Agência is an abstract entity, simultaneously structure and activity generating drive, identified as intermediary in the management of personal businesses. Yet, what should be of interest here is the definition of business itself: is the precariousness, the subsistence, of finances and income, as well as artistic representation itself, part of the businesses which fall outside of our competencies as authors and producers? Or is this the component of business from which we alienate ourselves voluntarily, for not considering it work or topic of discussion in itself? Let us then allow these businesses to fall on our hands, on their varied qualification and unqualification, in order to push forward collective discussion on the advantages and individual labor choices beyond authorial work.
If institutional critique presupposed the Institution as a field of action and power, it should perhaps now be restructured and address life itself in order to answer to the biopolitical turn defining late capitalism. If, on the one hand, this dissolution between spheres of competency is a tradition of artistic modernism, on the other, it is to the life conditions of artists that flexible markets are now looking to as a model for entrepreneurship and neo-liberalism.
Thus, we lend from the late painter Ângelo de Sousa the title he gave to his drawings made up of simple gestures, grammars for languages between bodies, capable of enactment by anyone, in their imaginary of equivalence and accessibility. With Ângelo de Sousa, we presuppose then that such passage from art to life choices and conditions can only take place under the principle of empathy and agency.
In four sessions, the notion of labor in Contemporary Art will be inquired. These will range from sociological reflection on the Portuguese artistic field (Luísa Especial); the theoretical and philosophical analysis of precarious labor under late capitalism (José Neves/ Miguel Castro Caldas); examples of association and labor activism (Scottish Artists Union); as well as when art and copyright interfere with Law (Daniel McClean). In parallel, online contents will be made available, amplifying thus the scope of the program, including a Q&A with Temporary Services, while making their Art Work newspaper available; contributions by Agency, as well as the results from the inquiry to workers in the field of Contemporary Art, circulated online in Portugal in April 2011.
is a project by The Barber Shop with Mariana Silva and Pedro Neves Marques.
About the talks (below each description follows audio recording of the respective session), The Barber Shop, 30th April-7 May 2011:
Luísa Especial is a phD researcher in Sociology, at ISCTE. She has been developing work on curating and has written several texts on art issues.
José Neves teaches at the History Department of FCSH-UNL and is a researcher at the Instituto de História Contemporânea of the same university. Miguel Castro Caldas writes for theatre, is a translator, teaches. He co-translated to portuguese Maurizio Lazzarato's book "Le Governement des Inégalités".
More info on Unipop: http://u-ni-pop.blogspot.com/
Peter McCaughey: "I feel like a three-headed beast. Part maker, part regenerator, part educator. Over the last fifteen years, my time and creative energies have been divided between these related areas that together constitute a practise as an artist. The first head is independent, self-directed maker. In this capacity I have exhibited locally, nationally and internationally, often working with ideas of site and time specificity. My work crosses many mediums and a wide variety of contexts often exploring in-between states when things are slipping between having been, being and becoming. The second head is creative collaborator who negotiates ideas in relation to public realm employing a wide variety of approaches. In this capacity I have taken on major commissions as part of teams of architects, developers, engineers and designers. Masterplanning townscapes, contributing to think tanks at grass roots and local government level and making temporary and permanent art in public space. This work recently involves lobbying for and creating opportunities for other artists. The third area is as a teacher and researcher. In this capacity I have taught in Fine Art Schools in the UK, Portugal and Scandinavia with a permanent connection to Glasgow School of Art in the Sculpture and Environmental Art department. I am currently completing a chapter on the book Cultural Hijack that addresses the artists right to intervene in the world they live in and a shorter piece of writing on the seminal Artists Placement Group. This month I am helping organise a political Hustings for Scottish Artists Union that will challenge the politicians of all the major parties to address their policies on Artists, Art and Culture."
Daniel McClean is an independent curator, writer, and art-legal adviser. He is a lawyer for Finers Stephens Innocent which works in defense of Julian Assange. Has worked with several artists dealing with copyright issues and legal conditions, including more recently Superflex's project Free Sol Lewitt at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. He is the editor of the book The Trials of Art (2008). McClean holds a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford and an LLM in IP Law from the University of London.
Temporary Services is Brett Bloom, Salem Collo-Julin and Marc Fischer. Having began in the city of Chicago, it has been in active since 1998, producing exhibitions, events and publications mostly on artist rights and related issues in the USA and worldwide, including the 2009 newspaper Art Work: A National Conversation About Art, Labor and Economics (2009).
Agency was founded by artist Kobe Matthys in 1992 and is based in Brussels. Agency has participated in several exhibitions and events, including Animism (Extra City - Kunsthal Antwerpen/ Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp), Un-Scene (Wiels, Brussels) or When Things Cast no Shadows: 5th Berlin Biennial (Berlin).
Com os apoio de:
A was circulated by The Barber Shop via email between 1-16 April 2011. Anonymous and of civil initiative, it was adressed at workers in the field of Contemporary Art, in Portugal, as well as at institutions, commercial spaces, and several other workers in the field. By the end of its circulation period, 146 answers were collected.
The survey attempt to collect data on the working conditions within Visual Arts, thus constituting an helpful tool for a self-analysis of the field. Specificaly, more than its sociological value, this object can prove relevant to claim, define and protect rights and duties, as well as becoming a useful object for future discussions.
Discussed with Luísa Especial when of the events from Agência: Algumas formas ao alcance de todas as mãos (The Barber Shop, 30th April 2011), its results are made available here, so that these can be shared and circulated by all. As to its sociological representation, these results are limited to the obtained answers, being that The Barber Shop thanks all those who publicized it and filled it on time.
Click on the image to download the survey's results booklet in pdf:
Interview with April 2011 (all answers written together by Temporary Services except where noted in question 5), plus! link to download print and web versions of the newspaper Art Work: A National Conversation About Art, Labor, and Economics.
For more info on Art Work: A National Conversation About Art, Labor, and Economics go to http://www.artandwork.us/download/ where you'll be able to order or download print, web, e-book or even audio-book versions of the newspaper. Or click on the image below to download web version pdf.
Q & A
The Barber Shop: Temporary Services as been highly active since the late 1990s, from publishing to exhibition making or public action. In 2009 you published the newspaper Art Work: A National Conversation About Art, Labor, and Economics, which feels like a big roundup of your concerns and demands. Could you give a brief introduction to your history and structure, as well as the Art Work initiative?
Temporary Services: Temporary Services started in 1998 as an exhibition space in a tiny storefront on the 2800 block of North Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. At the time, this was a working class area that was not a hub for art activity. Our presence there was quite ambiguous. Our name, which pointed to the ephemeral nature of some of our projects as well as the idea that art could be a service to others, blended in with other peculiar businesses and service-oriented storefronts in the neighborhood. The space quickly morphed into a larger collaborative group that at one point numbered seven people. We left the storefront in 1999, and used an office space in a building in downtown Chicago for events and exhibitions until 2001. While we inhabited these spaces, we often staged projects on the sidewalk or at different sites. Temporary Services is now a group of three persons: Brett Bloom, who lives in Copenhagen, and Marc Fischer and Salem Collo-Julin, who both live in Chicago. The three of us have been the sole members of Temporary Services for approximately the last nine years.
Art Work: A National Conversation About Art, Labor, and Economics is a forty-page newspaper that we edited and published in 2009 with the support of SPACES, the independent arts organization in Cleveland, Ohio. The newspaper includes writings, images, and reports from a variety of artists, writers, activists, academics, culture workers, students, patrons, gallerists, administrators, curators, and more -- all themed around the idea of making and supporting creative work within a depressed economy. We distributed the newspaper nationally by sending free copies to "hosts" (independently-run spaces, colleges, retail stores, galleries, community centers, the homes of socially-networked persons, etc.) in each of the fifty states as well as Puerto Rico. We encouraged people who received the newspaper or read the accompanying web site (www.artandwork.us) to use the project as a catalyst for further conversation, exhibitions, or events in their own towns. Over twenty-five spaces and groups took up our call and created their own responses in the form of publishing, social, academic, or conversational activities. We wish to spark a national conversation that we consider ongoing, as the demands upon makers of culture and workers of all kinds are still serious and dire. The newspaper has gone through several re-printings and is in now in need of another.
TBS: Back in 2000 you published a really nice booklet called Re-Used Interview, where you simply picked up an older interview among professionals in the arts and erased the names of the actors, thus making it contemporary to 2000. If you now went back 10 years and did the same again on your (fake) interview, what would you find has changed (for better or worse) concerning working conditions and relation in arts since then? Or do you find in overall that the older version in fact keeps on being actual?
TS: That text seems outdated in many ways and probably was much more relevant to where we were at that moment in our development. This could be a good strategy to apply to current texts. Taking the power relations out of an essay that articulates good ideas about how art practices are changing is still a relevant strategy.
TBS: In your statement in the Art Work website you briefly mention the State program "Works Progress Administration's Federal Arts Program", which for a certain period worked and funded North American artists such as Dorothea Lange or Walker Evans. Do you see any possibility for, as well the shape of, such a program nowadays besides the National Endowment for the Arts? If not, could you comment on the current American State/funding situation?
TS: The climate in the US is beyond toxic and there is no political structure in place that could produce anything - even a pale shadow - like the WPA or the civil funding that happened during former President Johnson's term. We must remember that President Obama is a crony, a neoliberal capitalist whose administration prioritizes the needs of the business elite and corporate America. These are his true constituents. Without a popular movement to put pressure on him, he won't do anything to improve conditions for artists, let alone the entire population of people suffering. Funding is abysmal for the arts. Even 1% of our Department of Defense's budget would create an arts renaissance in the US. Our government is more interested in expanding its colonial reach with weapons and intimidation than in nurturing culture that exists outside of hypercapitalist fundamentalism.
TBS: With the current economic crisis it seems to be even more pressing to think both on the sustainability strategies of projects such as Temporary Services - but also all sorts of "independent" spaces - and on the creation of new economic models of production, exhibition and circulation. What's your perspective on this, not only with maintaining Temporary Services in action but also in relation to the wider scenario. Are you finding that the current situation is being capable of producing these other models, and if do you have any forward looking examples to share?
TS: Desperate times always force people to be creative. Our work has always relied on low-budget strategies. The three of us do not depend on Temporary Services as our main source of income, though we do make money from lectures, honoraria, workshops and publications. Our practice is flexible enough to adjust to smaller budgets so we have not had to downsize in any dramatic ways. Artists who used to have more luxurious production budgets seem to be working more in our fashion these days: without wastefulness and operating on a scale that is appropriate to the common economic reality. This is not a bad thing!
In many cities, there are thousands of empty stores. Mess Hall, a Chicago experimental cultural center that we co-founded in 2003, has thrived rent-free for eight years because a generous building owner decided to let a group of artists use it. His feeling was that this might be good for the neighborhood. Mess Hall only pays for utilities. The people that run the space now host several events every week, and everything is free for the public to attend. People in other cities are also finding ways to use empty spaces for creative projects. For as long as there are tons of empty buildings, it is easy to imagine that other building owners could be persuaded to give up some of their space for more creative purposes rather than let them lay dormant.
In Art Work we included several projects that create micro-grants for creative work. We are also extremely impressed by projects like Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com), which are used to generate thousands of successful funding drives for a huge range of creative practices. We used Kickstarter to raise money for the printing for a book that we are about to publish. Kickstarter and initiatives like it are an exciting development, as their approach to paying for projects not only generates funding, but helps with distribution (which, along with getting paid, is one of the hardest parts of publishing). We are excited by structures that address both of these things at once.
TBS: In your statement you also talk about art schools and the willing blindness of Art Academies to turn into enterprises, ready to dump large percentages of unqualified art students into daily life - not to mention the increase in fees, now not only in the States but in Europe as well. You make several pleas to teachers in these institution, to co-opt, to dissent. Yet, how do you see the possibilities to do so? How precariously tied are these same teachers?
Brett: Our friends and colleagues in universities voice their support for those who don't have the same privileges they do - like tenure, healthcare, a living wage - but they will not risk losing this to build something more egalitarian. Currently, only 26% of people employed to teach art have long-term job security. A staggering percentage (74%) do not. Most universities enjoy the highly-exploitative situation of adjuncts (the vast majority of whom are paid less, get no benefits, and have no job security) or using student teachers who are exploited even more. The only answer is to start building a different kind of school from the ground up.
Marc: I'm an adjunct professor, which means I have no benefits, no guarantee of future classes, and no real job security. Thus far my job feels relatively stable but that could easily change. I'm reluctant to give up my job despite these challenges because, well, it's a job. It's in a city I want to live in. I teach classes I'm interested in and basically get to do whatever I want in my classes. I like most of the students I have taught at this school and I like a lot of my colleagues as well.
I am a member of the Part-Time Faculty Union, which pushes hard to change the institution so that it better cares for its adjunct professors. In every class I get a tiny budget to bring in one visiting lecturer and I always use it, usually to bring in an artist who could benefit from any opportunity to talk about their work. I am honest with my students about how dire things are. I do not assure them that everything will be all right. I encourage them to build community between themselves and others so that they can work together to create support structures. I encourage them to collaborate and not compete. I give them information about how to create their own opportunities and how to stick up for themselves when dealing with institutions. I urge them to write effectively and make them write in classes so they can better represent themselves through persuasive writing. I discourage them from getting MFA degrees if it means that they will wind up massively in debt for the rest of their lives.
I am not sure that any of this is enough, but I suspect that it is more honest that what the students may be learning elsewhere. To their credit some of my recent students have not been as individualistic as those I have encountered in other schools. I feel hopeful that they might use the relationships they develop in school to build support systems of their own.
Salem: We have to remember that the very idea of the academy, of contemporary post-secondary education, is currently not a training ground for thinking and living. Education is essential to everyday life, but the Education System for both artists and others is rapidly becoming a sweatshop that churns out dated ideas born from classist structure meant to provide creative drones that create market-based product. We can change this. Those of us who work in these systems are essential to re-creating them to fit what this world actually needs. We must be realistic with our own situations – we live in the world the way it is, and need financial stability to survive. This doesn't mean that we need to be pawns of our employers or that we should re-teach the lies of competitive art practice or reliance upon the whims of the marketplace to "get ahead". We also need to remember that artists and those who teach art do not live in a vacuum! We need to echo the activities of the US artist labor unions of the 1930s, and live each day in solidarity with workers of all stripes. Our own lives and livelihoods depend upon the lives and livelihoods of others.
is the generic name of a Brussels-based agency that was established in 1992 by Kobe Matthys. Agency constitutes a growing list of things that resist the split between culture and nature, and consequently between expressions and ideas, creations and facts, subjects and objects, humans and non-humans, originality and tradition, individuals and collectives, etc... These things are mostly derived from juridical processes, lawsuits, cases, controversies, affairs and so forth around intellectual property (copyrights, patents, trade marks, etc...). The concept of intellectual property relies upon the assumption of the division between culture and nature. Each thing on the list invokes the moment of hesitation in terms of this division. Agency calls things forth from it's list via varying assemblies inside exhibitions, performances, publications, etc... Each assembly speculates topologically on a different question of the performative consequences of the apparatus of intellectual property for an ecology of art practices and pays attention to other types of agencies.
For the online contribution Assembly (Agência: algumas formas ao alcance de todas as mãos), Agency speculates on the question: "How can magic be included in art practices?" Thus, Agency calls Thing 000809 (Sawing a Lady in Half, How is it Done) and Thing 000842 (It's Fun to be Fooled... It's More Fun to Know) in order to bear witness.
Click on the images to download pdf: