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|Making an exhibition as a counter-cultural practice
Marion von Osten, 2003
But beside the positive response 'Be creative!' had to carve out a lot of paradoxes: First of all representing aesthetic practices' tendency to respond 'optimally' to capitalistic imperatives, while continuously resisting 'achievement' or 'success'. Secondly this hybrid practice, located between the realms of art, theory and design, is not only based on disciplinary flexibility: it also relies on an anti-institutional, flexibilised economy of underpaid but highly motivated freelancers. Therefore the project itself came into being under working and production conditions very similar to those documented, analyzed and criticized in the exhibition: on the one hand, an exhibition practice concerned with questions of cultural theory relating to new requirement profiles and norms can also establish new formats and methods of criticism.
The problem of one's own involvement in the current normative change becomes even clearer when the self-organised creative professions are attributed with central significance for economic growth, as in the Talent Economy proposed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Angela Mc Robbie, 2002). With the accompanying metropolis discourse on the capitals of talent, the European competition for location advantages in the global market has, since the late nineties, led to labour markets being rehabilitated and neighbourhoods enhanced, not only in England but also in Germany and Switzerland (Spillmann / von Osten, 2002). In this idea of economics, which is based on talent and initiative, cuts in social and cultural spending are legitimised under the paradigm of the self-sufficiency of (cultural) entrepreneurs. But the reality of the production conditions summarised under the construct of creative professionals (self-employed media creators, multimedia, sound and graphic designers) is faded out or idealised in these optimistic assumptions. Whilst underpayment and an unstable order situation can still be considered "normal" in the graphics, small label, fashion and art scene, the concept of talent economy, as sociologist Andreas Boes shows, instead serves to enhance working conditions and working relationships in the IT and media industries by borrowing from the bohemians. At the same time, the production conditions of artistic-creative professions, but also those of what industrial production remains and other precarious service occupations, are covered up.
Therefore one might say that the production conditions of a project exhibition do fit very well in neoliberal requirements. And for some parts I definitely would agree with this assumption, as in example our whole self-organized network was in the end completely involved in the process of the project and not adequately paid. And I have been asked several times: What does the Be Creative project propose as an alternative, does it have a mobilising perspective, or was it just a display of critique? This question, in my opinion, are important to ask, but they underestimates the practice and history of project exhibitions, that have been initiated by cultural producers since the 70ties. And, that is my thesis, the practice we choose in making the show is questioning the assumptions of neoliberal commodity economy very radically, even or just because it finds itself in the antagonisms between radical critique and the actual normative change. The Be Creative! exhibition i.e. was realised by a team of artists, architects, designers, theoreticians, students and ex-students and developed collectively. The practice of producing the project tried to overcome the traditional division by discipline and professional hierarchies in the existing forms of the cultural system. Sociologists and cultural theorists have been involved in the exhibition making and design process, as well as designers in the development of the theoretical framework. The collective, then, was critiquing sites of contemporary theory and culture production. Its criticism was directed towards three specific discourses on traditional knowledge production: the disciplinary division and elitism of theory production, the division of theory and practice, hand and mind, the social and the cultural, the split between a linguistic and a visual culture, as well as the tradition and future of art and design universities, specifically the College of Design and Art in Zurich, where it took place. To make an exhibition before this background was empowering in itself.
Project exhibitions and other forms of curatorial practices by artists or cultural producers are - in the best sense- not just staging knowledge in the counter-information manner, or just creating a new telos into an abstract mass, but intervening in an existing and specifically local hegemonial setting and its representational politics. A side effect of this practice is, that it creates a physical space of alternate forms of exchange and can create multitudes of groupings that exist much longer than the actual show and mostly will keep on working on the issues in new formations. This perspective stands in a longer tradition of a critical cultural practice, that do have it roots on the one in the use of the gallery as a gesture in the 70ties, in the critique of the museums order and the use of the public space as a space for intervention etc. But it also stood in the counter-cultural use of the exhibition space by small leftist, anti-racist and most of all feminist collectives, which established a tactical marginal use of the exhibition space and the public sphere for possibilities of self-articulation and political action. Therefore an exhibition cannot only be read on the level of what it presents, but also on how, why and by whom it was produced, and under which conditions.
The format of the project exhibition, which I am working with science several years, was mainly established in the late eighties and early nineties due to collective artistic practices, or artists who started to curate shows in collaboration with actors from other fields because of specific purposes. The exhibition If you lived here" in the Dia Arts Foundation in 1989 organised and initiated by the artist Martha Rosler is a paradigmative example, as she focused on gentrification processes and homelessness, not just because it has been a relevant issue", but because the gallery itself was located in the specific gentrification area and by this has been involved in the transformation process. The exhibition addressed in that context the bohemian surrounding of the new gallery location also, which have been the potential audience of the gallery itself and in the same time they have been important actors in the gentrification process. This example shows how the audiences can be addressed as actors due to the issue, but also how, in that specific case other audiences, which have been not just art publics entered the gallery space and participated in the project, like political activists, that were involved in housing projects, homeless people, urbanist's and social workers.
Therefore the fact that the exhibition space establishes usually a specific normative public also includes the potential of its alternative use: to address and involve an audiences in the project itself, who are usually separated due there disciplines or the social and class order. Project exhibition in that sense used the White Cube, the gallery space, the Museum as a communicative platform, a place of a counter public, a stage where not just knowledge had been exhibited, but ideas about collaborative and collective practices, where new spaces of discourse can be established, or used for a local intervention.
As the "Be Creative!" project attempted to show, the term creativity has thus not only left behind its shadowy existence but also its innocent reception, it was broadening the perspective of a common understanding of design processes. A current examination of notions about creativity no longer only calls for reflection on the methods of creation in art and design, but also for creation to be used as a description of a social process which has a political and cultural dimension that has long since left behind its actual production connection with the artist. Therefore the project intervened in the common assumption that creativity seem to be directed to a School of Design automatically, but the shift of emancipatory vocabulary and practices into neo-liberal politics, and there educational, spatial, economical and social concepts and practices, would not at all belong to it, even that it is heavily affected by it in its own policies. And the project created a counter narration of the artists or designer, who would only be the blueprint of the new economy. It gave a place for a dissidence, empowerment and intervention. When vocabulary and subject positions are boroughed by cultural producers in management theory and political fantasies, it is the cultural producer itself, who has the possibility to resist, to critique and to intervene in this unfriendly take over. To produce an exhibition has been always a cultural strategy and a specific (historical) form of knowledge production, but it can be used and appropriated for and as a political act as well.
Marion von Osten, 2003
10/2003 - Labor k3000