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Pascal Gielen on his book The Murmuring of the Artistic Multitude
Our issue FGA#36 is the first in a new 50-cent series called CO2-friendly Skype lectures. The paper size differs from what we normally have and is 64 x 45 cm, folded three times to the handy size 32 x 15 cm. The color is also different, this time not pink but off white.
FGA#36 is a slightly edited transcription of the lecture Pascal Gielen gave based on his book The Murmuring of the artistic Multitude from his home in Antwerp a few days previous to the public event that we organised for Bye-bye la compagnie in CAN centre d’art Neuchatel, on 19 November 2016. Pascal could not do his lecture as a live stream so we recorded it with the assembled teams of CAN and FGA as an audience and screened it to an enthusiastic audience a few days later, on 19 November 2016. The second lecture that day was a live stream of a lecture by Alana Jelinek based on her book This is Not Art: Activism and Other 'Not-Art. We did not transcribe this lecture because we already published a conversation with Alana in our previous issue FGA#35 New Existentialism. For those who are interested to read this, there are still some copies available.
The year before we had brought the book The Murmuring of the artistic Multitude as a present for the CAN team and it became one of the references for CAN’s self-reflection art project Bye-bye la compagnie. In the accompanying text for Bye-bye la compagnie they wrote:
“…According to the sociologist Pascal Gielen, this working model (post-Fordist, ed) and the values associated with it, have been developed by modern artists since the beginning of the 20th century. The artistic world would thus have served as a laboratory for the neo-liberal economy to establish the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism in the 1990s. As a result, this model of work which was on the margins of the productive system - and which in fact constituted a form of criticism, or at least of distancing it - is now at the center of the new economic regime. One can therefore wonder if artists have been caught up by the dominant ideology, and what are the consequences on their relationship to autonomy, work and even their work.
The economic relationship between artists and art centers reproduces these different principles: the contract of employment is often non-existent and there is little or no direct remuneration for the work provided by the artists, who must more often be content with a form of social and symbolic valorization. As for them, the employees of the art center (curators, technicians, etc.) are for the most part poorly paid and accept these conditions by identical justification mechanisms. Nevertheless, the art center is an organization grouping several employees, and in this is closer to a post-Fordist business model than the individual situation of an artist, even if it is often seen as an auto entrepreneur…”
Many thank to Pascal Gielen! Also thanks to Vincenzo Latronico for copy-editing and Ilke Gers for proofreading and support. Thank you Julian Thompson for spotting that blunder in the title. Transcription, typography, visuals and editing are done by FGA, Robert Hamelijnck and Nienke Terpsma. In selfless service to our community. Thank you CAN team: Arthur de Pury, Marie Villemin, Martin Widmer, Marie Léa Zwahlen, Julian Thompson, Sylvie Linder.
Bye-bye la compagnie took place from 15 Oct.—15 Dec. 2016. Participating artists: Massimiliano Baldassarri & Jean-Baptiste Ganne, Sacha Béraud, Bruno Botella, Timo thée Calame & Alan Schmalz, Marie Cool Fabio Balducci, FEC, Fucking Good Art, Mohéna Kühni, Renaud Loda, RELAX (chiarenza & hauser & co), Sebastien Verdon.^
Q&A with Pascal Gielen
Pascal Gielen: I would not use the word individual, I would say singular; to be a singular artist, to be autonomous, you need to be collective, or you have to organise yourself in a collective way. Not only collectively with other artists but also in a heterogeneous way, including economists, lawyers… a mixed organisation. This is very interesting to think about. I also think about cooperatives. I am not saying that everybody should make collective work, but that we have to organise collectively to keep our singular autonomy alive, and also to make it performative, in society.
Nienke Terpsma: What does it mean in this light to be in a city or in the countryside or small town, where you can’t only be with peers simply because there aren’t enough peers. In the periphery you have to organise heterogeneously.
Pascal Gielen: Yes, let’s go back to the first slide, the one with the squares of the domestic and the peer situation. I forgot to say that these two squares are the basis for research and development. To be temporarily isolated in a collective way is very much necessary for creativity, I think. It doesn’t mean that you always have to be disconnected. I remember a romantic artist from the 1980s who said in an interview: ‘The social will be the death of you!’ This, I think, is a completely wrong interpretation of what an artist is. But of course there are moments, and that is probably what he meant, that it is killing. You need to be isolated and on your own sometimes to renew yourself, to research and develop. But you also have to go back to the world. Organisations that operate towards the margins, in the periphery, not in the city, not in the hyper network, not on the scene, are very important and keep the connection or even organise the connection with the scene and play the role of a gatekeeper to the scene. Gate keeping and protection is very important, but it has to be organised. It is very easy nowadays—even when you’re in the so-called margins of the art field—to be connected, and sometimes it is even problematic for artists that to be always connected. You can be at the margins and at the same time completely in the centre. This can be a threat to both these domains.
Arthur de Pury: Are you optimistic that artists can work in this common way? We tried many many times, in different projects, and my impression is that it only works for a few days, and then everybody goes home.
Pascal Gielen: I don’t know if I need to be optimistic or pessimistic. The coming 5 years, together with 7 others, I will do a research about these new organisations in Europe. It is entitled: Sustainable Creativity—because for sustainability you get money. (Laughs) It will be about this question: How do you organise? How to make a sustainable organisation in the long run, that function?
Arthur de Pury: Could you give some examples of groups of art related people who are experimenting new models of autonomy, and how they manage to renew a political message within the scene?
Pascal Gielen: When you scan the website of the Peer-2-Peer foundation you could find more than 1000 examples. Those examples come certainly not all out of the art world. That’s in fact my point, artists need to organise themselves much more heterogeneously when they want to safeguard their autonomy. Let’s stick with one of my favourite examples to make this clear. Recetas Urbanas appears to be taking such a new model of autonomy the furthest; the paradox is that by building houses, schools and community centres wherever associations and communities deem them necessary. So, Recetas Urbanas does not cater to the free market, or to governments, but rather to citizens who feel a civil need. In response to their requests, Recetas offers strategies to occupy public spaces to create agonistic places in which the opportunity for action, appropriation, occupation and use of the city is given back to the citizens through architectural interventions and actual buildings. Rather than working in the margins, Recetas Urbana’s’ proposals transit between legality and illegality, playing with the established order to re-articulate laws and to compose new social and economic exchanges around building projects. In Gramscian terms, Recetas Urbanas disarticulates existing discourses and praxis by offering moments of re-identification in which citizens become the initiators of actions, appropriations and occupations as responses to their collective needs and common necessities. Rather than a withdrawal, Recetas Urbanas provides citizens with the tools to engage, as Chantal Mouffe would say, with the authorities and dispute their power from within. And those articulations and alternative social compositions do not stay at the level of the local spot or community. Recetas went beyond such folk politics by building a huge national and even European network (The Group for the Reuse and Redistribution of Resources) of exchange of knowledge, (building) materials, and practices. In this network, for example, legal precedents established in one city are communicated and used to fight for the same civil rights in another city. So, the network is not only used to exchange information, but also to develop counter-hegemonic strategies and practices. Recetas works in my eyes as how a new (art) institution of the future could work, which mean operating in a permanent liquid urban space of constant change. The autonomous social space they generate, independent of state and market, are best understood as circus big tops, erected only temporarily and then put up again somewhere else later. In other words, Recetas’ temporary architectures are mobile units that only sporadically set up a perimeter. The area within this perimeter is not of a purely physical nature. It is a social domain in which social interactions are also shaped in a different manner. Because of the actions of Recetas, homogeneous communities and neighbourhoods are constantly challenged and stimulated by experimenting with other ways of housing and living and by demonstrating their viability. These lifestyles, by which artists crank up the new autonomies, will, as Recetas shows in any case be highly hybrid. Just as in circus life, they will integrate private life and work, family and professionals, friends and enemies, celebration and creative production, art and economy. Only when, unlike the traditional circus, this itinerant company breaks open its own community and reflectively shapes itself in (dis)census, like Recetas – in short, when this neo-tribal crowd becomes political – will their artistic ideas become operational. Artists that want to create new autonomous spaces deliberately continuously balance on the tightrope between legality and illegality and therefore cannot operate purely artistically or architecturally but are always forced to also think and act politically. Only in such a hybrid, open autarky can artists develop sufficient sovereign power to create personal work and constitute new social figurations. In short, only when they manage to shape such constitutions – that are both artistic and social – will they feed life as grown-up artists in confrontation with other residents and passers-by. Within this fluid world, artists themselves are the performers of a common ground on which they can stand high and dry for a while, together with others.
Arthur de Pury: At CAN we decided years ago to have free admission for all our exhibitions and events. This decision was of course based on the idea of making culture free—commons, etc.—but it was also political. If you make it free, you can avoid counting the number of visitors and by consequence you don’t have any number to give to politicians. I tried to explain our position in a meeting of the directors of Swiss contemporary art centres. Nearly all of them expressed a total lack of comprehension arguing that having more audience and counting them was just fully and simply part of the job. I had the strong feeling that trying to address this question with (also) a political point of view was just throwing me out of the “scene” in their eyes; I was not part of it anymore. Don’t you think that most of the freelancers integrated happily to feel free in this repressive liberal system? And that taking another position would have as consequence to risk loosing your position in the scene, which could mean loosing your job? Do we have to change the scene, or create another one?
Pascal Gielen: Artists who take civil action always cross borders, and by doing this they indeed take the risk to lose their traditional position (as an artist) in society – such as the Situationist did. But I think, they have also the possibility to create new scenes indeed. At least, when they work collectively and organise themselves heterogeneous as mentioned before with the well functioning model of Recetas. And it starts with this mentality: "I don’t care when you say what I do is no (professionally accepted) art, because I think what I do is relevant and absolutely necessary in the contemporary economical, ecological, political and social conditions."
Rob Hamelijnck: For quite some time now the artistic multitude—we, artists and curators that care and hope to change things—is murmuring. We murmur because we disagree with how the art world is organised, how public money is distributed. Our murmuring or revolt is framed as complaining. Just recently honorarium for artists is on the political agenda. We need to rethink the distribution of the money for culture. I think this is one of the subjects of Bye-bye la compagnie. Duchamp wrote to himself: No more painting, get a job. But we don’t need a job, we already have one: making art. What can we do and do you think a “fair” art world can exist?
Pascal Gielen: First of all, by recognising that artists are not alone in their murmuring: also surgeons are murmuring, teachers are complaining, lawyers certainly are etc. It’s very important that more and more people want a “fair” world. So, I think artists need to bridge and need to build solidarities between those groups by translating their collective concerns. They can make a “fair” art world, when they neglect the classical exchange relationships between those groups, based on money. In classical Marxist terms, I think exchange value need to be reduced for use value in the art system, and the world in general. When other people are convinced of the use value of art, such as its potential of imagination, its performative power to change perspectives and even to change ordinary habits and attitudes, to show us other possible horizons, we will arrive in a much more “fair” art world. But: this world will be not called “the art world” anymore, but life as such.
CAN, Centre d’Art Neuchatel
50 cent series based on a Co2-friendly (Skype) lecture organized by FGA.
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Fucking Good Art is a travelling magazine or editorial project for research in-and-through art by Dutch artists and non-academic free-style researchers Robert Hamelijnck and Nienke Terpsma. Fields of interest are: oral history, ethnology, documentary, investigative art and journalism, anarchism, counter-cultures, self-organisation and DIT do-it-together strategies, and models outside the art market.
The first issue was published in December 2003.
Fucking Good Art is supported by Mondriaan Fund Amsterdam.^