What are some potential artistic responses and positions around self-care, speculation, sustainability?
We are all coping with this crisis in different ways. This mapping project is an ongoing personal reflection, offering a series of questions, meditations, and work based on values of collectivity, care, and autonomy in solidarity with artists, art workers, and international workers. For me, it is a form of relief to reflect on such subjects in conversation with peers. Please share, use or discard any of this as you see fit.
This page is a work in progress. It is not an attempt to fully capture how artists are responding to the public health crisis or catalogue their most sensationalist responses.
Artists, given their critical and creative skills, are in a position to engage with their local communities to help reimagine/reframe/reshape/rebuild models, frameworks, modes of production, and methods of survival. Artists exist in every part of the economy, and I believe that the more ways artists can respond to and enter society, both within and beyond the art world, the better.
Artists seem to be experiencing a moment of collectivity, despite the deep self-isolation of lockdown. A recent survey revealed 82% of artists will deploy their creativity to support the recovery – more than half whether they get paid or not. (1)
The work of art emerges from the ideologies, modes, mediums, and mechanisms it is created within. Therefore, I think of questions, ideas, fragments, and developments as a part of artistic practice.
The cultural aestheticization of politics. In times like this, corporations, such as Amazon, want to sell us things. Last I checked, Jeff Bezos made $24 billion during the pandemic. And, some companies and institutions will use the crisis as a way to promote values of generosity and compassion to boost brand value. While it’s nice Amazon thanked their employees in a public YouTube video, behind the scenes they continue to execute well-documented poor labor practices.
Given this context, here are some thoughts on artistic response:
- The ways artists respond are limitless.
- A refusal to make art (and do something) is a form of individual artistic response.
- All art is political (John Berger), whether one is politically active in their practice, or not.
- Practices that are not directly political can offer space, hope, refuge, and reclamation. It is worth noting that art contains different criteria and goals than activist work.
- Art that has an activist tendency to it can be most potent and authentic when it originates from the site of politics, not from the studio. Otherwise, the work of art operates as removed from the broader cause and risks aestheticization of the subject (a concept I attribute to Ben Davis). In addition, I think this concept can also be recognized in the many panels within the culture industry that open big topics, but avoid accountability. In activist groups, action is paramount – if you share ideas, you are meant to help carry those ideas out.
- I am sure there are many more forms of response I am leaving out from the above.
Questions for myself as an artist
- How do we, as an artist community, build momentum in demanding changes that will help all artists, such as universal healthcare, and debt and rent cancellation? How do we impose deadlines and accountability on these demands?
- Where do other deadlines that we impose on ourselves come from? Which ones are required or not? How can slowness be a response, an ethic, and an aesthetic? How do we end the pressure put on ourselves by institutions?
- Caring for oneself and others is work and comes in many different forms. What do you care about most? How do you like to be cared for and want to care for others?
- What efforts are underway – or in need – that you could plug into and serve?
- How can we think about re-skilling or redeploying our skills?
- How would we reshape/reprioritize/reorder our work accordingly? How do you imagine yourself and your work differently? What do you care about most?
- Are there new projects or previously unimaginable ones that are now more important to you? How does your home reshape your work? This includes the virtual space you create from within the home. How would you present your research or visual work in a virtual space in a way that’s appropriate to your work and ideas? How does your use of material and methods shift appropriately to the ideas in your work?
- What could an artist-run space in the home, shed, yard, garden, woods, online, etc. look, or feel like?
- How to practice open-source, sharing, and communing without placing the burden on someone else?
- Taking stock of your sustainability and self-care. How much money do you have right now? How much do you owe? Who around you could offer you flexibility? What could you offer others?
- Who are people you could connect for their mutual benefit? Who are people with whom you could practice reciprocal care?
- What are new alternative ways of removing or avoiding the ontology of ruthless business thinking – profit, efficiency, individualism – in the arts?
- It’s enough to try to stay healthy.
- Think small. Think local.
- Not doing work. Establishing boundaries with production.
- Talking is a start to organizing. Getting organized in local issues that serve your community can be incredibly helpful right now.
- Accepting your previous work may be upended and now may be a time to do something new collectively.
- Feeling anxious.
- Being hypervigilant.
- Small ripple effects count tremendously (hat tip to Phong Bui).
- Demand to be paid and paid fairly.
- Join in solidarity with fellow arts workers for social progress.
- Invisible asymmetries can be made visible through art (thinking about artists such as Allan Sekula, Martha Rosler, and Fred Lonidier).
- Accept all the imperfections, mistakes, and disruptions that come with experimenting in your practice.
The following passage written by an anonymous colleague for A Call for Complaint captures a feeling of this moment.
“This is the time, we hear, that artists move. We continue to draw on support and energy outside of institutions, outside toxic positivity, outside power. We claim the speech that crisis makes possible. That speech from the gut, stirred, unearthed, and drawn up to the surface. And so: resist the pressure to forget. Resist the demand to accept this as the way things are. In this transition, we break. ” – anonymous
I am inspired by how alternative governance models contribute to community, care, solidarity, and resiliency. Cooperative structures operate in a wide variety of industries including bike repair company; a film collective, like New Day Films; or an arts and education platform, such as OurGoods. Other examples include alternative tech startups that are platform coops. In addition, there are local, cooperatively-run horizontal organizations who are mobilizers of mutual aid. Woodbine transformed their space in Ridgewood, Queens into a food pantry, distributing fresh food every Wednesday and Friday. I am interested in both how more cooperative projects could form and what further ones will emerge.
Throughout and beyond this writing, I continue to collate a list of ongoing projects that respond in various ways and formats to such questions. As I keep adding projects, please feel free to send me comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org
Related writings, projects, and resources:
Kopel, Dana, The Museum Does Not Exist, SSense
Haiven, Max, Revenge Capitalism, Pluto Press.
Arcenaux, Michael, I Don’t Want To Die Poor, Simon and Schuster
Sutton, Benjamin, Liberate Tate Activists Look Back on Six Years of Fighting BP Partnership, Hyperallergic
Quaranzine – Public Collectors
http://wellnow.wtf/ – Lorna Mills, Faith Holland
Sharon Louden has been doing ongoing work to surface the varied ways in which artists are working in the many nooks and crannies in society.
A recognition of those artists doing work in other ways – farming, caring for someone, delivering food, checking-in with community members, raising funds, sharing information with neighbors, talking and organizing, and other forms of labor.
- Data from The Economic Impact of Coronavirus on the Arts and Culture Sector and The COVID-19 Impact Survey for Artists and Creative Workers, as of April 21, 2020.
- Max Haiven, “Revenge Capitalism” forthcoming May 20th, 2020 – Pluto Press.