The Other Forum

This is a platform to discuss critical art practices. It´s aim is to look for inspiration to hold future projects, symposiums, publications, etc.... Below are some discussion texts to start the ball rolling.

Observations on Collective Cultural Action

Nineteen Theses on Engaged Art

A Call for More!

dimensionality of art an ENVELOPE STRUCTURE

»Don't Forget Love« - A Cartography of the Ambient: From White Cube to Ambient

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Observations on Collective Cultural Action
by Critical Art Ensemble


Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) is a collective of five new genre artists that was formed in 1987. Since that time, the group has produced art work, events, and theory that explores and critiques models of representation used in capitalist political-economy to sustain and promote authoritarian policies. At the same time, the group's research and explorations have been about more than just production and critique. CAE has also had a sustained interest in the variety of organizational possibilities from which artistic practice can emerge. Of particular interest has been the nature and types of collectives that intersect artistic and activist practices, because it is only through an understanding of this particular branch of sociology that the group believes that it can refine and improve its own structure and dynamics that makes quality cultural production possible. In turn, the group hopes that this research in micro-sociology will contribute as much to the continuation of resistant cultural models as our books or art works.

The Double-Edged Sword of Market Demands
After reviewing the current status of the U.S. cultural economy, one would have to conclude that market demands discourage collective activity to such a degree that such a strategy is unfeasible. To an extent, this perception has merit. Financial support certainly favors individuals. In art institutions (museums, galleries, art schools, alternative spaces, etc.), the Habermas thesis--that Modernity never died--finds its practical illustration. In spite of all the critical fulminations about the death of originality, the artist and the rest of the entities named on the tombstones in the Modernist cemetery, these notions persist, protected by an entrenched cultural bureaucracy geared to resist rapid change. If anything, a backlash has occurred that has intensified certain modernist notions. Of prime importance in this essay is the beloved notion of the individual artist. The individual's signature is still the prime collectible, and access to the body associated with the signature is a commodity that is desired more than ever--so much so, that the obsession with the artist's body has made its way into "progressive" and alternative art networks. Even community art has its stars, its signatures, and its bodies. This final category may be the most important. Even a community art star must do a project that includes mingling with the "community" and with the project's sponsor(s). Mingling bodies is as important in the progressive scene as it is in the gallery scene. This demand for bodily commingling is derived from the most traditional notions of the artist hero, as it signifies an opportunity to mix with history and interact with genius.
The totalizing belief that social and aesthetic values are encoded in the being of gifted individuals (rather than emerging from a process of becoming shared by group members) is cultivated early in cultural education. If one wants to become an "artist," there is a bounty of educational opportunities--everything from matchbook correspondence schools to elite art academies. Yet in spite of this broad spectrum of possibilities, there is no place where one can prepare for a collective practice. At best, there are the rare examples where teams (usually partnerships of two) can apply as one for admission into institutions of higher learning. But once in the school, from administration to curriculum, students are forced to accept the ideological imperative that artistic practice is an individual practice. The numerous mechanisms to ensure that this occurs are too many to list here, so only a few illustrative examples will be offered. Consider the spatial model of the art school. Classrooms are designed to accommodate aggregates of specialists. Studios are designed to accommodate a single artist, or like the classrooms, aggregates of students working individually. Rarely can a classroom be found that has a space designed for face-to-face group interaction. Nor are spaces provided where artists of various media can come together to work on project ideas. Then there is the presentation of faculty (primary role models) as individual practitioners. The institution rewards individual effort at the faculty level in a way similar to how students are rewarded for individual efforts through grades. Woe be to the faculty member who goes to the tenure review board with only collective efforts to show for he/rself. Obviously, these reward systems have their effect on the cultural socialization process. On the public front, the situation is no better. If artists want grants for reasons other than being a nonprofit presenter/producer, they better be working as individuals. Generally speaking, collective practice has no place in the grant system. Collectives reside in that liminal zone--they are neither an individual, nor an institution, and there are no other categories. Seemingly there is no place to turn. Collectives are not wanted in the public sphere, in the education system, nor in the cultural market (in the limited sense of the term), so why would CAE be so in favor of collective cultural action?
Part of the answer once again has to do with market demands. Market imperatives are double-edged swords. There are just as many demands that contradict and are incommensurate with the ones just mentioned. Three examples immediately spring to mind. First, the market wants individuals with lots of skills for maximum exploitation--it's a veritable return to the "renaissance man." An artist must be able to produce in a given medium, write well enough for publication, be verbally articulate, have a reasonable amount of knowledge of numerous disciplines (including art history, aesthetics, critical theory, sociology, psychology, world literature, media theory, and history, and given the latest trends, now various sciences), be a capable public speaker, a career administrator, and possess the proper diplomatic skills to navigate through a variety of cultural subpopulations. Certainly some rare individuals do have all of these skills, but the individual members of CAE are not examples of this category. Consequently, we can only meet this standard by working collectively.
Second, there is the need for opportunity. Given the overwhelming number of artists trained in academies, colleges, and universities over the past thirty years, adding to what is already an excessive population of cultural producers (given the few platforms for distribution), the opportunity for a public voice has rapidly decreased. By specializing in a particular medium, one cuts the opportunities even further. The greater one's breadth of production skills, the more opportunity there is. Opportunity is also expanded by breadth of knowledge. The more one knows, the more issues one can address. In a time when content has resurfaced as an object of artistic value, a broad interdisciplinary knowledge base is a must. And finally, opportunity can be expanded through the ability to address a wide variety of cultural spaces. The more cultural spaces that a person is comfortable working in, the more opportunity s/he has. If designed with these strategies in mind, collectives can configure themselves to address any issue or space, and they can use all types of media. The result is a practice that defies specialization (and hence pigeonholing). CAE, for example, can be doing a web project one moment, a stage performance at a festival the next, a guerrilla action the next, museum installation after that, followed by a book or journal project. (FIGS. 1-4) Due to collective strength, CAE is prepared for many cultural opportunities.
Finally, the velocity of cultural economy is a factor. The market can consume a product faster than ever before. Just in terms of quantity, collective action offers a tremendous advantage. By working in a group, CAE members are able to resist the Warhol syndrome of factory production using underpaid laborers. Through collective action, product and process integrity can be maintained, while at the same time keeping abreast of market demand. These considerations may sound cynical, and to a degree they are, but they appear to CAE as a reality which must be negotiated if one is to survive as a cultural producer. On the other hand, there is something significant about collective action that is rewarding beyond what can be understood through the utilitarian filters of economic survival.

Size Matters: Cellular Collective Construction
One problem that seems to plague collective organization is the catastrophe of the group reaching critical mass. When this point is reached, group activity violently explodes, and little or nothing is left of the organization. The reasons for hitting this social wall vary depending on the function and intention of the group. CAE's experience has been that larger artists/activists groups tend to hit this wall once membership rises into the hundreds. At that point, a number of conflicts and contradictions emerge that cause friction in the group. For one thing, tasks become diversified. Not everyone can participate fully in each task, so committees are formed to focus on specific tasks. The group thus moves from using a direct process to using a representational process. This step toward bureaucracy conjures feelings of separation and mistrust that can be deadly to group action, and that are symptomatic of the failure of overly rationalized democracy. To complicate matters further, different individuals enter the group with differing levels of access to resources. Those with the greatest resources tend to have a larger say in group activities. Consequently, minorities form that feel underrepresented and powerless to compete with majoritarian views and methods. (Too often, these minorities reflect the same minoritarian structure found in culture as a whole). Under such conditions, group splintering, if not group annihilation, is bound to occur. Oddly enough, the worst case scenario is not group annihilation, but the formation of a Machiavellian power base that tightens the bureaucratic rigor in order to purge the group of malcontents, and to stifle difference.
Such problems can also occur at a smaller group level (between fifteen and fifty members). While these smaller groups have an easier time avoiding the alienation that comes from a complex division of labor and impersonal representation, there still can be problems, such as the perception that not everyone has an equal voice in group decisions, or that an individual is becoming the signature voice of the group. Another standard problem is that the level of intimacy necessary to sustain passionately driven group activity rarely emerges in a mid-size group. The probability is high that someone, for emotional or idiosyncratic reasons, is not going to be able to work with someone else on a long-term basis. These divisions cannot be organized or rationalized away. Much as the large democratic collective (such as WAC or ACT UP) is good for short-term, limited-issue political and cultural action, the mid-size group seems to function best for short-term, specific-issue cultural or political projects. The difference here is that due to the high number of members, a large group can work effectively with a small palette of interrelated issues, such as the variety that ACT UP has addressed in relation to the AIDS crisis. If diversification of issues becomes too extreme, splintering occurs. Returning to the ACT UP example, the related issue of gay and lesbian rights was too diverse to maintain the focus of the group, and hence Queer Nation emerged as an answer to the problem of expanding interrelated issues. (It must be noted that in some ways ACT UP is also an exception to these generalities. It has managed to recruit and reconfigure itself into a position of collective longevity. The reasons why it is the exception are too complex to go into here, and suffice it to say that that situation is rather unique. WAC is a better example in regard to the representative case of large-scale collective duration.) On the other hand, the mid-size group is caught in that dangerous either/or zone. They do not have the numbers to address a large number of complex, tightly interrelated issues, nor do they have the intimacy of a small group that allows for long-term collaboration. Instead these groups work best when they form to address a particular issue with a particular project, and then self-terminate. Such groups are really tactical and ad hoc in nature, as opposed to cells and large collectives that can take a more strategic position. This situation is typified by Group Material. It started as a mid-size collective, and after a few strong and specific projects, found it could go no further as a mid-size group (although, rather than self-terminating, it reduced itself to a cellular configuration for long-term collaboration).
For sustained cultural or political practice free of bureaucracy or other types of separating factors, CAE recommends a cellular structure. Thus far the artists' cell that typifies contemporary collective activity has formed in a manner similar to band society. Solidarity is based on similarity in terms of skills and political/aesthetic perceptions. Most of the now classic cellular collectives of the 70s and 80s, such as Ant Farm, General Idea, Group Material, Testing the Limits (before it splintered), and Gran Fury used such a method with admirable results. Certainly these collectives' models for group activity are being emulated by a new generation. However, CAE has made one adjustment in its collective structure. While size and similarity through political/aesthetic perspective has replicated itself in the group, members do not share a similarity based on skill. Each member's set of skills is unique to the cell. Consequently, in terms of production, solidarity is not based on similarity, but on difference. The parts are interrelated and interdependent. Technical expertise is given no chance to collide and conflict, and hence social friction is greatly reduced. In addition, such structure allows CAE to use whatever media it chooses, because the group has developed a broad skill base. Having a broad skill base and interdisciplinary knowledge also allows the group to work in any kind of space.
Solidarity through difference also affects the structure of power in the group. Formerly, collective structure tended to be based on the idea that all members were equals at all times. Groups had a tremendous fear of hierarchy, because it was considered a categorical evil that led to domination. This notion was coupled with a belief in extreme democracy as the best method of avoiding hierarchy. While CAE does not follow the democratic model, the collective does recognize its merits. However, CAE follows Foucault's principle that power is productive (power does not necessarily equal domination), and hence uses a floating hierarchy to produce projects. After consensus is reached on how a project should be produced, the member with the greatest expertise in the area has authority over the final product. While all members have a voice in the production process, the project leader makes the final decisions. This keeps endless discussion over who has the better idea or design to a minimum, and hence the group can produce at faster rate. Projects tend to vary dramatically, so the authority floats among the membership. At the same time, CAE would not recommend this process for any social constellation other than the cell (three to eight people). Members must be able to interact in a direct face-to-face manner, so everyone is sure that they have been heard as a person (and not as an anonymous or marginalized voice). Second, the members must trust one another; that is, sustained collective action requires social intimacy and a belief that the other members have each individual member's interests at heart. A recognition and understanding of the nonrational components of collective action is crucial--without it the practice cannot sustain itself.
The collective also has to consider what is pleasurable for its members. Not all people work at the same rate. The idea that everyone should do an equal amount of work is to measure a member's value by quantity instead of quality. As long as the process is pleasurable and satisfying for everyone, in CAE's opinion, each member should work at the rate at which they are comfortable. Rigid equality in this case can be a perverse and destructive type of Fordism that should be avoided. To reinforce the pleasure of the group, convivial relationships beyond the production process are necessary. The primary reason for this need is because the members will intensify bonds of trust and intimacy that will later be positively reflected in the production process. To be sure, intimacy produces its own peculiar friction, but the group has a better chance of surviving the arguments and conflicts that are bound to arise, as long as in the final analysis each member trusts and can depend on fellow members. Collective action requires total commitment to other members, and this is a frightening thought for many individuals. Certainly, collective practice is not for everyone.

Working a Project
Describing a specific event in collective practice is rather difficult because it is nearly impossible to accurately articulate the many levels of exchange and development that occur as members engage in the production process. However, in the interest of clarity, here is an example (albeit imperfect) of how the group's process works. Currently, the members are working on a project called "Flesh Machine." CAE thought that this project would be exemplary as it is a symphony of media, and because we are in the middle of producing it, and hence the description will be framed less from hindsight. The content of the projects won't be addressed due to lack of space, but the foundational goals of the project were to examine how human flesh is being invaded, commodified, and marketed, and how traces of eugenic ideology are replicating themselves in the economy of reproductive technologies. The idea for Flesh Machine began after CAE performed and lectured at a conference of media activists and artists called The Next Five Minutes_ (N5M) in Amsterdam. Of prime concern at this conference was the Net and other advances in information and communications technology, and how this technology could be used for subversive and contestational political purposes. CAE had spent the previous two years wandering from tech-art festival to tech-art festival, and in an Amsterdam hotel room we concluded (along with fellow festival nomads Mark Dery and Hakim Bey) that the political future for communications and information technology seemed relatively clear, and that N5M had put the period on generative discussion for the near future. However, an unresolved issue seemed to be sneaking about many of these conferences and festivals--biotechnology, and reproductive technology in particular. From that moment on, CAE turned its attention and energies to the technological revolution that wasn't getting the hype. As usual, a new topic seemed to emerge out of an old one.
Once the subject is decided upon, the first step is always research, and this project was no different. CAE divided into two research teams, with one doing concept research and the other doing image research. Once an appropriate database was assembled, CAE began the Flesh Machine project with the book team writing up the results of the research in a series of essays. The texts were then passed on to the design team to be put into book form. The book, _Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies, and New Eugenic Consciousness_ (Autonomedia) came out in early 1998. From this work members took the ideas that would guide the projects that were to follow, and from the image database we took the images that would be the foundation of the project.
Four key projects arose from this period of research and reflection. First was a children's CD ROM entitled Let's Make a Baby! It was designed for presentation at the Technoscience section of Hybrid Workspace at Documenta. Its theme was to examine new reproductive technologies at a simple yet accurate level in order to present the manner in which the rationalization of reproduction promotes pancapitalist value systems. This work began with a production team who wrote the text and did the drawings for the book (in this case, the team included a guest artist, Faith Wilding). Then the project went to the design team for layout and then to the tech team for coding. CAE prefers to set tasks for teams of two so each member has an immediate consultant for their task. For example, in the case of material production for the CD, one artist wrote the text, the other did the drawings, and each acted as an advisor to the other. At the end of each stage of production, CAE generally takes time to get a collective OK, and to make sure everyone knows what stage a project is at. The collective used to be more formal about these procedures, but after ten years the level of trust has reached a point where there are times where everyone just does their job, and the group does not examine the piece until it is completed.
The other three pieces are still under construction. Furthest along is the "The Fitness Test." This questionnaire examines a person's flesh marketability should they decide to donate eggs or sperm, or volunteer for surrogacy. This project began when a research team obtained some donor screening exams, and immediately noticed how strict the market gene pool was, and how aestheticized the genetic markers were. From there, it went to the tech/design team who began creating a presentation strategy on CD-ROM. An entire faux company (BioCom)** was built around the test that reflects current reproductive hype as well as the hype's ideological subtexts. Those who "do well" on the test will asked to participate in "The Cloning Project." For this section, CAE built a cryo-lab and has begun accepting donations of cells and embryos, and volunteers for surrogacy and/or cytoplasm donation. To accomplish these tasks, one team was detailed to construct the cryotanks (another guest artist, Colin Piepgras, was brought in for his construction and robotics expertise), while two other teams were assembled to begin field research. The first team's task was to observe and learn collection and storage procedures in genetics and cell biology labs, while the other field research team lived for two weeks with CAE's first donors, and documented the couple's experience as they went through IVF treatment. With all this information in hand, CAE is beginning to assemble the full database for presentation. In addition, the performance team is working up a lecture-performance based on our research, which will be given as a preface to contextualize the entire "Flesh Machine" event.
What this means is that CAE members are constantly working on various aspects of production, and must coordinate numerous team activities and individual tasks. In the early days of CAE, people volunteered for certain teams, and there were disputes about who was going to do what. But now everyone knows what they do best, how fast they can do it, and how they can best support the project. Consequently, administration of production is minimal. For those who find such a model a possible alternative, remember that it takes a long time to work out all the bugs that disrupt harmonious member relationships. Nonalienating efficiency does not happen fast, and processes are never problem-free. In addition, the collective does not live in a vacuum, so exterior disruptions often occur that can freeze the group process. With every successfully completed project, a degree of good fortune is involved.

Coalitions, not Communities
While cellular collective structure is very useful in solving problems of production, long-term personal cooperation, and security (for those involved in underground activities), like all social constellations, it has its limits. It does not solve many of the problems associated with distribution, nor can it fulfill the functions of localized cultural and political organizations. Consequently, there has always been a drive toward finding a social principle that would allow like-minded people or cells to organize into larger groups. Currently, the dominant principle is "community." CAE sees this development as very unfortunate. The idea of community is without doubt the liberal equivalent of the conservative notion of "family values"--neither exists in contemporary culture, and both are grounded in political fantasy. For example, the "gay community" is a term often used in the media and in various organizations. This term refers to all people who are gay within a given territory. Even in a localized context, gay men and women populate all social strata, from the underclass to the elite, so it is very hard to believe that this aggregate functions as a community within such a complex division of labor. To complicate matters further, social variables such as race, ethnicity, gender, education, profession, and other points of difference are not likely to be lesser points of identification than the characteristic of being gay. A single shared social characteristic can in no way constitute a community in any sociological sense. Talking about a gay community is as silly as talking about a "straight community." The word community is only meaningful in this case as a euphemism for "minority." The closest social constellation to a community that does exist is friendship networks, but those too fall short of community in any sociological sense.
CAE is unsure who really wants community in the first place, as it contradicts the politics of difference. Solidarity based on similarity through shared ethnicity, and interconnected familial networks supported by a shared sense of place and history, work against the possibility of power through diversity by maintaining closed social systems. This is not to say that there are no longer relatively closed social subsystems within society. Indeed there are, but they differ from community in that they are products of rationalized social construction and completely lack social solidarity. In order to bring people together from different subsystems who share a similar concern, hybrid groups have to be intentionally formed. These groups are made up of people who are focusing their attentions on one or two characteristics that they share in common, and that put potentially conflicting differences aside. This kind of alliance, created for purposes of large-scale cultural production and/or for the visible consolidation of economic and political power, is known as a coalition.
CAE has supported a number of coalitions in the past, including various ACT UP chapters and PONY (Prostitutes of New York), and has organized temporary localized ones as well. One of the problems CAE had with such alliances was in negotiating service to the coalition while maintaining its collective practice. Coalitions are often black holes that consume as much energy as a person is willing to put into them; hence membership burnout is quite common. CAE was no exception. After a few years of this variety of activism, members were ready to retreat back into less visible cellular practice. CAE began looking for a model of coalition different from the single-issue model. One potential answer has come by way of CAE's affiliation with the Nettime coalition.* Nettime is an alliance of activists, artists, collectives, and organizations from all over Europe and North America that have come together for reasons of generalized support for hard-left cultural and political causes. It has approximately five hundred members, and has existed in various forms for about four years. Nettime functions as an information, distribution, and recruitment resource for its members. The core of its existence is virtual: member contact is maintained through an on-line list, various newsgroups, and an archive. In addition, the coalition holds annual conferences (the first two, Metaforum I and II, were in Budapest in 1995 and 1996, and the most recent, Beauty and the East, in Ljubljana in 1997), produces and contributes to the production of projects (the latest contribution being Hybrid Workspace at Documenta X), supports various political actions (the most recent being acting as part of the communications wing for actions at the EU summit in Amsterdam), and produces books out of its archive (the most recent being _Netzkritik_).
From CAE's perspective, one of the elements that makes Nettime a more pleasurable experience is that unlike most coalitions, it is anarchistic rather than democratic. Nettime has no voting procedures, committee work, coalition officers, nor any of the markers of governance through representation. Hierarchy emerges in accordance with who is willing to do the work. Those who are willing to run the list have the most say over its construction. At the same time, the general policy for coalition maintenance is "tools not rules." Those building the virtual architecture govern by providing space for discussions that are not of general interest to the entire list. They also direct the flow of information traffic. Whatever members want to do--from flame wars to long and detailed discussions--there is a place to do it. For events in real space, the primary rule of "those who do the work have the biggest say" still applies. Indeed there is considerable room for exploitation in such a system, yet this does not occur with much frequency because members have a sufficient trust in and allegiance to other members; the coalition as a whole won't tolerate system abuse (such as spamming, or self-aggrandizing use of the list); and there is a self-destruct fail-safe--members would jump ship at the first sign of ownership and/or permanent hierarchy. Perhaps the real indicator of the congeniality shared by Nettime coalition members is its cultural economy. Nettime functions as an information gift economy. Articles and information are distributed free of charge to members by those who have accumulated large information assets. Nettimers often see significant works on the intersections of art, politics, and technology long before these works appear in the publications based on money economy. For real space projects, this same sense of voluntarism pervades all activities. What is different here from other cultural economies is that gift economy is only demanding on those who have too much. No one is expected to volunteer until they suffer or burn out. The volunteers emerge from those who have excessive time, labor power, funding, space, or some combination thereof, and need to burn it off to return to equilibrium. Consequently, activity waxes and wanes depending on the situations and motivations of the members.
CAE does not want to romanticize this form of social organization too much. Problems certainly occur--quarrels and conflicts break out, enraged members quit the list, and events do not always go as expected. However, Nettime is still the most congenial large-scale collective environment in which CAE has ever worked. The reason is that this coalition began with the romantic principle of accepting nonrational characteristics--it believed that a large collective could exist based on principles of trust, altruism, and pleasure, rather than based on the Hobbesian assumption (so typical of democratic coalitions) of the war of all against all, which in turn leads to a near pathological over-valuation of the organizational principles of accountability and categorical equality. Nettime functions using just one fail-safe which is system-self destruction. It thereby skips all the alienating bureaucracy necessary for managing endless accountability procedures. If Nettime self-destructs, all members will walk away whole, and will look for new opportunities for collective action. An alliance with the temporary is one of Nettime's greatest strengths.

Final Thoughts
Critical Art Ensemble has sustained a collective cultural practice for ten years. The collective began when the members were still students, and to this day none of us have considered solo careers.*** Now, we cannot even imagine what it would be like to have an individual practice, partly because no CAE member has ever had one, and partly because it seems to be a more difficult path to travel. Granted, CAE will never have a blue-chip career, but except for the excessive profits that art stars earn, the group has acquired all the benefits that such a career provides: The practice is self-sufficient; the membership has the means to produce the projects that it wants to make; the group has access to international distribution; and most importantly, CAE has a public platform from which to speak. Such benefits did not come our way entirely because we took advantage of group organization, but it certainly was a contributing cause.
Although collectives are not representative of cultural production in the "art world," cells and coalitions present a viable alternative to individual cultural practices. Collective action solves some of the problems of navigating market-driven cultural economy by allowing the individual to escape the skewed power relationships between the individual and the institution. More significantly, however, collective action also helps alleviate the intensity of alienation born of an overly rationalized and instrumentalized culture by re-creating some of the positive points of friendship networks within a productive environment. For this reason, CAE believes that artists' research into alternative forms of social organization is just as important as the traditional research into materials, processes, and products.

Notes
*The description of the Nettime coalition given in this essay is solely from CAE's perspective. It was not collectively written nor approved by Nettime.
** An inauthentic metastructure (BioCom, Inc.) was used to give the collected documents and procedures a thematic relationship; however, all medical documents and procedures used in the project are authentic. The couple documented going through IVF treatment is also authentic; however, they did not engage the procedure for the sake of the project. Rather, they volunteered to participate in the project after they had already decided to undertake IVF treatment. The design of the CD-ROM also mimics the popular design techniques for electronic documents from medical institutions.
***In the first year of its existence, CAE membership changed quite a bit. Only two members remain from the first year. In the second year, the membership stabilized at six. Five of the members are still in the collective; one member left after four years.
CAE is a collective of five artists dedicated to the exploration of the intersections between art, technology, critical theory, and political activism.

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Nineteen Theses on Engaged Art
by Grant Kester


1. Western societies are increasingly committed to fixing the boundaries of national identity (as well as fortifying their physical borders), even as the economic systems on which they are based extend ever further into other cultures and other ways of life. Internally, American society is characterized by the widespread effort to privatize those domains of social life which were based on the ideals (if not always the reality) of a shared commitment to a public good. Everywhere we see a retreat into privatized enclaves (of national identity, of personal autonomy) along with a refusal to acknowledge the relationship between economic privilege and consumption patterns here and lack of resources and opportunity elsewhere.

2. The characteristic mental orientation of this system combines an unabashedly self-interested pragmatism (whatever works to my personal advantage or pleasure must be good) with a belligerent empiricism (if I don't have to see the social costs of my own affluence they must not exist). As a corollary we see a sustained attack on any form of analysis that points to systematic power structures (less visible but no less profound in their effects) that sustain oppression and inequality as hopelessly "abstract".

3. With the advent of NAFTA the US can increasingly rely on low-waged, exploited labor in other countries. As a result we have witnessed the expansion of a massive prison industry designed to "immobilize" potentially disruptive "youth cohorts" (i.e., young black men) whose labor is no longer needed (cf. Sarat Maharaj and "racism without race"). We have also witnessed the proliferation of a vast occult network of studies, social programs, and policies all intended to repair the perceived behavioral flaws of those marginalized populations whose failure to "succeed" threatens to reveal the inequitable and crisis-ridden nature of the market system itself. This has coincided with an unprecedented concentration of wealth in the hands of an increasingly small segment of America's corporate elite.

4. In the arts we find a parallel to the rampant self-interest of consumer capitalism in recent attempts to establish a consumerist aesthetics, based on the ostensibly subversive power of visual pleasure. This view is founded on a dualistic analysis in which "reason," "theory," and "language" are juxtaposed in a politically naive and reductive manner to the liberatory anarchism of bodily desire, which manages to be both reassuringly "empirical" (where "theory" is hopelessly abstract) and magically autonomous and beyond analysis.

5. At the center of this model stands the artist-as-exemplary-individual-an avatar of the expressive and intuitive, holding a privileged relationship to the suppressed truths of the body and the senses. The artist need take no account of his or her relationship to political and economic power precisely because in naming themselves "artist" they are understood to transcend their specific class position. They emerge from this process, chrysalis like, as universal subjects whose good intentions and authority over specialized forms of aesthetic knowledge guarantees that even their most intuitive gesture will exercise a politically progressive influence on the world around them.

6. Any demand for accountability is dismissed as the oppressive intrusion of "analytic" thought into the "free" domain of artist creativity. The only real taboo in this world of redemptive and open-ended aesthetic play is, then, the open admission of the artists' own privilege. Art in this system corroborates the very corrosive individuality and self-involvement that provides the foundation for the dominant social order as a whole, confusing "pleasure," as the indulgence of the privileged, with the body as a site of political struggle and contestation both locally and globally.

7. A small but vital network of artists from around the world have begun to challenge both this hyper-individualistic model of art-making and the increasingly dominant values of the global capitalist system. These artists, working in Argentina, South Africa, Germany, Austria, Thailand, Burma, Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Australia, Canada, the United States and elsewhere, draw on traditions of activism in their own countries as well as the paradigm of "socially-engaged" art developed in countries such as the Canada, the US and the UK over the past three decades. The "Littoral" conferences of 1993 (Manchester), 1996 (Sydney) and 1998 (Dublin) have provided a rare opportunity for these practitioners to meet and exchange information and ideas.

8. For these artists the power of aesthetic experience lies in its ability to transcend existing boundaries of political, creative, and social knowledge; to comprehend and to represent complex systems and interrelationships, and to conceive of alternative forms which these interrelationships might take. They draw on a discursive or communicative aesthetic in which the "artist" seeks to learn from and with their co-participants, rather than treating them as a kind of psychic raw material to be molded and "improved" in conformity with the artist's values.

9. These projects are particularly successful in those situations in which the artist shares the lived experiences, material conditions and political struggles of their collaborators. These projects have the power to break down the conventional distinction between artist, art work and audience-a relationship that allows the viewer to "speak back" to the artist in certain ways, and in which this reply becomes in effect a part of the "work" itself.

10. Their works mediate "between" discourses (art and activism, for example) and between institutions (the gallery and the community center or the housing block). They attempt to link cultural practices and experiences to other registers of political activism (e.g., social movements, struggles over resources or cultural identity, and so on). This involves both an internal critique of the historical suppression of the political capacity of aesthetic knowledge and a critique of the enclosed nature of conventional definitions of political resistance which view "culture" as irrelevant or extraneous.

11. The failure of ostensibly socialist or communist governments in Russia and Eastern Europe has led to a generalized belief that the system of global capitalism presided over by dominant western nations through the IMF and the World Bank is inevitable and beyond substantive critique, even as the economic crises in Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere point to its inherently unstable nature. This system works by maximizing the flow of financial capital and information, but it must also work to suppress and regulate the flow of critical, political discourse and populations.

12. Engaged artists, working in widely disparate locations, have a unique opportunity to bring a critical, mediative, and discursive aesthetic to bear on the interlinked network of institutions and ideologies associated with the global expansion of capital, as corporate decisions in Portland, Cologne, London or New York come to effect life and labor in Sri Lanka, Ciudad Juarez or Thailand. Artists can play an important role in giving representational form to the flows and forces of social and economic power, and in helping to visually articulate the struggles taking place against them.

13. This work would require the establishment of strategic collaborations between practitioners working in both dominant, western nations (e.g., the G-7) and "non-aligned" or "developing" nations (or more accurately, strategically "under-developed" nations). These collaborations would require new relationships and new forms of discursive communication and decision-making to be established between and among engaged artists operating in widely differing contexts and cultures.

14. The recent Littoral conference in Dublin, Ireland (1998) initiated a dialogue among practitioners working in very different contexts, and suggested the important linkages that could be established for future work. It also demonstrated some of the potential challenges that such collaborative ventures might face. One of the most important was the vast differential in resources (institutional affiliations, access to development support and the mechanisms of art world career advancement such as exhibitions and publications, etc.) in countries such as the US and artists (especially younger artists) working in countries with a relatively undeveloped cultural apparatus. This difference was often further articulated along lines of race, as well as nationality.

15. In Dublin there was a tendency to suppress these differences under the claim that all "artists" share common political and cultural values, and that all have suffered equally for their commitment to cultural politics. Lurking just beneath the surface was the problematic implication that hard work and self-sacrifice (epitomized by highly successful engaged artists from the west) was all that was necessary to develop an effective or successful practice. There is, however, a difference between a practitioner coming from a context in which the price to paid for pursuing socially engaged art is a less influential teaching position, and those artists who face exile, deportation or harassment by police, immigration officials for their work.

16. Related to this was the problem of itinerancy, typically seen in the work of artists from the US with university affiliations who develop projects in disparate political and geographic contexts, often making contact with a local site or community through the medium of regional cultural or political authorities. This is quite different from the situation of those artists working with less resources in strategically-underdeveloped countries whose practice grows out of a sustained engagement in a specific location or site of political struggle.

17. These differences must be recognized and engaged. These projects involve very different creative, tactical and strategic questions, and one mode of practice (despite its obvious success in the context of western art and culture) is not necessarily a useful model for the other. In potential collaborations between these two kinds of practitioners the danger exists of a kind of touristic relationship to oppression in other countries and a model of "imperial stewardship" in which the ostensibly "universal" nature of art-making is used to reinforce the colonialist mentality of the beneficent worker from the west who un-self-consciously equates his or her own experience with that of artists living and working in very different conditions.

18. Despite these differences dialogue is not only possible; it is necessary. But it must begin with a frank recognition of where the various participants in this dialogue stand. The reluctance to acknowledge these differentials is, perhaps, linked with the fear among more privileged practitioners that they will thereby surrender their moral authority or their power to speak and act politically. This is not the case. By recognizing that we are all positioned differentially in relationship to social and economic power we only give up the right to speak universally; we gain, however, the right to speak with greater conviction on behalf our own lived experience and political contexts.

19. The Littoral conferences have set the stage for a myriad of possible linkages and new relationships-future collaborative projects, the exchange and circulation of information and ideas through the internet, conferences and meetings, the formal and informal publication of projects and criticism, and so on. It has done so against the indifference and in some cases the outright hostility of mainstream arts institutions in England and Ireland, and has provided an unprecedented opportunity to expand and clarify a crucially important area of cultural practice. It remains for the participants to take advantage of this opportunity and to pursue and develop new forms of collaboration, discursive interaction, and critical practice. The views outlined here represent only one possible framework for this next step.

Grant Kester
Moscow, Idaho
USA, September 1998

Grant´s other text

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A Call for More!
by jay koh

i would assume that the visitors and speakers attending the Littoral "Critical Sites" conference in Dublin (September 1998) shared a common concern that the current system of education available to art students seeking to work on socially or environmentally-oriented projects (as well as the opportunities available to practitioners who wish to pursue these projects) is inadequate. The presentation at this conference of dispassionate scholarly papers only confirms the uselessness of academics in providing any catalyst to change this situation. The fact that these academics were given financial support to travel to the conference further confirms the pervasiveness of academic hierarchies.

The sections of the conference that were taken up by artists providing superficial presentations of projects without going into any depth as to the concept behind the project, its capacity to achieve some communication with the viewer, its relevance to social issues, and the question of its practical function "in the right place at the right time" reveals the inability of these artists to relate their artistic practice to critical issues (for example, the tendency to ignore the differences between real communication with the public and the simple placement of a work or project in an open space). These presentations lacked any conviction or concern with their after-effect; when the artists or artworks departed from Ireland the locals were left to say, "the circus has just left town, wasn't that fun! I'm looking forward to the next entertainment!".

i believe that these conferences should develop a form of critical presentation that would act as an alternative to, or enhancement of, existing art education, allowing participants to learn through analysis and self-criticism. We could benefit from some of the points that Wolfgang Zinggl brought up in his talk, and question the existing institutional framework for conferences. Perhaps we could evolve a more effective strategy for provoking a change in institutional thinking. It would have been better to focus the conference on scrutinizing the intentions of the artist, and examining the kinds of feedback generated by specific actions or interventions. If artists make use of exploitative depictions of gender or race in their work they should be called upon to account for them and to explain the context in which they are working and the meanings and messages they are trying to generate. If these questions were raised in a constructive and critical forum they would certainly not diminish the artistic value of the work.

Some of the questions raised during the various lectures at Littoral included:

How does the inclusion of images of razor blades in murals by South African women related to the development of critical art practice in present day South Africa?(1)

What kinds of responses are evoked by large paintings attached to buildings or churches?(2)

How did remarks in a lecture about art activities by non-white artists which focused on the academic background of these artists, provoke different reactions from a racially-mixed audience?(2)

Other "highlights" of the conference included wide praise for a universal concept of the artist as someone who spreads "goodies" around to others,(3) who just happens to be white and middle-class. There was also a story about young American students from Chicago who had to travel to South Africa in order to experience empathy for a black student who was killed in demonstrations over food prices.(4)
It is important to channel the private outrages that were generated at this conference; to break the public silence of indulged lethargy and false consideration. Only then we can pursue constructive goals. What looks good in biographical form does not always work in reality and projects that made sense ten years ago do not always fit into today's stunted environment. Only one point remains the same: the intention is always good!
Workshops are perhaps the most effective way to raise some of these issues and to facilitate the exchange of ideas, but it will be difficult to initiate future projects (following on the "Critical Sites" conference) since the organizer has already allocated funding from Northern Irish sources to his respective projects and friends. Details of this process began to emerge during the conference. Initially it was announced that there were no funds from Northern Ireland, but two days later it was announced that there were funds, but that they could only be used for projects in the North. With no discussion it was established that five projects were to be developed in the North with this money and that the participants were already chosen.
The lack of open discussion about this process, and the un-democratic way in which the funds were allocated in a conference that was supposed to be about open forms of dialogue may not have been obvious to some of the participants, but this conflict should have been obvious to the members of the committee who were asked to make recommendations, in order to give the conference a democratic appearance.(5) Were these members simply used in order to achieve some other goal? i thought democratic structures of decision-making were fundamental to any art cum social/environmental project, and especially in a conference dedicated to this kind of work.
Shouldn't we set an example for our colleagues and show how to initiate projects that would be accessible to everyone, like the projects of Critical Art Ensemble(6), which were low-cost and innovative? It is bad enough that critical artists working in the mainstream, where most of the funding comes from have to face various difficulties (see articles on censorship). We certainly don't need any more hindrances from our own colleagues, who share a common goal! As practitioners we need to understand what has led to a situation in which art cum social/environmental projects are excluded from the current art educational agenda; we need to seek inspiration and provide nourishment for innovative projects through intensive and productive exchanges, and a platform that will allow for the open scrutiny of ideas.

Sources:
(1)Conference lecture from Pitika Ntuli, Dean of Fine Art and Art History, University of Durban-Westville South Africa
(2)Conference lecture from Pat Hoffie, Queensland College of Art, Brisbane, Australia
(3)Grant Kester, Nineteen Theses on Engaged Art, paragraph 15
(4)Conference lecture from Carol Becker, Dean, Art School and Art Institute of Chicago
(5)Commitee meetings begin in Nov.1997, Dublin
(6)Critical Art Ensemble, Observations on Collective Cultural Action, chapter: THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD OF MARKET DEMANDS.

jay´s other texts , artworks and performances

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dimensionality of art an ENVELOPE STRUCTURE
by John Latham

Summary of finding: the dimensionality of art discloses itself from the mainstream art trajectory :
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Time" is "3-dimensional", by point / line / plane components and is specified in terms of

"flat time"

flat time accommodates physical and mental events, constituting a numerate envelope structure.

the dimensional framework of art is time- and event-based.
It subsumes the dimensional frameworks of physics.


Inclusivity potential (1)

The dimensionality of art has revealed itself via merged trajectories of art, science and literature. Taking the year 1850 as a wave crest where confidence in the visible world of space was at a high, we may now see how, 100 years later by 1951, each traditional approach had hit a deep trough where compaction to "Everything = Nothing" closes down the space-based paradigm. A dimensionality of "event" has emerged from a fusion of these tracks and may now be recognised as including inherently both mental and physical phenomena. .

"flat time" as it is called, collates three time-related components, which propose a dynamics from which anomalies in current approaches to understanding, (along with other problems faced by life on the planet) may be addressed. It will map with potentially digital precision all alleged experience, from that of photon to person to universe. .
Normally expressed as art, "flat time" is "late abstract". Grammatical language, common sense perception, spacetime, mass-energy, and most other such space-based constructs misconstrue or implicitly deny it. There seems to be one key exception to this rule, namely the possibility of a verbal talkdown of what may be said to define the point of fusion between the idea of the universe as proposed in physics and this proposal from art. One further step down in levels of integration here provides a common architectural principle of structure in events (an "evenometry") that will map all the cultures while remaining party to none.

Inclusivity potential: (2)

historical tracks which lead to a flat time manifold showing up via the trajectory of art.
The art track - 1850 to 1950
A period shift which manifests a full reversal of the1850 criteria, to reach an "impossible" conclusion in each of the mainstream approaches to comprehension.
Beacon figures :
From full confidence in a space-based universe as represented eg. by Delacroix (1798-1864), 3-D representation, through
Manet, Degas, - interest passing from illustrative, perspective effects to flat process, marks, action
Monet, Cezanne, Seurat; - 2-D Surface affording an architectural unity in the Work
Picasso and cubism develop flatness; the 'make-event' replaces appearances, spatial perspective.
Duchamp and the conceptual; the 'Work as Art' under scrutiny; zero action up-valued
Mondrian and the minimal; the overriding principle "Less is More" leads eventually to
The Monochrome as the Work, and its action-based complement: Pollock, tachism, action: The Mark in both "time" and "frozen time" as the Work; Finally, (Cage, Rauschenberg 1951) Zero Action as the Work, - which proposes

(all) art on par with zero action.)

Since this conclusion was reached there has been a branching into The event-structure development and

"flat time"

"post modern"

beacon figures are an extension of the prophetic tradition, which underpins the belief systems of cultures

Inclusivity potential (3)

Theory as science:
Mainline problems suggest that dimensional frameworks predicated on (S=space-based) phenomena carry a flaw, whereas one based on time (T) is viable.

The idea of gravity (basic to contemporary physics) may be flawed at the outset: 'Quantum gravity', 'gravity waves': spacetime or semantic misconceptions..? The OI-IO definition shows gravity as the part -IO, viz. Discharge of initial Impulse OI; .the extended Universe coming to an end on the time-base U, .. to coincide at a nonextended State O with the U event "score"). Physics cannot process the behaviour of the physicist, nor recognise either reflective or intuitive functions structurally.
Gravitational collapse: "the greatest crisis ever to face physics" see John Wheeler, Gravitation, 1970. (The proposition zero space zero time as a 'State O') General Relativity showing (all) matter collapsing to a dimensionless point, predicts a state Everything = Nothing. The crisis arises in the word physical when a spatial continuum is assumed to be a primary datum. Multidimensional theories postulate more spatial components, (eg. Michio Kaku's 12-D superstrings), never time-related ones. A compression of dimensional components to "time-relatedness" in point/ line/ plane (ie as a nonextended State O) stems from a least extended proto-universe of one extended state. It is evidently disregarded, prior to the series of forms as art which propose it.

Zero point energy: the occurrence of energy (as 'photons') uncaused from any known source - "energy from nowhere" signifies (T) "from a state of zero extendedness" rather than from a "vacuum" as postulated in the (S) theory. (Vacuum: a mysterious source of unlimited virtual energy in empty space. ) In (T) the result Everything > Nothing is implicit in the expression OI-IO: State O, and the plane (A-U)2, represent the informing score-component of the extended Universe on the time-base line U (the Unow Universe).

Nonlocation of Information: Particles in physics found to "know" what has happened far beyond the distance that information can travel at the speed of light, therefore requiring an informational relationship independent of space. In (T) any entity is an Insistently Recurrent Event (IRE) emanating from State O Impulse and discharging as "photon" as understood in physics. There is no spatial component in State O, all parts of the extended Universe may be in informational relationship within a State I Universe. Order ultimately derives from State O in the way that musical performance is ordered from an (atemporally omnipresent) score.. A recent report (New Scientist, 20.8.98) confirms the inherent nonlocality in flat time .

Fifth force. To account for discrepancies in its Standard and Inflationary models, some have postulated a "fifth force". In flat time all events are in-formed structurally via State O and time-base coordinates. (T) proposes a potentially digital "evenometry" in flat time with which to construct relationships. "Fifth force" accounting affords no architecture where a (T) diagram is specificly that.

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»Don't Forget Love« - A Cartography of the Ambient: From White Cube to Ambient
by Stefan Römer

Lecture for the symposion »Concepts and Artistic Practices at the Edge of the Century«
India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, Jan. 24. 1999

It is not easy for me to speak about recent developments taking place in Germany and the 'Western world' since I can not take for granted that we share the same social, political and epistemological system of reference; I do not want to sum it. up simply with the term »cultural difference«. Because the term »culture« is never used without an ideological connotation of value.
I understand my practice as a conceptual artist and art-theoretician as a critique of the existing hegemonial modes of production of pictures and discourse. This is based on the theory that each politico-economical system has its own forms of representation - such as architecture, advertising, art, fashion etc. These symbolic systems are basically responsible for the function of power.

(Slide: Kartographie)
My Lecture »Don't Forget Love - A Cartography of the Ambient: From White Cube to Ambient«1investigates the changes of the spatial frame conditions of artistic practices and the trends of incorporation and privatization of public space in the 'Western world'. This politico-economical restructuring of the urban field does not leave the historicising, commercialising und discoursive exhibition space (White Cube) untouched because it has never been autonomous. I am thinking this is totally opposed to the deadend theory of the autonomous art object. This whole conception, this humunculus of Imannuel Kant's Third Critique is only able to build a system of hierarchical values and exclusions. As for example the appropriating practices of Shukla Savant and Satish Sharma in the »Edge of the Century«-exhibition shows the notions of invention, creativity, and originality - refering to the old male autonomous work of art - are irrelevant for contemporary art practice.
Corporization should be understood as the tendencies of privatization und incorporation of former public areas in the age of globalization. Thus, my thesis is the following: The incorporation of public space is accompanied by a change of the white Cube into the Ambient.

First of all I would like the city to be understood as a social and political field and not as a mere architectural or traffic-related structure. As a consequence, the following questions arise: What is the function of the terms public and public space? In which way are art practices affected by the ever increasing representation of the city as a media image? Which consequences does this have for the discoursive value of the conventional exhibition space?

(Slide: Don't forget..., München)
I owe the title »Don't forget love« to a graffiti I have seen in the city of Munich: In my opinion, this image seems to signify many elements of the contemporary environment of western cities and their specific social behavior: The hermetically closed walls of the corporate building as a display for advertising, the relay box, the traffic system, the street names as the signification system, the small strips of green as a sign of the domination of nature and the observation camera as a sign of total social control. The title may sound programmatic and may remind of a title of a novel in the same way, but I use it ambivalent because this individual, sentimental statement stands in blatant contrast to the urban environment.

1. The change of the term »public«
»The old social subdivisions, based on power, capital, and self-interest, had reasserted themselves here as anywhere else.« J.G. Ballard2

(Slide: 0 qm...)
The following scenario could be observed on a public square in Cologne in 1992: Next to a table and a chair, fixed to the facade of a house under demolition, one could read: »To let 0 m2 580 DM to female German single blondes only«.
Concerning »art in public space«, this installation can be regarded as a perfect model, not only because it alludes to the - neo-right wing, xenophobic, and sexist - social climate, in which it situates itself sarcastically, but also because this installation doesn't cost the city any money and will disappear automatically when a new house is built at this site. The above mentioned phenomena within the social climate relate to the conventions as defined by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. It is true that this kind of art does without authorship and disappears some time or other, which is why most of the art theoreticians would not label it as art. But - in contrast to the illegal status of graffiti - this kind of art uses a very factographic statement reflecting its social context, and it acts as a critically intended intervention.

(Slide: Reiterstandbild und Architektur, München)
The concept of public space which is also relevant for this installation denotes the idealized space, that is accessable to different social groups and therefore meets the political function of being a venue for social interaction as defined by the ideological structure of the modernist state. But since this place is always infiltrated and ruled by power interests and strategies of representation it can never realy be called a free area. I would like to point out a new aspect: In the contemporary design of urban space the media play a prominent role because they represent the conditions of the public. In this sense the media must be regarded as the fourth dimension of public space, for example touristic catalogues: (Slide: Dream City). Thus, every public space must be examined not only in regard to its social and economic but also to its ideological and media function. In the course of Neoliberalism, corporate influences have increased since both cities and companies assume that the status of the public space enhanced by art can serve as a qualification of the location of a company: In this way art is reified as the cultural software of the city. Furthermore, companies are enabled to design their corporate image according to a certain location3. Anyhow, at present any form of art practice is situated in this rhetoric of economism of symbol production and the image policy of a city or a company.
Corporate image policy takes advantage of the verdict of the 1960s-70s, that art in public space has to be understood as populist and democratic4. Given the changed conditions this must, of course, be called into question.

In his understanding of the iconology of Erwin Panofsky the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu assumes that art consists not only of the art object but is appropriated by a larger group than that of the friends of the artist5. This special kind of public is the public of the institution of art. Therefore, the institution of art comprises not only institutionalized buildings but all forms of publication and publicity of art6. Consequently, the space in which art is presented is always an institutional space for art even if it had nothing to do with art beforehand; otherwise it would not be art but advertising or whatsoever.

The concept of the public prevailing today is totally different from that which the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas in the 1960s understood by »civil public«7. He dealt essentially with the transition from feudal to civil public. In the 1980s and, increasingly, in the 1990s a transition from a civil understanding of the public to a corporate one could be witnessed: Because of the increasingly economic functions of the public space it is no longer at the free disposal of the citizens. The characteristics of the new concept of the public have to be understood as a largely economical dominance of the urban space and the media. This economical dominance also affects new processes of production and labour as well as conceptions of the subject. It is interesting that also some governmental institutions nowadays present themselves as commercial enterprises8.

The public relations techniques used belong to the so-called tertiary sector of the economy (or the service sector) where production, in the sense of late-capitalist theories, has given way to mere representation and where, at the same time, territorial and institutional outsourcing has taken place. This implies that the production of every company goes hand in hand with creating a specific public or publicity for its commodities by making use of its corporate image. In this sense according to Baudrillard, the exchange value has replaced the utility value of products which in turn, is obviously replaced by a symbolic sign value in the age of post-Fordism9. In this new period of capitalism markets are created for specific products instead of producing according to demand. Within this symbolic framework of the economy only that part of society is regarded as public that is adressed by a special kind of advertising and from which a consumerist feedback can be expected. For that reason the term public must always be understood in relation to a politico-economical intention and a specific social urban space.

In order to gain a good image and to draw the capital of international companies (global players) the cities signalize their willingness to compromise with regard to urban planning10. This public-corporate space has to be called into question because, in its function as a social and ethnical space of discipline and control, it serves the city to present a bright image of its own. In that way the city becomes the ideal image of economism. This can also be evidenced in the numerous discussions about safe and clean cities which are merely concerned with aesthetic phenomena (also known as »Zero Tolerance«)11. Reagarding the rhetoric of embarrassement typical of these discussions political content seems to lose importance since social problems are reduced to a visual level - also the case with graffiti12. The new image of the city is chracterized by the aesthetics of Computer Animated Design13 more and more transforms the former public space14 into a dirigist parcours and an aseptic space. On the one hand the architectural and semiotic signs of this space have the function to facilitate an easy consumption and, on the other hand, to exclude certain social groups. Consequently, which is why this ambience is highly selective.
(Slide: Sparkasse)
The new paradigm of the public space is a blunt instrumentalization of culture for the sake of economism15. For this reason, Miwon Kwon refers to a changed paradigm concerning art programs in public space which, in the United States, show a virtual craving on the part of sponsors for supposedly critical art - the »new genre public art«16. These developments in the field of art have the effect that community-oriented projects act as a kind of social appeasement, and institutional critique more and more has the function of business culture.

2. From White Cube to Ambient
The transformations of the public space and the practice of art presented there can clearly be observed in the changed functions of the artistic space. This artistic space now produces identity instead of artistic critique, and both politics and culture lose their identity. Thus, art runs the risk to be reduced to a sector of public relations. (Slide: Dream City-Prospekt, BMW)
The changes of that which is regarded as public also affect the White Cube situated within this framework - the supposedly neutral space which is designed for the presentation of the »work of art« only and which is problematic precisely for this reason: »The Image of a white ideal space emerges, which, more than every single painting, can be regarded as the perfect archetypal image of art in the 20th century.« (Brian O'Doherty)17 This white room isolated art works in order to guarantee a quiet contemplation. But this led the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, in his deconstruction of the beauty of painting, to the question where the picture ends and where its frame begins18. He came to the conclusion that the frame is a discoursive construct. Precisely this has become a central question for conceptual art concerned with institutional critique since the 1970s; see for example »Framing and Being Framed«, as the German artist Hans Haacke called one of his books (1970-75).
Neither museums nor art galleries can continue claiming this kind of neutrality when they are regarded as rhetorical elements of the soft locational factor of the cities. Nowadays, museums with financial problems have the tendency to transform their institutions into semi-private or private companies, to the effect that the respective sponsors gain more and more influence on institutional contents.
A new type of exhibition management emerges: The cultural program of the German electronics company Siemens not only offers sponsoring but also decides on the contents of exhibitions. Last year, this led to a case of censorship: The title of the exhibition, »Brushholder Value« (Critical painting of the late 1990s) was taken so seriously by Dierk Schmidt, one of the artists invited, that he dealt in his paintings with the chairman of the board and the business policy of Siemens19. (2 Slides: D. Schmidt)
These paintings took the strategy of Siemens to its limits: The censorship of Schmidt's contribution by the curators caused a considerable damage to the company's image. The aggressive strategy of the company's program not only to promote art but also to influence its contents in exhibitions all over Germany is closely linked to the attempt of determining a corporate concept of art. Of course, the cultural program also intends to distract from a negative image caused by nuclear scandals, forced labour during the Third Reich, genetic manipulation and mismanagement of the company.

3. Ambient as Presentation room
The prominent feature of the artistic sign is its multiple reference. It is not afraid to make critical statements, to exploit other experts and to operate within an aggressive exhibition design resulting from populist, corporate self-representation and the aesthetics of trade shows. (Slide: Wellcome Trust)
The social intentions colliding in exhibition spaces play an important role. Whereas collective projects such as »Common Spaces? Common Concerns?«20 (Slide: Zweite Klasse, Berlin) intend a feminist critique of the connection of art presentation with city images - they are presentation room, information event, and bar at the same time (Information- and Research-Ambient) -, art bars and art cinemas are only concerned with staging the name of an artist in relation to an event (Party-Ambient: Angela Bulloch, Jorge Pardo, Rikrit Tiravanija, Tobias Rehberger) (Slide: Pop-Video, Cologne). All these practices share a preliminary »clinical examination of space «21 and a consideration of both the social and the institutional context.

The different groups of recipients seem to share a disapproval of the traditional White Cube presentation: While Information Ambient with activist tendencies addresses a politically interested audience, Party Ambient aims at an audience which is primarily interested in being entertained. In large-scale exhibitions with great public appeal, too, the single artwork »pregnant with meaning« is replaced by »interactive« presentations similar to filmstudios. However, for these typ of exhibitions it holds true that the fashioning of a surrounding space or a special atmosphere has replaced the presentation of the »autonomous« art object. The consumers' desire typical of contemporary art is to participate in a medial event.

In my opinion, the concept of cartography formulated by Michel Foucault is very suitable to describe this changed reception of artistic practices. That means that art works are no longer isolated and idealized in a single contemplation but are put in relation to each other. In order to explain this process I would like to suggest a possible reading of the spatial conditions. (By showing the following diagram:) (Slide: Kartographie)

The dramatic changes of the artistic space of presentation at »the edge of the century« may best be characterized by the term »Ambient«. It should be distinguished from the kind of electronic music of the same name. Nevertheless, it relates to comfortable clubs and pop-gadgets of the 70s. In this context I refer to a condition of the existing order of presentation space in relation to its social and architectural environment which not only presents and contains artistic practices but also influences their production. In this way the Ambient results from an overlapping of the market and the White Cube.
The Ambient has basically to be distinguished from the White Cube and its atmosphere of aesthetic purification even if its sublime chic is still inherent in the psychology of the Ambient. Only by playing with the symbolical capital of the White Cube the Ambient is able to transgress its quality and power of defining art.
The Ambient integrates art practices into architecture as design. The traditional perspective between art work and space used to place the beholder in a specific spatial and intellectual relation. In Ambient this perspective is replaced by a selection of the audience according to the visuals of »style«-criteria. The audience of the Ambient is pre-selected by the new concept of public space: The public space has taken the function of the White Cube as the judge of exlusion. Perhaps all this stands in total contrast to a post-colonial city like New Delhi?
Performance practices present a form of transgression of the designed art object. Only the function of the White Cube makes it possible to do one pleases and declare as art what often is stigmatized as unconventional in public space. In their artistic investigation »What is art?« Karin Meiner and Manfred Hammes two German artists, who are present today do not rely on the power of definition of the White Cube because they also ask people who are not involved in art as to their definition of art. Moreover, in the course of time, this project results in an empirical investigation.

Sources:
1Der vorliegende Text und die im Kunstverein München anläßlich der Ausstellung »Dream City« präsentierte Arbeit »Vergesst die Liebe nicht« (eine Wandzeichnung, ca. zwanzig Fotografien, acht Zeitschriften und eine Single) sind Bestandteil einer dreiteiligen dekonzeptuellen Untersuchung des künstlerischen Feldes. In einer zweiten Untersuchung geht es um die unterschiedlichen Strategien der Repräsentation künstlerischer Praktiken in der Kunstpresse; sie wurde im Rahmen des Prokjekts »Sex & Space II.« anläßlich des Steirischen Herbstes im Künstlerhaus Graz 1997 vorgestellt. Eine weitere Untersuchung behandelt die Konsequenzen aus den beiden ersten Untersuchungen für die künstlerischen Produktionsbedingungen, d.h. die Wandlungen des künstlerischen »Ichs«, das im Verhältnis zu den beiden ersten Bedingungsfeldern form(ul)iert wird. (Natürlich wollen wir alle reich, schön und berühmt sein. Zeitgenössische künstlerische Arbeitsbedingungen, in: Springerin - Hefte für Gegenwartskunst, Heft 3, September - November 1998, S. 44-47)
2J.G. Ballard, Hochhaus (High Rise, 1975), Frankfurt/M. 1992, 56.
3Vgl. Miwon Kwon, Ein Ort nach dem anderen: Bemerkungen zur Site Specificity (1997), in: H. Saxenhuber/G. Schöllhammer (Hg.), O.K. Ortsbezug: Konstruktion oder Prozess?, Linz 1998, 36.
4Vgl. Hans-Joachim Manske, Die vielfältige soziale Orientierung des öffentlichen Kunstwerks - Das Bremer Programm von "Kunst im öffentlichen Raum", in: Jutta Held (Hg.), Kunst und Alltagskultur, Köln 1981, 158.
5 Vgl. die Definition von Bourdieu, die Ende der 60er Jahre aus der Rezeption von Panofskys kontextorientierter Ikonologie entwickelt wurde: Pierre Bourdieu, Elemente zu einer soziologischen Theorie der Kunstwahrnehmung, in: ders., Zur Soziologie der symbolischen Formen (1970), Frankfurt/M. 1983, 181.
6 »Mit dem Begriff Institution Kunst sollen hier sowohl der kunstproduzierende und -distribuierende Apparat als auch die zu einer gegebenen Epoche herrschenden Vorstellungen über Kunst bezeichnet werden, die die Rezeption von Werken wesentlich bestimmen.« Peter Bürger, Theorie der Avantgarde, Frankfurt/M. 1974, 29.
7Die Grundthese von Habermas besagt, daß die bürgerliche Öffentlichkeit die moralische Verpflichtung zur Vermittlung der Aufklärung hat, wobei »öffentlich«, räumliche Zugänglichkeit für alle unter der Gewalt des Staates bedeutet; J. Habermas, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit. Untersuchungen zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft, Neuwied u. Berlin 1962, 10. Im Gegensatz dazu beabsichtigen Negt/Kluge, einen Begriff von Gegenöffentlichkeit in der »Kategorie der proletarischen Öffentlichkeit« davon abzusetzen, der »sich gegen die Einordnung in das Symbolsystem der bürgerlichen Öffentlichkeit« sperrt (O. Negt/A. Kluge, Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung. Zur Organisationsanalyse von bürgerlicher und proletarischer Öffentlichkeit, Frankfurt/M. 1972, 9); im wesentlichen gehen sie bereits von einer Aufsplittung »abstrakt aufeinander bezogener Einzelöffentlichkeiten« aus (Ibid, 15), die einem homogenen Begriff von Öffentlichkeit widersprechen.
8 Vgl. die TV-Werbung der Bundeswehr 1995, in der sie sich als Unternehmen innerhalb der NATO darstellte.
9Vgl. Baudrillards polemischer Entwurf der gewandelten Symbolstrukturen der Ökonomie in den 70er Jahren; Jean Baudrillard, Der symbolische Tausch und der Tod (1976), München 1991, 22f.
10Bspw. bemerkten die Verantwortlichen von Sony und Daimler-Benz AG in TV-Berichten auf die Diskrepanzen zwischen Stadtplanung und eigenen Vorstellungen am Berliner Potsdamer Platz angesprochen, daß sie die Stadt beliebig damit unter Druck setzen könnten, wenn sie vorgeben, daß sie sich nach anderen Standorten umsehen.
11Vgl. Klaus Ronneberger, Zero Tolerance. Urbane Kontrollstrategien in den neuziger Jahren, in: Galerie Fotohof etc., Salzburg 1998, 15-22.
12In fast allen deutschen Großstädten gab es im letzten Jahr Großplakatkampagnen gegen Graffitis.
13Vgl. »Der Stern zeigt auf fünf großen Panoramen, wie die Hauptstadt zur Metropole wird«, Stern, Nr. 24, Hamburg 8.6.1995.
14Die hier skizzierte Wandlung des Begriffs des öffentlichen Raumes stellt eine ganz andere Dimension dar als der Effekt, den Richard Sennett herzuleiten versuchte: Ihm ging es um den architektonischen Modernismus, der angeblich einen Rückzug ins Private förderte. Sennett konnte dabei noch von einer Politik ausgehen, in der eine emanzipatorische Utopie herrschte, während diese nun durch das ökonomische Paradigma des Marktes abgelöst wird. R. Sennett, Verfall und Ende des öffentlichen Lebens, 1974.
15Vgl. S. Römer, Probleme mit dem Kulturstandort Köln, in: Texte zur Kunst, Juni 1998, Nr. 30, 131ff.
16 Ungeachtet ihrer kunstkritischen Quellen wird dieses neue Kunstgenre instrumentalisiert: »Aber in den letzten Jahren sind solche Bemühungen oft auf eine einfache Formel reduziert worden: Künstler/in + Community + soziales Anliegen = neue (öffentliche/kritische) Kunst. Im schlimmsten Fall bewirkt diese stromlinienförmige Professionalisierung der Community-orientierten Kunst eine neue Form der ästhetischen Spezialisierung von KünstlerInnen, die man einlädt, damit sie im Auftrag diverser Institutionen, die ihre "community outreach"-Quoten erfüllen wollen (worauf die Geldgeber drängen), "aktivistische" oder "kritische" künstlerische Dienstleistungen erbringen.« M. Kwon, Three Rivers Arts Festival, in: Texte zur Kunst, Nr. 23, August 1997, 150.
17Brian O'Doherty, Die weisse Zelle und ihre Vorgänger (Inside the White Cube: Notes on the Gallery Space, 1976), in: W. Kemp (Hg.), Der Betrachter ist im Bild, Köln 1985, 281.
18 J. Derrida, Die Wahrheit in der Malerei (1978), Wien 1992.
19 Vgl. Barbara Hess, Immer Trouble mit Sponsoring, in: Texte zur Kunst, Nr. 31, September 1998, S. 187 -192; S. Römer, Brushholder Value, in: Springerin - Hefte für Gegenwartskunst, Heft 3, Sept.-Nov. 1998, S. 69f; Zensur-Diskussion I, in: Kunstforum International, Bd. 143, Jan.-Feb. 1999, 499.
20 In den Räumen der Klasse Zwei, Berlin 1996.
21 Vgl. B. O'Doherty, Die weisse Zelle, a.a.O., 291.

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jason wright - 11/19/98 23:11:41
My Email:canuckhip@unforgettable.com
Topic: the dublin littoral conference

i am a 25 year old canadian who attended the littoral conference in dublin in september dealing with socially engaged art practices and community based works. i am a graduate of a bfa program from simon fraser university in vancouver and went to the conf rence with the desire to hook up with arts organizations who would perhaps have the ability to point me to people who could train me, or help me aquire the skills nescessary to understand and develop what 'socially engaged art practice' is. in short i w s looking for an alternative to graduate school where i would be more help to a community.( Altenative to Graduate Work was actually a workshop title) instead of any help or direction i received a jumble of academic backslapping which was often unbeareabl and i left after the 4 days dazed and newly sceptically as to whether or not artists really have the abilities to deal with issues in communities that do not specifically refer to art or artspeak. i was left disappointed to say the least. what does anyone think about so called littoral art practice? i am particularily interested in jay's views as he seemed even more dissappointed in the conference than i .is it an artist's place now to become social workers/social scientists- even when we have never been rained to do anything remotely like community work. should we leave it to the to the 'professionals' who have these skills? is the notion that a contemporary artist must be knowlegeable in such a wide arena of topics -semiotics to city planning to psycho ogy to urban studies to ..etc.,spread us too thin. are we becoming jacks of all trades, masters of none, where actual specialists in the area we are 'playing' in are laughing at us and getting on to the work they were trained to do? any answers?

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