Johanna Bruckner

Contested Circuits of Production

Contested Circuits of Production:

Report on the workshop I gave at the SARN Conference on Artistic Research, „we, the public“. Published by SARN. Kunstmuseum Luzern, University for Art and Design, Luzern

Johanna Bruckner

What could it mean to conceive of artistic research conferences as critical practices in the present? How do they activate a critical institutional context? What does it mean when producers become mediators of their own work? Asked to give a short report on the workshop I held at the SARN conference we, the public, this statement will briefly reflect upon the form I chose to connect work and audience, the arrangement of work/space, the role of research in the exploration of institutional presentation formats beyond exhibition and display, and the role of feedback in the presentation of artistic work on site.

In the expanded field, every practice within an art institution has the potential to become a work of art. Research, curatorial work and educational strategies tend towards conditions reminiscent of exhibition and installation. Thus, can institution forming, exhibition making and artistic practice merge into one (1)? The avant-garde explored artistic production as being not only a different way of representing the world, but also as a different way of producing it (2).

This workshop presented a performance that re- created a curatorial production meeting in the form of a performative panel discussion. Scripts for role- playing between an artist, a curator, a funding body and a critic were distrubuted to the audience. The contents focused on the impacts of de-territorialized and contested forms of living and working on creative work. The playfulness inherent in this interactive methodology provides the basis for a discussion regarding the embedded nature of the contemporary subject in current circuits and ecologies of production. Today, when flexibility, creativity, and entertainment are incorporated into various facets of life, the game offers an accurate model for reflection, revealing the way in which people interact under the model of „lifelong learning“ and „work as play“ (3).

„Where flexibility and self-responsibility became pre- dominant elements of governance, it seems useful to investigate the critical possiblities of dialectical play as a model for participation or an educational tool. Games thus could further work as tools (...) to understand one’s own role as a player and potential

winner on the battlefield of economy. (...) Games seem to provide a helpful schema of interaction (...) in thinking about ways to connect and to share knowledge through theory, and, further, the critique of authorian structures“(ibid).

Boltanski and Chiapello argue in their book Te Spirit of Capitalism that creativity, reactivity, flexibility are constitutive for the production of work today. The scripts that were read by the participants during the role-play discussed and critiqued the division of labour, the demands for self-management, and unrestrained creativity. I chose this form of education through „play“ because it demands reflection upon the current models of collaboration that organize relations between actors in this field (e.g. artist, curator, institution, funding body). Additionally, it considers the impacts of knowledge conferences on the tasks of new professions such as gallery education, public progamming, and those engaged with relating learning and participation as well as exhibition-making in the expanded field, in which audiences are actively involved through educational processes. Artistic research conferences also encourage flexibility in the presentation models, asking for individually and creatively designed proposals in which the artist himself may be responsible for the social design and the fostering of exchange, learning, and experience. This field of play allows a conscious crossing and blurring of boundaries between overlapping and interacting professional fields in the precarious realm of cultural work today. An artist here is playing a curator, while interacting with the funding body played by another artist, thus evolving the creative potential needed to foster the necessary connections today. The scripts thus discuss current forms of organizing creative work with respect to the essentiality of a playful attitude in the institutionalization of programms and contents. As the lecture performance was far from a play as such, and the readings of scripts were without interaction nor rich commentary, play seems to have an end when it comes to another reality: creative work as it is subsumed by rigid structures of contracts and firm institutional models, profit-oriented clusters, and regimes in which socio-political realities fight against the exploitation of social relationships and the destruction of social wealth.

Reflecting on how I get the actors involved in the process of „laboring“, of becoming active producers rather than remaining in the listener-spectator role, another point is the evolution of the space through my activation of a different producer-consumer relation, with respect to what can be called open and closed art works. People today tend more likely to be affected by so-called open art because these render the

conditions of our participatory culture–the internet, social media, and open source platforms. Conceiving these practices in the expanded field of sculpture, this „post-medium condition“ (Krauss) reveals the producer as the consumer. Today, we not only produce but also take part in what and how we produce; we thus embody the subject as a cause- effect duality. This is addressed in the format I chose, which centered around the interaction between presenter and audience, focusing on response rather than staging, and thus establishing a realm in which experience, learning, and exchange interact through a relational format of participation in public concern, developed within a horizontal framework for exchange.

The feedback for this workshop encourages me to more closely reflect upon the concept of „extra- institutional research“, framed by a notion of translocal working contexts with respect to the impacts of transdisciplinary and trans-spatial forms of studio practice on artistic work. I will continue to elaborate on questions of producing presentation-- what it means when active work is at stake in contexts of live communication--and secondly, the potential of direct conversation as a mode of production and reception of art.

This requires the acknowledgement of a compromise between rigid notions of medium specifity and pluralistic understandings thereof, which opens up the field of performance to spacial and temporal modularity. It demands a form of critical practice that is indebted to its experimentation (with institutional presentation formats), allowing a negotiation of possibilities and a collective interpretation of reasons and options. Here, the play with absence and presence while shifting roles and players creates a scenario that works through relational concerns, embodied and active in challenging the modalities of rules and abstraction of transformational systems.

Artistic practice here is presented in acts of research that are grounded in writing. To make explicit how that writing becomes a performance may interrogate the shift at stake in the modulation from studio practice to the public--one that includes social, material, and spatial aspects in its formation; a hybridization of the material as the social, institutional and economic. Most significant for me was a dual emphasis on „what“ and on „how“ while trying to establish a format that does not represent but rather produces in the given context.

We live in a world with an ever-changing global economic state of affairs. What is emerging is not only a different attention to the economic impact on

arts and culture, but a reconsideration of the ‘social impact’ of the work, which includes the question of creating relations between different fields, affects, and material senses. Are we really familiar with how to influence the social contexts within which our projects exist? How will we value, evaluate, or classify who wants to know and the stimuli for knowing? Who is concerned about the knowledge that we produce and mediate and how does this happen? How will new information help us in our work and how will this affect change in our field of concern? How will it affect our ways of creating and maintaining relations within the field, and the different voices that take part? (4) Can it further impact the surplus of social intensification, an ethics of social relations ?

Attachment: Considering the research conference as a form of exploration and reflection on how production and mediation are linked and activated today, how does a conference fit into an art context? What does that performance do to a conference setting which is in itself conceived as an explorative approach to the relation between research and the options of mediation and activation? Conceiving spectatorship as a collective practice today, how is it to be addressed through the practice of learning?


(1) Hirsch, Nikolaus, Institution Modelling or Taking Things into Your Own Hands, In: Grubinger, Eva & Jörg Heiser (eds.), Sculpture Unlimited, 2011.

(2)Alberto López Cuenca, see under: labour-enclosure-and-the-new-economy.

(1) Choi, Binna & Axel Wider, What are generous structures“? In: Generous Structures. Casco Issues XII, 2011, p.10-15.

(2) see Lindsey Freyer, in her introduction at the conference It‘s All Mediating, Helsinki 2012