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Conference Junkie (I)

Neglectful of this blog I have been. Returned from Europe months ago, I embarked on a round of conferences – in later October I did "Trans" the visual culture conference at University of Wisconsin-Madison, "Art in the Contested City" at Pratt Institute, and then "Continental Drift" at 16 Beaver both in early November in NYC. All these shindigs were illuminating, from very different points of view.
“Trans” on the face of it was very academic, celebrating the triumph of visual culture curricula and personnel in university departments around the country. As an art historian, I am not so sure it is such a great triumph. Visual culture plays into the hands of the corporatizing university, delivering more bang for the buck than traditional art history curricula. That is, it can be “art history lite,” while at the same time engaging students thematically with sexy-sounding courses. I am enough of a fogie to believe that it is important to study art as the technologies of control it has been – religious and political – for millennia of human history. As it stands, the students who will learn that are those who need to know it – i.e., the young elites who go to well-endowed private colleges and universities which continue to teach art history.
Visual culture strikes me as a transitional phase in academia. This is the mode of study that will integrate the liberated theoretical perspectives of race and gender, admit the racing transformations of our technologies, and attune us to a globalized world. Art history remains entrained to hardened conceptions of nationhood and bound to its devil’s bargain with museums (“yes, hard goods = history, and we will valorize that; your treasures shall be our stories”).
The Pratt Institute conference “Art in the Contested City” was one-day long, but sprawling and intense. It was accompanied by an exhibition of only a few days in which Jim Costanzo and Brynna Tucker brought together an intriguing group of activist and relational artists. (I wrote a piece for this show which is online there.) Held in the new Higgins Hall, the “Contested” conference was a heady mix of community art and social justice activists, community planners, cultural policy researchers, and artists. There is still a kind of bunkered-up separate world aspect to the community arts movement (CAN is its online organ)… It is not a New York thing – except in the outer boroughs where it thrives. I was thrilled to realize that the CA movement and the community development corporations that are allied with it comprises a ready-made grassroots counterweight to municipal and private development schemes inspired by the “creative class” model promoted by popular urbanist Richard Florida. Likewise, the academic cultural policy establishment in the U.S. is getting the rudiments of some kind of critical component in the empirical study of specific artists’ lives that is enabled by data projects like LINC. I realize that sounds hopelessly wonkish. But the problem basically is the same as with planning. It is done from the top down, without any real consultation with affected communities. (For a hometown example, Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards mega-development, a Bloomberg shenanigan, was showcased in this conference.) In order to develop any effective response to “cultural development” planning that is often basically subsidy to private real estate developers using artists as an excuse, there must be valid descriptions of artists’ communities so they can’t be casually misrepresented. So this is beginning to be possible…
All of this is a far cry from a genuinely critical cultural policy unit like the European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policy (EIPCP) – but it’s a start. The Euros have been doing cultpol for 500 years
(Next – “Continental Drift.”)

Trans Visual Culture conference – to be a “permanent website” –

exhibition at Pratt Institute “Art in the Contested City,” a project of Pratt Collaboratives –

LINC (the acronym for Leveraging Investments in Creativity, sigh)–

The Devil's Bargain

.."Art history remains entrained to hardened conceptions of nationhood and bound to its devil’s bargain with museums (“yes, hard goods = history, and we will valorize that; your treasures shall be our stories”)..."

The demands of the art world are for hard objects even as the corporate chieftains move the making processes to low rent nations. There is however a glimmer of hope in breaking the hegemony of the museum/art object. It is in the archive and specifically the artists' archive and further with media artists the digital archive.
For historical reference one has only to look at Duchamp's Green Box.


The archive

I would definitely agree with the local archive being a tool against hegemony, but absolutely not the digital one. IMO, the roots of the digital archive is too enmeshed in the agendas of hegemony itself, from the very structure of digital technology to the hegemony of the QWERTY keyboard. Secondly, the digital archive is too ephemeral on too many levels for it to be effective as anti-hegemonic tool for only a very limited period of time.

Consider Duchamp's Boite en Valise. In this series there was a reiteration of the artist's intent through self-reflexive curation and archival. Within this work, Duchamp has short-circuited the circuits of capital in the larger contemporary gallery tradition of his time (also not too unlike that of the fin de millennium). His discourse, production, and distribution collapse to the Valise.

However, in the case of centralizing all modes of production to the individual, does empowerment include a snare of technopolistic enslavement? That is, by taking on all funstions of production and distribution, there is a thin line between 'outsourcing' all cultural production methoda tot he now-"starving" (financially and temporally) artist.

This posits that the arrival of echnologies that empower the artist do not support them in their self-determination, but "outsources" cultural production that was the responsibility of institutions, patrons, and foundations. In short, technological empowerment allows the artist to have greater control over their own discursive "thrust', but possibly at the risk of being enslaved by the additional administrative requirements necessary to support this singular enterprise. And that means more time on supporting the work, and less on creating it.

The Archive and Self-Determination

The archive has in the past been an ancillary thing/event that reveals the structures of any "great" persons' life and thought processes. When Duchamp did his Boite en Valise he pointed the way to a different ordering of his thought and art works. I think you can look at other notions of open ended art works, experimental art that has no fixed product, research projects that are solely interested in aesthetics etc.. and begin to formulate a new idea of the archive as a hypertextual art work. This would be more in keeping with a complete sense of a person.