In the field of contemporary art, open to the world and concerned with the future of people, living creatures, and the environment, initiatives and projects pertaining to politics, social welfare, economics, or ecology are not in short supply and actions within the realms of activism and autonomy are emerging as paragons. However, when interpreting these projects, or if an attempt is made to measure the impact of each of these initiatives, a frustrating impression of lack subsists. This is the case even if these projects, which seem to have a great deal to get enthusiastic about, actually only provide a form of intellectual vindication to their organisers, remaining isolated events with no follow-up, or worse, altogether futile. Many of them are exasperating in their clumsiness and thin-skinned altruism, and their recurrence, in these times of crisis, political turmoil and soft fascism, far from stimulating audiences, continually feeds into an unpleasant sensation of powerlessness.
At the same time, the need to take control of ourselves emerges in our societies, to get back to basics and find alternative, fallback solutions. Many artists, art programmers, and curators wish to take charge of the existence of their work, substituting their own approaches to those of the institution (even as we are experiencing the failure of “neo-institutionalism” head on1) and the market, which seem difficult to detach themselves from. Some recent artistic or curatorial approaches2 (although directly associated with institutions and the market) demonstrate that, in this, there is a search for mysticism and sensation, which subjects feel deprived of in the contemporary world. But the questions still remain: do we really want to extract ourselves from our institutional framework in order to pursue our activity? Do we not fear the consequences of this leap into the void? What can be said about the relationship to the public in these conditions? Which channels should be used while avoiding that of the mass cultural industry? How can these channels be invented? Some advocate elitism, or preaching to the choir, as a solution, partly in order to protect themselves from the ambient mediocrity. It nonetheless seems difficult to find a solution to the problem there. On the contrary, shouldn’t we find a way of sharing the development of a critical spirit, as well as that of the relationship of artworks to the world, with a wider audience? Is it naive to count on this kind of method?
By dedicating this thematic focus to the questions raised by the arts community, the search for autonomy and new working conditions in a sector that is increasingly neo-liberalised, we would like to observe the way in which some artists, art programmers, and various cultural activists attempt to experiment with ideas and discourses, and to confront many uncertain and paradoxical situations. With this in mind, we discussed the arts community in the form of a “camp” through the experiments conducted by artist Maxime Bondu through his projects Monstrare Camp and Bermuda and we interviewed the collective Escena politica, a theatre group from Buenos Aires who strive to fight against cultural confusion, about their way of perpetuating and updating activism and political action. We also looked at a case where an artist’s autonomy was called into question, through artist Martha Rosler’s analysis of the redistribution and “gentrification” of neighbourhoods in big cities and we discussed the dissemination of contemporary creation in rural zones with programme planners from La Pommerie, an organisation working on the Plateau de Millevaches in the Corrèze region of France. While the artists and cultural stakeholders are feeling the urgency of evolving in an autonomous way, it remains to be seen whether the models and initiatives presented are truly viable. Indeed, these experiments always run the risk of remaining within what Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek call the “Folk-politic”, that is, horizontal, localist initiativies and reactive, emotional drives that, in freeing themselves of hegemonic neoliberal capitalism, may only wind up in an ineffective cohabitation with it, even as they seem to call for its collapse.3 “Resisting” effectively implies a protection from the pre-existing state and does not mean reconstruction. If, according to their authors and in spite of everything, these initiatives remain important starting points for producing alternatives, lasting projects still need to be built over the long term that are able to be expanded upon, to operate within the complexity of the contemporary world, and to be projected on a global scale.
- A phenomenon that emerged in the 1990s through a new, more democratic and egalitarian conception of art institutions.
- Neo Craft, the strong presence of ceramics, the interest in crafts, vernacular knowledge, techno-shamanism and so on.
- Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (London: Verso, 2017).