The piece blos­somed into a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the intense frat­er­niza­tion and mutu­al appre­ci­a­tion among artists and work­ers ver­sus the absurd pageantry of insti­tu­tion­al pro­ce­dures and con­ven­tions. With inher­ent pro­fes­sion­al dis­in­ter­est, the work, in its essence, pre­cludes any attach­ment to art­world hier­ar­chies, and is nat­u­ral­ly at odds with the cus­tom­ary obei­sance of the adher­ent. But noblesse oblig­ed that we polite­ly acqui­esce to the required pre­sen­ta­tion orga­nized by the obse­quious dis­ci­ples of euro­cen­trism for the grandes dames of the inter­na­tion­al art estab­lish­ment, because tru­ly we did not to wish to make our point in any oth­er way. The point was made entire­ly by the vol­un­tary, lov­ing, open-mind­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion of strangers, peo­ple with no pri­or con­nec­tion to each oth­er, women, men, young, old, who came to see, to try, to take part, to help, to give. For the offi­cial pre­view, the dig­ni­taries were obscene­ly late, and when they final­ly arrived, they were rushed and impa­tient. Less than half-way through the work, Madame-la-Directrice-du-Comité-des-Conservateurs-des-Grands-Musées‑d’Europe inter­rupt­ed us to say that she had already under­stood, she’d seen enough. I told her, in front of twen­ty peo­ple, that she was rude and dis­re­spect­ful to all of those who were forced to wait hours for her com­mit­tee to arrive. I told her that she was free to leave if she want­ed but that she should be aware that she had actu­al­ly not seen and not under­stood the work. It turns out I had to make my point in words. Although her pres­ence was of no val­ue to the real­iza­tion of our work, she stayed, out of pinched civil­i­ty. Uncon­cerned with its audi­ence, the work unfold­ed, con­tract­ing and expand­ing ecsta­t­i­cal­ly to its com­ple­tion. After it end­ed, I had a brief exchange with anoth­er com­mit­tee mem­ber, arguably more recep­tive, since she was engag­ing with us at all. She chal­lenged the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a col­lec­tive with­out a fixed plur­al, as in how could I, indi­vid­ual, call myself a col­lec­tive, as in try­ing to ascer­tain the legal­i­ty of my claim, as if a col­lec­tive couldn’t be flex­i­ble, per­mutable, spon­ta­neous­ly recon­sti­tut­ed, and yes, amor­phous and anar­chic. I didn’t even try to explain to her that it is not me sin­gu­lar, but a new enti­ty that forms each time, at my insti­ga­tion – grant­ed, but that does not con­sti­tute a first per­son sin­gu­lar. Instead I just gave her a san­guine affir­ma­tion of my rep­re­sen­ta­tion of an indef­i­nite plurality.



At the award cer­e­mo­ny (what could more absurd?) the doyenne of Euro­pean insti­tu­tion­al pow­er addressed the rag­tag audi­ence of unfa­mous artists, col­lect­ed here from all cor­ners of the world, forced into a sham art con­test against each oth­er, when all most of us real­ly want­ed was to sim­ply share our work. She brazen­ly lec­tured the crowd about the spir­it of human sol­i­dar­i­ty, the col­lab­o­ra­tion between artists and pub­lic to pro­duce a cre­ative expe­ri­ence that tran­scends bound­aries while reaf­firm­ing our mutu­al recog­ni­tion, or some­thing so out­ra­geous­ly disin­gen­u­ous that the whole audi­ence felt a chill up its col­lec­tive spine. Was she per­haps just mock­ing me? (Am I now mock­ing myself?) Then, she pref­aced her intro­duc­tion of the “win­ners” with a con­de­scend­ing praise for the women artists among us, acknowl­edg­ing the impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion of women in the arts, and sup­port­ing the inclu­sion of women in the high­est ech­e­lons of art achieve­ment. Then the prizes were announced and one of the four run­ner-ups was in deed a woman. It was pre­sent­ed as a career achieve­ment award to an old­er Aus­tri­an woman. The oth­er three run­ner-ups were men of dif­fer­ent ages and nation­al­i­ties. And the Grand Prix went to a young Bel­gian man. Don’t get me wrong: none of the artists who won were unde­serv­ing of a prize. In fact, the Bel­gian man had a beau­ti­ful piece, most deserv­ing of a prize, as did many oth­ers. First and fore­most, I object to sys­tems of rank­ing and prizes in gen­er­al, but espe­cial­ly when it comes to pure­ly cre­ative work, where the cri­te­ria for eval­u­a­tion is so fuck­ing irrel­e­vant. But most of all, I lament the (forced?) depen­den­cy of hon­est and hard­work­ing artists on a sys­tem that pro­tects and pro­motes the most degen­er­ate val­ues of colo­nial capitalism.



Bien­ni­als and res­i­den­cies have the poten­tial to pro­vide rich encoun­ters among artists, espe­cial­ly when they are inter-dis­ci­pli­nary. Being strand­ed in an unfa­mil­iar place with a group of cre­ative strangers from dif­fer­ent cul­tures and back­grounds is always elec­tri­fy­ing. That is the rea­son that these oppor­tu­ni­ties are pre­cious. But to sub­mit to the ver­dict of juries that most often rep­re­sent and uphold a mar­ket-defined val­ue sys­tem, even as they cyn­i­cal­ly court artists who sup­pos­ed­ly ques­tion those val­ues, pos­es a dilem­ma to artists who gen­uine­ly seek to advance alter­na­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties that don’t pri­or­i­tize insti­tu­tion­al inclusion.



The best we can hope for is to be hon­est about our ambi­tions, wher­ev­er they lie, and true to our beliefs. For those of us who seek to work in dif­fer­ent chan­nels – here I’m try­ing to find lan­guage that doesn’t assume the exis­tence of one cen­ter — the traps we face (exac­er­bat­ed in21st cen­tu­ry) are com­pli­cat­ed. Does par­tic­i­pa­tion in insti­tu­tion­al pro­grams make us com­plic­it with a sys­tem whose dom­i­nance we reject? Is it pos­si­ble to remain neu­tral to the con­text that is host­ing us? Is it pos­si­ble to mere­ly be grate­ful for any oppor­tu­ni­ty to work hon­est­ly? I do not pro­fess to have an answer. I mull over these ques­tions, and con­sid­er each sit­u­a­tion as it aris­es. What I have lit­tle patience for is the self-serv­ing fal­la­cy of using the insti­tu­tion to alleged­ly cri­tique the insti­tu­tion: at best a lost cause, at worst hypocrisy — dis­avow­ing while prof­it­ing? Even if one were to believe such a strat­e­gy cred­i­ble, and prob­a­bly many rely on it as a mode of sur­vival, what is the cost? Indi­vid­ual com­pro­mise is nec­es­sary, and for the most part, inevitable. To oper­ate strict­ly out­side of the pre­vail­ing sys­tem, as a choice, is ardu­ous, like all forms of asceti­cism, and ulti­mate­ly self-defeat­ing, in so many ways, but espe­cial­ly in the way that it pre­serves the sys­tem, even feeds it, by reaf­firm­ing its cen­tral­i­ty. And in return the cen­ter con­sumes the periph­ery. How to snake through, across and beyond this con­cen­tric­i­ty? Per­haps a pos­si­ble solu­tion beyond in or out could look like rad­i­cal inclu­siv­i­ty, where a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of sys­tems could coex­ist and relate, inter­sect and exchange, in a way that over­turns our cur­rent under­stand­ing of advan­tage. I’m fan­ta­siz­ing, but the point is we need to diver­si­fy what is val­ued. We have not to all wor­ship in the same direction.



For­get those, for now, who nur­ture the delu­sion of lega­cy and aspire to so-called his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance as deter­mined by the dom­i­nant institutions…aiaiai. But a sub­tler one might argue that, recog­ni­tion aside, insti­tu­tion­al sup­port affords an artist a plat­form, and that with­out such endorse­ment it is hard to reach a broad­er audi­ence. But is it auto­mat­i­cal­ly prefer­able to reach a broad­er audi­ence? Why are we pro­grammed to believe that mass-dis­sem­i­na­tion of our out­put is the most desir­able out­come? Exam­ine reflex­ive prop­a­ga­tion! Shouldn’t we, at this point in time, at least ques­tion our instinct to spread and max­i­mize our influ­ence? Instead, I ask: for an artist, why can’t it be as valu­able to reach a small audi­ence, an inti­mate group? Or even one oth­er indi­vid­ual? (Per­son­al­ly, I’d go fur­ther and include wild nature and divini­ties). The answer depends on our under­stand­ing of val­ue, which takes us back to the begin­ning, and to the task at hand.




The task at hand is to expand our under­stand­ing of val­ue. I try to live by a prin­ci­ple of incor­po­rat­ing a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of pos­si­bil­i­ties into my (ever-shift­ing) per­spec­tive; and in my work, ele­vat­ing par­a­digms oth­er than those that are assert­ed most con­spic­u­ous­ly, more than con­vinced of their more than equal worth; mean­ing, I am alive to the prob­a­bil­i­ty that there is more (invis­i­ble) pow­er in places oth­er than where we are used to see­ing pow­er. Thus, I root for us to expe­ri­ence the dif­fu­sion of pow­er. I long to see the para­me­ters blast­ed wide open, dis­lodg­ing the grip of a hege­mon­ic stan­dard that com­mands our love. I am speak­ing as an artist, but the wish goes for all.