are two—the gospel of work and its central teaching, the work ethic, have so colonized our lives that it is difficult to conceive a life not centered on and subordinated to work. What would we do with more non-work time and who would we be if we were not workers?
In some instances the only imagined existence of non-work is defined by sloth, as in the frequently voiced fear that if it were not for work there would be no reason to get out of bed or off the couch. If activity itself is so strictly identified with and reduced to work, then non-work is defined by its absence: pure indolence. In other cases, non-work is conceived not as work’s flip side but as its mirror image, as when it is described in terms of doing the same things for the same long hours we now do on the job or at home, but under different conditions: time for industrious creativity. A further option is leisure time. But that is too often conceived either in terms of activities that are intended to compensate for work or as time to recover from work, what Bob Black describes as a “managed time-disciplined safety-valve,” or “non-work for the sake of work.”[i] In the first case non-work is cast as unproductive, in the second it is posed as differently productive, and in the third it is figured as reproductive of the subject as a worker. Although they may appear to be categories of non-work, they do not escape the imaginary of productivity or the models of the subject that would deliver it. These notions of work’s refusal are still under the sway of its ethics.
In a section of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 with the title “The Meaning of Human Requirements,”[ii] Marx offers some suggestive ideas about how we might begin to think about how to spend non-work time and produce post-work selves by casting non-work in terms of an expanding realm of needs. In his indictment of bourgeois political economy, Marx describes it as a moral doctrine parading as if it were value-free science, a “science of asceticism” that shapes the worker in accordance with its own moral ideal: “Self-denial, the denial of life and of all human needs, is its cardinal doctrine” (1978, 95). This is how these political economists make workers out of human beings: by reducing our needs—from needs for food and shelter, to needs for activity, pleasure and sociality—to a specific functional minimum.
Marx’s characterization of who we become as workers in this model of the work society include references to the impoverishment of our senses and “a dulled capacity for pleasure” (94). Our affective capacities and modes of sociality are equally diminished, since if we “want to be economical,” we should spare ourselves “all sharing of general interest, all sympathy, all trust, etc.” (96), leaving self-interest free rein. Becoming an economical subject means managing what today is referred to as our employability: according to this economic ethic, “you must make everything that is yours saleable, i.e., useful” (96).
The problem is not that we need and want too much, as those who preach the ethics of hard work and decry our “entitlement attitudes” would have it, but that we have too few needs and too little desire. Our needs and passions are reduced to two: one is for work, the other for “acquisition.” As Marx describes it, the only need cultivated rather than stunted by a capitalist economic system is the need for money (93): the need to earn it and spend it. “The worker may only have enough for him to want to live, and may only want to live in order to have [enough]” (96). We might imagine consumption as a reward for production and the enjoyment of new products as an escape from work, but consumption and production are only two sides of the same system. These needs for consumer gratification are the kinds of needs that drive us “to a fresh sacrifice” (93), requirements that “lead the fly to the gluepot” (94). These are needs that are functional to and complicit with the very system that demands that we work our lives away in order to live. We should not forget, Marx admonishes, that “extravagance and thrift…are equal” (96, emphasis added). What Marx characterizes as the submerging of all passions and all activities in avarice (96) is central to the construction of the subject as worker.
But it is worth noting here that Marx’s critique in this text is not an example of the usual ascetic diatribe against the pleasures of consumption. Consider his mocking description of the teachings by which we are made into the ethical subjects of a capitalist work society: “the less you eat, drink and read books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public-house; the less you think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence etc., the more you save—the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor dust will devour—your capital.” In this way, multiple modes of doing, being, and communing are subordinated to having: “the less you are, the more you have” (95-96). The kinds of things we are advised to minimize are not necessarily what we would characterize as unproductive indolence, or productive creativity, or reproductive leisure. Rather, by framing his critical analysis in terms of our needs—their qualities and quantities, their expansion and contraction—he ignores the question of whether such activities or experiences are productive or unproductive, and emphasizes instead the question of what their impact on our subjectivity might be, on who it is we are encouraged—and able—to become.
Besides the above list of non-productive and non-reproductive pastimes that the political economists warn us against, the only other glimpse Marx offers of an alternative comes later in the section, in the form of an example of how we might create new needs. He describes how, as proletarian activists come together as workers to do political work, a different mode of being emerges as a new “need for society” develops (99)—a need for a form of sociality quite different from that orchestrated through the capitalist division of labor. As they come together, their process, their means—“company, association, and conversation”—become ends in themselves (99). In contrast to the ethical subject constituted in relation to the ascetic ideals of “acquisition, work, thrift, sobriety” (97), we are invited by such examples to think instead about how to cultivate a wealth of human needs. This, finally, is how I think we might imagine what non-work time could be: time to cultivate new needs for pleasures, activities, senses, passions, affects, and socialities that exceed the options of working and saving, producing and accumulating.
[i] Bob Black, “The Abolition of Work,” in Reinventing Anarchy, Again, ed. Howard J. Ehrlich (San Francisco, CA: AK Press, 1996), 237.
[ii] Karl Marx, “The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, Second Edition, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), 93-101.
Tags: labor, Marx, speculation
• 15 May 2013 • View comments
On the Necessity of Art’s Exit from Contemporary Art
_Suhail Malik _
Friday, May 3 – Friday, June 14
Artists Space : Books & Talks
55 Walker Street
$5 Entrance Donation
Limited Capacity, entrance on a first-come, first-served basis
Artists Space presents a series of four talks and discussions led by Suhail Malik, writer and Co-Director of the MFA Fine Art at Goldsmiths, London, based on his research and writing on the conditions and shortcomings of contemporary art. Beginning on Friday May 3 and extending over a six-week period, the format provides scope for sustained dialogue and responses to Malik’s propositions. Each session will involve the participation of guest artists and writers as respondents.
Contemporary art’s shortcomings are increasingly evident even with respect to its own purported ambitions: proposing alternatives to homogenizing, normative conventions; as a method or mechanism of escape from the standardizations and conventions set by large-scale, commercial-corporate, or institutionally secured forms of recognition; as a site of utopian proposals, and so on. These imperatives impose themselves yet more severely when contemporary art itself establishes such norms and institutional figures. The effort is then made to escape art as we have it, perhaps for a more valid, more immediate, perhaps more populist or accessible kind of art which, for that reason, would have yet greater critical-political traction than institutionalized art. The now-familiar emphases on public participation, nonart, smuggling, deterritorialisation, inbetweenness, eventhood, indeterminacy, deskilling, etc. all heed this imperative. But as re-iterations of the logic of escape, these efforts also perpetuate and entrench the very limitations of art they seek to overcome. The resulting interminable endgame of art’s critical maneuvers serves after a short moment to provide new paradigmatic exemplars for it, a condition of tamed instability that characterizes contemporary art today well enough.
This series proposes that for art to have substantial and credible traction on anything beyond or larger than itself, it is necessary to exit contemporary art. An exit that requires the revocation of contemporary art’s logic of escape. If the demand here has an appeal and deserves attention—and it need not since the current constitution of contemporary art serves very well the aesthetic, intellectual, and sociological forms that sustain prevalent power in and through the art field, including all prevalent forms of critique—then this demand must be placed not just on the art itself but also on the ideas it invokes, as well as the social structures and ethos sustaining this configuration. The question then is what this art other to contemporary art’s paradigm of escape can be? What other kind of social structure and distribution of power than that prevalent in contemporary art would support it? What should an art that is not contemporary art do? Of what would its traction consist and amount to?
Friday, May 3, 7:30pm
1. Exit not escape
In which the necessity for art’s exit from contemporary art is derived.
Friday, May 17, 7pm
2. The problem with contemporary art is not the contemporary
In which contemporary art’s attribution of its limitations to the contemporary is disputed.
Friday, May 31, 7pm
3. A history of negations
In which the exit from contemporary art is shown to not be art’s negation.
Friday, June 14, 7pm
In which art’s avowal of its institutionality is shown to grant art the traction contemporary art seeks but must deprive itself of.
Suhail Malik writes on political economy, theory, and the axioms of contemporary art. Malik holds a Readership in Critical Studies at Goldsmiths, London, where he is Programme Co-Director of the MFA Fine Art. For 2012-13, Malik is Visiting Fellow at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, New York.
Recent publications include: “The Politics of Neutrality: Towards a Global Civility” in The Human Snapshot (2013), “Tainted Love: Art’s Ethos and Capitalization” (with Andrea Phillips) in Art and Its Commercial Markets (2012), “Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Participate Again—Communism, Its Recurring Nightmare” in Waking Up From the Nightmare of Participation (2011), “Why Art? The Primacy of Audience” Global Art Forum, Dubai (2011); “The Wrong of Contemporary Art: Aesthetics and Political Indeterminacy” (with Andrea Phillips) in Reading Rancière (2011); “Educations Sentimental and Unsentimental: Repositioning the Politics of Art and Education” in Redhook Journal (2011); “Screw (Down) The Debt: Neoliberalism and the Politics of Austerity” in Mute, 2010; “You Are Here” for Manifesta 8 (2010).
• 15 May 2013 • View comments
Front Desk Apparatus
The Business: On the Unbearable Lightness of Art
Preface to the Study of the Habitat of the ‘Pavillon’
“I was interested in …” Interest and Intuition in Art Discourse
Luc Boltanski & Eve Chiapello
The New Spirit of Capitalism
Michael Hardt & Chris Hight
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh
From Faktura to Factography
Art in the Knowledge-based Polis
Making Things Public
The Public and the Private Realm / The Social and the Private
Clipping as a practice of thinking
Space and the Soul
Notational Image, Transformation and the Grid in the Late Music of Morton Feldman
Spaces for Thinking : Texte zur Kunst Nr. 62
Self-Design and Aesthetic Responsibility
Situated Pedagogy: [against] a Pedagogy of Placelessness.
Fragment on Machines
Maybe it would be better if we worked in groups of three
Use Me Up
Ready-Made Artist and Human Strike: A few Clarifications
Building Dwelling Thinking
Critique of Separation (film soundtrack)
The Surface of Design
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh
From the Aesthetic of Administration to the Critique of Institutions
I (not love) Information
White Night: Before a Manifesto
B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore
Welcome to the Experience Economy
Socialism and Print: A Life-Cycle
Introduction to The Division of Labor in Society
Innovative Forms of Archives, Part One
“Turning,” e-flux journal #0, November, 2008
From Capital-Labour to Capital-Life
[Space] as a Keyword
Hidden Labor and the Delight of Otherness: Design and Post-Capitalist Politics
What is a Dispositif?
Instituent Practices, No. 2
On the Implosion of Political Virtuosity and Productive Labor
Remaking Social Practice
John Bellamy Foster
Marx’s Grundrisse Foundations of the critique of political economy
Logic and Theory of Inquiry
Of Other Space
Construction of Cultural Labour Market
Lars Bang Larsen
Disobedience in Tokyo
Useful Work versus Useless Toil
• 15 May 2013 • 2 notes • View comments
BETWEEN THE POLITICIZATION OF ART AND THE AESTHETICS OF THE POLITICS
By Muriel Enjalran on February 27, 2013
Posted in Dispatch
Independent Curators International Research
Between the Politicization of Art and the Aesthetics of the Politics: the Margin of the Artist
In today’s state of generalized economic, social, even moral crisis,1 which is notably leading to a serious questioning of the free-market model which underpins our contemporary societies, it seems natural that artists should now more than ever seize upon the “res publica” (the public affair) through their works; or that artistic forms should find themselves directly affected, and even transformed, in their modes of production.
Historical events and shifts in society have certainly had great impacts on artistic practice before. For example, we were reminded recently by the exhibition 1917 at the Centre Pompidou Metz, in France’s East region, that the deadliest and most traumatizing year of the First World War was also the year of a very important artistic effervescence, giving rise to or reinforcing avant-garde movements which brought forward new artistic and engagement forms.
We speak today of a potent return to the politics within art, but what do we mean in saying this? If every artistic event is political in its public presentation as affirmed by artist Joseph Beuys with his concept of “Social plastic,” then have these two fields ever been autonomous?
Does “making political art” imply a direct engagement of the artist within the public sphere with a work, which has an immediate and quantifiable form of effectiveness, able to change and even renew the frameworks and principles of communal living, to overturn systems of authority? Is this to find “artistic equivalents for political positions” as remarked by Claire Bishop2 in her book on the history of participatory art?
We have seen in recent months in the United States how the spontaneous actions of citizens have been accompanied by artists who have themselves produced new movements in the world of art: occupy wall street has given rise to occupy museums, denouncing the hold on art by neo-conservative models and the market, as well as the role played by large, so-called legitimating institutions as the situationists had done before them. The situationists indeed aspired to the removal of art as social field determined and regulated by the institutions and by the art market, attacking for instance the AICA in 1958 in Brussels at an annual meeting, through a very violent tract against them: “Disappear, you art critics, fools and partial … incoherent and divided. The International situationists will not give way to you. We will starve you.”3 Moreover, the radical intentions of the situationists have meanwhile been hijacked by the new generations of artists without keeping the original project of surpassing art, and have even served to renew the same artistic frameworks, which they had sought to break with. From Fluxus to relational aesthetics through the figure of the walking artist engaged within the city in a psychogeographical experience, the requirements of situ are ever present in art today, often as a guarantee of certain radicalism. Far from having killed art and its institutions, the situ movement, through its heritage, actually opened its borders; “it allowed its successors to claim as artistic operations (finalized or not to works proper) first the invention of new behaviors, new attitudes, new discourses, and secondly the invasion of social or ordinary life by the sword of criticism and disruption.”4
As Arnaud Label Roujoux said, “After the end of art, what? Art.”
We could ask ourselves if the same phenomenon of salvaging and the eventual dissolution within current events does not also await the occupy movements given the invitations extended to them by large institutions, and biennials such as the 2012 Berlin Biennial.
If political art is radical art, what visual forms does this radicalism produce? Stéphanie Lemoine and Samira Ouardi use the term “artivism”5 to designate and catalogue new militant artistic movements in the public sphere from “carnival against capital” to “militant sambas.” These movements primarily seen on the American continent would thus speak to “an aestheticization of the political,” generating a visual vocabulary, which is hybrid and original.
In France, following the critical tradition of connecting art more generally to the human sciences and avant-garde Marxist thought, art in the public space has shifted since the 1980s and ‘90s to the social field. Through their work artists describe the often-harsh realities of urban life concerning for example immigration and the failures within our republic with regard to integration. We designate under the term “aesthetic documentary” an entire section of photography and video whose inspiration and artistic material is drawn from our social situation. Moreover, in what Nicolas Bourriaud coined as “relational aesthetics” at the end of the ‘90s, many artists utilizing so-called performative interventions worked towards a more direct engagement with public space. They played the role of agents, mediators between a designated group and a public audience. Here, art becomes a social praxis mediated by the institution.
Finally, there are those who in the manner of a Baudelairian flâneur, the storyteller of Walter Benjamin, and of course Guy Debord and his theory of the derive, roam through the city, offering spectators new experiences of places and landscapes through works inspired by their own wanderings. Their often-poetic readings and displaced narratives aim to redefine our communal living spaces and produce a means of re-enchantment. Here, art in the city oscillates between documentary reportage and the delivery of a poetic vision producing a narrative.
These different practices from artivism to documentary and relational aesthetics illustrate different means of engagement and connection to the city and the public, but what aesthetic term can be used to refer to these artistic forms and movements?
Below, I would like to introduce the work of artists who in my opinion illustrate other forms of engagement in the public sphere and who offer through their works new ways of exploring the relation between art and politics in redefining aesthetics.
From Documentary to Art
Justine Triet is an artist based in France whose artistic practice lies in the confluence of film, documentary and video art. Her films illustrate a shift from social and political documentary to another domain, that of art through an exercise of vision, by which she explores her subjectivity. In her films, Triet identifies and selects social situations characterized by a heavy tension (student demonstrations, or the final days of an election campaign), and she “shoots” the faces and characters, seized by the intensity of the moment. Sur Place was shot during large demonstrations in Paris in 2006, protesting a proposed revision to the CPE6 labor law, which would have removed key protection for young workers. While this is the starting point for the work, we quickly lose sight of the precise context, only to be swept up by the film and its editing rhythm, built as a music or an opera score marking different tempos Allegro, Adagio, Presto. We observe the dance of the forces at play: young rioters pitted against the police force, journalists on the lookout for shocking images for their editors, etc. The large crowds around them form a compact mass, uniform and raw, setting off in the same direction, propelled by the same impetus. Its rumbling punctuates the comedic sketches of the young rioters which it surrounds like a Greek chorus. We are present before the theatrical representation of a battle. Like Steve McQueen, who placed emphasis on political struggle through the use of his body, she frames the gestures, the footwork… Music accompanies the film’s dramaturgy and like a musical score, the sequencing of images following rhythmic variations made from “imperfect cadences” in order to heighten the action before the final calm. The artist begins with a situation within a markedly political and social context but surpasses the dimensions of documentary and narrative to which it is attached in the way that she handles the images and mise-en-scène. In this manner, the artist reveals ambiguity and undermines stereotypical portrayals of this sort of event relayed by the media in a too often Manichean and biased manner. The artist does not claim to deliver authoritative lectures on the social event and without doubt it is for this reason that her work evades determinism and dogmatism: as we watch the film, we cannot make a clear judgment to condemn either the young protesters’ violence or the police brutality; seeing the final frame, an image of an injured young man, we catch our breath and yet remain enduringly affected.
Art in front of History
The question of autonomy and emancipation is central in articulating the relationships between art and politics. The emancipation of artistic practices from academic norms was played out most dramatically in the 19th century, though that of the artists themselves is less evident. If the studio is a space of freedom by means of the inventive potential of forms and the infinite vocabulary of art, when the artist asserts an engagement within the public sphere, how does he preserve this creative freedom?
The artistic avant-garde of the 20th century7 claimed this freedom through their practices, but were they not placed, despite themselves, in the service of a political project which went beyond them and which they did not discern? Is not the modernist project itself in art and architecture in its ideal of emancipation and progress placed in the service of political projects that are often authoritarian.
The history of art is built with and against geopolitical history, and this collusion as well as the duality of this heritage informs the work of Portuguese artist Ângela Ferreira.
Ângela Ferreira was born in Mozambique, and has lived in Portugal and in South Africa, where she studied. From her diasporic African origin, which is deeply instilled in her artistic reflection, she explores in her works (installations, sculptures, photographs) the complex and ambivalent relationships of Europe to this continent, reinvesting histories and references of modernist and constructivist art and architecture within Black Africa. From Tropical Houses – the ideal residential units of Jean Prouvé sent to the colonies from France and then, ironically, recently stolen and sent back in order to sustain a fast-developing international design market8 – to images of buildings from the colonial era, abandoned relics of modernist architecture over which the natural African scenery has resumed its place, her works echo the muted violence of a self-centered Occident and the failure of a modernist utopia promising progress and emancipation through art.
“Ultimately then, the contemporary reproductions of the Maison in text and images reinforce Theodor Adorno’s idea of a “culture industry” dedicated to the self-preservation of the center, producing and reproducing cultural products that represent, in this case, colonial domination as both universal and natural.”9
Her sensitive and committed viewpoint has been shaped by an identity, which swings between Africa and Portugal and which permits her to adopt a doubled perspective, offering us a vision which is never univocal of the social and political history of these regions through the prism of art and architecture.
“My project invites to look again at the moment when we believed it, to look at what we believed in order to better understand the reasons for failure. How can we invent, how can we succeed to construct a new utopia without understanding what went wrong and why it went wrong? My project is obviously critical, but it is equally full of hope.”10
From Creative Individuality to Engagement through the Collective Body: Looking and Acting
The work of Caetano Dias is characterized by the use of different mediums (sculpture, painting, photography, performance). The root of his work lays within the multicultural identity of the city of Salvador, where there is a large population of African descent founding an Afro-Catholic religious syncretism, a mixture of Catholicism and indigenous rituals. His work must be perceived within its attachment to the context, that of Salvador. This is the point of departure which informs his works but from which they soon free themselves in transforming into strong visual experiences. The art he creates is not sociological insofar as he does not seek to demonstrate and explain a social context, which we know to be tough and quite inegalitarian in Brazil. The body, in both its individual and social collective forms, is very present in the works where he mixes sensuality with spirituality, paganism and religiosity, gentleness and violence. He shows the vulnerability or the shackling of bodies, as in his video O mundo de Janiel: “the question of politics is firstly that of the ability of any body to take hold of its destiny.”11. In his films, the image is felt more than it is contemplated. There is a strong relationship to painting in the work of Dias which draws attention to the frame of the image, presenting us genuine tableaux vivants. In 1978 Cidade Submersa, he describes the relationship between a man and the city which he comes from, Remenso, submersed in 1978 in order to build the Sobradinho Dam in the northeast of Bahai. We accompany this fisherman as he reconstructs a personal geography, which calls up the relics of this lost ancient city. The documentary images blur and transform into aquatic and fantastic visions while equally appearing to be the projection of the man’s memories. Caetano Dias speaks to us about the complexity of territories subjected to their histories. His images describe in silence the memories, which no longer have a place, an invisible and metaphoric city. Dias also engages himself directly within the social environment of his city as he regularly develops cultural and artistic projects in the favelas of Salvador, for example while working with groups of children. In his project Canta Doce, he constructed walls of sugar, which the children of the favelas could symbolically overcome in eating them.
These three artists demonstrate a strong willingness within their work to exercise their creative freedom, and through them, they offer an exercise in freedom for the spectator. These artists do not prejudge the effects of their work nor do they anticipate the responses of the spectator, and without doubt this is why they remain open and are “political.” They call for a free exercise of looking in articulating the “I” and the “we” within a common experience of the sensible.
As Jacques Rancière recalls, the political impact depends upon its aesthetic distance:
“A critical art is an art which knows that its political impact depends upon its aesthetic distance. It knows that this effect cannot be guaranteed, that it always includes a measure of uncertainty.”12
1. Stéphane Hessel, Time for Outrage: Indignez-vous!, Quartet Book, London, 2011
2. Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: participatory art and the politics of spectatorship, Verso, London / New-York, 2012, p.3
3. Extract of tract in IS n°1 juin 1958, p.29 in Le Mouvement Situ, une histoire intellectuelle, Patrick Marcolini, l’échappée 2012, p. 45
4. Patrick Marcolini, Le Mouvement Situ, une histoire intellectuelle, l’échappée 2012, Paris, p. 255
5. Stéphanie Lemoine et Samira Ouardi, Artivisme: art, action politique et résistance culturelle, Alternatives, Paris 2010
6. CPE : first employment contract
7. This is evident in the relationship between Futurism and the fascist movement, but also in the closeness of Cubism with a socialist philosophy and related political groups
8. Three Maisons Tropicales were shipped from Prouvé‘s factory in France to Niger around 1950. In 2000, prototypes were removed and repatriated to France. In June 2007, one of Jean Prouve’s prefabricated aluminium bungalows stood in New York, beside the Queensboro Bridge, before being sold at Christie’s auction and bought by an hotelier for $4,968,000, finally to be presented today near the Tate Modern. A second one is now displayed on a terrace at the Pompidou Center, in Paris. Another is being restored to be presented to an audience in the South of France.
9. Extract of Jean Prouvé‘s Maison Tropicale in New York, by D.J. Huppatz, in Critical Cities: Reflections on 21st century culture, May 31, 2007
10. Interview with Ângela Ferreira for www.lesartistescontemporains.com, 2009
11. Jacques Rancière, Le spectateur émancipé, La fabrique, 2008, Paris p. 88
12. Jacques Rancière, Le spectateur émancipé, La fabrique, 2008, Paris p. 91
• 2 May 2013 • View comments
The Flock House Project is a group of self-contained ecosystems migrating around
New York City’s five boroughs.
What if mobile, self-sufficient living units were the building blocks for future cities? By reflecting the future of urban space and building off of what is already there, Flock House is a group of migratory, public, sculptural habitats that are movable and modular with the ability to merge.
In a time when growing urban populations are faced with environmental, political, and economic instability, and when dislocation and relocation is important to consider and reconcile, Flock Houses are choreographed throughout urban centers in the United States and three planes of living (subterranean, ground, and sky).
Built collaboratively upon reclaimed, redesigned, and rethought materials within a gift culture, Flock House promotes wider adoption of natural systems such as rainwater capture, inner-city agriculture, solar energy technologies, and the shape and form of Flock House is inspired by current global human migration, immigration, and pilgrimage. Through workshops, organized events, an interactive website, and narrated cell phone tours, the objectives of this project are to enhance community-interdependence and resourcefulness, learning, curiosity, and creative exploration.
Part fantastic and part practical living, mobile Flock House living systems are interstitial, are both autonomous and dependent on their local community and human relationships to care for, share amongst, collaborate, and corroborate with. As living systems, they are bridges for informal cross-discipline, cross-boundary, and cross-border notions of perimeter, property, and polity. Flock House represents migratory structures as part of a city’s ecology.
• 16 April 2013 • 1 note • View comments
The Vienna-based project TRANZIT PAPER offers a curated section of national and international events, interviews, articles and photo series focusing on the key topics space. body. politics., based within an interdisciplinary urban context.
TRANZIT PAPER explores the convergence of space and its related topics, such as movement, perception, time, and identity. Filed under the main themes of space. body. politics., this virtual platform aims to generate an exchange of thoughts and criticism in times when spatial practice has become a centre stage in urban, political, social and cultural issues.
Space is a resource, in which social, cultural and economic inequality occur. Due to phenomenons like globalization and migration, manifold actors are interested in the space we share altogether. The spatial manifestaton of social exclusion becomes obvious in the physical organization of space, in codes, rules, regulations – and in our daily urban life.
TRANZIT PAPER is a subversive experiment, dedicated to the theoretical reflection and the media transfer of aesthetic, social, media and political spaces.
TRANZIT PAPER is a project edited by Carmen Rüter, Vienna.
• 15 April 2013 • 1 note • View comments
Venue — a portable media rig, interview studio, multi-format event platform, and forward-operating landscape research base — will pop up at sites across North America from June 2012 through fall 2013.
Under the direction of Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG and Nicola Twilley of Edible Geography, Venue officially launches Friday, June 8, 2012, with a public event from 6-8pm at the Nevada Museum of Art in downtown Reno, Nevada.
In collaboration with the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art and with Columbia University’s Studio-X Global Network Initiative, Venue will traverse North America in a series of routes, visiting such sites as New Mexico’s Very Large Array, Arches National Park, the world’s largest living organism in the Blue Mountains of Oregon, and the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival.
At these and many other locations, Venue will serve as a backdrop — or venue — for original interviews with people from an extraordinary range of disciplines, even as it records and surveys each site through an array of both analog and high-tech instruments. Many of these devices were conceived and fabricated by interaction designer and 2011 TED Fellow, Chris Woebken. In addition, key pieces of documentary equipment and Venue project ephemera will be stored in an intricate, hand-made toolbox designed by Semigood, woodworkers and furniture-makers based in Seattle, Washington. You can see a photo gallery featuring Venue’s unique toolbox/pop-up interview studio and read about its designers, below.
Venue’s online presence (here at v-e-n-u-e.com, as well as at our media partner The Atlantic, on Twitter, and in our email updates) is equally important as a virtual platform from which we will broadcast original interviews, tours, and public events.
As Venue sets out on its ambitious, sixteen-month series of loops across the North American landscape, its curatorial mission is to document often overlooked yet fascinating sites through the eyes of the innovators, trendsetters, entrepreneurs, and designers at the forefront of ideas today.
From architects to scientists and novelists to mayors, from police officers to civil engineers and athletes to artists, and from landfill-remediation crews to independent filmmakers, Venue’s archive will assemble a cumulative, participatory, and media-rich core sample of the greater North American landscape, by means of a rolling festival of site visits, interviews, film screenings, discussions, debates, presentations, performances, and more.
• 11 February 2013 • View comments
Opening The Cultivated Wilderness, or, What is Landscape? architecture critic Paul Shepheard reveals that “this book is about seeing things that are too big to see.” He provides three clear frames to orient our recognition: “The Wilderness of the book’s title is the world before humans appeared in it, and the Cultivation is everything we’ve done to it since. Landscape is another name for the strategies that have governed what we’ve done.” Investigating earthworks or land art is a way of mapping the intersection of geomorphology and human construction. Earthworks begin with the shape of the land and extend through the complex social and ecological processes that create landscape. Including the full array of human activity marking the planet, from petroglyphs to roads, dwellings, monuments and traces of those actions, earthworks show us who we are.
Since 2001 Land Arts of the American West has been developing as an transdisciplinary field program expanding the definition of land art and our relationship to landscape. Land Arts is a semester abroad in our own back yard connecting the pedagogic potential of travel with the rigors of field research.
Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech University seeks to cultivate collective energy within an expanded disciplinary range of examinations from architecture, the built environment, public culture, literature, science, and geography to explorations of contemporary art practices.
• 11 February 2013 • View comments
construction site for non-affirmative practice
The Construction site for non-affirmative practice is a group of young Italian designers that came together in autumn 2011 during our collectivized artist’s residency at Careof , a non profit art space in Milan. Since, the group has developed its own dynamics and together we study and experiment with alternative criteria with which to act in the world and, in particular, the world of design.
The Construction site is asking questions like:
What sort of society do we want to contribute to?
What position are we taking within the capitalist economy and how can we question that position?
How do we want to work and relate to others?
How do we want to live?
What support structures can we construct in order to allow for the development of diverse and sustainable design practices?
For more details on the project we invite you to visit the section dedicated to the Construction site on the website Designing Economic Cultures .
The Construction site also has its own website: pratichenonaffermative.wordpress.com
• 11 February 2013 • View comments