Free of charge
SUNDAY 20 February and SUNDAY 6 March, 1-5pm
316-318 Bethnal Green Road
Join a growing group of precarious people for two afternoons of collective storytelling, film screenings, survival strategies and mutual support. These sessions are hosted in preparation for a public Participatory Peoples Tribunal on Precarity to be held in late March. Bring your evidence and anecdotes.
The Precarious Workers Brigade
“Do you work Monday-Monday but still can’t pay your bills?
Are you freelance but you don’t feel free?
Are you tired, anxious and wondering if you’ll ever get paid?”
We are a growing group of precarious workers in culture & education. We call out in solidarity with all those struggling to make a living in this climate of instability and enforced austerity. We come together not to defend what was, but to demand, create and reclaim:
EQUAL PAY: no more free labour; guaranteed income for all
FREE EDUCATION: all debts and future debts cancelled now
DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS: cut unelected, unaccountable and unmandated leaders
THE COMMONS: shared ownership of space, ideas, and resources
On the occasion of the second Amateurist Network event Anton Vidokle, NYC/ Berlin artist behind e-flux, Unitednationsplaza, Night School and the Martha Rosler Library to name only a few recent projects, presented his 2010 film <em>New York Conversations</em> at E:vent Gallery. The film was the result of a joint commission by A Prior magazine to produce material for the publication. Together with Nico Dockx and Rirkrit Tiravanija, Vidokle decided to hold a three-day conversation open to the public, with invited guests and lunch and dinners prepared by Tiravanija.
The topics of the conversations ranged from issues over the precarious positions of independent art workers wanting to ‘own their own alienation’ (Miwon Kwon) or needing to ‘hustle’ by selling their ‘body of work’ (Jan Verwoert). The dialogue also addressed the loose structures of ‘trust’ and ‘understanding’ used to enable relationships, which were also identified as their potential weakness. The dynamics of how to have a group conversation was also discussed and suggestions over how the event will become mediated in its documentation.
The film was a condensed version of over 20 hours of material and was predictably very dense, requiring close reading throughout. But the overall effect of the film was bold and engaging. In relation to the nascent Amateurist Network, with its stated aim of ‘privileging talking’, the film underlined the importance of sharing experiences and creating feedback loops to safeguard against isolation and competition for competition’s sake.
The discussion with Vidokle at E:vent Gallery following the screening was wide ranging, from the political history of film and video to ideas of social agency and the aesthetics of the film and its ambiguous status as an art object. The question of how public the filmed conversations were was raised. Vidokle responded by stating his concern that art was becoming fodder for lacklustre tourism, quoting Rosler, he said that the public had been replaced by ‘an audience’. A voice from the audience argued that he enjoyed being a tourist in his city, going to openings and discovering new work. I stated that the notion of ‘tourism’ needed to be clarified as the arts has come to be marketed solely as a marker of the cultural status of a city for visitors, and rarely for its innate worth and relevance to communities of artists and the sources of critical support they draw from. I worry that this hollow promotion has led to the easy sidelining of the arts by the present Con-Dem leadership.
Vidokle argued that the last thing he wanted to be was a ‘professional artist’ and went on to talk about how sovereignty, rather than autonomy, might be a worthwhile topic on which to concentrate, warning against the prescriptive nature of biennials and the co-optive tendency of institutions over artists. He emphasized the ongoing need to keep questioning and sustaining this through different forms of distribution and circulation.
There can be little doubt that the swathing cuts foisted upon the University sector by this regressive government will lead to the total privatisation of higher arts education in the UK. As a result, access to courses will be limited to those who can afford the staggeringly high fees and the occasional scholarship student lucky enough to have made the grade. The policy is not only wrongheaded but clearly ideological. The coalition refuse to grasp the basic idea that learning and education can have value beyond the simply vocational. It also provides the perfect opportunity for space hungry vice-chancellors to finally get rid of the Fine Art Courses that have been inconveniently clogging up expensive resources for years. It’s deeply depressing and the best critique of Government policy is Claire Bishops most recent article in e-flux found here http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/209.
It was for this reason and from a genuine wish to ‘do something about it’ that I recently attended the first Arts Long Weekend at Goldsmiths College organised by the sprawling coalition Arts Against the Cuts. It was the weekend before the final vote on Student Fees and it felt like an opportune time for Making A Living to have a voice in the debate. The day began well; it was clear that the attendance was spread across the sector with academics, students, artists, activists, curators and administrators giving up some or all of their weekend to get involved with mobilising protest or just to simply let off steam. Pleasingly the early discussions seemed to transcend mere posturing and there was a purposeful air to the proceedings. It was a hopeful, enlivening and vaguely therapeutic starting point.
After the first group meeting the day split into two elements; first a series of discussion groups lead by academics and artists about the future of Arts Education and secondly workshops designed to brainstorm how direct action could be mobilised against the cuts. I decided to flit between the two, however as the morning evolved a tedious and reductive political agenda was beginning to emerge in some of the discussions. The most apt example was when a well-known artist duo categorically stated without a hint of irony that the only answer to the current situation was “International Communism”. The assertion was met with what appeared to be general agreement across the board so I decided to beat a hasty retreat into a rather charming coffee shop in New Cross (and the momentary comforts of the evil capitalist state) to think about what had just been said.
After my soothing skinny mini chinny cappuccino I still felt like I needed to contribute to the discussion as it’s terms hadn’t shifted; what can I do to help protect higher Art Education from the cuts? The thought though of returning to the freezing Goldsmiths student Union was too much to bare so I resolved instead to return to the fray at the Tate teach-in planned for the announcement of the Turner Prize later that week. It seemed like an elegant and well-placed protest that got straight to the heart of the matter – it had the potential to make maximum impact and to mobilise some of the sectors power brokers and the public – something that was for once a very good thing.
The Tate Teach-In
The teach-in again began well. There were over 150 attendees with representatives from across the sector. There was a clear agenda that made the link between the Turner Prize and Art schools – without art schools we’d have no Turner Prize – simple, elegant and purposeful. The first 2 ‘lectures’ harnessed the anger and concern of the assembled protestors and there were moments of genuine solidarity. Around us the tired old works by the usual YBA suspects suddenly took on a new life; I found myself getting a lump in my throat as one speaker talked eloquently about the death of the humanities if government policy was allowed to proceed. We applauded, stamped our feet and roared our approval.
And then it all changed.
The ‘teach-in’ then shifted gear into what I have to reluctantly call an ideological rant. Instead of remaining focused on the issue at hand – the cuts to arts education– the next 2 speakers proceeded to pontificate about a good old-fashioned Marxist revolution. They were not it seemed talking about a re-appraisal of the good bits of Marx but rather an entrenched, dogmatic and puritanical rehashing of the same old rubbish that has become very familiar to anyone involved in any major protest in recent years.
It was deeply boring, on occasions idiotic, irritating and at worst completely irrelevant as I’m not sure whether 150 slightly undernourished arts professionals were really up to the revolutionary task. No one mentioned freedom of expression, no one raised an objection and those who felt alienated (including me) made their excuses and quietly sidled off. Since then I’ve decided to step out of the protests organised by the pressure group and I’ve little appetite to return (which will probably come as a relief to many).
Why are we here?
“In our age the idea of intellectual liberty is under attack from two directions. On one side are its theoretical enemies, the apologists for totalitarianism, and on the other its immediate, practical enemies, monopoly and bureaucracy” George Orwell, The Prevention of Literature, January 1946.
To a degree I’m playing dumb here and I want to make clear that I’m not disputing anyone’s right to be involved in the debate. There is obviously a link between an ongoing dissatisfaction with the Status Quo and revolutionary and radical politics and I’m not dismissing any attempt to make things better by imagining better alternatives. Marxist theory is of course rightly part of such discussions and I am often delighted by the old bastard’s perception, prescience and humanity as well as being acutely aware of his limitations and failings.
As well as Marx though I’m also rather interested in Adam Smith and I’m often delighted by his perception, prescience and humanity as well as being acutely aware of the old git’s limitations and failings. I feel the same way about Badiou, Ranciere, Lacan, Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, Hegel, Dawkins, Marcuse, De Botton (yes, really), Adorno, Bourriard, Satre, Freud, Everett, my Mum, my Dad and my friends. In fact I’m interested in a lot of stuff (including Deal or No Deal) and I retain the right to cherry pick what I think makes sense at any given time. My opinions are guided by the best (and worst) information I can get my hands on and I’m always willing to change my mind or admit I’m wrong (which I often am). It may all sound a bit too relativist for some readers but I actually couldn’t give a royal shit what you think.
Artists are at their most radical when independent of dogma and able to find their own voice, instead of regurgitating the utterances of others. Art colleges are important for this very reason; people like this are in my view the very best and they will always be the natural enemy of vested interest and extremism. Often such extremes will predictably dismiss such an autonomous position by saying that it’s deluded and that treasured intellectual freedoms are an illusion; they may have a point but where would you rather discuss the issue? Here or in the former Soviet Union or the current North Korea?
It was these freedoms (deluded or otherwise) that the students in Tiananmen Square were prepared to die for in 1989 – it’s useful to remember this before indulging anyone who has even a passing sympathy for their oppressors. It’s also worth remembering other atrocities committed in the name of Communism. For a start, the estimated death toll attributed to the ideology’s many regimes stands at approximately 94 million lives (1). Of course, Chomsky (2) is right to point out that Capitalism also has a sordid record, however that valid observation can’t be used to excuse the obscenities perpetrated by Communism. Just because both systems have histories of brutality and oppression it doesn’t mean that the ‘other’ is any better. It’s the most absurd inhumane and fatalistic numbers game you can play.
Above there are two anecdotal examples of distracting political agendas competing for airtime with urgent discussions about art education. It serves to muddy the waters of the debate and at worst it appears to promote a dogma that is inescapably associated with vile oppression. This is something that the students and Arts Against the Cuts movement will have to tackle head-on otherwise they run the risk of losing the argument before it’s even begun by accidentally promoting the hypocrisy within their midst.
Of course the Neoliberal project started by Thatcher has caused a huge amount of damage to the Keynesian economic model of Social Democracy and we must continue to place pressure on the government to acknowledge its responsibilities towards all of its citizens. Protecting Art and culture for all and the intellectual health of the nation is part of this ongoing battle. This should not however signal a retreat into the divisionist and oppressive terms of political extremism. This is not only wrapped in a bizarre, warped, ill-informed nostalgia but also signals a dramatic failure of imagination – something that as artists we should never be guilty of. Making art is a political act in itself and as long as artists are able to present their independent view of the world then they will continue to undermine extremism, dogma and propaganda wherever it raises its ugly head. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Paula Dodds – Artist, Writer, Curator and Lecturer 2011
1. Le Livre noir du communisme: Crimes, terreur, répression Edited by Stéphane Courtois (Éditions Robert Laffont)
This book is an attempt chart the total deaths caused by Communist Regimes and this was the estimated conclusion. A former Moaist, Courtois is now an outspoken anti-communist and a supporter of pluralism, democracy, human rights and the Rechsstaat.
2. Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs Noam Chomsky P177-178 (Pluto Press)
Stated in criticism to Le Livre noir du communisme: Crimes, terreur, repression “the democratic capitalist ‘experiment’ has caused more deaths than in the entire history of … Communism everywhere since 1917: over 100 million deaths by 1979, and tens of millions more since, in India alone.”
One day symposia at the Whitechapel Gallery – organised by Visual and Material Culture Research Centre, Contemporary Art Research Centre, Kingston University. Co-organised by Dean Kenning and Gavin Grindon
I entered the conference room at the Whitechapel Gallery, with a palpable sense of urgency, wondering how are we going to proceed with the question of art’s use, in the light of the biggest cuts to the public funding of arts since government funding began in 1940 (Arts Council England’s budget has been cut by 29.6%). The cuts to the arts need to be seen as part of the wider assault on public services by the Con-Dem government, which under the pretence of crisis is embedding even further the process of privatisation of education, social welfare and culture. While the arts await the cull, with a huge sense of uncertainty, what do we have to say in its ‘defence’? Should we defend it, and what is it that we want to defend?
(For a brilliantly written article on the currents cuts and their effects on the education and the arts, see Claire Bishop’s recent article ‘Con-Demmed to the Bleakest of Futures: Report from the UK’ on e-flux.)
Can an organic farmer Save the Arts?
Artist and writer Dean Kenning, co-organiser of the symposia, spoke of the ‘Save the Arts’ campaign as an example of the campaign which justified the benefit of art in terms of economics, while drawing on the culture of prestige and celebrity to send the message. ‘Even if you are a philistine, art is good for the economy’, said the organic farmer in David Shrigley’s animation, commissioned for the campaign by the Paul Hamilyn foundation (and what could be wrong with a piece of paid activism?) It was obvious that a campaign such as Save the Arts pandered to New Labour’s vision of art whose aim, to quote Claire Bishop, ‘was not to foster greater social happiness, the authentic realization of human potential, or the utopian imagination of alternatives, but rather to accelerate the processes of neoliberalism’. Accepting that ‘reasonable cuts were necessary’ and failing to convince anyone, let alone the government of the arts use to society (even when it is economically profitable), the campaign fizzled out by the end of October 2010.
What alternatives did the symposia offer?
The symposium set out ‘to challenge the idea that art should be allowed to take critical positions safe from any real intervention’, asking ‘if art can play a more directly functional role in culture’ and ‘how subversive is the social uselessness of art?’ (from the handout). This seemed to put criticality (passive) in opposition to intervention (active), while suggesting a possible subversive role of the art and I was growing curious to hear more.
In his short opening talk, Kenning asked if we can distinguish arts use from instrumentality and proposed that art shouldn’t be afraid to become actionism. Actionism is different from activism, it uses strategies that we don’t recognise, signs that lead us beyond ourselves and our unconscious, said Kenning. While I found the proposition of actionist art intriguing, I felt it needed qualifying – what kind of art are we talking about? What forms does it take? To what end, to what and whose use? Perhaps the answers were coming in the remainder of the symposia.
As the day was strictly divided between art theory in the morning and art practice in the afternoon (why this division?), I have decided to meddle a bit with the order, and begin with artists.
Jane Trowell and James Marriott from London based artist and activist group PLATFORM whose work focuses primarily on the issues of climate justice, spoke about their exhibition ‘C Words: Carbon, Climate, Capital, Culture’ at the Arnolfini gallery. From the energy inefficient perfect museum climatic conditions set in the policies of global insurance companies, to the murky relationship of BP and the Tate PLATFORM indeed painted a convincing and troubling picture of the complict role that art institutions play in the sphere of global politics, private capital and ecology.
Dimitri Vilensky from the collective Chto Delat? What is to be done? had to present his talk via a video link, due to the rejection of his visa by the ever more paranoid immigration authorities. Vilensky spoke of arts importance as that of having anti-functionality, escaping instrumentalisation by the art institutions. The way to escape this, was to work outside and inside art institutions, proposed Vilensky. He explained their project Activist Club, in terms of a practice of emancipation, connected to education (but not to systematic education he pointed out), where the shift from worker to activist was important, as a way of creating ‘mental prototype for political action’. For more on Chto Delat?’s practice please see their ‘Declaration on Politics, Knowledge and Art’.
PLATFORM expressed some reticence about working within arts institutions, while Chto Delat? seemed to advocate a form of reverse instrumentalisation, in which it is not the arts institutions that are instrumentalising us, it is us that should instrumentalise the spaces of those institutions.
While on the subject of art institutions and instrumentalisation, the example that Marina Vishmidt brought in, made everyone shudder in disbelief. Symptomatic of neoliberalisation of art institutions, she referenced the forthcoming exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery of the Government Art Collection, selected by non other than the Prime Minister’s wife Samantha Cameron; Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg; Lord Mandelson and other members of the political elite. Thinking it was an act of ill-placed irony the audience laughed and shuffled uncomfortably in the seats (sitting lest we forget in the Whitechapel gallery). Perhaps, by the end of this cull there will be no curators or artists left but the government itself? Ultimate art de tête!
Vishmidt continued by explaining the current cuts to public funding and tripling of student fees as attempts at real subsumption of cultural and educational sectors, proof that social production organises around debt and devaluation of labour power. In this process, art labour can be used as a legitimating process of the new normal claimed Vishmidt saying that ‘it is the workers remuneration that should be brought to art, and not vice versa’. It is here that she referenced the work of New York collective of artists called W.A.G.E. (Working Artist and the Greater Economy) who are campaigning for artists to be paid for their work.
While the work of W.A.G.E. is indeed important in addressing unjust practices of remuneration of artist labour, I still find their lack of critique of neoliberal ideology which facilitates and promotes exploitation somewhat troublesome.
All this raises further questions – would artist union be a useful model of representation and lobbying for artist’ rights of pay and conditions of labour? Would a campaign similar to W.A.G.E. be useful in the U.K. at a time of cuts to the arts? With the Arts Council England being effectively ‘gagged’ by ‘anti-competition laws’ and therefore not allowed to advise artist on their fees, is there not a time to start re-defining what use art institutions are to art?
Writer and lecturer Stephen Wright, from the European School of Visual Arts, proposed ‘usership’ as an opposition to spectatorship, as a potential new frame for transformative art to emerge. While museums have incorporated normative framing devices, namely performative and participatiory frames, allowing activities to appear as art, these frames are also, said Wright, limiting transformative potential of the arts – once we are aware of the frame then it just becomes art, it is powerful and debilitating at the same time. Writer and lecturer John Roberts from the University of Wolverhampton, spoke of the neo-avant-garde, which he claimed, without distance or negation can become used as either a form of ‘social decoration’ or a form of ‘social work’.
Artist and curator Artur Zmijewski ‘did not have good news for us’, he said, as ‘examples of useful artistic practice are not easy to find’. He referred to an educational project by Cuban artist Tanya Bruguera, who founded the first school of performing art in Latin America, called Arte de Conducta (behavior art), as one such example of art that is really useful. Zmijewski painted a rather pessimistic picture of an artist as someone who does not want to be responsible for the possible results of their art. Art, he said, usually produces difficult objects, languages difficult to understand, and foggy situations which are often undefined. In his view the art field attracts people who need undefined situations, undefined languages, who don’t want to be confronted by clear proposals, which prevents them from inventing a social movement and taking responsibility for the results.
Is art only seen as useful when it is educational? Could this be seen as potentially patronising or potentially emancipatory? Should we be more explicit in what we set out to achieve with our art? Do we know what we want to achieve, or do we prefer the foggy lands that Zmijewski talked about?
Instead of a conclusion – a call to new ethics?
During the morning plenary, a member of audience called on us to acknowledge the weakness of ‘relational aesthetics’, which when co-opted ends up being a space in which artists pretend to have relations with others. Is ‘relational aesthetics’ just a sexy term for capitalising on social relationships, or is it making something else possible that would otherwise be absolved into life? Could Wright’s use of ‘usership’ really provide the kind of porous and fluid frame that allows the art and artists to take positions of insider and outsider at the same time? How to strike the balance of what I would call ‘autonomous inter-dependence’?
As I write this last section, I am sitting next to a twenty-something couple, in a trendy bit of east-end of London where, I hasten to add, I do live and work. Snippets of their conversation start to invade my space – we could write that we are working on the social history of the area… how many gates are around the Olympic village… we could pitch it to this gallery and roll it out even to Radio 4. I was sitting in the hub of the business of creative industry, which has become very articulate at selling poverty and the marginalised to the funders. It was in this context that Adorno’s ‘radically useless art’, mentioned throughout the day, began to make sense as a form of resistance to the process in which our relationships and empathy become the capital.
What will be the role of art in the months and years to come nobody knows. Can it indeed afford to take critical positions safe from any real intervention? With the student occupations and protests, there is a renewed sense of re-working spaces of resistance, and forming processes of participatory democracy. When we speak about co-option, and instrumentalisation, we tend to give art a sense of passivity, and there is something in the energy of the campaign ‘Arts Against Cuts’ which refuses that role that I find truly refreshing. Having taken part in the Turner Prize protest, the National Gallery teach-in, and Direct Weekend, I was inspired to find non-hierarchical structure of decision making, the willingness to have a go and muck in, make mistakes as well as headlines. It is these new forms of self-organisation that give me hope in what indeed could be a bleak future.
While I write this under the auspices of MAL, and a pseudonym name, the words and their implications are mine and I take full responsibility for them. Malgorzata
One long grey day at the office, having been shafted by a Public Art Agency; I swung about in my chair feeling powerless and fed up, thinking what to do next… when an email popped up inviting me to a meeting of artists through a group called ‘Making A Living’ which sounded timely and appropriate! So I went along, ‘named and shamed’ and discussed issues surrounding art, labour and remuneration.
one year passes
The discussions have continued… Making A Living is contributing to the Longhouse website; for and through which I will briefly discuss the evolution of another artist resource: a long-term artist led project I have been working on as part of a team, which is now possibly moving into the hands of art institution(s) employees.
Following graduation from a Fine Art BA over a decade ago, I worked with art in public space and behind the scenes for a variety of establishments – earning a wage and learning how the ‘art world’ operates. Having gravitated to artist-led initiatives and working outside of formal institutions; the opportunity to work as an adviser outside of the education system was one that attracted me and held my interest long term.
This motivation was enhanced by the experience I had as a recent graduate, of little support or guidance from University regarding what to do next, let alone professional advice or opportunity within or outside of my Fine Art course.
The aim of this project was to support artists and artist groups in rural spaces with limited networks and work structures, through feedback sessions, links to resources and most importantly a space to develop ideas and communicate with another artist, likely to understand many of the dilemmas and issues they were going through. This included a range of subjects such as legalities in relation to ‘spontaneous’ pieces in public space, preparing for a show, applying for working tax credit, trying to get a gallery to pay up as well as project management.
Artist Resource Project
For a number of years a small team of artist advisers (all practicing artists) worked regularly in partnership with galleries to deliver artists resource services.
Recently the emphasis on practical skills seems less relevant or necessary, for such things as CV and statement writing are often now covered by University courses, as are writing a proposal, building a website, budgeting and risk assessments. In fact, from my experience of working with artists on this scheme over the last five years, there seems to have been a shift from graduating with very little business sense, a wide range of making abilities and passion for developing artwork towards artists graduating with a wealth of professional practice skills but a lack of creative drive and critical, independent thinking.
There seems to be an attuned understanding of working collaboratively and Masters courses are more heavily subscribed and often less substantial. As well as this, there is now the fee (University was free before 1997) to contend with. So whereas I faced income lower than expenditure within my art practice and poorly recognised job credentials, as well as a saturated and over subscribed market; the reality now is – on top of this – substantial debt, internships in place of starter jobs and a phenomenal amount of competition.
The recipe I used and later advocated of simply getting on with it can no longer be broadly applied. This method had included making art in public space, traveling on a shoestring, wangling jobs in creative enterprises, working within artist groups to put on independent exhibitions, getting funding and lots of odd jobs…
Those jobs I did to get by are now courted as unpaid internships and obtaining funding or sponsorship is increasingly an art in itself.
Along with cuts to most public services, funding for the advisory work I have been doing has been reduced. What was set up to be an ‘artists for artists’ scheme is now likely be utilised to help supplement galleries’ diminishing budgets in exchange for their delivery of artists’ professional development.
This might tap into valuable resources and appeal to the careerist graduate, who hopes that this presentation opportunity could lead to a show… provide a ‘way in’ or open a secret door of some sort.
The loss of the artist-to-artist exchange and incorporation of this support into the galleries will likely make it more top-down and lose the honesty in how sessions have been used. For example, questions of giving up from artists at difficult cross roads, along with career ideas and real soul searching in terms of how to go forward would not take place in an interview or presentation… which is what I can see the sessions becoming in the future (desperate attempts by artists to sell themselves). Also at risk could be the questioning and critical thinking about the art world and gallery system, for this is less likely to take place if the artist is speaking with staff of a gallery or art organisation.
Currently the main themes necessary to address through services for independent artists and graduates seem to be how to maintain creative autonomy whilst working collectively and in partnership. Absorbing the changing climate into practice and finding spaces to work within has also been a subject fundamental to maintaining a practice; though perhaps now and in the future it will be more of a visible theme than over the last decade.
A new partner in the Artists Resource scheme is an Arts Officer for the Council. There is a commitment here from Government to the Arts to facilitate regeneration of the geographical area. Though the interest is valued this is also something of a concern due to many development schemes instrumentalising artists to add value to an area – and pacify local residents – as part of gentrification processes. What options are there within this I wonder? Can artistic autonomy be maintained if working in this environment? Could such involvement in top down schemes create opportunities for lobbying, or will there be more a case of dis-empowerment and hijacking? At present it looks like the scheme is being absorbed into top down agendas with little acknowledgment of the work put in by independents.
Partnership working is often a survival strategy – from protesters on the ground – arguing for their civil rights, to galleries competing for funding and public sector workers seeking limited resources to keep their own jobs AND attempt to deliver services. This support for artists sinking into the bureaucracy of galleries and being taken ownership of by Governmental organisations risks undermining those whom they purport to serve.
Some questions I am dwelling on include:
Can artists’ professional development, be taken forward by artists?
Should this term ‘professional development’ be used for art practice?
What will, or should, an Artists Resource consist of in 2015?
Posted by: Jess Malvina Black (MAL)
Last night I dreamed that David Cameron and his friends were old and young at the same time and smashing up the public sector with axes. They were vandalising schools, hospitals and libraries (everything!) from a head office/hub, which had a sci-fi feel to it.
This was parallel to activities of the Bullingdon Club, of which Cameron was a member when at Oxford University. The members would drink excessively, wearing their bespoke club member suits; spend loads on booze and smash up the premises. At the end of the rampage they would hand over wads of cash for repairs.
In adulthood these chums were smashing through the public sector and selling it all off for next to nothing to their friends (companies) and people they wanted to become involved with, whom would be of personal use to them.
Upon awakening I lay in bed for a while remembering this malarky and was surprised at how much of it was a reality. Even a comic written about this time – the bankers etc. would struggle to capture what society allowed these club members to get away with.
Posted by: Jess Malvina Black (MAL)
Artists supposedly harbour an inherent selfish gene. It glows and pulsates in the gut, excreting a jelly-like substance that protects a deep desire to do one’s own thing. How does the practice of being with ones own thoughts, evolving ideas and making ‘work’ that may or may not be of interest to others, relate to a sense of solidarity, collectivity and the ‘commons’? There is already a problem here of creating a false dichotomy between collective and individual modes of thought and action. I frequently mingle in the corridors of a collective mind whilst my own individual brain wobbles on my shoulders.
The notion of individual self-interest is not the preserve of the artist but when the word artist is muttered, thought bubbles often fill with terms such as ‘genius’, ‘flaneur’ and ‘outsider’. These bubbles are not so easily burst. Indeed, it is often in an artist’s best interest to maintain these associations to build on their symbolic value and hence ‘employability’. Many of us engage with our minds in solitary moments more than other people perhaps have the time for. It is these critical engagements with the self and society that are difficult to justify as ‘work’, let alone work that should be publicly subsidised. So there are those of us who campaign for that right – that critical contemplation, the input we can have and/or the outcomes of these processes should be considered valid professions, on a par with other professions servicing a general, common good, like teaching, nursing and policing.
As artists, some of us are interested in pursuing that contradictory desire to disrupt expectations of the function of art whilst fighting for the right to be paid to do that dismantling. To what extent are we prepared to fight for the human right of practicing that which is not asked for, that which is not ‘productive’ or that which is not motivated by financial gain? It is this right to ‘non-productive’ critical thought and action that is being eroded across institutions of education as well as arts funding in the move towards a safer, economically justifiable model of supply and demand. The ideological shifts that are happening at the moment in the UK are having an impact on the already weak arguments for justifying critical art practice as a common good. Such practices consistently fall to the bottom of the pile (if that’s not its home already) when potholes need mending and students need kettling.
There is an inherent contradiction in protecting ‘me-time’ as essential to the professionalisation of an artistic career whilst calling for a broader, collective model of what I’ll call ‘cultural democracy’ – the idea that everyone, not just artists, have the right and responsibility to that ‘me-time’ that might lead to a critical engagement with the world. Cultural democracy disrupts the fact that from an early age our futures are shaped by paths signposted ‘art’, ‘science’, ‘success’ or ‘failure’ that open up and close down before us. The drive for inclusive (albeit conflictual), democratic self-expression is threatened, however, by the protectionist approach of artists who fight for a state of exclusion and ring fence funding for the continuation of their profession. Likewise, the call for everyone to reclaim their right to their own ‘critical art space’ threatens an art industry of trained experts who define themselves through their uniqueness from others.
This is an especially urgent question now, when we are told there is less money to go round. Artists are pitting against the police, primary school teachers and doctors for increasingly small pots of money. Calls for protectionism from big art organisations and celebrity artists are precariously propping up a teetering ‘industry’ on the verge of collapse. Furthermore, it keeps the ideology of the artist-profession loosely intact whilst still failing to address fair pay.
So what to do with this schizophrenic mind? The right for us all to be selfish artists is perhaps one of collective, common concern. How can we develop an argument for recognising ‘autonomous’ cultural work as work (clarifying when it is work and what is being paid for) whilst encouraging others to think like artists through cultural democracy by demanding and reclaiming unrestricted, unprogrammed, non-profit, self-directed moments which can’t be reclaimed by bigger agendas unless we want them to be?
Posted by: Alice Mallings (MAL)
Carry out this simple MAL survey of 31 questions:
Islington Mill Art Academy
A free self-organised art school based in Manchester, UK set up in 2007 by a group of art foundation students, dissatisfied with the quality and standards in University fine art courses open to them at that time.
The Independent Art School (IAS)
IAS has been setting up meetings for artists since 1999. It functions as an alternative University with no home.