… beim besten Willen …
Über die Publikation der Berlin Biennale „P/act for Art“
Against the background of the sovereign debt crisis and ensuing austerity measures that are ravaging Europe, the Berlin Biennial composed a publication called “P/act for Art” (http://www.berlinbiennale.de/blog/en/7th-biennale/pactfor- art). A forerunner to the next biennial edition, the journal revels in copious amounts of fascist imagery – e.g. title, evoking a pre-modern form of alliance; logo, reminiscent of the Italian fasces; blackletter typeface, mimicking Fraktur Gothic; black background/white font contrast, etc. In jest, surely, one would say, as no one imagines the staff having secretly joined the NPD under the orders of the new curatorial head. Yet many a truth is spoken in jest, though I am afraid the joke was lost on the art audience.
The publication has the objective of joining in the debate that the “Haben und Brauchen” (a response to the city sponsored “Leistungsschau junger Kunst aus Berlin”, which later became “Based in Berlin”) initiative inaugurated and, additionally, “proposing a pact to be negotiated anew with commitments for all those involved as a productive solution”. Hence it summons all agents involved in art-production to give their opinion and advice on how to manage the future of their field of expertise, by replying to the P/act’s questionnaire. From here on things get tricky. If the imagery is a matter of style, the content is rather a symptom. The format the P/act chooses to undertake addresses all interviewees as members of a corporate class that should close ranks to defend their common interests. “And what’s wrong with that?” one may ask. To put it plainly, corporatism was Fascism’s answer to the Marxist claim of a universal class: the working class. To break down the working class into crafts, métiers or professional groups was a neat way to bypass the issue of class exploitation, whilst handing over policy decisions to non-elected lobbies. “Fascism recognizes the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State” (Mussolini dixit, emphasis mine).
Apparently unaware of the irony, while urging artists to challenge the conditions of production they are subjected to, the Biennial website announces a call for interns, earning a monthly sum of 300 Euros for a full time job; and for volunteers, earning…err…the privilege of working in such a creative environment?
Its not enough to toss the word neo-liberalism around as a signifier for every thing that went awry, one needs to be clear about what neo-liberalism is, if one is not to unwillingly reproduce its structures. Neoliberalism effected a transferal of all social tension from the political to the psychological, reframing the question of exploitation as a problem of motivation. The abundance of cheap labour the biennial is able to bask in is the result of the “economy of exceptionalism”, which emerged under neoliberal policies, for it is neoliberalism that encourages individuals to always work an – extra mileto be flexible, to be motivated, to put in extra hours – in order to gain a competitive edge, which will allow them to raise from their class rather than with it. Hence, either artist’s rights are conceptualized within a broader social frame, which means that the real issues are the existence of a support network, like the Künstlersozialkasse, a pension fund and access to welfare when in need, or we are entertaining a monetarist discussion about artistic exception and how to turn symbolic value into added value. Notwithstanding, the curator’s statement employs “social contract” and “pact” as if the two were synonymous and touts the word “trust” around when he ought to be talking of tension. Antagonistic interests define the field of politics, not well-meaning collaboration, and if one claims to be politically engaged one should at least identify the relevant political issues. The financial crash of 2008 has unleashed an unprecedented economic and political crisis. In its aftermath, the fundamental question is how should this crisis be conceptualized? At present, what in reality is a class conflict between tax-payers and rentiers is being played out as an international conflict, between the “industrious Germans” and the “profligate Greeks”. In Greece, democracy was effectively suspended in order to refinancialize the markets and Mussolini’s views came to fruition in the new “national unity” governments. That should be a clear indicator that if we choose to see current events as a mere problem of shortage or allocation of artistic funding we might be failing to grasp the historical significance of things to come.
17.JPG (© Andreas Koch)