• Art as the Alien, February 2005, by Charlotte Brüel
Art as the Alien
By Charlotte Brüel
letter to the Danish Minister of Culture
by Cai Ulrich von Platen, Chairman of BKF, Billedkunstnernes Forbund / The Association of Visual Artists in Denmark
Dear Brian Mikkelsen.
You have in connection with the presentation of the “guide lines” for your culture policy declaired in the papers, that we have too many artists, and that the support of the sate to the artists, shall not be used for the broad “underwood” of young people, who want to be artists, but for the élite.
Due to the interview in “Politiken” the 23rd of April you do not have the area of education in mind, because there you find, that space for talent care especially is needed.
It cannot either be the area of hobby and work of amateurs, which following the legislation is not at all under the wings of state culture support.
You must find, that the Danish State Foundation and the Art Council have given too much support to amateurs, trying to pretend being professional artists.
As all - and especially the artists in the professional working groups - know, this it is not at all the idea of the state support for artists, must it be a clear criticism of the professionalism of the “arm’s length” organs.
But you do not only criticise. You will, as seen in “Politiken”, personally take care that the support is distributed more selectively and based on quality criterions.
In such case you will have to directly intervene in the professional decisions of the committees, and by that you remove all the basis of the arms length principle.
What you point at as a solution, with the, after your opinion far too many artists, who only “survive” because of the state support, is a break of any professional judgment, that support for the middle level and younger experimenting artists are a necessary investment, to secure that an élite at all can be developed at this area. Your idea that in the future only one level of quality, the level of the élite, must be basis for the distribution of state funding, usher a slow death for Danish art and culture.
If you should bring your ideas about the elitarian into being, you have two possibilities:
Either you are to take care that the professionals, delivering the money, have the “right” understandig of levels, or you yourself must take the baton and become Denmark’s arbiter of taste number one.*
None of those too scenarios are very likely - luckily. So far legislation secure a reasonable autonomy for the arms length committees. We shall rather understand your cowboy style as a gesture signalizing ability of action and “no mercy”. But never the less, it is unbelievable, that you yourself choose exactly this lead as a follow up to your culture political proposal, which also was containing an invitation to dialogue with the young artists, who are going to live with your visions. The really worrying is your lack of respect for the professional competence of the judgment of the artists, concerning what is needed to maintain and develop the arts. There is not - and ought not to be, in the political system an expectation, that a minister can be professionally omniscient within his or her field of responsibility.
We have mentioned that the administrative co-ordination of The State Foundation and The Art Council and the close down of Center for Danish Visual Art (International exhibitions etc., CB), also is an expression of a centralization and disregard of our professional competence. Gradually an unpromissing pattern is emerging for the future collaboration.
All of us take interest in seeing a flourishing art - and life of culture. And probably we can agree, too, that the state is playing an important part in this case. But if you as minister see yourself, as the one who hard-nosed shall divide the artists position in elite and the scum, you will “shoot your own foot”. Reality is not like this.
Cai Ulrich v. Platen
(Translated by C.Brüel)
It is commonly accepted that artists and other cultural workers are lagging way behind other workers in confronting the terms and conditions in which their labour/knowledge/lives are defined by and converted into capital. Many still work within a largely uncharted and unregulated territory dominated by robber capitalism and winner-take-all economies - subject to the whim of gallery owners, star collectors, globe-trotting curators and marketing consultants. Others working in the subsidised zones of the state and its subsidiaries live the dream of artistic autonomy while the bureaucratic treadmill colonises body and brain, demanding a steady output of outputs, from skills acquired to individuals enlightened.
This situation can also be viewed another way: art workers embody an idealised future within late capitalist production - atomised, disorganised, going from contract to contract, they are emblematic of the new migrant, precarious and service-based workforce in the global economy. Are art-workers then inadvertently legitimising repressive work conditions - becoming the model by which the neoliberal economy defines labour - or could they instead spearhead a new delegitimised approach: going for the money but refusing work?
Can new forms of international co-operation and organisation be created that bring together the collective struggles of art-, knowledge-, service- and other precarious workers? Can we, through a critique of work, point to new practices where work and political action are integrated? Is it possible to go against the tide of the neoliberal economy and reintroduce, redefine terms such as solidarity, worker power and community within the context of cultural and service based industries? Does the cultural worker share interests with the call centre worker for example? Is a Knowledge Workers Union an option?
The participants in the workshop will be looking into these questions and more in discussions, screenings, performances, excursions, debates, etc..
Unionising Workshop at Flaxman Lodge, June 7-13 2004
A week of research, screenings, discussion and production: On the AU in England (1971-1974), the UKK* in Denmark (2002-2004) and a proposed Knowledge Workers Union.
Organised by Jakob Jakobsen in collaboration with Emma Hedditch, Marina Vishmidt, Anthony Davies, Karoline H. Larsen, Kristina Ask and Flaxman Lodge at:
Lodge, Flaxman Terrace, London WC1H 9AW.
UKK is an organization for young visual artists and art curators / art
historians in Denmark, founded May 2002, as a consequence of frustration
due to lack of initiative from the existing organizations for visual artists,
when the new (Nov. 2001) right winged government, rather soon after they
took over did declair “kulturkamp” / “culture fight”
- not fighting for the artists, but it seemed against us. The situation
changed somewhat drastically after the former Social Democrats and Left
Radicals (a center party!) had been governing through 9 years, at least
with vague interest in the working conditions of the (visual) artists.
**) “Venstre” in direct translation: “left”, but the party is liberal and rightwinged, and “De konservative” :”The conservative”.
(Comments by C.Brüel)
an exhibition by Una Walker.
For the 'Surveiller' exhibition Una Walker has created a database of exhibitions that have taken place in Belfast through the period 1968 -2001 principally sourced from publications. The database is a central element to the installation work and also functions as a preface to the Golden Thread Gallery's 'Collective Histories' series of Northern Irish Contemporary Visual Art.
Artist Una Walker spent 128 days, approximately 1,280 hours, producing an inventory of art exhibitions in Belfast from March 1968 to March 2001. The chronology, presented on gallery walls, and as a searchable database in an office, attempts to document the length, type, title,venue and media source of every artist’s show. Surveiller is‘justa list’, but like many things that are ‘just lists’ it creates and communicates power structures and opposes the experience of those ‘who were there at the time’ with larger and longer patterns.
The database presents fact: when, where, what and who. It does not distinguish the art listed according to quality, content or reputation, nor does it provide any visual information. We expect art to be emotive and subjective, so to subject art to this analysis seems stark and reductive. However the tension between objective and subjective, or observer and subject, is inherent in surveillance, and, like all good data collection, this inventory reveals much. The information presents art as a type of social activity, subject to the influence of politics and economics. For example, in 1974 there was notably fewer exhibitions. The list shows there were only five active galleries, others being decommissioned through bombing. In contrast, in 1994, the year of the cease-fire, galleries were busy. The increase in galleries and shows in the recent years is notable, reflecting the growing faith in culture as a tool for economic regeneration. Many new commercial galleries have opened, evidence of the greater spending power of the culturally literate.
Walker documents more than just the artists, she forms an inventory of all the players in the art process. Galleries, shows, and the sources of wider broadcast, publications, listings and reviews are linked together, key components in the social production of the artist and the artwork. In the example of 1974, it seems that while artists may have been making work, the very mechanisms of broadcast were out of action, the means of communicating a public identity stifled.
It might seem that Walker is performing a generous service for her fellow artists, placing them in official histories where they were previously invisible. However, the aim of Surveiller isn’t to valorise individuals but to reveal the mechanisms which make practices visible and effective. The list is as accurate as possible, but it relies on the very media sources it also represents, amplifying any effects of misinformation. It is noticeable that none of Walker’s information sources are from outside Ireland. It seems that scanning the UK or international art press during this period was pointless as so little about art in Ireland was published. The sheer mass of internal artistic circulation in Belfast during this period is overwhelming and the person who surveys this information can’t help but wonder what return any of them received from their work.
This card shows Walker as a secretary, filing late at night. The image is a re-presentation of one of Victor Burgin’s ‘Office at Night’ photographs. Contrary to Burgin’s intention to expose the exploitation of women workers, Walker’s administrative role is not servile. In Surveiller Walker is an amasser of information and a controller of data. Far from being atavistic, Surveiller gives Walker a position of power to represent her colleagues and reduce them to data. The time period presented here is a time of surveillance and controlled media representation. Surveiller reflects this oppression by turning inwards and broadcasting these mechanisms. The artist makes her work out of watching and recording artists, the gallery makes its exhibition out of recording exhibitions and the viewer watches themselves surveying the data.