To follow up on Jim and Harrell’s discussions about school, in the US it’s hard not to think like a consumer about everything, including schools. We are buying our education so we want the best product. If we look at this framework from the school’s perspective, then they are a business selling us a product. Sadly, at this stage it goes without saying that they are going to cut corners wherever they can and sell us something with a shelf life. This product eventually depreciates in value, so that we become a repeat customer in the learning economy. While it might not be a surprise that learning can become a commodity, the state of learning shouldn’t be something we accept. To tackle this we need to redefine our entire approach to our relationship with commodities. And therein lies my biggest concern: If we are to value relationships over consumption, we need to reconsider our entire outlook. Otherwise we continue to commodify what’s left of a commons and each other.
To again return to basics, I want to respond to Deborah’s text about artistic freedom and artistic agency feeling like currencies to circuitously and eventually (I hope) reach a point. They do seem to function as types of currencies, especially in a reputation economy. Economy has become an increasingly important word as multiple forms of labor, commons, and environmental use are slowly being accounted for in the dominant economic system. It places quantifiable value on something purposefully overlooked by status quo economic practices. These practices have relied upon the colonizing engine that seeks to subjugate, conquer, and collect everything of speculated value — a violent process of occupation that relies on expansion.
My concern is that when we start calling everything an economy, especially things that pertain to our social relationships, then more and more we judge relationships by their speculated economic value. I think there’s a very fine line here. It doesn’t help that many reputation economies require screens that carry their own environmental and social weight with their production and distribution. Oftentimes, reputation economies tend to feel more like peer-to-peer policing through data collection. While they may sometimes empower us, what are the trade-offs? Relating economies to relationships makes me feel like I am primarily a consumer. People have to need each other, and at some point that need has to go beyond reasons of economy. When do expanding definitions of economies create a new world, and when might it lead to dehumanizing ends?
To answer the question, what else can we do? Speaking here as an artist, activist, and just a person (it’s impossible for me to separate), I think we can first reevaluate the current frameworks we are inside of and be mindful about how we are working within them. What is freedom actually, and who are we producers for? Can we rethink our relationships with commodities? What can the power of the artist or of an artwork be, and then become? What is the creative power of ambiguity versus clarity? My point is also not to diminish but to really understand and challenge these institutions – and from there I believe we can create structures that are inventive and critical that continue to function when and if they move from periphery (perhaps as art) to center (usually as something else). Can we create more mindful parallel institutions, or do we become revolutionary when we institutionalize? As was previously discussed by Lars-Erik and Jonatan, the proposal for a collective process as a model for its own subjectivity is an important proposition. In this world, being interested in something is rarely enough, but art is one of the few spaces where work can function as useful and useless. Art’s power often lies in its tense contradictions.
A class in progress at Bruce High Quality Foundation University, an unaccredited, free art school founded in 2009 to provide a democratic, pedagogical space where “students are teachers are administrators are staff.” (Image courtesy BHQFU via Gallerist)
Read more from Growing Dialogue: No Longer Interested
“Inventive Contradictions” by Mary Mattingly – April 23, 2014