On the urgency of launching the ArtLeaks Gazette
Artleaks was founded in 2011 as an international platform for cultural workers where instances of abuse, corruption and exploitation are exposed and submitted for public inquiry. After over a year of activity, we, members of the collective ArtLeaks felt an urgent need to establish a regular on-line publication as a tool for empowerment in the face of the systemic abuse of cultural workers’ basic labor rights, repression or even blatant censorship and growing corporatization of culture that we encounter today.
Namely: radical (political) projects are co-opted under the umbrella of corporate promotion and gentrification; artistic research is performed on research hand-outs, creating only an illusion of depth while in fact adding to the reserve army of creative capital; the secondary market thrives as auction houses speculate on blue chip artists for enormous amounts of laundered money, following finance capitalism from boom to bust, meanwhile, most artists can’t even make a living and depend on miserly fees, restrictive residencies, and research handouts to survive; galleries and dealers more and more heavily copyright cultural values; approximately 5% of authors, producers and dealers control 80% of all cultural resources (and indeed, in reality, the situation may be even worse than these numbers suggest) ; certain cultural managers and institutions do not shy away from using repressive maneuvers against those who bring into question their mission, politics or dubious engagements with corporate or state benefactors; and last but not least, restrictive national(ist) laws and governments suppress cultural workers through very drastic politics, not to mention the national state functions as a factor of neoliberal expression in the field of culture.
Do you recognize yourself in the scenarios above? Do you accept them as immutable conditions of your labor? We strongly believe that this dire state of affairs can be changed. We do not have to carry on complying to politics that cultivate harsh principles of pseudo-natural selection (or social Darwinism) – instead we should fight against them and imagine different scenarios based on collective values, fairness and dignity. We strongly believe that issues of exploitation, repression or co-optation cannot be divorced from their specific politico-economic contexts and historical conditions, and need to be raised in connection with a new concept of culture as an invaluable reservoir of the common, as well as new forms of class consciousness in the artistic field in particular, and the cultural field more generally.
Recently, this spectrum of urgencies and the necessity to address them has also become the focus of fundamental discussions and reflection on the part of communities involved in cultural production and certain leftist social and political activists. Among these, we share the concerns of pioneering groups such as the Radical Education Collective (Ljubljana), Precarious Workers’ Brigade (PWB) (London), W.A.G.E. (NYC), Arts &Labor (NYC), the May Congress of Creative Workers (Moscow) and others (see the Related Causes section on our website). The condition of cultural workers has also recently been theorized within the framework of bio-politics, in which cognitive labor is implicitly described as a new hegemonic type of production in the context of the global industrialization of creative work.
The question then emerges, what is creative work today? To structure this undifferentiated categorizations, we will begin by addressing in our journal all those “occupied” with art who are striving towards emancipatory knowledge in the process of their activity. As the contemporary art world more and more envelops different areas of knowledge as well as the production of events, we considered it a priority to focus on this particular field. However, we remain open to discussing urgencies related to other forms of creative activity beyond the art world.
Through our journal, we want to stresses the urgent need to seriously transform these workers’ relationship with institutions, networks and economies involved in the production, reproduction and consumption of art and culture. We will pursue these goals through developing a new approach to the tradition of institutional critique and fostering new forms of artistic production, that may challenge dominant discourses of criticality and social engagement which tame creative forces. We also feel the urgency to link cultural workers’ struggles with similar ones from other fields of human activity – at the same time, we strongly believe that any such sustainable alliances could hardly be built unless we begin with the struggles in our own factories.
Announced Theme for the first issue: Breaking the Silence – Towards Justice, Solidarity and Mobilization
The main theme of the first issue of our journal is establishing a politics of truth by breaking the silence on the art world. What do we actually mean by this? We suggest that breaking the silence on the art world is similar to breaking the silence of family violence and other forms of domestic abuse. Similarly as when coming out with stories of endemic exploitation form inside the household, talking about violence and exploitation in the art world commonly brings shame, ambivalence and fear. But while each case of abuse may be different, we believe these are not singular instances but part of a larger system of repression, abuse and arrogance that have been normalized through the practices of certain cultural managers and institutions. Our task is to find voices, narratives, hybrid forms that raise consciousness about the profound effects of these forms of maltreatment: to break through the normalizing rhetoric that relegate cultural workers’ labor to an activity performed out of instinct, for the survival of culture at large, like sex or child rearing which, too are zones of intense exploitation today.
Implicit in this gesture is a radical form of protest – one that does not simply join the concert of affirmative institutional critique which confirms the system by criticizing it. Rather, breaking the silence implies bringing into question the ways in which the current art system constructs positions for its speakers, and looking for strategies in which to counteract naturalized exploitation and repression today.
At the same time, we recognize that the moment of exposure does not fully address self-organization or, what comes after breaking the silence? We suggest that it is therefore important to link this to solidarity, mobilization and an appeal for justice, as political tools. As it is the understanding of the dynamic interaction between the mobilization of resources, political opportunities in contexts and emancipatory cultural frames that we can use to analyze and construct strategies for cultural workers movements. With summoning the urgency of potentia agendi (or the power to act) collectively we also call for the necessity to forge coalitions within the art world and beyond it – alliances that have the concrete ability of exerting a certain political pressure towards achieving the promise of a more just and emancipatory cultural field.
Structure of publication
The journal would be divided into six major sections.
A. Critique of cultural dominance apparatuses
Here we will address methodological issues in analyzing the condition of cultural production and the system that allows for the facile exploitation of the cultural labor-force. Ideally, though not necessarily, these theoretical elaborations would be related to concrete case studies of conflicts, exploitation, dissent across various regions of the world, drawing comparisons and providing local context for understanding them.
B. Forms of organization and history of struggles
Cultural workers have been demanding just working conditions, struggling over agency and subjectivity in myriad ways and through various ideas about what this entails. In this section we will analyze historical case-studies of self-organization of cultural workers. Our goal is not to produce a synthetic model out of all of these struggles, rather to examine how problems have been articulated at various levels of (political) organization, with attention to the genealogy of the issues and the interaction between hegemonic discourses (of the institution, corporation, the state) and those employed by cultural workers in their respective communities.
C. The struggle of narrations
In this section we will invite our contributors to develop and practice artistic forms of narration which cannot be fully articulated through direct “leaking”. It should be focused on finding new languages for narration of systemic dysfunctions. We expect these elaborations can take different form of artistic contributions, including comics, poems, films, plays, short stories, librettos etc.
D. Glossary of terms
What do we mean by the concept of “cultural workers”? What does “gentrification” or “systemic abuse” mean in certain contexts? Whose “art world”? This section addresses the necessity of developing a terminology to make theoretical articulations more clear and accessible to our readers. Members of ArtLeaks as well as our contributors to our gazette will be invited to define key terms used in the material presented in the publication. These definitions should be no more that 3-4 sentences long and they should be formulated as a result of a dialogue between all the contributors.
E. Education and its discontents
The conflicts and struggles in the field of creative education are at the core of determining what kind of subjectivities will shape the culture(s) of future generations. It is very important to carefully analyze what is currently at the stake in these specific fields of educational processes and how they are linked with what is happening outside academies and universities. In this section we will discuss possible emancipatory approaches to education that are possible today, which resist pressing commercial demands for flexible and “creative” subjectivities. Can we imagine an alternative system of values based of a different meaning of progress?
F. Best practices and useful resources
In this section we would like to invite people to play out their fantasies of new, just forms of organization of creative life. Developing the tradition of different visionaries of the past we hope that this section will trigger many speculations which might help us collect modest proposals for the future and thus counter the shabby reality of the present. This section is also dedicated to the practices which demonstrate alternative ethical guidelines, and stimulate the creation of a common cultural sphere. This would allow cultural workers to unleash their full potential in creating values based on principles of emancipatory politics, critical reflections and affirmative inspiration of a different world where these values should form the basis of a dignified life.
Our open call addresses all those who feel the urgency to discuss the aforementioned-issues. We look forward to collecting contributions until the 31st of December 2012. Contributions should be delivered in English or as an exemption in any language after negotiations with the editorial council. The editorial council of Artleaks takes responsibility of communicating with all authors during the editorial process.
Please contact us with any questions, comments and submit materials to: firstname.lastname@example.org. When submitting material, please also note the section under which you would like to see it published.
The online gazette will be published in English under the Creative Commons attribution noncommercial-share alike and its materials will be offered for translation in any languages to any interested parties.
We will publish all contributions delivered to us in a separate section. However, our editorial council takes full responsibility in composing an issue of the journal in the way we feel it should be done.