Do not look at art qualitatively as separate from the rest of life. Instead, see art as a refinement, an interpretation; an amplification of those qualities of everyday human experience that we name ‘complete’. Everyday. Not something special, an event, nor spectacle. Something as tea, coffee, or water – done everyday as the daily expedition to the streets that create the municipality you live in.
A street allows us to moves through the city, streets have cracks and curbs to trip us, green areas for rest, allows for the movement of life and goods, a place to gather, streets come in many forms, we drive on them, walk on them, paint on them; they are multilayered and sometimes even above and below us. Streets have many stories to tell, some beautiful and romantic, some dark and haunting. The streets are a place of collaboration with your city. Streets accompany and create the character of a city. The most famous streets are known for walking by the act of the flâneur.
The myth of the flâneur was the curatorial entry point. The historical figure championed by Walter Benjamin as a casual nomad, witness and reporter of street-life in the modern city, was first explored at length, in the writings of Baudelaire. Baudelaire’s flâneur, an aesthete and dandy, meandered the streets and arcades of nineteenth-century Paris observing and eavesdropping in on the colorful expressions of life in a modern city. As Danny Scheible, the Sacramento variant of the flâneur applies this method and meaning of this activity, bound together, one with the other – a praxis of walking, of engaging a municipality and its public at street level creating and teaching others. The flâneur is trying to achieve a form of transcendence – whether myth or not. The flâneurs act then becomes a question of a silent collaboration with the city in which one flâneurs – as with ArtStreet, a collaboration of the citizen artist with others and M5arts which brought ArtStreets many nodes to realization.
It is in this sardonic merrymaking space that was ArtStreet – not restricted to old-fashioned ‘high art’, not the artists, authors and rock stars that make up ‘pop culture’ whom are susceptible to mockery over the pretension of a ‘creative vision’. Rather, via an open call in which you are paid to play.
The critics of ArtStreet ran the gamut of art and culture – a continuous shower of ridicule at artistic hubris, privilege. Lest we forget, the hollow claims of transcendence or the local scribblers who well, are anything but good at what they do, claiming an expertise due to privilege or platform. No matter how extensive or vitriolic the critique, it is hard to find examples where either art or culture is criticized to the point of negation, or have a justifiable point for that matter, or do we already hold this in our hands? Art only dies, when nobody takes notice. Notwithstanding the generally accepted position that the boundaries between art and culture are flimsy and often arbitrary at best, critiques tend to be either populist attacks on high art or lamentation against the aesthetic poverty of pop culture. The distinction between ‘art’ and ‘culture’ is the chief obstacle one needs to get over before a substantive reflection can be started. It is generally accepted that any form of a culture – in contrast to works of art – can be just as ‘complex’ as any acclaimed museum masterwork, if not infinitely more so. All this really tells us is that culture can be just as good as ‘art’ or that some so-called ‘art’ is as bad as culture as the culture that led to its birth. All the rhetoric about ‘substance’ and ‘elements’ of work in most dialogues is itself devoid of content and meaning, either being little more than vacuous opinion or else so broad as to basically describe nearly anything in a cultural context. Subjectively, a very different trajectory is told.
It would seem that ‘art’ and ‘culture’ are supposed to exist in a quantum flux where any attempt to locate them is impossible, though you are sure there is always a paradox. While many laugh at older definitions of art based on principled education, the idea of ‘art’ is still dominated by a bunch of supernatural bullshit. On one hand, there is an implied notion that is so huge and hard to define and so conceptually crammed full of grandiose and amazing defining qualities. Sure, we have the perception that art and culture are inherently good, that they involve working in particular mediums, which are vehicles for ‘personal expression’, and that beauty and elegance are constitutive. More notably there is a widespread belief that what art and culture share is a timeless, natural quality that unifies everything from turds in the street with a flag in them, to ancestral ceremonies, out-of-date spiritual iconography, the earliest parietal art and the last magazine you read. These meanings are, at best, overly inclusive and thus not particularly useful, more often they are vapid metaphysical drivel without a shred of verification to back them up. Nonetheless, everyone from artistes, to the ‘approved authorities’, and philosophers continually perpetuate this drool. There is no indication as to how art does ‘meaning’, poetics maybe, sure there have been vague notions via the hard sciences and mostly used for monetization, posterity, and export, it’s just the usual assumption that art is deep without having to be proven so in the creation of the ‘canon’. Perhaps the issue is that specialists are too close and are liable for the poetic excess they create. Art may be hard to define, but whatever it is, it’s often a step apart from authenticity, you can see the nature of the definition as not ‘aesthetic: The objection here is an over use of aesthetics, a surplus value of aesthetics as it were, cultural exploitation through which the proper value disappears altogether. This is where cooperation and collaboration come to light. This is the difference between ars and art.
Only when modernity ushered in a novel rule of representation that ars began to fracture into ‘technology’ and ‘art’ to designate different modes of making and different subjectivities of persons who created them, which was defined by the task being performed. This is not to say that theories like authorship or difference in the fields did not exist within ars, rather they were central to being or akin to modern notions of creativity, a term no one dared use in relationship to painters or sculptors, due to the irreverent hubris of comparing oneself to a God under the regime of modern rationality the world was divided up into different realms of specialization and it was within this development that the cadaver of ars was carved up in order to see if there was something useful for this new society to extract from it. The initial division began during the Renaissance when the ‘liberal’ and ‘mechanical’ arts were separated. The latter would dissolve into the modern technological apparatus while ‘liberal arts’, as the world of broad academic skill, would be further refined to the point where the only real surviving branch was the ‘fine arts.’
The ‘fine arts’ came to be since it denoted the expression of sublime beauty only attainable through subjective feelings too delicate to be outsourced to some mechanical analogue. By the nineteenth century all other forms of ‘art’ had withered away such that ‘fine art’ essentially became ‘art’. By the twenty-first century, with the demise of modernism, there was no need for an expression to be ‘sublime’ in order for it to represent the irreducible feelings of artistic genius. Subsequently ‘fine art’ would, once again, become just another art, one where it was clear the cause was not general representational skill but the mysterious realm of self-expression.
Oh la la.
While artists have been working cooperatively for epochs, recently their alliances have become the subject of renewed interest. There has been an increase in the number of student collaborations and curricula focused on collaborative processes in university art programs. In recent years the act of collaborating has been embraced by some as one way to shift the emphasis away from the individual to a more socially engaged form of praxis.
At the root of M5arts engagement is the artists, one of the inferences to come out of our socially engaged form of praxis is that art and culture are decisive influences on the formation of the subject – i.e. the self, the personality, the individual, the moral character, or whatever name you want to give it. Art and culture participate directly in the governance of the self, and thereby form a foundational element in larger formal constructions of government, as thinkers from Schiller to Foucault, and tons of data, have stressed. To that point, the arts are, or at least should be important. Nevertheless – and this is crucial – they do not supplant the order that rests on them, and therefore are not the decisive levers of political power, as predictably a discourse as culture studies has claimed.
Knowing that art and culture play in the development of individual autonomy, and how autonomy can be exercised so as to create political agency, in very brief terms, from this position as someone who is neither a political organizer nor a bureaucrat we need to focus on the necessary but disjointed relationship between three things:
- The institutionally structured effort to achieve relative individual autonomy.
- The effort to use one’s abilities of autonomous evaluation and decision making to participate in such institutions.
- The attempt, on the part of such organizations, to exercise collective power on the existing state. Of course, doing this means that at some point one does have to try, to use this amusingly biting phrase, to “think like the state.” However most will probably agree that the last thing one ought to do is identify with the existing state that confronts us today.
Responsiveness and reciprocity figure straight in the facilitation of a common value – an activity at the core of any collective action. The thoughtful, deliberate practice of faith in the other, empathy is ascribed and strips the self of itself, strengthens social bonds. It has a far-reaching impact to transform the very experience of collaboration – via artistic merits, frameworks, formal scope, and those involved.
As found during the four months at ArtStreet caring for the collaborative act becomes conscious, a slower, more accented act. Of course, where there is no compatibility you can’t force it – directing yourself into empathy is disingenuous, and doing so for an end belongs to the province of labor, although not work – according to the economic logic more often found around the discussion surrounding art found in the United States, any collaboration involves doing the empathic work by proximity.
Expressing care, feeling it out with actions or words that communicate. Once shifted, shared matters may be materials or a silent bask in the sun during a long winter day. That is, a moment in which the felt understanding is the motivation, or the very material of, creation. ‘Should we do something with that?’ Here ‘should’ is vital, it is an ethical mode of questioning. Should we? As with both ArtHotel and ArtStreet ‘Should we?’ The answer was a resounding – yes. Then shortly after ‘This is not what we planned on!’ It is important to be clear about this deliberation: rather than mining emotions for the sake of a self-aggrandizing production, it is allows for the possibility of privileging the artists’ existence and resolve. That empathy can be facilitated deliberately to inform artistic impulses and processes and implies neither outcome nor productivity. Collaborating, then, is not an articulated object or particular medium, rather the unpredictability of coming together, at once instinctive and intentional, neither calculated nor instrumentalizing.
Instrumentalization cannot be wielded as a tool; nor must it naturally emerge. Sometimes an ability to relate does arise naturally, of course, when there is no common ground to be had, emotions can land awkwardly and need more time to settle. Or they evade the efforts own order all together in a site saturated with loneliness and isolation by its design. M5arts designed the difference. It is after all ‘up to you’ to create a world you wish to live in. We attempt to learn from artists what art is. Instead of the modernist engagement of a Fried model of the curatorial, M5arts engages rather than directs artists.
What M5arts found is an extraordinary richness and variety of weighty, ideas that responded specifically and very differently to a simple idea – Slowing down and walking. A sign of the times maybe, an effort of this scale today requires a strategic engagement across the arts, social media, networking and technological support, as well as economic, business, and community-based spheres while keeping the self in check with others.
Not a mere means to an end, and not necessarily influenced by political or philosophical convictions or the status quo, the choice to walk into a collaborative model is a deliberate artistic choice. Collaboration, in other words, is now part of the medium of art making, an artistic end in itself: The subversive kernel of all art. Every artist exhibited at ArtStreet was well informed of what they were getting into. Well aware of the possible shortcomings and risks involved with an event that shunned away from the blatant commercialization of art and its conventions. Some of those Artists spent months off site or in the building creating their work. Some only a few hours, many others helped, some prodding and poking here and there, and emotional support, over whelmed with they had taken on. Some showed up daily to help out others or to offer care and encouragement by hanging about and speaking with those who spent the day working. This is not including the hundreds of volunteers without whom them ArtStreet would have not been possible.
This collaborative shift in artistic practice and thinking is not new: historically, the acceptance of the Romantic myth of the ‘solitary genius’, as a myth was perhaps the first collaborative shift, along with the birth of what is now known as the ‘art market’, given that this myth was ostensibly dismantled so long ago. This myth seems to have a current renaissance, in which an artist’s prestige is oddly magnified and mythologized for being the creator of large works that superficially hide the individual artist’s role in art-making. Bar those artists who are not concealed behind their works; they are paraded around them and sold: we have traded the myth of the solitary genius for the myth of the star artist: if we have long given up the myth of the solitary genius, then we have been working with others. Collaborating; and yet, if we have all already always been collaborating, then why is there the sudden urge to build some speculative model around the collaborative impulse as we are experiencing it today?
M5arts offered a way out of this question, a nodal model of collaborative practice – instead of clarifying and working through the meaning of “working together” as collaborative practice is usually presumed to embody – we explored what it means to collaborate while working apart, while working separately, and even perhaps in a state of tension. Artists, Critics, and Theorists alike are rethinking the contemporary drive to collaborate outside of the economic condition. We do it from the ground up – that which is reliably over looked by criticisms. This naive notion of the artist’s universal desire to be more socially engaged in their practice is raised in opposition to contemporary art’s epistemological temporal fetish of ‘now’.
As an entity over and above any of the individuals that constitute the group, M5arts exhibitions heightened criticality, a sense of intimacy. Out of this came three key concepts in our collaborative praxis “disrupting,” “endurance,” and “mutual reflection” as indispensable schemes that encourage us to exist on a number of different levels. Contemporary artists and art are therefore contemporary to nothing but itself, ArtStreet existed in a self-reinforcing ontological closure nothing but itself. Embedded within ArtStreet was an experiment for those participating concerning their identity as an artist – a restlessness about how groups function differently from individual artists and how this impacts their work.
ArtStreet showed how collaborations impact the identity and individuality of the members that constitute them. Where others expressed doubt, worry, and negativity there was an opportunity to consider some of the more meaningful, rich, and positive ways that collaborative methods can enrich not just artistic practices, but also enhance lives of those who participated. Leaving behind the sneering backdrop of cutthroat art-markets, veiled isolating technology, and the constant struggle for artists to be seen, heard and paid.
Friendship and mutual survival was the foundation for the first collaborative models that fostered human flourishing. At ArtStreet it was not the case. Often people ask what collaborations offer over and above the individuals that constitute them, the answer is simple: alliances and support are the values that M5arts seeks to foster in our collaborations, grounded in a conception not just of a shared art-making praxis, but also of a shared life as artists to create a better place that typically rests just beneath the feet. Not idealistic – optimistic.
By exploring these interactions we have a vague understanding of identity as an artist within a collaborative arts project. Whether the daily struggle with materials or the person who has the sound turned up too loud in the bay fifty feet away, we begin to visualize the terrain of the collaborative experience. At one end of the spectrum exists collaborations featuring the peaceful, perhaps even harmonious, co-existence of art and life, or the need to turn to the interior, to explore the complexities of one’s relationships with the self and those closely connected to us or even the material you are working with. Withdrawing from the exterior world bursting with ever increasing stressors, artists’ retreat to those closest to them. Those closest are our immediate family – family not made by blood.
Similarly, ArtStreet highlighted the way in which an accepted art project can evolve from a lead artist working with a team of assistants, into a new model where the assistants work collaboratively with the artist, resulting in reciprocal relationship of each others’ work and in the end create an object reflecting their collaborative process of art creation against the background of the expanding conception of collaboration. In this respect, traditional art practices is redefined through the development of the more fundamental collaborative art forms that see collaboration as concept and as method are intricately linked in the development of contemporary collaborative art practices. Collectives and collaborating artists are smarter and more efficient. The division of labor in such praxis has made room for a range of new, and often non-artist members, skill-sets, networks, and technologies. M5arts was grounded in the belief that collaboration is a vehicle through which to disseminate knowledge; a discursive method whose strategies are responding to the contemporary concerns in a wider environment. M5arts operates an unconventional model of working in which artists can think, debate and make, without defined outcomes and in response to individual needs.
This should come as no surprise to anyone following the exponential rise in the number of artists, producing an immense surplus of market labor, falling willingly or not, outside of the conventional, marketed elite of the art world whether micro, meso, or macro modeling of the art world economies at large. What is clear is that collective practices today are increasingly multi-layered, interdisciplinary, and well in tune with societal progress as a means to enhance their praxis and to question important current and issues valued by said artist, to increase and maximize networks, thus gaining a new sense of momentum independent from the contemporary art world. The marginalization of artists is in no doubt worth fighting against, but this raises questions about the basic efficiency of M5arts itself as an entity. This entire theoretical framework is redundant if one believes that artists must be awarded economic and social resources to determine the direction of their art and those institutional figures such as critics, curators, theorists, and even collectors are reducing art to a simple contemporary commercial enterprise. M5arts believes it is a much more complex issue.
Not all efforts at discriminating the contemporary from ‘not contemporary’ can be equally valued. What deserves to be called “contemporary” must be identified on a basis that temporal and spatial trajectories do not provide. It is in general a form only to the extent that it is limited, and that it is limited twice over: once as a thing of the past and again with as a thing that is present. This is why the contemporary, is so hard to hold down, always at risk of solidifying into the most dogmatic of notions, and then it is poof – gone. It is no longer contemporary due to time. ArtStreet was an event of forms, or an event of the relation between forms, whatever the register of these forms – it is the ‘idea’ that orients them. In the movement of forms, between them, and, on the other, whether, music, theater, the poem, painting, architecture, sculpture, cinema, dance, video, performance, installation, and lecture, so here we are, at the end looking for the next horizon. Perhaps by learning from these events, we can learn something about our future.
ArtHotel and ArtStreet pursued to identify and understand the contemporary site outside the world of the ‘white cube’ as a particular and potent space for the production and reception of art and knowledge – a close encounter in a city that needs more profound involvement with the arts that will lead to an impact on the shape of local and international art, though most importantly – the people of the street. The future has a secret, the future calls for secrecy. This unstable thing, this fragile thing, this dimly contoured thing is what we are going to explore next, with the help of thinking through the art that will obey no preordained design. We have not deliberated on the matter beforehand. These other forms of art are coming, while always being errant at first, searching and innovative by means of a subtle, reciprocal intellect, in which no matter how much love you have for the arts you have no real access.
Also implied at the start, to not separate art from life, if artwork is a echo of a era, barring the chance of a significant change in the world’s ideological, political or economic situation, an alliance of artists working in a non-collaborative – collaborative atmosphere may provide a way out of contemporary art’s temporal fetish and begin to play in a world of creation. Worlds where the consensual production and exhibition of art can take place connecting with its public on its own terms.