In this paper I reflect on the institutionalised creative industry. I problematize the power structures of this industry that turn creativity into a slave for neo-liberalism. The reflection is based on an earlier work of mine, ‘22Hz.Hotel’, a work which confronted me with these structures and which led me to think about ways to create a platform from which I could act critically from the inside.
If you follow the money trail of subsidised culture in Flanders you will end up in the political circles, circles in which the power of decision making is caught within a market economy that which wishes are categorized in targets and goals to be achieved. An question that emerges to the surface in this context is how much is the programmer of a subsidised culture center is influenced by the political circle.
As an introduction to the action ‘22Hz.hotel’ I would like to explain how that work came to existence out the collaboration with concrete life itself, a life where political agenda does not colour human beings. ‘22Hz.hotel’ shows how the power of human imagination can be used not only to produce the artwork itself but also to deal with the creative industries, facilitating the artist’s criticality and the showing of the artist’s work to the audience.
At the end of the academic year 2016 – 2017, visual artist and head of the department of autonomous design of the School of Arts GentKristof Van Gestel introduced me to the curators of the visual arts festival ‘Sorry Not Sorry!’, a festival scheduled to take place in Ghent at the end of September 2017. After a first conversation with the curators I expressed my interest in in-situ art. I was invited to take part in ‘Sorry Not Sorry!’because of Desire Lines, an intervention that I had done at the ferry terminal in Calais during that summer. During this intervention, I had stumbled upon the words ‘I wish for the future’, written down on a crash barrier at the end of a cul-de-sac. These words stroke me and made me wonder “for what future did I want to work?”With that in mind, I claimed shared spaces, through imagination, and in response to the consensus that saturates public space,I sought to demonstrate how every square meter of our land is measured and regulated. No matter how thoroughly landscape designers do their homework, people always attempt to create their own, shorter routes. These shortcuts, which form bare patterns in green stripes, verges and embankments, are later used by everyone.
Back to ‘Sorry Not Sorry!’: the curators invited me to visit the site where the art festival was to take place. In prospecting on and around the Schipperskaai and the Koopvaardijlaan, I asked myself a few questions: Who is the initiator of the festival? It appeared to be the city council of Ghent, which organized and financed it. Why at this location? In a area where major infrastructure works had already taken place, urban developments meant to provide access from the city attracted my attention. A terrain still needed to be developed as part of the city council master plan Dock North. This terrain was not well known to the general public and even though the plans for further development had already been approved by the same city council, there was need for young people who would like to invest and live in Dock North.
My critical view focused on the context in which the festival was organized and how the artist was being used for the purpose of creating attention to the area. Following national legislation, cities had been given more responsibility in their own financing, which accommodated the urge of people who can pay the high taxes necessary to living in the city. Art was being used as entertainment and as means to attract these young people. I decided not to present an existing work within this framework of gentrification but rather to develop a new creation relating to the landscape, to concrete life, to Sorry Not Sorry! and to myself.
I see the artist as someone who acts without self-interest, as an organ of the societal body, thatlike a heretic, moves within structures of abstractions. However necessary, the abstraction must be permanently confronted with the violence it exerts on concrete life. With the imagination, the artist-heretic creates spaces between worlds that hardly meet, spaces which leaves marks within the structures of abstraction.Traces of a post-utopian idea in which is hidden the dream that everything should be possible, that everything , the dream of a NewBabylon. Such an environment is created by the activities of life and not the other way around. Not in any case, by the city planners working within a capitalistic system where developers buy wastelands to build buildings with the sole intentionof making profit, thus exerting a violence on concrete life.
When I focus on the urban development within public space, I see a lack of a reflection about how concrete life unfolds in this space. Concrete is cast in symbolical arrangements, and categorized under neoliberal consensus. Conditioned in the choices given to people by a society far removed from the ideals of dynamic democratic life where real confrontations around a variety of effective alternatives could exist. According to Chantal Mouffe these limited and predetermined choices lay the grounds for claims of ethnic, religious and nationalist nature, claims of self-identification that badly serve the democratic system. Identities that end up reduced to an essence that consists of symbols only.
Several prospections to the festival terrain brought me into contact with people who had spent their life on the terrain and this with their truck. Where will they be moved once urban development has been completed? With this question I discovered what I wished to communicate to the audience of the festival. In the next conversation with the organization it became clear that the truck drivers would have to disappear from the streets to make the streets traffic free for public during the festival. As an artist, I could not accept this. Given that the organization was more focused on their program than on the existing context which they assumedly wanted to share with the audience, I realized that my proposal had to express my awareness for the life of the truck drivers that I had met on the terrain, and in particular on the way that this life was being disrupted by the festival. Paradoxically enough, the curators unanimously agreed to give me and the truckers a place within their curatorial framework.
Public space allows contemporary art to show life itself. A life in which you can move, and enter into relationships with the other and with the environment. Public space is the space where hegemony has no place and where the individual can exist. ’22hz.hotel’ is an action guided by encounters with daily users, developed within concrete life, and where the landscape is the protagonist.
The drivers with their trucks became part of the festival. My recognition for the situation of the truckers provided the necessary space to develop the statement.‘22Hz.hotel’ was further realized in consultation with them. Together with : Pero, Toni, Kori, Goran, Dimo, Marian, Cinan, Kadir, Efndie, Fatih, Spedion, Vlarko, Dejan, Panon and Tony. Their usual location was made more visible and concentrated in that landscape, so that an audience had to pass through it. I painted personalized parking lots with the name of the truckers on them. The truckers themselves saw the need to communicate their way of life, so I arranged for the guided tour of the festival to lead the audience to the trailers where the truckers showed their world. I did not intervene into that world. My role limited itself to involving the truckers.
During the production phase of the festival, I noticed that the curators did not really engage with what was happening, which I found strange. During the festival trucks kept coming. In negotiations with the truckers that were already there, I found free parking spots for them over the entire festival site. The public of the festival had to step aside so that I could guide them to these spots. We noticed that the organization only then really understood what questions ‘22Hz.hotel’ brought to the fore once the festival was running. A light box with the title of the action hanging on a street lamp represented the symbolic claim to that place. Together with the Macedonian truckers, the light box was hoisted into the air and, it was celebrated when the lights were lit.
Even though some visitors were uncomfortable because of the situation and the lack of a common language with the truckers, the interventions got the public interested in the story of the truckers. We received media attention and could so share the statement with an even larger audience.
When observing, the world of the other, his or her way of living attracts my attention. Like an anthropologist who studies the human being in all its aspects, I like to take the time to elucidate the space with the others around me. The social impact that economic construction has on society is becoming more and more clear as consequence of the crisis. Money is not just used by people to exchange labor and services with each other, but it is a means to hold the other in a stranglehold of power abuse, like the relation between the capitalist and the worker. I am interested in finding an appropriate relationship to money that can carry a value in itself.
My workspace is not located between four walls but in the public space, that as a landscape is the collective memory in which we people move into relations with one another.
Today I still have good contact with the truckers and the idea exists to make a militant film documentary together with them about their landscape in the Dock North. I am just back from a visit to Macedonia. At the invitation of Pero, Dejan and others we drove by car to their homes for Christmas holidays. On the roads, and specifically at the border with Serbia, where we waited for six hours in the night, we have seen the migratory movement of cheap labor workers of Europa. People, in particular men, going home to their families after months working between the jaws of the goddess “industry”.