What We Want Is Free, Second Edition
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What We Want Is Free, Second Edition

Critical Exchanges in Recent Art

Ted Purves, Shane Aslan Selzer, Ted Purves, Shane Aslan Selzer

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eBook - ePub

What We Want Is Free, Second Edition

Critical Exchanges in Recent Art

Ted Purves, Shane Aslan Selzer, Ted Purves, Shane Aslan Selzer

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This revised edition of What We Want Is Free examines a twenty-year history of artistic productions that both model and occupy the various forms of exchange within contemporary society. From shops, gifts, and dinner parties to contract labor and petty theft, contemporary artists have used a variety of methods that both connect participants to tangible goods and services and, at the same time, offer critiques of and alternatives to global capitalism and other forms of social interaction. Examples of these various projects include the creation of free commuter bus lines and medicinal plant gardens, the distribution of such services as free housework or computer programming, and the production of community media projects such as free commuter newspapers and democratic low-wattage radio stations. Like the first edition, the second edition includes a detailed survey of artists' projects from around the globe, as well as critical essays and artists' texts that explore the underlying social history and contemporary issues that further inform our reading of these works. This new edition also features a new introduction and additional chapters on the relation of exchange practices to democracy, the commons, object-oriented philosophy, and an examination of the impact of ongoing globalization on the economics of artists' projects. It also features a significantly expanded scope for the project histories, including work from the past decade and a new section dedicated to artist-initiated organizations and innovative models for new institutions.

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Informazioni

Editore
SUNY Press
Anno
2014
ISBN
9781438453156
Argomento
Art
II
THE HANDBOOK FOR CRITICAL EXCHANGES
IN RECENT ART
edited by Ted Purves and
Shane Aslan Selzer, with Jacob Wick
Part One
ARTISTS’ PROJECTS
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS
Ted Purves
Editors’ Note: The projects section for the Handbook for Critical Exchange builds on a body of research that was originally undertaken in 2002 and was completed for the first edition of this book in early 2003. When we began the task of revising the book for the current edition, one of the central questions was how to update the handbook not just to reflect newer projects, but also how to realign the prior material to reflect the newly expanded lens for the book, which grew from initial ideas of generosity and gift economies (which were very much “in the air” at the time) to our current concept of critical exchanges. As such, it seems necessary to use the space of this introduction to not simply give an overview of what follows, but to also account for what has been removed and how certain entries may have been reframed.
At this point, it is important to mention what might have been one of the more difficult decisions in revising this handbook. When it was first written, the decision was made to include a handful of what could be termed “historical” projects; at the time, these were included to give a larger context for the exploration of gift economies and exchange within the first edition. Projects such as Franz Erhart Walthers’s 1st Werkset, Mierle Ukeles Laderman’s Maintenance Art, and Palle Nielsens’ Model for a Qualitative Society stood out as true bellweathers for a consideration of the projects that the book sought to understand. When we set up the parameters for this new edition, we fully intended to keep them in place, but as the framework of critical exchange grew, it became more difficult to justify doing so. To make a history of art projects that leverage critical exchange would be a vast project, one that would include far more than a handful of art projects. In the end, it seemed wiser to simply present projects from recent art. The construction of their histories will come in time, and it is hoped that the following handbook will serve as an ongoing resource for such an undertaking.
The first edition of this book began with two basic questions: Why are artists giving things away, and what happens when this gesture is embedded in an art project? The primary goal of the first edition was to somehow make sense of a phenomenon through an act of pulling material together. What emerged from this was not something that could be thought of as an art movement, style, or a medium. Rather, what was revealed was a constellation of projects that were each investigating, quite literally, the possibilities of exchange and the limits and boundaries of what value might mean. Each of these projects examined the inherent exchanges that occur between artist and audience, and gave the possibility of understanding what “art” might actually give to its audience, if even in a simple way. The result of this research was presented in the first edition as “The Handbook for Gift and Exchange-Based Art,” and it contained a survey of over fifty projects produced between 1991 and 2003, with some historical entries added in to provide a larger context.
Returning to the book in 2011, and considering projects that have been created since 2003, we found, after an extensive survey of artists’ works, that while these original questions had not entirely faded away, the ways to think about such inquiries had shifted significantly. In the intervening years, years that saw unprecedented changes in global economics, Internet communications, and technology (as well as widespread recession, automated warfare, and climate change), not only had the nature of artists’ work changed, so had the context of abstract concepts of generosity and gifts, or even what was meant by the word free. While these more recent projects still gave some attention to freeness, gift economies, generosity, detournement, and human intimacy, much of their focus had shifted. Thus, it became necessary to consider how all of the projects in the new edition of the handbook, both recent and carried over, might be linked under the much broader notion of what could be termed the politics (or landscape) of exchange. Given this, the questions for this edition might be: What has shifted in the ways that we exchange goods, services, and information, and what can projects by artists do to somehow insert themselves into these changes?
Following on this, our intention with the handbook for this second edition was to focus on a range of works, created within the context of contemporary art, each of which contained some intervention or reflection of this landscape of exchange, with an eye to towards understanding how they might be “read” for critical insights into this landscape. The projects entries are created to present, as much as possible, a straightforward description of the project, followed by some observations about the particular project’s context, social form, production, and/or the actual circumstances through which it became “public.” The editors were interested in also understanding, from an artists’ perspective (if available), what interested them about the project, and in many cases, the entries were enhanced by correspondence and conversation between the artists and the editors.
As such, our considerations of the projects were written to somewhat deemphasize what the project might “mean,” and instead to try to describe them somewhat as they were during their moment when they were public. This includes a consideration of context and, new to this edition, an interest in form (social or otherwise). As the new project entries were written, it became apparent that this shift in methodology was significant enough to necessitate a substantial re-writing of the project entries from the first edition, and readers familiar with the earlier edition will notice the change of emphasis and tone.1
One significant fact that emerged during the research for this edition was that there was a marked increase in the institutional sponsorship and commissioning of these sorts of projects, made visible by the fact that many of them either were produced as museum exhibitions or were commissions for festivals or biennials.2 While this was certainly present in the projects of the prior edition, a much larger percentage of the earlier projects either were made in collaboration with a commercial gallery or were simply done as DIY style endeavors. Alternatively, some were made as local public art commissions; not so today. With this shift, there has not simply been a rise in the amount of writing (or content) that one can find about these works, but the nature of that writing has also changed. In most cases, we can find a curatorial statement or e-flux announcement as well as entries on artists’ websites, and this information is also “reblogged” and reposted across any number of online platforms that digest and promote contemporary art. While this sort of information is certainly of interest, there is a growing tendency within these texts to attempt to frame the works, to construct a set of meanings for them.
While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it seems somewhat problematic as a way to contemplate works, which, more often than not, are encountered by publics outside of the ready confines of the “art world.” When an artwork is encountered in a storefront on a shopping street, such as Money Watching by Cesare Pietroiusti; as a light switch in front of a famous church in a public square, as in the project Everything is Contestable by Ashok Sukumaran; or even by a judge in a US District Court, a potential “public” for a project such as This Is The Public Domain by Amy Balkin, how is it even possible to know what the work might “mean”? Beyond the improbable possibility that we could even determine a particular meaning for these works, such an interest ultimately seems to run against the interest in making these works in the first place. They enter the public realms in sites that are not necessarily associated with either artwork or the art world (a realm that one might term the “world at large”), and manifest in social forms that are continuously at play with the forms around them.
Given this, our research, and the following presentation of it, was written to give an informed “reading” of each work. When possible, we both solicited information from the artists about their thoughts behind each project’s creation as well as requested something of an assessment:What did the project end up exchanging? Did it work as anticipated? How did audiences respond? How did the exchanges within the work change it? It is worth stating that such questions are not put forward to focus entirely on materialist notions. As most of these were also created as artworks, there is an abiding interest in subjectivity in their creation, and their ends are not simply to distribute things, but to manifest a more idiosyncratic vision of exchange.
Notes
1. Beyond the shift in tone, there were some projects that were taken out, due to both space considerations and the shift in the book’s emphasis. In some cases, this was done to address issues of internal redundancy, for example, projects by Jorgen Svensson and Ben Kinmont were removed largely because they were discussed much more thoroughly in texts that the artists had, themselves, written earlier in the book.
2. This period also saw the marked rise of a tendency in museums and arts centers to also escalate their educational programming, and participatory, temporary projects that directly engaged the public were increasingly commissioned as a part of an institutions’ educational programming as well as in the exhibitions department. To account for this shift in the currents of the art world is beyond the scope of this short essay, however, interested readers are directed to books such as Art Incoporated by Julian Stallabrass (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) or Social Works by Shannon Jackson (New York: Routledge, 2011).
1 EURO BLINKY MARKET (2006) SURASI KUSOLWONG
1 Euro Blinky Market existed as a project contained within the “Einmal Empire und zurück” (“Empire and Back Again”) exhibition at Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, Germany, in 2006. One of an ongoing series of markets produced by Bangkok-based artist Surasi Kusolwong, the 1 Euro Blinky Market sold items, originally bought for negligible prices in Bangkok street markets...

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