LuckyPDF, 幸運PDF S/S 2013 capsule collection, 2012.
One of my favorite searches on twitter is “twitter sadness”. For such a simple gesture, it exposes a lot about our emotional relationships with technology. Because there is a simple tension at work here: you’re at once able to connect with people, anyone in the world, but at the same time segregated, atomized, sold in 140 characters. But maybe that’s ok. These technologies exist, and we use them; what’s important is how we use them. “So much heartbreak & sadness in feed this morning, but beautiful because it's bringing people together. The power of @twitter”.
One of my favorite bands, I think, is Goth Tech. Goth Tech are the perfect correlation, because everything they release is 140 bmp or less. Slow, sad, saturated house music, like the sound of a text message when you’re in love, stretched to an hour-long DJ set. Of course, crucial to them is this fetishization of Internet sadness as alluded to above, and all around us. Pastel pink and blue, it’s music about indulging in indulging in each other, finding each other in fantasy, always forever together apart. If this seems something of a stretch, as an unlikely formula for pop music, then it is worth being clear that it is exactly the stasis of emotive, communicative capitalism. Our emotions are packaged and given value, whilst market logic maintains us at optimum distance from each other. Sadness in this respect moves from its general meaning to something entirely precise: we can tell people, but we can never talk about it. Better lonely than alone.
Prominent in my newsfeed towards the end of last year was the exhibition “Paraproduction” at Boetzelaer|Nispen Gallery in Amsterdam, curated by Alana Kushnir and featuring work by Hannah Perry, Benedict Drew, LuckyPDF, Christopher Kulendran Thomas and Ed Fornieles. Exploring a phenomenon of networked performances in art, the show took as its subject “a concentration of London-based artists who exploit the curatorial strategies of exhibition, circulation and distribution.” A deftly organized network performance in its own right, and very much a timestamp of a certain moment in London, the exhibition’s success came exactly in its removal from London, its production of an image of a network outside of the regular space of that network. A delicate balance of #fomo and Whatever; any fear of missing out was tempered by an understanding of not needing to be there, of participating in a different way.
The last two years have seen a proliferation of artists taking modes of circulation and distribution as an artistic material, and the exhibition was totally happy to participate in this, in fact was predicated on this trend. ”This publication has been conceived and produced for a wholly transparent purpose. It is a souvenir of cultural capital”, as its accompanying publication, featuring texts by another collection of likely subjects, proclaimed. This is refreshingly honest as the first two sentences to a publication. Yet as final as this statement appears, it still forces us its own questions. What is this cultural capital? Why do we still valorize it so much?
The intention of this text is not so much to deconstruct this, but instead situate it in a context it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Art today is infused with networks, which is to say produces meaning in negotiation with them, and this show presents this in an honest way. Yet it also provokes us to think what that meaning is, and what we can make it be. Networked action is explicitly collective action, but it is not necessarily incisive or organized action.
So what is this networked action, as developed in these artworks? Claire Bishop, in Artificial Hells, has traced the emergence of what she terms ‘delegated performances’ in the 1990s. These are artworks that involve the “hiring of non-professional performers”, a movement away from the events and performances being enacted by the artists themselves. What is perhaps compelling about her study is not the role of this trend as in any sense an avant-garde, but the grounding of this phenomenon in the economic and political conditions of the time. The ‘outsourcing’ of labor, we’re reminded, was very much a buzzword of the accelerationist 90s, a model we can see as then appropriated in the examples cited (Santiago Sierra, Tania Bruguera et al). The works in Paraproduction can clearly be placed in this tradition. However, and in tandem with developments in labor and production of the last twenty years, there is a distinct historical difference. Participants in these projects aren’t paid, and instead participate for free following models established by P2P, crowdsourcing, and social networks.
Art, for a lot of the last century, has been caught in a precarious dialectic between high and low culture, between ideas of autonomy and placement in the physical economies of the world; its avant-gardes have always tried to rescue it, to make it into ‘life’. The works in Paraproduction mark an interesting moment in this history, as they propose an art that’s firmly within the infrastructure of society. Which is to say, they are a type of distributed performance, dispersed through the quantifiable and material networks, which comprise social relations. Whether performing alternate identities on Facebook, as explored in Fornieles’ Dorm Daze, or exercising the brand value of their peers, as is LuckyPDF’s critical project, they operate and perpetuate the immaterial production that is today so familiar, so integral to our economy as a whole.
Despite allowing for an art that seeps fluidly out the doors of the Institution, able, and in a way that Bruguera would have found impossible, to treat the museum as one site among many rather than a primary context, there is on the face of it not that much difference between this mode of art-making and its direct precursors. For art has always taken sociality as its material, even if that sociality was at one point the repressive and Byzantine codes of religion. A church fresco is an homage to a certain form of patriarchal hegemony, as is the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. The work of Hans Haacke illustrates this neatly, and makes explicit through post-war systems theory the real and ultimately oligarchical exchanges of capital that permeate museum culture within modern liberal democracies. Voting in a ballot box as an artistic gesture is beautiful, in this way, as it mobilizes the strategies of representation as maintained by the dominant elite directly against that dominant elite, yet at the same time reveals their vital insufficiencies; the reduction of politics to mere polling. Putting paper in a box as a direct expression of humanity: every perfect individual perfectly categorized.
We should therefore attempt to understand what models we’re perpetuating in the present moment, and what forms of society are implicit in the way we phrase our art projects. Though not overtly as political as Haacke’s work, and not in the same tradition of institutional critique, the differences between the MoMa Poll of 1970 and the curatorial strategies as proposed by Paraproduction mirror wider changes in participatory politics, as well as the organisation of sociality in our culture in general. Indeed the date of Haacke’s canonical work is tantalising, for it is this point that commentators generally agree marks the shift from predominantly industrial to immaterial and uninhibitedly financialised production across the global North. The artist of Paraproduction is an artist fully adapted to this liquid and connectionist world, able to exploit global economies of attention through a laptop and an eye for cheap travel. The art of this artist is indicative of this, indeed a product of it, presenting these economies of attention as sculptural or performative studies.
Hans Haacke, MoMa Poll, 1970.
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