Friday Night 09.24.04 — Presentation / Discussion with Stefan Römer

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Friday Night 09.24.04 — Presentation / Discussion with Stefan Römer
1. About this Friday
2. About Stefan Römer
3. Text S.R. will discuss during the evening:
“Some remarks
on the structural change between artistic space and public sphere”
more ideas and texts by S.R.
4. the concept of Fake
5. »Don’t Forget Love«
– A Cartography of the Ambient: From White Cube to Ambient.
6. The Future will be nice
— ‘cleaning service’ as a sustainable cultural practice
7. Vendetta the supermodel visiting the Commune des Arts
1. About this Friday
What: Presentation / Talk at 16Beaver
When: Friday September 24, 2004 8pm
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 5th Floor
Who: Stefan Römer
Stefan will discuss the various points on the new modes of production mentioned in his text “Some remarks on the structural change between artistic space and public sphere” see #3
he relates artistic space to the development of the puplic sphere and to a corporatized ambient, which can be understood as a response to Bourriauds Relational Aesthetics.
2. About Stefan Römer
Stefan Roemer is artist and author, Professsor for New Media at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, working now on a filmessay about conceptual art, published articles and theoretical books and artist books, activism on the relation of White Cube, public space and public sphere.
3. Some remarks
on the structural change between artistic space and public sphere
(the focus of the evening will be around this text that he will expand on)
In the nineties the conditions of presentation and the situation of representation in the field of art changed dramatically. In the following I will try to formulate the new dispositivs of the urban and spacial frame of art which I will call, historicizingly, the »ambient«.
The concept of ambient differs from the same-name music genre, but it is related to the cozy clubs filled with popular seventies room decoration and to the concept of “ambiente”, the name adopted by a German journal for upper-class interior design in the eighthies.
Here I mean a current state of the presentation space in relation to its social and architectonic environment, a state that not only presents artistic practices but inflluences them in their production as well.
Not only the space of large scale exhibitions is pervaded by the intention of promoting the production of extra-artistic symbols. The ambient is fundamentally different from the White Cube and its atmosphere of aesthetic purification, even if there is an aspect of its sublime chic in the psychology of the ambient, too: Only the interplay with the symbolic capital of the White Cube, through the transgression of its idealized aestheticization, enables a dehierarchization of the relation of artwork and viewer in the ambient.
The ambient integrates art practice as design into architecture (like it was specific for some positions in the so called »Context art« in the early nineties). Here in the event, the critique of previous events melts together with future projects as well as the luxurious reflection of the event, including its marketing. Perspective, implicite in every art object-space relation, used to position its viewers in a relation now it has been supplanted by selection, which arranges the audience according to style criteria. The socially, ethnically, and economically controlled urban space serves here as an institutional frame without which the aesthetically deregulated ambient would not be possible.
In this framework the term ambient serves as the historicizing concept which implies certain contentless retro tendencies for the new market oriented and corporatist exhibition space. Formally ambient means the de-bordering of the framework of an image into the space; since the beginning of the nineties the term context was used for this; and in disseminated versions it functions like this: One takes a room, in order to mark this off a carpet isn’t a bad idea; one takes a lamp to light this room, gives the whole thing a sound and offer something to drink, voilà: ambience. Because one doesn’t want to enjoy all of that with just the gallerist, advisors and decision makers alone, a few VIPs are invited who for their part bring along a few more pleasant photogenic people. Here it becomes clear that the question of form in the ambient is one of the strategic all-over-designs of the atmosphere.
1. The corporatization, i.e. the privatization and economization of the so-called public space goes hand in hand with a form of culturalization: This space more and more becomes a consumerist and event space designed according to a prevailing aesthetic – buzzword: eventism.
2. The design of the inner city as a clinically purified realm of consumerism means an aesthetic de-differentiation from the artistic space of the white cube – which used to be exclusively oriented towards the prevailing ideal of autonomous artistic presentation.
Even the artistic presentation room, which has to be regarded as a semi-public part of the public space, is now subject to a structural change.
Today, an installative complexity can be witnessed in the new exhibition spaces which turns the White cube in to an Ambient also filled with economical signs and political functions. Thus, the disciplinary space/art-presentation space, which was formerly segregated from everyday space and which was intended as a white cell of subjective betterment or of aesthetizising ideal has turned into a space which is, following neoliberal premises, is no longer dialectically divided into public and private or outside and inside.
3. Since no practice of creating a public sphere can any longer be thought of without medial publication it may be concluded that public sphere – if artistic, social or whatever – can only be created by means of media (of the forth dimension of space). This means: a.) that artistic production is always already conceived with regard to its medial reproducibilty; and b.) a drastic change of reception: art is never perceived as art without previous (medial) information; and: projects are increasingly designed as to the (medial) participation of the recipient. The entry into the allegedly interactive medial consumerism is stirred up by a promise of profit-making: bring ideas and take part in a lottery.
4. Artistic production gets more and more deregulated: Owing to economical trends creativity tends to be shifted to the curator as (project) manager. Artistic production turns into design and design, in a countermove, claims artistic competence. Consequently, the ambient levels the difference between art and design, entertainment and advertisement in an unprecedented way (as Frederic Jameson already observed). From this spacial, institutional synthesis of the formerly disciplinary seperated practices results the hegemonially eventistic crossover.
5. In neoliberalism the deregulated artistic subject becomes a standard: that means the reproductive (formerly private) sphere gets profitably mixed with the productive sphere (in the past only porn actors and artists). This led to a displacement of evaluation criteria. The composition of the participants of an exhibition, which is oriented towards a particular image or success modell, follows the optimal organisation of presence: i.e. with regard to its effectivity in the public sphere. From that I conclude a circular image modell i.e. by a mutual reference of multifunctionally active subjects personal images are upgraded or even just created.
6. What is special about the artistic sign in the ambient is its multiple refenrence: It is unspecifically charged with meaning; it is more than ever controlled by its rhetorical framing (PR). The less it literally ties itself to a particular statement the more it can, almost randomly, be re-defined according to the context of the (exhibition) project.
7. The image of the project is presented by means of public relations, which is why the definition of contents is postponed to additional events as symposions and later discussions. Therefore a general dominance of strategic self-portrayal can be postulated which also includes the function of critique under this premise.
8. Corporate critique is a form of institutional self-representation which is always reflected (also in the form of commodity strategies) and thus has to be regarded as an optimization of the system.
If this can be postulated as a framework of contemporary art totally new constellations of critical approaches should be formulated.
© Stefan Roemer
Köln, 9/1998-2004
Translation: Birgit Herbst
4. the concept of Fake
(the book entitled: “Fake als Original. Ein Problem für die Kunstkritik ”
= “Fake as Original. A problem for art criticism” was published in german only, we chose to at lease mention it and have the abstract in english.)
The concept of Fake describes a mimetic imitation of another work of art which, in contrast to forgery, hints at its faked nature. A female artist reproduced photographs by Walker Evans and presented these photographs like the original; the title, “Sherrie Levine After Walker Evans” identifies the work as an appropriation which reflects the contextually and conceptually changed conditions of the identical image. Accordingly, the fake aims at an art historical cognitive process by means of an exact examination of the respective artwork: The reproduction is no longer morally condemned as forgery, but the fake is regarded as criticism of the institution of art and its ideology of the orginal.
The first chapter deals with the new artistic strategies at the beginning of the 1970s and, in a discursive analysis, the historical literature of Fake as well as with the relation of orginal and forgery in distinction to the concept of “Fake”. In the second chapter seven examples of Fake are examined for their conceptual formation. The third and last chapter is a description of the far reaching consequences of Fake for image and art theory in relation to social developments
5. »Don’t Forget Love«
– A Cartography of the Ambient: From White Cube to Ambient.
Lecture for the symposion »Concepts and Artistic Practices at the Edge of the Century«, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi 1.24.99
It is not easy for me to speak about recent developments taking place in Germany and the ‘Western world’ since I can not take for granted that we share the same social, political and epistemological system of reference; I do not want to sum it up simply with the term »cultural difference«. Because the term »culture« is never used without an ideological connotation of value.
I understand my practice as a conceptual artist and art-theoretician as a critique of the existing hegemonial modes of production of pictures and discourse. This is based on the theory that each politico-economical system has its own forms of representation – such as architecture, advertising, art, fashion etc. These symbolic systems are basically responsible for the function of power.
(Slide: Kartographie)
My Lecture »Don’t Forget Love – A Cartography of the Ambient: From White Cube to Ambient« investigates the changes of the spatial frame conditions of artistic practices and the trends of incorporation and privatization of public space in the ‘Western world’. This politico-economical restructuring of the urban field does not leave the historicising, commercialising und discoursive exhibition space (White Cube) untouched because it has never been autonomous. I am thinking this is totally opposed to the deadend theory of the autonomous art object. This whole conception, this humunculus of Imannuel Kant’s Third Critique is only able to build a system of hierarchical values and exclusions. As for example the appropriating practices of Shukla Savant and Satish Sharma in the »Edge of the Century«-exhibition shows the notions of invention, creativity, and originality – refering to the old male autonomous work of art – are irrelevant for contemporary art practice.
Corporization should be understood as the tendencies of privatization und incorporation of former public areas in the age of globalization. Thus, my thesis is the following: The incorporation of public space is accompanied by a change of the White Cube into the Ambient.
First of all I would like the city to be understood as a social and political field and not as a mere architectural or traffic-related structure. As a consequence, the following questions arise: What is the function of the terms public and public space? In which way are art practices affected by the ever increasing representation of the city as a media image? Which consequences does this have for the discoursive value of the conventional exhibition space?
(Slide: Don’t forget…, München)
I owe the title »Don’t forget love« to a graffiti I have seen in the city of Munich: In my opinion, this image seems to signify many elements of the contemporary environment of western cities and their specific social behavior: The hermetically closed walls of the corporate building as a display for advertising, the relay box, the traffic system, the street names as the signification system, the small strips of green as a sign of the domination of nature and the observation camera as a sign of total social control. The title may sound programmatic and may remind of a title of a novel in the same way, but I use it ambivalent because this individual, sentimental statement stands in blatant contrast to the urban environment.
1. The change of the term »public«
»The old social subdivisions, based on power, capital, and self-interest, had reasserted themselves here as anywhere else.« J.G. Ballard
(Slide: 0 qm…)
The following scenario could be observed on a public square in Cologne in 1992: Next to a table and a chair, fixed to the facade of a house under demolition, one could read: »To let 0 m2 580 DM to female German single blondes only«.
Concerning »art in public space«, this installation can be regarded as a perfect model, not only because it alludes to the – neo-right wing, xenophobic, and sexist – social climate, in which it situates itself sarcastically, but also because this installation doesn’t cost the city any money and will disappear automatically when a new house is built at this site. The above mentioned phenomena within the social climate relate to the conventions as defined by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. It is true that this kind of art does without authorship and disappears some time or other, which is why most of the art theoreticians would not label it as art. But – in contrast to the illegal status of graffiti – this kind of art uses a very factographic statement reflecting its social context, and it acts as a critically intended intervention.
(Slide: Reiterstandbild und Architektur, München)
The concept of public space which is also relevant for this installation denotes the idealized space, that is accessable to different social groups and therefore meets the political function of being a venue for social interaction as defined by the ideological structure of the modernist state. But since this place is always infiltrated and ruled by power interests and strategies of representation it can never realy be called a free area.
I would like to point out a new aspect: In the contemporary design of urban space the media play a prominent role because they represent the conditions of the public. In this sense the media must be regarded as the fourth dimension of public space, for example touristic catalogues: (Slide: Dream City). Thus, every public space must be examined not only in regard to its social and economic but also to its ideological and media function.
In the course of Neoliberalism, corporate influences have increased since both cities and companies assume that the status of the public space enhanced by art can serve as a qualification of the location of a company: In this way art is reified as the cultural software of the city. Furthermore, companies are enabled to design their corporate image according to a certain location. Anyhow, at present any form of art practice is situated in this rhetoric of economism of symbol production and the image policy of a city or a company.
Corporate image policy takes advantage of the verdict of the 1960s-70s, that art in public space has to be understood as populist and democratic. Given the changed conditions this must, of course, be called into question.
In his understanding of the iconology of Erwin Panofsky the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu assumes that art consists not only of the art object but is appropriated by a larger group than that of the friends of the artist. This special kind of public is the public of the institution of art. Therefore, the institution of art comprises not only institutionalized buildings but all forms of publication and publicity of art. Consequently, the space in which art is presented is always an institutional space for art even if it had nothing to do with art beforehand; otherwise it would not be art but advertising or whatsoever.
The concept of the public prevailing today is totally different from that which the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas in the 1960s understood by »civil public« He dealt essentially with the transition from feudal to civil public. In the 1980s and, increasingly, in the 1990s a transition from a civil understanding of the public to a corporate one could be witnessed: Because of the increasingly economic functions of the public space it is no longer at the free disposal of the citizens. The characteristics of the new concept of the public have to be understood as a largely economical dominance of the urban space and the media. This economical dominance also affects new processes of production and labour as well as conceptions of the subject. It is interesting that also some governmental institutions nowadays present themselves as commercial enterprises.
The public relations techniques used belong to the so-called tertiary sector of the economy (or the service sector) where production, in the sense of late-capitalist theories, has given way to mere representation and where, at the same time, territorial and institutional outsourcing has taken place. This implies that the production of every company goes hand in hand with creating a specific public or publicity for its commodities by making use of its corporate image. In this sense according to Baudrillard, the exchange value has replaced the utility value of products which in turn, is obviously replaced by a symbolic sign value in the age of post-Fordism. In this new period of capitalism markets are created for specific products instead of producing according to demand. Within this symbolic framework of the economy only that part of society is regarded as public that is adressed by a special kind of advertising and from which a consumerist feedback can be expected. For that reason the term public must always be understood in relation to a politico-economical intention and a specific social urban space.
In order to gain a good image and to draw the capital of international companies (global players) the cities signalize their willingness to compromise with regard to urban planning. This public-corporate space has to be called into question because, in its function as a social and ethnical space of discipline and control, it serves the city to present a bright image of its own. In that way the city becomes the ideal image of economism.
This can also be evidenced in the numerous discussions about safe and clean cities which are merely concerned with aesthetic phenomena (also known as »Zero Tolerance«) . Reagarding the rhetoric of embarrassement typical of these discussions political content seems to lose importance since social problems are reduced to a visual level – also the case with graffiti. The new image of the city is chracterized by the aesthetics of Computer Animated Design more and more transforms the former public space into a dirigist parcours and an aseptic space. On the one hand the architectural and semiotic signs of this space have the function to facilitate an easy consumption and, on the other hand, to exclude certain social groups. Consequently, which is why this ambience is highly selective. (Slide: Sparkasse)
The new paradigm of the public space is a blunt instrumentalization of culture for the sake of economism. For this reason, Miwon Kwon refers to a changed paradigm concerning art programs in public space which, in the United States, show a virtual craving on the part of sponsors for supposedly critical art – the »new genre public art«. These developments in the field of art have the effect that community-oriented projects act as a kind of social appeasement, and institutional critique more and more has the function of business culture.
2. From White Cube to Ambient
The transformations of the public space and the practice of art presented there can clearly be observed in the changed functions of the artistic space. This artistic space now produces identity instead of artistic critique, and both politics and culture lose their identity. Thus, art runs the risk to be reduced to a sector of public relations. (Slide: Dream City-Prospekt, BMW)
The changes of that which is regarded as public also affect the White Cube situated within this framework – the supposedly neutral space which is designed for the presentation of the »work of art« only and which is problematic precisely for this reason: »The Image of a white ideal space emerges, which, more than every single painting, can be regarded as the perfect archetypal image of art in the 20th century.« (Brian O’Doherty)
This white room isolated art works in order to guarantee a quiet contemplation. But this led the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, in his deconstruction of the beauty of painting, to the question where the picture ends and where its frame begins. He came to the conclusion that the frame is a discoursive construct. Precisely this has become a central question for conceptual art concerned with institutional critique since the 1970s; see for example »Framing and Being Framed«, as the German artist Hans Haacke called one of his books (1970-75).
Neither museums nor art galleries can continue claiming this kind of neutrality when they are regarded as rhetorical elements of the soft locational factor of the cities. Nowadays, museums with financial problems have the tendency to transform their institutions into semi-private or private companies, to the effect that the respective sponsors gain more and more influence on institutional contents.
A new type of exhibition management emerges: The cultural program of the German electronics company Siemens not only offers sponsoring but also decides on the contents of exhibitions. Last year, this led to a case of censorship: The title of the exhibition, »Brushholder Value« (Critical painting of the late 1990s) was taken so seriously by Dierk Schmidt, one of the artists invited, that he dealt in his paintings with the chairman of the board and the business policy of Siemens. (2 Dias: D. Schmidt)
These paintings took the strategy of Siemens to its limits: The censorship of Schmidt’s contribution by the curators caused a considerable damage to the company’s image. The aggressive strategy of the company’s program not only to promote art but also to influence its contents in exhibitions all over Germany is closely linked to the attempt of determining a corporate concept of art. Of course, the cultural program also intends to distract from a negative image caused by nuclear scandals, forced labour during the Third Reich, genetic manipulation and mismanagement of the company.
3. Ambient as Presentation room
The prominent feature of the artistic sign is its multiple reference. It is not afraid to make critical statements, to exploit other experts and to operate within an aggressive exhibition design resulting from populist, corporate self-representation and the aesthetics of trade shows. (Slide: Wellcome Trust)
The social intentions colliding in exhibition spaces play an important role. Whereas collective projects such as »Common Spaces? Common Concerns?« (Slide: Zweite Klasse, Berlin) intend a feminist critique of the connection of art presentation with city images – they are presentation room, information event, and bar at the same time (Information- and Research-Ambient) -, art bars and art cinemas are only concerned with staging the name of an artist in relation to an event (Party-Ambient: Angela Bulloch, Jorge Pardo, Rikrit Tiravanija, Tobias Rehberger) (Slide: Pop-Video, Cologne). All these practices share a preliminary »clinical examination of space « and a consideration of both the social and the institutional context.
The different groups of recipients seem to share a disapproval of the traditional White Cube presentation: While Information Ambient with activist tendencies addresses a politically interested audience, Party Ambient aims at an audience which is primarily interested in being entertained. In large-scale exhibitions with great public appeal, too, the single artwork »pregnant with meaning« is replaced by »interactive« presentations similar to filmstudios. However, for these typ of exhibitions it holds true that the fashioning of a surrounding space or a special atmosphere has replaced the presentation of the »autonomous« art object. The consumers’ desire typical of contemporary art is to participate in a medial event.
In my opinion, the concept of cartography formulated by Michel Foucault is very suitable to describe this changed reception of artistic practices. That means that art works are no longer isolated and idealized in a single contemplation but are put in relation to each other. In order to explain this process I would like to suggest a possible reading of the spatial conditions. (By showing the following diagram:) (Dia: Kartographie)
The dramatic changes of the artistic space of presentation at »the edge of the century« may best be characterized by the term »Ambient«. It should be distinguished from the kind of electronic music of the same name. Nevertheless, it relates to comfortable clubs and pop-gadgets of the 70s. In this context I refer to a condition of the existing order of presentation space in relation to its social and architectural environment which not only presents and contains artistic practices but also influences their production. In this way the Ambient results from an overlapping of the market and the White Cube.
The Ambient has basically to be distinguished from the White Cube and its atmosphere of aesthetic purification even if its sublime chic is still inherent in the psychology of the Ambient. Only by playing with the symbolical capital of the White Cube the Ambient is able to transgress its quality and power of defining art.
The Ambient integrates art practices into architecture as design. The traditional perspective between art work and space used to place the beholder in a specific spatial and intellectual relation. In Ambient this perspective is replaced by a selection of the audience according to the visuals of »style«-criteria. The audience of the Ambient is pre-selected by the new concept of public space: The public space has taken the function of the White Cube as the judge of exlusion. Perhaps all this stands in total contrast to a post-colonial city like New Delhi?
Performance practices present a form of transgression of the designed art object. Only the function of the White Cube makes it possible to do one pleases and declare as art what often is stigmatized as unconventional in public space. In their artistic investigation »What is art?« Karin Meiner and Manfred Hammes two German artists, who are present today do not rely on the power of definition of the White Cube because they also ask people who are not involved in art as to their definition of art. Moreover, in the course of time, this project results in an empirical investigation.
Stefan Römer
6. The Future will be nice
— ‘cleaning service’ as a sustainable cultural practice
(Abstract for the symposion: »Art, ecology and sustainable development«, Kunstraum der Universität Lüneburg, 27.1. – 29.1.2000)
1. Competing Cities, unemployment and what shopping malls promise
The future will be nice, and it has already started. The type of space that, in another context, I have called the new corporate space, can literally be found in shopping malls: an area of consumption and entertainment which is totally defined by economic interests.
In the 1990s the urban development in Germany reached a new level: the container-shopping malls in the open countryside and the new corporate space in the cities. This was accompanied by the implementation of new social standards and fundamentally different structures of the so called democratic system. In this context several artistic activities tried to point at the social consequences of these exclusions: from Innenstadtaktionen (actions in the inner city) to the exhibition »Baustop.Randstadt.« in the galleries of Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst (1998) in Berlin. I don’t want to hold back my comment, that the unveiled slush fund scandal of the CDU also revealed the criminal energy of former Home Secretary Kanther who contributed crucially to the development of new law and order practices and the concept of ‘cero tolerance’ with stricter laws and his demagogic rhetoric.
This has to be seen against the backdrop of the aesthetic design of spaces. I owe the hint at the proposition of Bernard Cache, who, in his book »Earth Moves: Furnishing of Territories« , conceives architecture as functions of frameworks, to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.
In this sense I will develop my theories on the specific site of the shopping mall. But sustainability of art should not be reduced to artistic practices which explicitly deal with ecological issues.
2. Futur Perfekt
Two weeks ago the exhibition »Futur Perfekt« opened in the Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst in Bremen. The group Futur Perfekt conceived a science fiction-scenario: In the year 2010 it will turn out that the urban entertainment center ‚Space Park‘ will be bankrupt. (The construction of this theme park will start summer 2000) Now the question arises, what should be done with the area? Autonomous groups are starting to take over the place…
The idea of the city of Bremen for building the »Space Park« is a result of the severe crisis which struck German ship yards again in the middle of the 1990s, and its social and political dilemma. Moreover a competiton arose: Middlesized and big cities compete with other regions and the new capital when it comes to the question of image.
The event culture promised many cities a new consumer model. Not only shopping malls but also entertainment, holiday and science parks were built.
Since the space corporation of DASA – Daimler Chrysler Aerospace is located in Bremen, the city is planning a theme park in an edutainment-style.
All these parks have basically the same structure: a site specific aesthetic information (space) encloses a gigantic shopping mall with a typical mix of different globalized products.
Politicians promise a permanent festival of leisure time and employment for the region.
CentrO. in Oberhausen, was at its opening in 1996 the biggest event shopping paradise in Germany. Owing to the end of the cole and steel industry the region around Oberhausen accounted for an unemployment rate of 14%.
CentrO. is called »the biggest projext of structural change since the construction of the Opel-works in Bochum in the 1960‘s.« (Pressrelease, CentrO. Fact Pack, 10.12.99)
The establishment of a new public private partnership resulted in a new dimension of deregulation. Private urban planners and investors enjoyed a special autonomy.
Each later evaluation will always be a fulfillment of the rhetoric of advertisement has made.
3. Rhetoric of advertisemen, info-design and the new self-potrayal
The elements of urban and structural planning increasingly turn out to be elements of the visualization of consumption and statistical diagrams — so called information design. According to the statistics of the Federal Ministry of Construction overnight stays in Oberhausen have doubled within two years time. For this development the new product of the so called ‘Industrial Culture‘ is held responsible which, however results from a reinvented aesthetic, since the old monumental halls had been demolished. But these statistics do not contain any information about the labour market.
According to a report of a politican of the Greens, however, total unemployment figures have increased although the CentrO. has received high subsidies.
In this regard such projects effect only a small segment of the labour market and systematicly hush up the fact that they are not sustainable.
We are threatened by a supersaturation of megaprojects which results from the connection of leisure time and retail trade: The outcome would be »leisure time wastelands«.
Only the owners of these theme parks draw a positive picture. Obviously the strategies of PR-agencies has long since become more important than the matter itself.
4. The question of sustainability of shopping malls
According to its inventor Hans Carl von Carlowitz, the term sustainability means careful treatment of nature, economy for the sake of the welfare of the community as well as responsibilty for comming generations. However one might evaluate the single aspects — ecological, social, economical – an »integral sustainabilty« as favored by Bas Arts should be assumed, without ignoring aesthetic or cultural elements.
There is no such thing as sustainability in the event culture of theme parks: Today nature is not regarded as an organic ecological asset but as a planned parkland after the american models with hydrocultures and glass domes.
According to American experiences shopping malls have to be renovated every four years in order to maintain their attractiveness. But this is neither done with ecological materials nor ressource- or energy-saving, and can therefore not be called sustainable at all.
5. Culturalized Consumption
All these parks stem from the desire to resolve the structural problems at hand aesthetically according to the spirit of a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk‘. The staging of the shortlived potential of sensations seems to be part of the economical construction.
Also art gets a part: In order to prevent the disturbing sight of ‘temporarily‘ empty shops artists are allowed to organise exhibitions there, the so called »Gap-Art«. Thus art becomes a legitimizing piece of furniture in this ambience.
But the real artistic produzer who creates the centre is the market, and the machinery that keeps it running is the consumption.
Whereas in the 1970‘s the interest focussed on ideological criticism and the refusal to consume , the present mixture of ‘disciplinary- and control society‘ necessitates for a new assessment of tactical consumption, as defined by Michel de Certeau. Because the pressure of boycott and purchase of pc- or sustainable products seems to be out of fashion.
The refusal to consume has given way to the aesthetic of illusionism. A policy based on information design concerns statistically determined proportions and corporate self-portrayals only but not the wellbeing of the general public. For that reason the term utopia is no longer relevant.
Today, an obvious tendency towards an economic structural planning can be observed which shows no signs of considering a sustainable development. Within this context ecology and sustainability acquire a mere rhetorical function – nature is declassified from utopia to illusionism.
6. Colonialism directed to the inside
This form of colonialism produces an architecture and furniture which is not, like in former times directed against exterritorial enemies but against the people who cannot or will not follow the new consumer model by making use of a »sign system of exclusion« (M. Wagner). This special atmosphere is ruled by a new social contract: consumers who don’t buy and leaseholders who don’t sell enough will be kicked out. Is it possible to conceive this as »Cultural Violence« in the sense of Johan Galtung?
The visitors of theme parks are paying extras in a gigantic commercial of neo-liberalism because their experiences will not only be documented by automatic cameras which offer photos for sale but also by monitoring cameras and TV-channels of the respective theme park.
This medial self-reflexivity guarantees a permanent public for the centre. As a consequence, the new concept of puplic means the efficiency of a strategy to mobilize as many qualified customers as possible.
7. The question of cultural sustainability
This cultural practice of deregulated ‘cleaning service‘ as described above, aims at updating the emphatical term of »the ecology of art« by Pierre Bourdieu. Nevertheless, the concept of cultural autonomy, as he still favors it, has to be deconstructed because of altered conditions of the self-reflexivity of the commodities…
Is it a perspective to create other spaces (Heterotypien) as suggested by Michel Foucault?
Stefan Römer Köln, 1/2000
7.  Vendetta the supermodel visiting the Commune des Arts
Stefan Römer
May 10, 2004
(Stefan’s contribution to the discussion at
freecooperation conference )
My thanks go to Trebor Scholz and Geerd Lovink for this rich weekend, and to Dorothee Gestrich and the staff for the work they did. That was my first conference on an US-American campus and I have to admit that, initially, I had some problems with that kind of self-organisation required there. You may read my complaint as airs and graces of an old Rockstar – sorry for that.
The Free Academic Supermodel
To review the parts of the conference »freecooperation« which I was able to attend – because some parts unfortunately ran simultaneously in four branches – I would like to emphazise the moment when I (as well as the whole audience) invited to inscribe the naked body of »VENDETTA The Academic Supermodel Part II« (Katrien Jacobs, assisted by Eugene Tan, Maurice Methot). After I crossed the threshold of gendered spaces – viewing the naked female body in the public sphere of the conference – I suddenly realized the matrix of terms shining through the bare female skin constructed in the performance: On the left breast I enjoyed to re-write »Interests«, on the right »Priorities«, in the middle »Free«, whereas above the navel »Intentions«; between all that I re-draw a questionmark as the basic energy which keeps the relations between the terms running.
This reminded me metaphorically of the eight breasts of truth as sources for different anarchistic movements at the end of the 19th century how they are formulated in the exhibition on the Monte Veritas in Ascona/Switzerland.
While the Supermodel-performer rubbed her body painfully clean from the texts which were recognized and inscripted by the audience, I thought that this performed body was materialising a substantial process of this conference: The lecturer offers her/his prepared text which goes through the collective reception process of discussion and recoding.
As I followed the terms I read on the naked skin with the pen the performer’s assistant had given me, I re-drew what I recognized from my own intellectual, academic, and intimate experiences. And I read and projected the female body with its texts on it at the same time. My perception turned out to be a combination of personal projection, set atmosphere, and performed (re)writing and reading. If we make a distinction between five performance modes in dance, acrobatics, political activism, ritual and everyday experience, the focus of »VENDETTA‘s« performance was on the last two modes emphazising the interaction of inscribing the body.
I have to admit that I was a little bit upset when the performance started. I had the feeling that through the places of presentation dispersed on the empty campus, some cancelled talks and the paralleled events everything seemed to fall apart (this feeling was also fuelled by my early morning experience of lonely swimming in the big Alumni Arena). Later, I met some participants who really didn’t know what was going on, and neither did I. But owing to the reflection process I was going through during this half-hour performance, the terms which turned out to be the center of my thinking on free cooperation led me back to the collective process which bricollages this event in Buffalo.
In the session on the first day of »Self-Organized Educational Attempts, Free Universities, “Anti-Universities“« one of the main interests was the resistance against the corporatisation of education in general and of self-organized processes in particular.
I based my comments on a matrix of terms which show the relevance this self-organized cooperation thing can assume: Interests (personal, collective, corporate), Priorities, Intentions (in Panofskys definition a social, not a personal internal one). This matrix leads, with Free will (in contrast to forced will), the discourse of the collective processes. From this I entered the field. If we think of self-organization first of all we have to ask:
If there are no SELFs, how can we think of (self-) organisation?
It will turn out that we have to understand Deleuze’s term of the »dividuum« as a derivate form of the modern homogenized self of the »individuum«. The veil of the buzzword »multitude«, which masks the theoretical nudity of the intended prostitution of the wrong »radical marxists«, is devided in thousands of discoursive threads and textures which are woven of the terms interests, priorities and intentions waving around the body of free will, offered by »VENDETTA The Academic Supermodel« as a projection screen for a cooperation. As Brian Holmes suggested »science fiction« is an appropriate metaphor of the real which we faced when entering the »city of Buffalo« by schoolbus Fridaynight. We saw the real already as a fiction which, in relation to »Brian’s fiction«, displayed huge empty houses, parkinglots, and streets as well as closed shops and infodesign. It reminded me of eastern Europe before 1989 – the urban desert cried for a critique of the real site.Modes of Teaching New Media: For a Commune des Arts
Of all the texts I wrote about training in new media and modes of self-organization in the world of art (German versions available), the model of the Commune des Arts, as I used it, seemed most appropriate because it opened up the potential of an anti-hierarchical institute.
Artistic training is understood in this framework as a collective production based on the self-organized appropriation of forms of communication and production. My skeptical view of existing forms of training and the conviction that an entirely other form of communication and an antiauthoritarian and anti-dirigistic (2) education must be developed resulted from the frustration I felt during my own years of training and education. I never wanted to visit a university and take on a corresponding function in the German state. The fact of the matter is, however, that in the meantime I am more or less engaged in the university system, and my thoughts are located there, but without abandoning my desire to transform the existing state of affairs.1. Commune des Arts (1)
This projection is not a teaching institution (3) but an academic institute that promotes collective artistic projects structurally, epistemologically, economically, and materially. A Commune des Arts should however be something that is not satisfied with any mere sense of autonomy, however conceived.
– One artistic goal is the departure from a fixation on traditional produced works. But this is not a dogma.
– There is no curriculum. The institute is composed of a minimal concept that changes depending on the project. The institute encourages social engagement.
2. An Institute as a Permanent Process
– The participants themselves decide how and to what purpose their group is formed.
– The groups are free to choose their goal, be it one of learning, production, or something else.
– The projects are self-organized, i.e., the project participants constitute themselves to form a group. This group is then driven interests, not unlike other groups external to institutions (initiatives, communes)
3. Project dropping
– Beyond the basic question of financing, every project takes account in terms of its realization its feasibility: that is, organization, financing, logistics, etc.
– In addition to the contribution guaranteed by the state that secures the basic operation of the commune, the financing of the projects is undertaken by the participants. For example, one obvious possibility for financing projects is collaboration with other institutions (agencies, academies, libraries, galleries, museum, production companies, universities).
=> The result of this is neither autonomy, nor a neo-liberal fixation on the market. The coalitions formed are decided by the group itself. Fundamentally, the state has to fulfill its duty of free education and guarantee the financing. Businesses can also participate as benefactors in financing, but may not demand any services in return, and should use their involvement for advertising purposes.
4. Central Committees of Self Dissolution
– The relationship to the state is regulated by a committee.
– This hinge function is (until a different solution is found) taken by a gender mixed steering committee. The members include elected students and tutors.
– The committee does not work only at administration, but also at making itself redundant.
5. Collective Survival training
– There will be the following functions in the commune: students (the actual members), project participants (external participants, entire seminars from other institutions), tutors (older students, elected group leaders) and advisors (external, invited specialists for project advising or lectures).
– The elected functions are determined within the institution by each themselves.
– It is proposed, within the first year to take over also administration duties, so that the students get to know the institution; training will be done by those who previously carried out this function. (A basic running of the administration is intended by the non-artistic staff)
– Projects with only women will be encouraged, but there should not be any set gender project bindung.
6. Used Transformation
– The processuality of the project as a whole will be maintained to prevent the development of an institutional rigidity.
– Group projects as a counter suggestion to the work focus of art and the formation of (master) classes block the gradual development of a fixed, hierarchical system.
– Since it cannot be assumed that political engagement means working for the required social improvements, a concentration must be defined on the analyses and counterpractices against the new forms of political and economic deregulation. This means a redefinition of leftist praxis, which should not be underestimated in light of its complexity.
7. Visionary Character
– There is the possibility of forming working groups for which the advisors desired lecturers and whole seminars from other institutions can be invited.
– It is possible to take on training positions or jobs in foreign institutions. This not only guarantees an in the commune of arts, but also outside it.
It should be clear that this will lead to completely other forms of art presentation, consumption, and distribution, as consequences of a changed cultural field.Stefan Römer (Translation: Brian Currid)1) As is known, the French Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculputre, founded in 1648, that took over the class contradictions to art education, was dissolved by the French Revolution in 1793. See Jacques-Louis David’s famous speech from August 8,1793.
2) Since concepts like interdisciplinarity, teamwork, plurality, dialogue between the generations, autonomy, etc., enjoy a great popularity within the current rhetoric of deregulation, their definition must be well thought through if one want to do more than supply buzzwords for the usual formal state reform plans: see Matthias Flügge, “Privileg der Zweckfreiheit. Die Akademie muß reformiert werden,” Neue Bildende Kunst, (1996), p. 26.
3.) At the start of the 1990s, the academies were overtaken by the media training programs oriented to the market. Since then, according to reports of those studying there, corresponding to the high investment of capital (from the side of the state and industry), an overblown administration has developed and very highly hierarchized (professor) positions were maintained: this seems to all go without question. The teachers there take on the role of experts entrusted with the most efficient use of finances.
4.) The spectrum of activities stretches from typical administration or management tasks. On the one hand, this serves to loosen the division between art production and cultural management and at the same time provides for participation in the institution’s political decisions.
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