Christian Hendricks, Contributing Editor, Lookie-Lookie
An election story:
We've known for years that increased rates of unemployment and poverty have correlated with increased rates of drug abuse and mortality. In fact, Bernie wrote about this on The Huffington Post years before Bernie was Bernie. Decades of reports have gone by without wide interest in examining closely the causes, effects and solutions for many of these socioeconomic issues. Recently, however, there has been a renewed interest in these demographics, particularly in lower class white demographics -- but now they're being cross referenced with Trump voters. States and counties that have typically voted for Democrats swung Republican this year for the first time in decades, and in the early speculation on how wrong the polls were, it's becoming clear socioeconomic factors played a bigger role than expected. The data and narratives have always been there, but aren’t focused on until they are re-framed as a scapegoat for the success of an otherwise unpopular candidate. Prior to the election, the way this demographic was framed was something like: lower-class white voters who rally for Trump are not significant in numbers, only vaguely organized, and are politically confused -- the logical response is that they are "voting against themselves" for various reasons.
This "logical" assumption creates problems, as it doesn’t consider other more detailed, local truths: that most people, who are so far removed from the decision-making apparatus of major corporations and governments, are increasingly (and rightfully) skeptical about who they are and how they operate. Cable newstainment and online bogus info sources don't make any of this less confusing. And on the ground many people are still out of work, their friends are barely paying rent, their neighbors are addicted to drugs, and there seems to be a growing dissatisfaction; what they thought their lives and their country would be like seem to be slipping away. For many, it seems that any and every politician, regardless of party affiliation has failed them. When in despair, a new voice espousing totally unfactual things that sound right is a voice to be followed. It’s a logical choice to vote for someone with erratic behavior, a voice that swears to break the same system he’ll soon swear-in to serve.
But the process of properly dissecting all of this gets expedited by reducing real people in real communities to data points that are neatly wedged into digestible stereotypes for a 24-hour news cycle.
The story of white voters in 2016 is just one piece of the Master Narrative of the US. A narrative in which polls, stereotypes, assumptions, and other boilerplate simplifications prosper. Quick and atavistic comparisons about previous elections and presidencies rely on a "history repeats itself" template, which is just an easy solution for explaining the confusing ways in which the world is changing. In addition to the simplifications of the Master Narrative, we have more inaccuracies being dispensed as fact than ever before. Oxford Dictionaries declared the word of the year for 2016 to be “Post-Truth.” An apt name for this nascent era. The Post-Truth Era. A silicon stain on the Anthropocene.
The first step we have to make as before moving forward is to recalibrate. Recalibrate what we think we know, and how we think it should be explained. Scrap the Master Narrative, and find better ways to discuss the complexities we face in the Post-Truth Era. Listening to more voices, supporting credible journalism outlets, and focusing on tangible local scenarios as opposed to abstract national stories are a just few places to begin.
II. Art Works!
“Just as many of the most powerful regimes in the world find it expedient to operate with proxies and doubles in infrastructure space, the most familiar forms of activism might similarly benefit from using undisclosed partners or unorthodox auxiliaries, if only to soften up the ground and offer a better chance of success. An unorthodox auxiliary entertains techniques that are less heroic, less automatically oppositional, more effective, and sneakier—techniques like gossip, rumor, gift-giving, compliance, mimicry, comedy, remote control, meaninglessness, misdirection, distraction, hacking, or entrepreneurialism.” -Keller Easterling
A recalibration is also occurring in contemporary art practices currently which dovetails with many problems of the Post-Truth Era. New strategies are being explored that try to grapple with the confusion and complexity that's growing. Artists are beginning to reflect (even imitate) the world around them: a world of powerful, enormous governments and corporations shrouded in secrecy and misinformation.
Art itself is emerging as something less like artworks but Art Works!™, which are something closer to a government sponsored campaign or a venture capital firm’s quarterly report. You can now transpose methodologies co-opted from institutional apparatuses like a city's public works or a consultancy’s client deliverables to produce a sophisticated new way to negotiate art and politics. Artworks of yore are objects and ideas with beginnings and ends, but Art Works!™ are practices with perhaps the occasional residue of process, but the process is probably never finished, and that’s fine too. Time is money, after all. We can follow a right-wing catchphrase: business runs better. Run your art like a business, operate your studio like a receivership, execute as a technocrat. Sidestep your better judgement. Counterfeit your own work. Dodge international tariffs. Monetize rumors and use pseudonyms. Limited liability studio practice.
If we have finally deduced that everyone in politics and business are actually faking it til they make it, artists can fake it too.
The artist group Auto Italia operates under a “shell corporation” model, and their websites notes that they are both “a registered charity (no. 1151979) and company limited by guarantee (no. 07490255).” The group produces original texts and works in tandem with raising funds to sustain; both using resources for themselves as well as creating opportunities for other artists and artist groups. They note: "We really try to explore it in this more fictional space, which is where the 'shell corporation' or 'shape shifting' comes into play. You see this shift through programming as well as we produce new work as well as programme the work of other artists. A couple of examples would be 'My Skin Is At War' where Auto Italia explored itself as a creative agency, and Auto Italia LIVE the organisation as a community and a television channel."
Artnet declared that the best conceptual artist of 2015 wasn’t an artist at all, but Nathan Fielder, the host of a Comedy Central reality show (Nathan For You) where Fielder acts as a consultant, suggesting and executing absurd ideas for boosting profits of existing businesses. Artist Jill Magid has entered global politics through a conceptual diplomatic mission: working with the Mexican government, she has orchestrated an elaborate proposal to convert the cremated body of Mexican architect Luis Barragán into a diamond, and offer it as a trade to the Swiss owner of Barragán’s professional archives so they they can return to Mexico.
If a government or corporation no longer does what it says or says what it does, the artist should have ditched that long ago as well. The political avant-garde has been languishing under capitalism, hardly advancing on anything. Occupy suffered from attempting to apply tactics of the New Left; a nostalgic but now outdated model for activism. The savviest political artist collectives today aren't spending much time making art, but playing hardball; abandoning the studio visit for the conference call. Negotiating deals for space, time and money; hustling has replaced brainstorming. The premiere artist today isn’t even recognizable, barely distinguishable from a Wall Street Bro or a K Street lobbyist.
If the sound of artmaking being upstaged by otherwise auxiliary functions like financial strategies or political interventions seems like a problem, you may need to recalibrate. It's better to be understood on an historical continuum: at this point in time, contemporary art has largely been wrecked by the market anyways. Paintings have become casino chips and sculptures are Vancouver real estate. The only way to climb out of this mess (re-advance the guard) is to dive in deeper and find a way to tunnel out. This tunnel’s schematics are as of yet unclear; but today we take the first steps to figuring it out. Incorporate now, ask questions later.