What is my/our/your/their discomfort to them/you/us/me?

Producing value, resisting value and giving value in institutional context

For students HKU MAFA Year 1 Semester 2 (Transdisciplinary Practice Module)

In this module I invite you to investigate the tensions in the immediate and broader context of the yearlong programme Where should we begin? at the Museum of Contemporary art in Antwerp. The programme itself is an experiment in investigating and articulating what tensions occur in the framework of developing and executing this project. I will take you through the steps I took, the decisions I made, the experiences and the questions that I am grappling with, the conversations I have – with people, practices, works and texts. I invite you to do your own research, by using your immediate experience, perceptions, body, feelings, daily work and communication as a crucial site of knowledge.

As artistic/cultural practitioners we work in different contexts. We might work inside institutions. These institutions have different histories, policies, discourses, material realities and practices, just as the people we work with. We work in different forms of collaborations, in different economic conditions, in different ideological configurations. We enter these different contexts in different positions.

There are lots of differences to reckon with, but also certain similarities and continuity.

As artists/cultural practitioners we continuously enter into institutional contexts (including the art field itself and its educational institutions) that put demands and expectations on us and make us demand and expect certain things from ourselves. Much of this can be traced back to the (colonialist, heteropatriarchal, racist) capitalist system and logic we live in. These internal and external expectations and demands make it difficult to take the direct financial remuneration we receive as a measure of quantitative or qualitative value for the different forms of labour we engage in, to produce and present a work of art, to contribute to a public programme, or to write a text. Despite recent positioning of the artistic practitioner as a cultural worker and the introduction of Fair Pay as part of the Fair Practice Code (in NL) developed by the cultural field itself, we rely on additional value producing mechanisms. We work many hours because we believe it will pay off in different ways (the work will be better/better received). We include visibility into the category of remuneration (the value of which will translate in more opportunities in the future). We consider the narratives we are included in or are able to co-shape as part of what gives our work its value (whether these are art world discourses of value or narratives that represent our own values).

In the public programme Superhost 2022: Where should we begin? we investigate these interlocking value producing mechanisms: labour, speculation, visibility and narrative, and the tensions they produce within us as we take part in them, are not able to take part in them and/or do not want to take part in them. What questions arise when we pay extra close attention to our personal experience of the material and systemic conditions in which we work? What information can we draw from it? How do our tensions and discomforts relate to those of others? How do we relate to the tensions, discomforts and conditions of others? What happens if we bring our curiosity, desires and imagination to the tensions we experience? Are we able to develop strategies to intervene in our own conditioning and that of the institutional context around us?