October 14, 2012

Critical Art Ensemble

You can tell I'm researching for a curatorial project.

Just came across this from CAE, re- their 2012 project, Winning Hearts and Minds, presented at documenta 13:
War zones are as instructive as they are destructive. Since Vietnam, they have beautifully illustrated the contradiction between capitalism and democracy. . . . The establishment of global democracy has never been a goal of global capital. Its preference is for an authoritarian plutocracy that can be labeled a democracy. This is why the psy-ops principle of “winning hearts and minds” could simultaneously exist with the military strategy of “search and destroy.” Now that winning hearts and minds is not just US policy, but NATO policy, we can see it at work in every conflict in which NATO members have a stake; in every case, the idea of winning over the people through the alleged establishment of democratic institutions never has to be reconciled with unprovoked invasion, house-to-house searches, assassinations, torture, or drone attacks . . . .

Cultural institutions in capitalist nations reflect this same disturbing set of contradictions and relationships. In the field of visual arts, museums tend toward a support of plutocracy through collection building and maintaining the value of collections by functioning as a parallel track to the art market. Institutes, Kunsthalles, and major festivals function as corporate alibis for good cultural citizenship, and too often function within the frame of research and development of cultural products in the service of profit and enterprise. At the same time, these institutions have their democratic side, which usually appears in the form of community outreach, public programming, or education programs. These programs are generally the most impoverished, but are staffed by those who genuinely want to create events promoting social change (and are willing to accept poverty as a given condition to do it). This blend of having few resources together with a strong sense of volunteerism leads to the development of low-cost public events that are subsidized by the free labor of those who create them. Or to put it another way, the poor subsidize the creation of a false alibi that signifies the beneficence of [the] plutocracy. And yet, on an immediate person-to-person level, the results of such performances, exhibitions, and events can be inspiring and culturally valuable.
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Two weeks before the festival started, we issued a call for proposals to use the space for one hour each day at noon; there would be one hundred lunchtime events over the one hundred days. Proposals poured in from around the world. Even though we told those who applied that there was no financial support, and even worse, that they would have to bring all their own equipment, the program filled in a matter of weeks. Most of the events we chose were not curatorially viable (which is not to say we didn’t think they were good projects). As usual, the poor and the marginal were subsidizing the wealthy with free programming.
More at Critical Art Ensemble's website.

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