Rethinking the Assembly
In an art world where artists’ self-organisation is poor and biennials are often the most well received places for dissemination of artwork, how can we make sure that artists can wield some amount of power within the economy of art? This text proposes a first step in that regard and looks at the reasons for, and one proposal of organising the display of art. It suggests that an updated version of self-curation can take place at the behest of the artist rather than the institution or the curator. In doing this, artworks can become cues to remove fixity in location without losing particular and robust knowledge that comes with local thought.
We see the re-surfacing of words such ‘community’, ‘organisation’, ‘solidarity’ and ‘intervention’. Practical assemblies or congregations need to apply to artists and artworks in a concrete manner. It is how community-oriented thought becomes a replicable strategy in arts practice: Non-autonomy (of the artist, the artwork and the institution) as design can be seen as a form of organising, and a move away from competitive individualism.
The attempt is to realign intentionality (in all its elusiveness) suggesting that it can be directed, strategized and channelled to align the place and relationship between artist, artwork and spectator in a more equitable manner. It is also to provide a tangible avenue to the idea of ‘speculation’ in critically evaluating ideas today, suggesting that speculative assemblies are a new form of critical evaluation/intervention in thought and action.
If we are meant to function as self-generative bodies in a techno-financial ecosystem, it wouldn’t be so far-fetched to ask if an artwork can be self-generative as well. The forced hand of design aids the discarding of naïve humanisms.
We have heard many times about the ways in which global finance operates and conducts the art profession, so much so, unfortunately that we barely respond to it anymore. As artists however, we are often at the farthest end of a not-very-long financial chain; regardless of the quality of their work 90 percent of artists cannot live off it. But this is nothing new. However, I do believe it is getting worse: Within the contemporary art gig economy a highly unsteady and tenacious labour market is characterised by short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. Those of us who wield little art-capital-power are forced to accept returns by ‘exposure’ where the money-ghost is completely or partially vaporised.
Autonomy has taken a solid beating. We are being curated at every turn by social media, financial organisations, surveillance systems and newly high-volatile climate situations. Politically, we feel dulled down, left out and stuck in a never ending loop of ethno-nationalist war-cries. Local, global and planetary are often interchangedly used, and for good reason. And in that process we have discarded dated ideas of relying on only personal experiences, intrinsic subjectivity as the horizon on thought that makes artwork. The gallery system, meanwhile, has given way to the para-academic space of the biennale, where meaning making is the primary artistic enterprise and financial re-invigoration of the city or town of the biennale is the objective of its economic enterprise.
At this juncture it is imperative to ask whether artists can have any say in such a layered and complex ecosystem (remember, we still don’t have artist unions). This is why I believe we need a slightly altered version of what we already have, for it to be a functioning model that actually works for a larger number of people.
The underlying interest here is in orchestrated moving away from acts of competitive individuation. The aim is finding a model that can be replicated as strategy through the production of artistic practice. So it is very invested the continuation of producing artwork. Speculative assemblies such as this that are constructed at the behest of the artist will finally not function only as affective spaces, but as concrete platforms with practical function.
A work is a material object upon which meaning is constructed. It is not a subject and nor is it subjective, it is only the means towards what is intended and in order to fulfill this premise it is imperative to stake claims. That is: intention and action require a continuous re-calibration when they are not seen as being compatible with each other. The moment we propose something, we are bound to it (to a certain degree). To not stake a claim is to never fail and to never succeed. The register of meaning making is neutralised; everything once again becomes relational. What we are left with is a series of accidents that accepts no responsibility towards itself, the viewer or the artist/curator.
Further, when an intention is etched out it becomes imperative to provide an adequate response to it. Intention turns into one that is necessarily artificial forcing convergences and divergences to be constructed/articulated and thematised. It is essentially where art/thought/strategy come together, where the place of an artwork beyond its public moment is crucial to practice.
There are two initial problems that require attention:
It is almost impossible to discern whether an intention can be totally in total congruence with an act that it perpetuates. You can never inherently know until it’s too late for often it is only in hindsight that ideas or actions become clear. What is intended and what is actualised are often incompatible with each other where an abyss is either wilfully overlooked or just not acknowledged at all. And finally, claims often simply cannot be fulfilled – for good reason – because they’re too large: To have a claim would be to somehow provide answers which are simply not available, or are out of reach at the individual level.
However, we need to start somewhere. The interest in banking on intention as a tool towards better design is at some level a way to dilute individuation of artists and artworks. It is to suggest a claim, a concrete proposition, be articulated as the focal point of thought. This claim, however small, requires a certain level of totalising for it to be engaged with; a claim that has necessarily got to be non-individual. To truly consider the non-individual would be to accept the generic.
In both these situations, much credit must be given to the non-congruence of lived experiences at the scale of the individual that is simply not sufficient in order to combat the dense reality of the infrastructural global lives we lead. Both problems also require a non dystopic image of the future and a workable strategy of reconciling what is intended (in conception, cognition and practice) and what is actualised (in conception, cognition and practice) when they are incompatible with each other.
The attempt is to approach the location of a subject, via itself since it is very often that the particularities of the local allows for a robust epistemology to unravel. This text is an attempt to find a strategic and systematic ‘moving out’, the first steps towards generic organisation.
Robust, sustained local practices have the potential to cancel out what essentially makes it local/subjective. Strategy here is embedded within the work’s content and medium where irreducible presences are disputed as ends within themselves and the subject is left to navigate in ‘unchartered’ territory. Is it then pertinent to ask if an artwork must only embrace its own thought as content, without that content infiltrating the very medium of its own dissemination? That is, must not an artwork that uses non-singularity as content also be denied its own singularity?
Consider an orchestrated diffusion of meaning across multiple artworks instead of relying on one artwork. That is, each singular artwork will become a group of similarly determined thought that allows itself to take shape: The producer of meaning (artist, thinker, curator), the object of thought (the work/the fair/the biennale) and the receiver of the intended (also the thinker; the spectator) arrive at a uniform plane in order for determination to follow through right till the end. This is not to call for the collapse of the three: the artist, the work and the spectator. Instead it asks singular artworks to become cues that thwart fixity in location.
That is: a partial re-organisation of the job of the curator and the artist, where the ‘chosen’ artists will indulge in an updated form of updated self-curation. Here these chosen artists will, instead of presenting their own work only, will think of many works that tie into one thematic; a concrete finality of a single work becomes necessary but the dishonesty of an individualised and singular artwork meets its end. So for instance, if I am showing somewhere, I will instead of presenting only my work curate myself to include maybe 2-3 others works that I think will enhance the reception of my own work and the other works as well. It’s really very simple, but I think has far reaching repercussions. So if 100 artists are to be shown in a biennale, curators will now choose only a part of that number. This will also obviously mean that artists will be involved in the some part of the financial decision making.
Here a concrete finality of a single work becomes necessary but the dishonesty of a successful artwork meets its end i.e. each work is presented as one whole but not as an end in itself. A particular work becomes a variable of dissemination (or thought), retaining primacy in artwork as simply a medium (or tool) of that dissemination.
What we will have then, are minor assemblies (or minor platforms) within major assemblies (platforms such as biennales, fairs etc…) where the decisional power vested in curating is democratised. Curators will not be the only ones doing the choosing. This kind of lateral re-organisation will simultaneously solidify artist solidarities since they (or we) will suddenly work a lot more together, on a one to one basis; we will also be very invested in each other’s practices, far more than what it is right now. This will also suggest that collaboration between artists that can take place once an artwork is completed and need not be within the sphere of creation only, but also in the creation, design and dissemination of platforms.
If collaboration can be different from and compliment the biennale model, it would ask that we re-look the role of the artwork beyond its public moment: What kind of cultures of (speculative) assembly can be constructed for the individual artist to navigate? Further, can these congregations move beyond being affective; to come up with forms or models of practical function.
Designing something that can be multiplied has the potential to recondition at the level of conception, execution and reception of an artwork. The intention here is reproduction. i.e when there is good design the rational step forward is to apply it as a strategy for further good design. Meaning that in this case precise non-relational self-curation will, by default, push the articulation of what is intended against what is actualised, because essentially one follows the other. This is to ascertain that there is less power within a single object. And rather than call for repetition as in a totality, it is to bank on extremely carefully selected repetitive components. This is exactly how the generic functions – as a potential universal. But never actually becomes it because it is constantly being revised. By extension we stop being personal. Work is not precious. Thought isn’t either. It is precisely within this recalibration that we learn to think of intention with continuation and contingency in mind. perhaps then we have an orchestrated move towards the de-ontological as a replicable strategy. i.e rational enquiry is de-ontological and can be strategized through the production of artistic practice.
*Taken from Jason Moore’s quote, “Wall Street is a way of organising nature.”
Also look at: Feeling Artificially Myself