Collective Power

Our languages and actions are interdependent and symbiotic. One affects the other, so utilizing (and respecting) all of our available languages (verbal, gestural, symbolic) in concert is important. Our ability to express them together forms our own empowerment. It’s also necessary to recognize and account for the fact that words and phrases change; they can become ineffective and lose their meaning. I don’t think that means they should be abandoned, but instead reclaimed.

In response to Harrell, I agree, buying into an American Dream (in the artist’s case, this could be the art star) can be a form of entrapment that perpetuates a competitive framework while promoting debt and separating us. I’ll admit though, I’m confused to read about studios being equated with prisons, because I consider a studio a privilege or luxury more than a condition that is being forced upon someone against his/her will. This leaves me with a question: could this be a chance to expand the ways in which we consider the studio? On one level, a studio is a space for a kind of production, but it’s also a place for coming together, for ideating and reflecting somewhere that often allows for a different speed. A studio infrastructure (especially when the users are less transient) can become necessary for economies of exchange and resource sharing. A side note but connected nonetheless, something that can also be part of this conversation about space and entrapment is the assault on the commons through privatization. While studios can never become a substitute for a commons, what else can they become?

It’s clear that art education largely needs people to buy in to the art star proposition and that’s a powerful force, especially when it works in accordance with museums, publishing, and simultaneously produces knowledge workers who indirectly support that same proposition including historians, writers, and curators.  But claiming that the art education system is determining our life decisions seems to keep us trapped in a framework of powerlessness. If we are truly rambunctious people with radical ideas like you are suggesting, shouldn’t we be able to consider our own subjugation?

These questions bring me to more questions about power. Overall, I agree with Steve’s statement that artists have power, but I’d like to try to clarify it. Our power comes through our abilities to recognize, be critical, communicate, and materialize ideas. Having a voice here on this forum is a specific type of power. As artists, our existence is intertwined with the forces that have the ability to help us support the work we do, or that can provide a platform for it. Many of us are subordinate to tourist industries, granting foundations, and elite classes: we cannot play without being played. Without careful reflection and accountability, we can easily move back and forth between being exploited and becoming an exploiter.

We place our selves and our work inside a hierarchical system of power, and usually aid this system’s polarizing growth even when we attempt to subvert it.  When I think about nuanced relationships with power, I think collectivity can offer possibilities for other, less binary relationships with power. It can offer possibilities for working towards goals we find we have in common, instead of indirectly working towards the goals of a few who try to sell us empty prospects of success while asking us to sell out on one another.


Waterpod Economies from The Waterpod Project, 2009 (c. Mary Mattingly and collaborators) 


Read more from Growing Dialogue: No Longer Interested

“No Longer Interested” by Steve Lambert – April 1, 2014

“Difference Not Indifference” by Mary Mattingly – April 2, 2014

“In Defense of Interest” by Harrell Fletcher – April 3, 2014

“The Strategies of Artspeak” by Jonatan Habib Engqvist & Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen – April 4, 2014

“Sleight of Hand” by Jim Duignan – April 7, 2014

“What Do We Really Want?” by Steve Lambert – April 8, 2014

“Breaking Out of the Studio/Gallery Paradigm” by Harrell Fletcher – April 9, 2014

“Protecting Ambiguity” by Jonatan Habib Engqvist & Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen – April 10, 2014

“Collective Power” by Mary Mattingly – April 11, 2014

“Time Traveling” by Jim Duignan – April 14, 2014

“Why Are You Avoiding the Question?” by Steve Lambert – April 15, 2014

“Taking On the World at Large” by Deborah Fisher – April 16, 2014

“What Artists Think Is Possible” by Harrell Fletcher – April 17, 2014

“Exploring the In-Between” by Jim Duignan – April 18, 2014

“Impossible Understanding” by Jonatan Habib Engqvist & Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen – April 21, 2014

“Inventive Contradictions” by Mary Mattingly – April 23, 2014

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