THE FIRST SECTION OF A COMMUNICATION
Today is Friday, 22 March 2002. I read what follows this provocative headline on the Undercurrents page in the London Evening Standards weekly magazine:
The article continues raving
on about what is obviously a new discovery - culture sells.
Furthermore, we learn that a business club called The Club
has been established in Londons ICA1, and that it is now important
to network with the suits, the advisers and investors. What
is being presented to us here in the guise of the latest trend could appear
at first a little puzzling
has the merger between culture and capital
not been long since identified and critically analysed? But on the other
hand, are we not also fascinated by the speed of appropriation of any
critique2 of the market into another form of marketing device? Perhaps
we could just relax, and see that over-hyping trends actually brings them
to an end faster than any critique might do - but that is just what consumerism
seems to be about anyway: - appropriating, hyping, selling, wasting, trashing.
Only in the last decade of the 20th century did a wider public become increasingly aware of the path that advanced capitalism has taken over the last 100 years: a triumphal procession of economic liberalisation around the globe, a process referred to as globalisation or privatisation of the public.
The so-called public sphere - which was formerly a domain of the state - now seems to have been increasingly handed over to the interests of the ever-merging international corporations. In a kind of reversal of the forces of imperialism and colonialism, the weakened nation states are nowadays more afraid of the forces of capital withdrawing or pulling out. Submitting themselves to a new order and global competition, they cut wages and dismantle social security, just to attract investment from those who were traditionally called exploiters. And as cultural producers, we risk catching ourselves as the couch potatoes in the spectacles ocurring before us: the corporate mega mergers taking over the national states self-proclaimed autonomy, and claiming the democratically organised public sphere as their own playground.
The new expansion of power, the economic, and thus political occupation of the public sphere, goes hand in hand with an appropriation of sign, image, language and logos. In this game, art plays an important role in transmitting the message and moulding attractive sites for speculation and investment. Culture offers lifestyle, symbolic value, image transfer, commodity, and tourist attraction. It would appear that culture has become the pyrotechnics in the big spectacle: The West Taking The Rest.
The scenario of a changing public sphere that I have mapped out here very generally has various impacts on the significance of art in our (Western) society, the role of the artist, and his or her professional life.
This publication is not a piece
of art, nor is it a scientific treatise. It is an investigation into the
subject matter rather than an attempt to give rash answers. It might be
regarded as a pre-scientific stage of enquiry that provides the ground
for (other?) artistic research in this field3.
Thinking about these changes
in regards to this publication, I commissioned texts and conducted a series
of interviews with artists and other active cultural practitioners. Some
of the pieces provide us with an overview of specific problems with a
corporate public in the USA, Great Britain and Germany, whereas others
could be seen as a case study for discussion of the problematic relations
between a corporate public and the field of the arts.
The essays by Hans Haacke and the art historian Hubertus Butin could be seen as an introduction to the topic from the US-American and European perspective. Both writers see the ideals of a civic culture increasingly utilised for the representation of governmental and corporate power. The need to create positive images in order to successfully sell politics, products and services tends towards an increasing appropriation of the traditional values of the good, the true, and the beautiful, combined with the infiltration and take-over of promising cultural contexts.
Alice Creischer and Andreas
Siekmann give us an example. They follow the development of corporate
image making from postwar Germany up until today, where branding
Berlin has become a main target for the restoration of a new united
Art Networks by Anthony Davies and Simon Ford is the third in a series of articles that look at the convergence of economic, political and cultural agendas in London and Europe in the late 1990s. They see the surge to merge culture with the economy as a key factor in Londons bid to consolidate its position as the European centre of the global financial services industry. The cultural requirements of the new economy resulted in the emergence of culturepreneurs or culture brokers - intermediaries who sold services and traded knowledge and culture to a variety of clients outside the gallery system, from advertising companies and property developers to restaurateurs and upmarket retail outlets. With the private sector leading the way, public institutions are undergoing an enforced ideological and structural transformation. As with their corporate counterparts and partners, many cultural institutions now perceive their role as hanging out with culture, being part of it, interacting with it.
Anders Eiebakke is an artist. He operates a gallery and is the leader of the Young Artists Society in Norway - UKS (Unge Kunstneres Samfunn). He stirred up some turmoil recently by heavily criticising Norwegian art politics in front of an international art public. His contribution to the catalogue for the Biennial in Melbourne was an inflammatory article castigating Norwegian cultural politics. It is reprinted here.
To focus this investigation only on the Bermuda Triangle of contemporary Western Arts US-UK-GER axes would be an inappropriate mistake, despite the fact that we cannot avoid acknowledging the authority of its discourse, and the advanced synonimity to be found there between cultural production and the politics of marketing.
I want also, however, to take the site of the production of this study into account, and attempt to sketch out the critical perspective it provides onto the subject matter.
Clearly, Norwegian-ness can not be seen as an inherent quality of character or ethnicity, but it does seem to me that there are very specific conditions to be considered in Norwegian economics, arts and politics especially when compared to the USA, Great Britain or Germany. Although the idea of a nation state is fading, its dying light may still provide a particular territory with a certain set of characteristics that determine the environment. In view of the research that I undertook for the Kunsthøgskolen in Bergen, I see three interesting components which often overlap each other...
In any case, Norways national art scene is reasonably well subsidised by the (corporate) state, but the support is filtered and distributed through archaic artist unions and grant systems. There is hardly any market for contemporary fine arts, almost no private collecting and only a few private galleries that like taking risks. Corporations which are now expanding their collections are often partially owned by the state. However, there were also a couple of self-organised projects over the past decade. To get funding for any kind of initiative seems to be easy.
One of the main goals of this
investigation was to counter the interrogation of corporate interest with
a series of interviews conducted with representatives from organisations
that grew out of the idea of a democratically organised public sphere.
It was also to establish contacts and relations in the public sphere beyond
the Kunsthøgskolen i Bergen, in order to look deeper into the situation
that I outlined above, and to discuss the problems accompanying it.
Finally, I look to frame these interviews about the state of the arts with contributions from two scientists: Thomas Hylland Eriksen who, as an anthropologist, has worked extensively on the development of the Norwegian Self and Dag Solhjell who has published an investigation called The Norwegian Institution of Art - its origin and development 1700 - 2000.
A VENTURE AT SOMETHING NEW OR DIFFERENT
Andrea Fraser coined the idea of art production as providing Services in the early 90s. Her text is taken from the Inaugural Speech (for inSITE97), Frasers contribution to a bi-national exhibition of public artworks commissioned for the San Diego/Tijuana area. The speech was delivered at the opening ceremony of that event which was sponsored by Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. Fraser took the podium after the United States Attorney for Southern California had read a letter from President Clinton, and the Under-secretary for Foreign Relations for Mexico had read a letter from President Zedillo. Fraser applied her researched material strategically and artistically to this event - the speech is given as a performance and yet remains a speech.
Antek Walczak has been working with a group called Bernadette Corporation on a fashion magazine "Made in USA". The idea was to appropriate corporate fashion images via advertising and thus build a framework for one's own text and aesthetic production. Today he imagines himself part of The Unholy Three, a vague conspiratorial club which secretly directs all the efforts of the B-Corp. The text printed here uses a cut-up technique that sets the memories of action within the context of a contemporary lull.
Nils Norman works with models and diagrams in order to propose ecological fictions, and political and economic forms of resistance. He developed the cover for this publication and three diagrams offering an ironic critique of the contemporary museum and gallery - with a special dedication to the Guggenheim museum and its director, Dr. Krens, who appears as if apprehended by the very ghosts he had awakened.
This part of my investigation aims to develop a couple of thoughts about research itself and its history and necessity within a more bohemian context. Strangely enough, it was precisely within this more artistic field that I frequently encountered in others a kind of revulsion towards research :- on the one hand, I noticed a fear of a too theoretical or scholastic art practice, and on the other hand, the truism art is research in itself was all too often put forward as a counter argument. How could the term research be freshly defined as a tool within art practice?
As artists we work with and against the limitations of our profession and the field that it claims. So when we research into and around our very own field, we cannot help but rely on our expertise and our skills as visual artists. That is why we might use dilettantism and sometimes a somewhat subjective point of view in order to generate knowledge otherwise untapped. Elsewhere, I have suggested5 seeing the term research as a helpful device for providing ones own artistic experiments with a structural framework. Also, I have suggested that grounds for a specifically artistic research could begin to be established by supplanting the term research with the term investigation. Research could then be seen as an artistic and aesthetic transformation of the investigated matter that carries with it the hope of creating an innovation in the field of fine arts.
In 2002, Simon Sheick
organised a seminar in Odense, Denmark, to discuss the contemporary art
world as a particular public sphere along two lines: firstly, as a sphere
that is not unitary, but rather conflictual and a platform for different
and oppositionary subjectivities, politics and economies - a 'battleground'
as defined by Pierre Bourdieu and Hans Haacke.
My conversation with Jürgen Fohrmann and Erhard Schüttpelz from 1997 can function here as an introduction to the history of the civic public and the idea of informal bohemian research labs. I was especially interested in talking to them about the particular founding of those structures and forms of communication, which could be described as condensation points of political consciousness.
I was looking to describe a curve, from the dissolution of a system revolving round a single point, namely the absolute representative of God on earth, via the civic democratic developments of the 18th , 19th and 20th centuries, through to the present day. We discuss whether we might be entering a transitional phase on the threshold of a new era, the Corporate Rokoko, where a global court revolves around a virtual monetary unit.
In his seven notes on a philosophy of investigation, Eivind Slettemeas suggests that research in its general, postmodern form becomes synonymous with the depiction of the collapse of stable systems. An ideal project seems to be based more on autonomy and relationality than on meaning and function. However, this needs new concepts for forms of expression and the mediation of a collective subjectivity, instead of imposing limits on these kinds of transformation in order to comprehend them. A research strategy of this kind would entail the materialisation of a virtual community, in contrast to the virtualisation of a material community, such as it is in the capitalist mode of representation. If the investigation becomes an end in itself, or if the investigation projects itself onto its own end, then, Slettemeas proposes, perhaps the ways by which subjects are formed can be more extensively transformed.
In his text, Gardar Eide Einarsson
considers one of the classic headaches for alternative
(avant-garde) practices - how to avoid these practices being co-opted
by more commercial/ mainstream forces just in order to be re-marketed
to a new audience/consumer group. This strategy of emulation seems to
serve a double purpose for the institution/corporation by continuing the
late capitalist quest for newness, whilst at the same time making the
original discourses and practices less functional as tools for articulating
The retention of knowledge, as well as the shift in emphasis to other areas outside the art world that Einarsson talks about could be seen as a strategic operation to ensure a differentiated quality of research. However, the question of how to disseminate and/or acquire knowledge cannot be fully addressed through this approach. A model that I might prefer would be the idea of the academy and research as a sort of a self-institutionalised bohemian context (as mentioned by Schüttpelz and Fohrmann). Here self-determination in learning, production and distribution could ideally develop structures able to serve as condensation points for critical thought. But could institutional art education cope with that?
Kirk E. Smith takes a
closer look at another model, one which became particularly popular in
the 1990s, that of the postgraduate academy. The contemporary postgraduate
institute shows an increasing tendency to train its students not so much
to produce works of art as to distribute them. Ultimately, however, it
looks to distribute the very students themselves, less as producers of
art (objects) than as agents within cultural contexts.
A list of some major postgraduate colleges and their prospectuses, collected by Smith, is included as an appendix to this volume.
AN INVESTMENT THAT IS VERY RISKY BUT COULD YIELD GREAT PROFITS
Lets take a short moment
for reflection: When the size of the states income declines, governments
start to pull out of their former obligations to support the arts financially.
But cultural representation remains an important card to play within a
period of intense global competition. It opens the doors to an increasing
influence for corporate collecting, corporate museums, foundations and
sponsorship in the arts, meaning that the artist, the art institutions,
and finally most of cultural life come to depend more and more on corporate
money, taste and influence.
Operating with one ideal, or one notion of culture, gets us to the Habermasian idea of the one (national) bourgeois public sphere in which all differences may be negotiated on equal terms. But this is only one way of looking at it.
We can probably share this view,
especially when we think of the centralised power of the state being dissolved
or turned loose into neo-liberal economy. Accordingly, the shards and
splinters of a place formerly known as the public sphere can be seen as
becoming increasingly dependent on corporate support. In her bestseller
No Logo, Naomi Klein has extensively researched the different
strategies of corporate infiltration/co-option of communities that identifies
them as markets. The communities therefore start to exist through the
logic of consumption. (Moreover, any critique of this situation, or strategies
for breaking out and creating alternative or counter-publics, could seem
to be co-opted immediately by the managers of this corporate public sphere,
as a way by which to optimise their own rules.) In this case, our societies
can be said to be made up of various corporate publics.
But how will the state continue
to cope with the totalisation of economy?
Certainly, the attack on the World Trade Centre promotes a critical re-examination of the subsequently renewed power of the meta-state, its alliances and legislation. And we can also see the alliance against terror as an attempt to get the unleashed and unruly forces of global economy back into line. But if imperialism in its various forms has always meant a basic protection for trade, then it is unlikely that the corporate influence on the public sphere will decrease, even with a rennaissance of the state.
But how do fragments and communities cope with the world of economy-as-ruler? How are they structured in such a situation anyway? When an apparently rigid constellation like the nation state is required to submit to forces that destabilise it in this case, neo-liberal economic forces then flexibility becomes a new watchword. Apart from describing alterations taking place within the dominant social structure, this can actually open up new possibilities for self-determining social structures, leading to questions of community and identity construction.
In the past, especially under
a boom and bust economy, there have been various efforts to establish
alternative communities within and against the dominant society. As a
consequence of aspects of my research here, I suggest looking at the failures
and occasional successes of some of these movements back to community.
It seems to me that they were often anxious and conservative rebellions
against the requirements of a modern society, with frequent tendencies
towards a collective narcissism, i.e. the exaggeration of ones own
peculiarity as a group... Can we think of a research project that re-examines
those attempts, their failures and their potentials for today?
In the course of the 20th century, capitalism profited both from the desire for assimilation (in a relative homogenised society) and the desire for difference (in the fragmented public spheres). In both cases, identity could be seen as the guiding principle for consumption. However, the single minded, single bodied individual implied here could be opposed with another body/mind made of multiple bodies/minds, non- or poly-identities....Or, as Fohrmann puts it in regard to the break-up of avant garde groups:
Giving economy a totalising role in ones view of the world comes, as a construction, with several advantages (Marx must have known this). Its critique may become the only common denominator for all the segments, communities and fractions of the corporate publics (leading to the kind of alliances that we see happening now with the so-called anti-capitalist movements). It is also a challenge for heretics to think up similarly complex belief systems or to develop counter models. What about testing other models which propose the installation of multiple or otherwise different markets in order to see if there is really no life outside of capitalism? Manuel DeLandas theories of the market vs the antimarket are relevant here, as well as LETS (local economic trade systems), bartering, Local and Interest-Free Currencies, Social Credit and Microcredit.
Utopias were always seen as perfect entities, so perfect that if they could be established, they would put an end to the waiting for salvation and provide a permanent solution (aka heaven on earth). But what about the temporary and short-lived examples that either ended in brutal suppression like the Paris Commune or the Munich Soviet Republic, or became lifestyle experiments within the so-called Lebensreform movements7? Do we need a majority, do we need a stable party, do we need to promise permanence in order to make a change?
Can art still come in handy here?
To research into the very heart of capitalisms lair, we must be able to see its relativisms and uncertainties as a game in order to be able to begin our work. I have to turn the situation into an artificial set-up in order to at least be able to see it.
This is why I introduce the device of the stage as an experimental location (or as another name for the exhibition). The words theatre, stage and dramatisation are primarily metaphors that hint towards a certain point of view from (under) which we can see that All the worlds a stage, And all the men and women are merely players9. Artistic production in this case is not necessarily theatre production (even though theatre could be used as an artistic device). Rather, artistic production is encouraged to see itself positioned on a (social) stage.
The stage enters as an analogy drawn not only in order to see late capitalism as a game but also, and very importantly, in order to found the attempt to stage a new game with different rules. In this new game, we have to see ourselves not only as viewers, or as powerless participants in some kind of pre-ordained reality scenario, but also as part of the game itself. The chance is that perhaps then we can begin to act out our own participation.
With the (artificial) device of a stage in place, we can see ourselves as artists appearing in a dramatised environment where we can try to alter the script and the props, and then see if this helps us to shape a different audience. With a different audience in place, perhaps we can effect an exit from the aforementioned game and thenceforth continue our work as artists outside of its strictures.