A thousand kitchen tables (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 28)

This is the twenty-eighth instalment of a collaborative effort by the Journal of Visual Culture and the Harun Farocki Institut, initiated by the COVID-19 crisis. The call sent to JVC’s editorial board, and a wide selection of previous contributors and members of its extended communities, described the task as follows: “There is a lot of spontaneous, ad hoc opinion-making and premature commentary around, as to be expected. However, the ethics and politics of artistic and theoretical practice to be pursued in this situation should oblige us to stay cautious and to intervene with care in the discussion. As one of JVC’s editors, Brooke Belisle, explains: ‘We are not looking for sensationalism, but rather, moments of reflection that: make connections between what’s happening now and the larger intellectual contexts that our readership shares; offer small ways to be reflective and to draw on tools we have and things we know instead of just feeling numb and overwhelmed; help serve as intellectual community for one another while we are isolated; support the work of being thoughtful and trying to find/make meaning…which is always a collective endeavour, even if we are forced to be apart.'” TH

 

 

A Thousand Kitchen Tables

By Pil and Galia Kollectiv

 

Over the last few decades, a series of dichotomies have been eroding quietly under the pressure of life in late capitalism. Private/public, work/leisure, consumption/production have become irrelevant in a system where value emerges directly from the marketisation of human capital. In 1971, Daniel Buren described the artist’s studio as “a private place, an ivory tower” where portable objects are made to be consumed elsewhere.[1] For most artists until very recently, the studio has been ‘anywhere with a WiFi’ – a kitchen table, a café, a train journey. The artist has become an entity that collects, connects and displays internet searches, mobile moving images, social media conversations and eBay listings. Art production has moved away from Buren’s model a long time ago and is now rooted in dialogue and process, ephemeral and responsive, produced directly at the point of engagement with other humans and objects.

In a pandemic, with the removal of (semi-)public spaces for the consumption and production of art objects or spectacles, these conditions have become even more pronounced. In this respect, through COVID-19, conditions that were already prevalent but somehow still shapeless under the patchy surface of austerity, have crystallised into clear form. In redefining practices that were previously supported by more public spaces of production and display (or at least fed into them), artists now have to accept these post-Fordist structures. Where in the past the artworld may have been divided on how to respond to the rise of post-studio practice, with some doggedly insisting on materiality and regularity as marks of resistance and others adapting more keenly to project-based, post-internet art, the choice has now been removed from us, at least temporarily, leaving us to re-evaluate the hierarchies embedded in these positions. Art will now emerge from bedrooms, quarantined hotel rooms and parks as a default rather than as the consequence of failure to attain the historical conditions of studio practice or by vanguard choice. One of the interesting questions for artists is how to find critical distance within this: how can we create work from within these imposed conditions and reflect on them at the same time?

On the one hand, this question, of how to be critical without occupying an outside position, has plagued artists for a long time. However, in the time that has passed since Joanna Drucker celebrated complicity as the end of critical negativity in art, the world has changed. We are well past the ‘end of history’ moment that saw neoliberalism unfettered in the wake of the end of the Soviet Union. In the face of the current resurgence of fascism, complicity hardly seems like a problem and being in opposition feels easier than ever. Where fifteen years ago, dissident artists would be offered the crumbs from the table of the major art fairs via performance and talk programs, in the age of austerity there is far less risk taking on the part of those institutions and the precarity of millennial life means fewer opportunities than ever present themselves to make the tough choices of resisting the seductions of the art market. At the same time, while the aims of dissent feel clearer than ever, our means of expressing it in the form of some kind of collective action have been curtailed by circumstances.

In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt notes the division in classical Greek culture between the private realm, where economic activity resides, and the public realm where political life happens through debate and collective action. For Arendt, part of the problem of modernity lies in the collapse of this binary and the creation of an economics driven politics. COVID-19 has brought back an interesting version of this dichotomy. A lot of economic production now happens in the privacy of one’s home, while politics is exclusively about the policing of the coming together of bodies in public, at least while economic activity is suspended. This new realignment of the public and the private does not skip art institutions. Public museums, as Benedict Anderson and Carol Duncan remind us, are an arm of the state whose function it is to reproduce citizenship, a sense of belonging to an imaginary, shared, history and geography. As such, it will hardly be surprising to find that these institutions will likely participate in the biopolitical policing of access privileges where entry into their ‘civilising’ spaces is granted to citizens but forbidden to those designated as non-productive (the ‘shielded’, disabled, ill, old and those who care for them).

However, since exclusion from these sites is nothing new for many, there are plenty of examples to draw on in thinking about how art might proceed outside them. We can think of feminist art that dealt with the institutional marginalisation of women by resorting to mail art networks and exchanging art objects by post. The work that came out of these exchanges was clearly a critique of domesticity and the gendered labour associated with private spaces, but through circumventing traditional galleries and modes of display they never allowed for an external ‘public’ critique of the private. The site of production, materials (often ‘domestic’ stuff from newspapers to yarn) and modes of display created a critique of the domestic without stepping outside of it. Consider for example Su Richardson’s Burnt Breakfast (1976), a crocheted ‘full English’, a critique of domestic labour paradoxically delivered through a labour intensive and underappreciated medium, or Carlyle Reedy’s Yoga with Interference (1981), using the bed as a set and referencing ‘lists of groceries, schools schedules, Christmas lists, book lists, lists of all the things that women have to do in slavery of domestic life.’[2]

Similarly, we have long been fascinated with the Moscow Apt Art movement, where domestic spaces became sites for production and display of art, as a model for making art in the absence of a legitimate public sphere for critical artists to operate in. With the evisceration of our own public space nearly complete, we might do well to draw on such historical precedents for strategies, where a fridge becomes the first page of a novel and the kitchen sink a monument for Malevich, or Yuri Albert’s performance piece of (literally) helping people with household chores. The concept of Skretiki, recently foregrounded by the Moscow Garage Museum’s survey, reminds us of the possibility of art as a secret practice shared between initiates but coded for future use, in anticipation of a public to come.

As the current uprising against white supremacy and police oppression demonstrates, it is too soon to condemn the political constitution of publics to the history books. And yet there are many for whom this type of public collective action will be impossible. With further repression inevitable and a shrinking cultural space for critical production, away from the Zoom curatorial initiatives and online galleries, it may be that the artistic public sphere of our plague times yet to emerge is being constituted across a thousand kitchen tables, awaiting its time.

[1] Buren, Daniel, “The Function of the Studio”, October, Vol. 10 (Autumn, 1979), pp. 51-58.
[2] Reedy in Di Franco, Karen(ed.), Carlyle Reedy, exhibition catalogue, London: Flat Time House, 2014, p.25.

 

Pil and Galia Kollectiv are artists, writers and curators. Their work addresses the relationship between art and politics. They’ve had solo shows at Project Hospitale, Tottori, Centre Clark, Montreal, Naughton Gallery, Belfast, Pump House Gallery, London, Te Tuhi Center for the Arts, Auckland and The Showroom Gallery, London. They have also presented live work at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the 5th Montreal Biennial and Kunsthall Oslo. They are the directors of artist run project space xero, kline & coma and work as lecturers in Fine Art at the University of Reading, Royal College of Art and CASS School of Art.
June 7th, 2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02
Interface

The Reconstruction of Ukraine. Ruination / Representation / Solidarity, online symposium, September 9-11, 2022. “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity” devotes particular attention to cities, architecture, art, culture and psychological trauma – but the scope of the conversations it aims to start is broader. In due course, the discussions held during the symposium may coalesce into myriad projects, initiatives and experiments undertaken by government institutions, municipalities, educational and cultural bodies and other more interstitial actors. The ambition of this symposium is to establish a platform for dialogue, facilitating communication, collaboration and constructive argument between diverse actors and initiatives.

George Edwards (Zetkin Collective) on war, nationalism and the “anti-climate lobby” (via Arts of the Working Class): “The latest prognosis of this particular war was spelt out in a flurry of reports from the IPCC; the most recent, described as ‘an atlas of human suffering’ by the chief of the UN, demanded ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ emissions cuts in all sectors to ensure an inhabitable planet for all. In step with the science, many wish this conflict to mark the beginning of an intensified programme of decarbonization, ridding economies of not only Russian, but all fossil fuels, wherever their geological source. But whilst political leaders scramble abroad to secure new sources of fossil fuels – sweet-talking sheiks and summoning LNG terminals from the ground – a resourceful and committed cohort, let’s call them the anti-climate lobby, refuse to accept this diagnosis. The partakers in the fossil industry have seized upon this crisis, sensing it as an opportunity to enlarge and entrench economic interests rooted in fossil fuels. As the course of action prescribed by the IPCC imperils this line of business, the attempts to secure fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, to lock-in production and secure profits for the coming decades may feel all the more pressing. The solutions they pose also fit within the national frame and it is with nationalist political forces that they find their most ardent allies.”

July 31st, 2022

The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way.” Armed Democracy revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, the program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.

Olena Lyubchenko on Whiteness, Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine (via LeftEast): “[…] when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’, ‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, “the injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes) racial whiteness” [Nadezhda Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård]. The paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and reproduced by feminized labour.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn about the “inertness, hiding behind the European Wall” (via L’Internationale): “Many Western institutions that have been claiming ‘radical political engagement’ for years, have simply resorted to a white cube radicalism and self-satisfying humanitarianism, too afraid of acting politically beyond their comfort zone and unsettling their publics and authorities by attempting to affect the decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian cause.”

May 28th, 2022

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022
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