WHAT IF… “WE” GO BAD?

Monstrous Organizing of Arts

by Karolina Kucia

Who is that “we”, you may ask. Me and you? What are you assuming?
There are two “we” in this text I am going to address.
The first “we” is the artist scene, or so-called art world with all its inhabitants, that is artists, art organizers and all those who’s work in to make art happen.
Then there is “we” simply as the pronoun that it is, referring to a form collectivity that is acting together. The potential “we”, let’s say, as if “we” could have shared motion, goal or agency.

So what if both of that imaginative “us” are just bad. Let’s imagine the art scene is a bad scene; the art world is a bad world, the artists as bad artists and organizers that aren’t good either. Pick your grade: bad, worse or the worst, and imagine that “we” got it wrong, both of that “we” – what “we” are and how “we” are.

Now – Bad, what would it mean to be bad? It would mean not to be good, for once. Not good, not better and not the best. Phew, wouldn’t you at least a bit feel relieved stating so. Maybe it is just me. Ok. Yes. But don’t you also feel tired of constant necessity to affirm both the value of art and collectivity… It seems like with a current state of art funding and a valuing of the artistic profession in society; we just cannot afford not to affirm it. Like it would be a form of betrayal to do bad art or to say how bad is it. What if we could afford admitting there is bad art, and bad artists and artworld without immediately looking for yet affirmative argument for their right to exist? Because there is other level of bad, really bad: there is not enough money for the representants of our profession whether they are good or bad. Well, one could even say, there is no profession, only the professionals.

Let’s go through these badnesses one by one.

 

WE, ARTISTS, are BAD

When one googles “Artists are”, the suggestions appearing come as follow: Artists are narcissistic, artists are selfish, artists are annoying, artists are here to disturb the peace, artists are weird, artists are sensitive, too sensitive perhaps, artists are never happy… To refer to a Google search is in itself obviously a bad thing to do, then also the results are tainted by my search preferences, perhaps negative ones. Yes to be negative, is not a good thing to do either. However, as it is becoming clear by now, it is a very method of conceiving this piece of writing.

Let’s continue… “We”, bad artists are in constant run for money and external confirmation. One is connected to another through various daily routines such as the need to answer self-affirmatively to multiple calls, and applications, conversations with production houses or curators, even colleagues. Artists are critical after all, selfish but critical, too critical perhaps. Artists are mean and competitive. Well, there is a place and money only for a few. They educate too many of us, some says. If there is too many of us, so before that mistake can be corrected, we could run into the conclusion that most of the artists, while they are, are useless. Is that so?

 

WE, the ”ARTWORLD” are BAD

”Artworld is…” pretentious, art world is fake…, again the google search. Yet it is a world, the world where artists live. Huhuuh, not only they got to manage to normalise a constant sense of uncertainty of means to live, competition and redundancy but also the fact that the whole world they live in is fake, so basically nonexistent. I guess one can get selfish and self-referential in such living conditions; it wouldn’t be crazy at all. In Work of Art, American reality tv show from 2010, which would be I guess the worst possible source to learn of what the work of art is, but perhaps also somewhat very symptomatic of the popular sentiment on how artists and artworld functions and how to groom ”the next greatest artist”. There the decisive body of three judges head of Jerry Salz, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and Bill Powers states: ”art is a way of showing the outside world what your inside world is like”[1], ”I am just looking for something that intrigues me, something that confuses me or surprises me[2]” and Sarah-Jessica Parker executive producer of the show encourages competitors to be ”be brave, be competitive and be yourself”[3]. ”Artists, I have some news” (Simon de Pury): ”You need to distinguish yourself from everything else what is in the market” (Kathryn Court), ”it has the bright colours, and you would be drawn to it”, ”You better find really good message to bring across, so if you can’t provoke through your work, that you can really give a punchy message to your judges (Simon de Pury)”.  Among those consistently vague criteria, suddenly a performance by Nao Bustamante causes consternation: ”Can you please explain what we are looking at?” ”So you really don’t know what this piece is? We don’t really know what this piece is…”[4]. Nao did her participation as an interventionist performance. With the strategy of doing every week something that she didn’t know how to do[5], the approach not really appreciated in the competition. It seems one need to rather pop-up and pop-out and differ from others like them and to always, always be able to talk in an exciting, never self-defensive way about their art, yet true to your self, rather than to chase the unknown. To what…? To fall into an eye of some benefactor, cause they may or may not offer a job, which may or may not leed into a career. And that is what you need to do in that inexistent, fake but a very potential world — the professional field which does not provide a living.

 

“WE” ARE BAD

“Ok Artists, you have given “us” a lot to think about. We’ll be back with you shortly. (Behind the door): So, what do “we” think?”
China Chow, Work of Art 

Let’s go now to that other “we”, the form of collectivity, there is in that community of artists and art world then. That “we”, which could somehow act towards some possibly common goal. “Who are “we” is a remonstrative question”[6] as says Donna Haraway, meaning perhaps that “we” re…monstrates, that is, it shows and objects, performs what is to be seen and protests it. In that way, it mutates and re-mutates. Impossible “we”, in the making, remaking and de-making. Huh. Could that bad, unstable “we” be a good thing then. “So bad, that it is actually good, you know?” as my fellow artist, Elisa Bands says. It is different “we” than one imagine perhaps in the meaning of solidarity. What if the whole solidarity is also impossible…? among monsters…? Well, just to think about how artists at times are not so great for each other or how the artworld at times treats the artists. One would perhaps first need to become a human… In somewhat otherwise horrible article on organizations of zombies, Alf Rehn writes on a weird form of togetherness of a hordes of Zombies, which does not seem to communicate well, sometimes forming scarce collective to survive, sometimes barely help each other, maybe, when one misses a leg to walk, even if they seem not even to like each other, perhaps even repulsed by each other smells, yet, sharing a direction and a weird awakedness cause by a vocation, a call[7]. A call of art…?

If that vague picture does not convince you on monstrousness of artists and artworld, let me try an ontological argument. It is very easy to prove that artists are not human.

 

ARTIST/ARTWORLD IS A MONSTER because…

Monsters are described as the creatures of lack, or excess or ambiguity of human parts. Artists are very much creatures of excess: They are geniuses holding a fictional profession that does not make their living, holding other jobs as nurses teachers, developers, designers to maintain their first profession. There, there, in the real-life, they are human. But all of that together, it is far out of norm… There is no such thing as a teaching artist or nurse artist, one have to choose either one or the other. Well, not the artist. Overworking, burning out, in order to get a grant, for which they would promise to do more, but instead going down with depression, as it would be the first moment they could get breath out and deal with whatever their life is… No one wants to feel they are useless in what they do. In his book “Bullshit Jobs. A Theory” David Graeber describes the pain of workers who have a sense on the uselessness of their job, that even high remuneration cannot compensate. Funny enough, some of them use the time otherwise wasted by bureaucratic rituals or pretending to look busy filling the forms or covering patches in an organizational mess or executing tasks that do not seem to make sense rather by making music, writing a piece of fiction or study of philosophy[8]. Art working is excessive, and some of it might or might not be useless. No one can really say. The question then, do you feed that monster, the one who you do not understand and who you cannot predict? I would. Try imagining world without it…

The artists/artworld are professional monsters of lack: not enough, never enough. There is no such thing as enough in art, perhaps the characteristic now extended into other creative industries and creative jobs. You so not do well, as a mediocre artist. Also, artists are often presented as social outcasts, not having enough social skills. And they are asked to ask with not enough means. Hungry artists, ever heard that expression? Unemployed artist? Lack, lack, lack…

Finally the ambiguity: you never know what will they come up with, who do they serve exactly…, who will they art serve exactly…, what are they actually doing, they even do not know themselves sometimes what they are actually doing, or they cannot explain… And you know what they say, an artwork everyone can interpret it as they like. Well, if that is not ambiguity, I don’t know what is? Even class-wise, they do not fit precisely any category, not even “precariat” makes it, maybe a “projectariat”? Therefore, just for the case of that argument, I decided to cast new category. I wasn’t sure which one to choose for “us” the monstreoisie or monstertariat. You see, it is not that easy choice… “Monstreoisariat”! I realise, because we are both… and so mixed. Some of us manage because of a spouse or heritage, or state. Who supports your artistic career? The state? Family means or connections? Your second, real profession?  Or maybe you are simply not supported, making it here and there, somehow trying to use every opportunity. Monstreoisariat: The Bloody Bloodsuckers: the new dangerous class.

 

MONSTREOISARIAT ORGANIZED

In such case what is to claim the form of solidarity among those all forms of mal- and at the same time extra- formation, mal- and extra- organization of bodies and minds and it is in a constant state of fluidity? The monstrous organization is a paradox. The organized monster, the monster organized?

But the monster does not exist, remember? There are only stories and myths of others who find this way a trill, relief or justification. Then there are those who are represented, suffering from it or not, usually however inadequate to their life in monstrous representation. I will talk not on what is really there, but what we imagine to be there, we – as those who are both anticipating normative and becoming a monster. The monster that of abnormal, cast away and the monster who casts away only hiding actual horror, be it cannibals and conquistadores or heretics and Christians. Instead of looking for the righteous, I am perhaps here aiming at calling on the mechanism of production of monstrosity. The imaginative machine of monstrous – that is one who organizes. This machine gives a weird birth to weird individualized creatures to then outcast some, beyond the norm, the law – the too odd ones, the illegal ones, the incomprehensible ones, according to the conventional morals often regarding usefulness to the “common good” while at the same time preying on idea of body, or sexuality, or believes.

To organize as a monster could mean to fake, to lie, to avoid responsibility, to use all means legal and illegal with no consequences – to become a horror organization perhaps. But they do not call themselves so. They instead pose as the benefactors of humanity, or even as pillars of civilization and participate in casting away of “others” into monsters. Don’t “we” the artworld do that as well… this constant bragging about how art creates value for the society, promoting a virtue of some kind: blah, blah, blah…, and yet it doesn’t seem to work.

So then, here some different proposals: In his book: Monstrous Organizations, Torkild Thanem proposes restructuring organizations based on multiple membership and mutability[9].

 

MEANS OF MUTABILITY.

“Monsters are continuous because they are not separate from other entities, and things could be otherwise because power relations and the distribution of resources between heterogenious entities could be different.”[10]

Here idea of multiply membership by Susan Leigh Star, as also introduced by Thanem becomes handy. I want to return to the image of an artist as a monster of excess. To be an artist, sometimes means also to be a freelance curator (or vice-versa), to be an entrepreneur, it also means sometimes to be a nurse or a restaurant worker, and to be a researcher, and to be a mother and to be unemployed and so on. To organize based on multiply membership would mean a broader concept of organization than one based on sharing of value or a goal, interest, capability or trade. It would be a different ”we” then the ”we” of an Art World. It would be ”we”: artists/organizers/nurses/entrepreneurs/researchers/unemployed/mothers/etc. and especially the hostile and impossible moment of transition from one to another. What are the organizational conditions, which would embrace such messiness, complexity and trouble? What would be a form of collectivity not anymore reduced to one world and one sense of appropriate, without normative body and rules, but of many changeable limbs, faces and goals. According to Star, the starting point would be between isolation and enrolment; in a moment of voicing, transforming out of silence and ignorance, but not yet translating. Between unnameable and other, would be a place of monster[11]. To act with multiply membership (following Star and Thanem) would mean, not to act from clear, powerful “executive” identities (artist, curator,…), but rather their impure, marginal, cyborg-like and invisible forms of connections and frictions, the moment of displacement, from the intersection, from the margin. That is not to separate the adequacy of the act according to a context but act with the access to a confused and painful gap in between a “split-personality”.[12]

Another idea of mutability follows Lynn Margulis and her alternative to Darwin’s theory of symbiogenesis. From which, one learns that ”formation of new life forms, new organs or new cell organelles (can happen) by a permanent association of older, preestablished life forms”,[13] that is one could say, by a long-lasting relationship of cohabitation, co-touching of tissues.

”The term ”symbiosis,” coined by Heinrich Anton de Bary in 1879, refers to the living together of differently named organisms. […] The term is often used loosely to refer to fleeting encounters and alliances, but the truly generative symbiotic interactions in nature tend to be endosymbiotic—the living inside (”endo”) of one organism by another. Symbiogenesis refers to the evolution of living novelties by this process: new behaviours, organelles, tissues, organisms, species, and higher taxa. Symbiogenesis emerges from prolonged contact and eventual metabolic and genetic merger”[14].

What it means for the animal, is the fact of becoming with bacterias and viruses, co-mutation (Haraway, 2018) and what it could mean for organizations is to co-exist and co-mutate with minor structures which do not seem to be beneficial in a first rational view or might even seem harmful.

One example could be a development in the understanding of autoimmune disease and trials of treatment for Crohn disease or IBS, considering, for instance, planting the whipworms from pigs into human intestines, as they reduce the inflammation, by creating the relationship with anti-inflammatory bacterias. The whipworms borrowed from pigs are close enough to those which human were getting rid off since 1930’s altogether with other parasites, as all of them were recognised as harmful. What does that mean for the organizations? It would mean to work in interdependencies of heterogenous ecologies rather than autonomy. It would mean staying with, rather than getting on and examining the history of ones becoming, where all those who are missing, are recognised and credited. Brrr. A horrible thought that is: to be at risk, to co-create the world with ghosts and monsters and parasites, to stop claiming a priority to survive, superiority to define, yet, not conform, and merely, mutually recognise, live with, change with.

Yet another, slightly less dangerous, slightly less like “paradise lost” sounding idea, perhaps more fit for dealing with internalised hegemonic power way also lie at hand. This one is rather affective and will lead through attention to moments of inadequacy, hypocrisy and unease. The retrieval of inadequacy, hypocrisy and unease brings back the forgotten gaps, multiple memberships and offers an entry point into mutability. Instead of following an idea of any form of virtue, it would mean to look into what does not fit, what seems to be faulty yet, still is there. To look into the double standards, the impossibility of making an ethical claim and believes without looking into practices, discarding pretences. To look into places and moments, one would rather not, following the monster who “troubles, worries and haunts”[15]. Ok then, so how?

 

THE TALE OF TWO HOLES

What could mean an organization which ethics are not based on affirming any virtue but rather tuned to respond to sense of ineadequcy, hipocrisy and unease? Christopher Land in his proposition of Ass-Thetics for the Organization Theory takes it a bit further[16]. His concept starts from the image of a talking ass from “Naked Lunch” by William Borroughs.

“Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk? His whole abdomen would move up and down you dig farting out the words. It was unlike anything I ever heard.[…] After a while the ass start talking on its own. He would go in without anything prepared and his ass would ad-lib and toss the gags back at him every time.

Then it developed sort of teeth-like little raspy in-curving hooks and started eating. He thought this was cute at first and built an act around it, but the asshole would eat its way through his pants and start talking on the street, shouting out it wanted equal rights. It would get drunk, too, and have crying jags nobody loved it and it wanted to be kissed same as any other mouth. Finally it talked all the time day and night, you could hear him for blocks screaming at it to shut up, and beating it with his fist, and sticking candles up it, but nothing did any good and the asshole said to him: “It’s you who will shut up in the end. Not me. Because we dont need you around here any more. I can talk and eat and shit.”[17]

The “negative literary ass-thetics” proposed by Christopher Land refers to what the mocking asshole usurping the place of a head could do in the process of organization. The ass taking over the head, claiming all possible functions at once, mocking the hierarchy of the organization of a human body guided by the reason or whatever one finds in the head[18].

“The human body is scandalously inefficient. Instead of a mouth and an anus to get out of order why not have one all-purpose hole to eat and eliminate?” (Burroughs, 1959/1991:109-110)

Art have this ability to think nothing and to think far as no other, to be conformist to be symptom of what’s going on and to be provokation. It is like a vent in the swallen body a tumor or a forming life. Or perhaps “Something from completely different”[19], a joke that no one really gets, yet it is clear enough to be hilariously funny, something that is not yet and already too much and at some point will maybe make complete sense.

Let’s look at an image of one more monster. A monster that is so familiar. In 1990s Annie Sprinkle made a performance called ”Public Cervix Announcement” in which she announced her cervix to the public. Or was it not her cervix but a public one that got announced? Perhaps there was no such thing as a public cervix before? The public was presented with a cervix with the help of speculum.

In her website, Annie writes: ”One reason why I show my cervix is to assure the misinformed, who seem to be primarily of the male population, that neither the vagina nor the cervix contains any teeth. Maybe you’ll calm down and get a grip. Lots of folks, both women and men, know very little about female anatomy and so are ashamed and/or afraid of the cervix. That’s sad, so I do my best to lift that veil of ignorance. I adore my cervix. I am proud of her in every way, and am happy to put her on display”.[20] The monster Annie brings what seems like a joke is a Vagina Dentata, the teethed vagina, portrayed by Ovid:

”She has twelve legs, all writhing, dangling down and six long swaying necks, a hideous head on each, each head barbed with a triple row of fangs, thickset, packed tight—and armed to the hilt with black death! Holed up in the cavern’s bowels from her waist down she shoots out her heads, out of that terrifying pit…” (Odyssey)

Annie writes ”You can never demystify a cervix. It’s a magnificent miracle — the doorway to life itself”.[21]

In a piece of documentation of the performance, the dialogue between the viewer and Annie is recorded:

  • Hi
  • Wow
  • Hi, How are you?
  • Ok
  • Incredible
  • Thanks for Coming
  • Can you see it?
  • Got it.
  • Good
  • Thank You
  • You are welcome
  • It is very nice
  • Thank you. I am glad you like it. [22]

 

This casual exchange of politeness while viewing the cervix contains our ability to organize around the monstrous. We do know how to do it. Nothing is said—nothing out of the ordinary. Yet, the word as we know it, will never be the same. The form of closeness, the public knowledge, and the courage of beauty is redefined after Annie Sprinkle publicly announces the cervix. As she says, nothing is demystified. There is a reason to fear female sexuality, since it is all so powerful. Yet, come closer, there is no reason not to get acquainted..

 

CONCLUSION

The condition for organization of an art field demands a trust in logics of an artworks and processes, when there is none and too many, genuine potentiality for its uselessness with only a shade of hope that the situation will turn out. The art needs an intimate relationship (sometimes a life long), of all those involved in the process, though with a possibility for radical criticism. The radical intimacy, radical acceptance and criticism that allows them to step down from goodness and from the hierarchies. It needs a capacity to “release the flows of desire from their capture within a repressive representation, but without immediately recapturing them in a “positive”, alternative representation” (Land, 2009). Something that can actually evolve into what is “not fixed into pre-scripted form”, not guided by any form of utopia, but actually “able to affect the reproduction of the real” (Land, 2009). I believe that this kind of form of collectivity of monstrous care would do, the question is, in what kind of economical/political system this would be possible?

 

 

 

[1] Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, Season 1. 2010. Reality TV by Bravo Network

[2] ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] This Is Not a Dream. Gavin Butt and Ben Walters. Performance Matters, 2013, DVD, 119 min

[6] Haraway J. D. (2004) “The Haraway Reader”. New York: Routledge

[7] Rehn, Alf. 2009. “Theory Z Reconsidered: Organizing The Living Dead.” In Bits of Organization. Pullen Alison & Rhodes Carl, 184-197. Advances in Organization Studies. Liber. Copenhagen Business School Press

[8] Graeber, David, 2018. “Bullshit Jobs. A Theory”. New York. Simon & Schuster

[9] Thanem, T. (2011), “The Monstrous Organization”, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.

[10] Thanem, T. (2011), “The Monstrous Organization”, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham. p.80

[11] Star, Susan Leigh.1990. Power, technology and the phenomenology of conventions: on being allergic to onions. The Sociological Review, Volume 38, Issue S1, page(s): 26-56. p 53

[12] Star, Susan Leigh.1990. Power, technology and the phenomenology of conventions: on being allergic to onions. The Sociological Review, Volume 38, Issue S1, page(s): 26-56. p 27

[13] Margulis Lynn, Sagan Dorion. 1995. What is Life? Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. University of California Press. p 263

[14] Margulis Lynn, Sagan Dorion. 2013. “Wind at Life’s Back – Towards a Naturalistic, Whiteheadian Telology: Symbiogenesis and the Second Law” in Beyond Mechanism. Putting Life Back into Biology. Ed. Henning B.G. & Scarfe A.C. P. 205 – 233. Plyomouth. Lexington Books, p 214.

[15] Mittman, Asa Simon. 2012. The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and The Monstrous. New York: Routledge.

[16] Land, Christopher. 2009. “The Negative Literary ‘Ass-Thetics* of William S. Burrouhs: Forgery, Politics and Epistemology in Radical Organization Theory”. In In Bits of Organization. Pullen Alison & Rhodes Carl, 184-197. Advances in Organization Studies. Liber. Copenhagen Business School Press

[17] Burroughs, William. 1966. Naked Lunch. Grove Press, Inc. New York. p. 131-133

[18] Land, Christopher. 2009. “The Negative Literary ‘Ass-Thetics* of William S. Burrouhs: Forgery, Politics and Epistemology in Radical Organization Theory”. In In Bits of Organization. Pullen Alison & Rhodes Carl, 184-197. Advances in Organization Studies. Liber. Copenhagen Business School Press

[19] Flying Circus, Monty Python, 1969, BBC1 (1969–1973)

[20] Sprinke, Annie.  Artist Website. http://anniesprinkle.org/a-public-cervix-anouncement/ Accessed last on 26.03.2020

[21] Sprinke, Annie. Artist Website. http://anniesprinkle.org/a-public-cervix-anouncement/ Accessed last on 26.03.2020

[22] Sprinkle, Annie. 1990. Documentation https://vimeo.com/184135882. Accessed last on 26.03.2020

Karolina Kucia on esitystaiteilija, jonka tausta on kuvanveistossa, mediataiteessa ja esitystutkimuksessa. Hän on taiteellisen tutkimuksen tohtoriopiskelija Taideyliopiston Teatterikorkeakoulussa. Hän yhdistää teoriaa ja käytäntölähtöistä tutkimusta objektien, ryhmäprosessien ja performanssien työskentelyynsä paikkasidonnaisissa ja lavastetuissa konteksteissa. Hänen kiinnostuksen kohteena ovat lipsahdukset, virheet ja änkyttävät jumiutumiset sekä parasitismi ja hirviöimäisyydet prekaareissa uusliberaalin kapitalismin tuottamissa työympäristöissä tai taideinstituutioiden nykymuodoissa.

Kucian töitä on ollut esillä Feminist Training Camp NO PLAY tapahtumassa, nGbK Berliinissä, Sesc Pinheiros kulttuurikeskuksessa São Paulossa sekä Mad House Helsingissä. Hän on esitellyt tutkimustaan 9:ssä SAR: International Conference on Artistic Research University konferenssissa Plymouthissa, 7:ssä New Materialisms konferenssissa, Puolan Tiedeakatemiassa Varsovassa, sekä 6:ssa New Materialisms konferenssissa The Victorian College of the Arts:ssa, Melbournessa.

Tämä puheenvuoro on julkaistu osana loppuraporttia Kohti esittävän taiteen freelancereiden yhteistä tuotantoalustaa (2020).

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