[-empyre-] can we avoid the corporate pyramid scheme model

Simon Biggs simon at littlepig.org.uk
Thu Sep 22 00:09:50 EST 2011

Hi Davin

I agree with all your comments. However, I meant pyramid scheme in the sense of a Ponzi scheme (as you call it in the States). It's a bit like acai berry juice (I'm not entirely sure what that is - must be Californian) in that it is all to do with placing your faith in something that is unlikely to offer any benefit other than the a placebo effect. But it is distinct in that the scheme is to the benefit of somebody - the person(s) at the top of the pyramid. So long as people have faith the person at the top is profitably safe. Lose the faith though and...

Brad Brace always goes on about this but his targets are usually too broad and diffuse to be meaningful. In a sense most forms of social formation are pyramid schemes but some are clearly more outrageous than others. It's a matter of degree. The IOC is totally out of control and functions to keep a group of self-elected and rather ancient (and probably otherwise unemployable) bureaucrats in extremely well paid (semi)employment with numerous added benefits as they liaise with the cities so desperate to win their bids to host the Olympics. I am not saying that this is what the ISEA board is like (I am sure Patrick, Cynthia and others can offer us reasonable insight into that and everything is above board). However, in its structure, operation and financial model it is very similar to the IOC and thus at least has the appearance of being problematic. If ISEA is to reform then that is where I would start - I would rewrite its constitution and move to a different governance and financial model predicated on peer to peer principles. As these are often espoused by so many people associated with ISEA it would be interesting to see the model implemented in this manner.



On 21 Sep 2011, at 09:57, davin heckman wrote:

> Simon,
> In a way, isn't some sort of pyramid model inevitable when critical
> methods and institutions are under stress.  I mean, there might have
> been a time when fields of critical and aesthetic activity could
> either be narrowed by disciplinary strictures or could be selective
> based on some standard of veracity.  But over the last couple decades,
> disciplines are called into question, aesthetic merit is called into
> question, and basic assertions of truth are called into question....
> so we have no simple way to create focus around an event based either
> upon the promise of intensively focused activity or upon the promise
> of some fidelity to commonly held measures of truth.
> Instead, we have "currency," economic and discursive.  We can organize
> activity around capital or organize activity where it is taking place,
> but the pull of a juried exhibition or an exceptional argument has
> been weakened by neoliberalism.  The same mechanics that have chipped
> away at the public sphere are now operating within other institutions.
> The pyramid scheme offers a quick answer....  we don't know what is
> good or true, but this is what everyone is looking at, and these
> people are willing to put money on the line to prove it.  It's like
> selling Acai Berry juice....  it makes you feel better because if you
> didn't feel better and you convinced all your friends buy it, then
> convinced them to sell it, then discovered it didn't make you feel
> better, you'd lose everything, everyone would lose everything.   It's
> creative destruction.  It rips out our beating hearts in pursuit of
> bitter crumbs of coal.
> However, this isn't the only way out of the late capitalist,
> poststructualist morass.  I think there is plenty of evidence that
> art, artists, and critics want to get at more fundamental issues.
> There is still much to learn about "currency" in the sense that social
> activity matters, but I think we are seeing that this activity is
> about something, it's not simply about widgets talking about widgets.
> It's not some calf to be fattened, butchered and sold... rather it is
> the very preciousness and power of human life that all this social
> activity circulates around, that forms us.  The kind of dizziness of
> postmodernism has come to a halt, and now everyone with any sense
> understands that the things we say and do have stakes that transcend
> mere currency.  I think that many people are thinking about the world
> as though it exists and as though what we do matters.  This is
> certainly what I experienced in my talks with people at ISEA (and in
> reading the chatter that has ensued).  A lot of the art was very fun,
> pleasurable, and light, even, but it wasn't vapid.  For years I
> avoided contemporary art because it left me feeling kind of alienated
> and fragile, but lately I haven't felt that way.  And that, I think,
> is a reflection of years of critical activity and engagement that has
> been simmering for some time now, but which has been brought to the
> forefront by history.
> Davin
> On Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 10:06 AM, Simon Biggs <simon at littlepig.org.uk> wrote:
>> Water quality and machine guns aside, I had been under the impression that ISEA was not so much collapsing under its own weight but being built into a corporatised pyramid scheme, two decades ago. That's why I stopped going after Sydney (1991).
>> I was pleasantly surprised at this year's event that whilst we were housed in an uber-corporate environment the consensus amongst delegates was that this was a very bad thing. Anarchy seemed to be just under the surface (a good thing). Ergo, perhaps I had previously been hasty in my judgement. If ISEA now does functionally collapse that would be a pity as it seems there is a new generation of participants looking to turn it into something else.
>> However, to some degree, and this is regrettable, there is something about ISEA that seems a bit like the Olympics and how they are managed by a board with relatively static membership employing an economic model that is completely open to, indeed encourages, corruption. Many journalists (at least in the UK) have argued for the IOC to be disbanded and replaced by an entirely different type of organisation (that will not happen, even though IOC corruption is clear for all to see). If ISEA is to evolve then perhaps it's management and economic models need reconsideration.
>> In Istanbul I met with Gavin Antz, the current Director of the Australian Network for Art and Technology (introduced to him, ironically by Wim van der Plas, as one of the people who founded ANAT - which is true). Julianne Pierce was also there, a previous ANAT Director. ANAT and ISEA are about the same age and we discussed how they are different models. I pointed out that ANAT was conceived as a light weight organisation that would exist as a network with none of its own resources or facilities, the idea being it could work with other organisations and their resources and function to connect people in new ways, rather than become a centre that demands greater and greater resources to survive. Gavin responded that they had recently reviewed ANAT's functions and remit and, as part of that process, gone back to the original documents where its founding principles are articulated and their decision was that this was the model they needed to employ. So, ANAT is focusing onto what
>>  it has always done best.
>> Melinda has also been an ANAT director (there might be other ANAT people on the list) and I'd be interested in hearing what she might think about this (although I know we are talking about ISEA - consider this is a comparative aside).
>> best
>> Simon
>> On 20 Sep 2011, at 07:59, Melinda Rackham wrote:
>>> hey all,
>>> ISEA is a behemoth-
>>> it has its geographic and cultural specific issues each year
>>> and there is discussion, and there is new set of issues the next year
>>> and ISEA ferrys continue to sail on..
>>> however it appears to me ISEA is at a tipping point- it may collapse under its own weight with the  the most problematic and unsustainable issue is the  coprorate model of "panelism and conferencism" that lucas eloquently described.
>>> the issues are not cultural difference, submachine guns, water qaulity etc  etc etc , but how we route around entrenched outmoded corporate modes of being to find a useful way to really communicate ideas and engage with each other.
>>> best wishes
>>> Melinda
>>> Melinda Rackham
>>> melinda at subtle.net
>>> ~~
>>> Craftivism is a way of looking at life
>>> where voicing opinions through creativity
>>> makes your voice stronger,
>>> your compassion deeper, &
>>> your quest for justice more infinite.
>>> ~~ Betsy Greer.
>>> On 18/09/2011, at 1:47 PM, Lucas Bambozzi wrote:
>>>> Hi all,
>>>> I am a lazy lurker and did not follow the whole discussion. But for me it seems that the model of panelism and conferencism adopted by ISEA and other related meetings does match the model of Sabanci Centre and commonly lacks the vibrant life outside there. Sao Paulo, a city where I live would not survive without the hundreds of corporate driven conferences filling up expensive hotels and feeding business tourism. I am not sure to which extend ISEA is able to create a model apart from this.
>>>> Hope the drinks at Nuru Zya will last enough to refresh some discussions around this topic.
>>>> BEst
>>>> L.
>>>> Lucas Bambozzi
>>>> mobile: +5511 91892338
>>>> www.lucasbambozzi.net
>>>> www.artemov.net
>>>> On 18 Sep 2011, at 05:24, Joseph Delappe wrote:
>>>>> Hello all!
>>>>> Simon, I hope to see you in Istanbul!  I leave tomorrow.
>>>>> Fascinating exchange here regarding ISEA.  Istanbul has been fascinating.  ISEA a bit problematic for sure, from the security checkpoints to the blocked internet access onsite.  Unbelievable from my perspective - donated spaces or not absurd to hold such a gathering in what is essentially a censored corporate environment - perhaps there might have been a workshop the prior week to develop a hack to share with all attendees to break through the great Sabanci Center firewall?
>>>>> There have been some great presentations although the physical location of the panels and paper presentations feel a bit more like small classrooms than proper spaces for true exchange - these rooms in the 2nd basement of the Sabanci are not set up for true panel presentations - there is literally no space for all the panelists to sit facing the attendees - as such, in the panels I've attended, and even on the panel I chaired ("If you See Something Say Something"http://isea2011.sabanciuniv.edu/panel/say-something), the cramped space has tended to hinder the exchange and discussion.
>>>>> I am perhaps less surprised by the security at the buildings having read prior to my visit to Istanbul of bombings as recently at 2010.  Each entry to the Biennial has the same metal detectors as the Sabanci center although not the xray scanners for bags.
>>>>> I had a very interesting experience at the Istanbul Biennial that I would like to share.  We wandered through both of the exhibitions spaces - impressed by some of the works but immediately struck by the absence of any digital work and scant attention to even video art.  Most astounding though, was that we somehow missed the text statements at the two spaces until finally exiting the larger of the two buildings.  Honestly I was quite shocked upon reading that the theme of the biennial was to address "politics and art"?  Was I missing something?  Yes, there were some politically oriented work for certain - most impressively the display of found objects taken from blown up Palestinian homes, Marth Rosler's classic Vietnam Era montage work, Group Material and 1980's AIDS themed artifacts and a few others.  Mostly however, the show seemed to be full of work that was less than "political".  Am I missing something here?  If this exhibition represents the best of political art f
>>  r
>>> o
>>>> m
>>>>> Latin America and the Middle East we are in deep trouble!
>>>>> Istanbul has been truly amazing however - a bit challenging to find the venues for the exhibitions - the map in the brochure for ISEA is rather useless to be frank. There is something to be said about distributing events throughout a given city but one of such immense proportions as Istanbul presents to serious challenges to visitors.  Nagoya ISEA provided a different model of centralized spaces just adjacent to the conference spaces.  Certainly more convenient while also creating a sense of a critical mass of events and energy.  This ISEA feels a bit dispersed on many levels.
>>>>> Lastly, it was a very bad idea to schedule ISEA across two weeks?  There are so many academics from the US in particular who are now two, three weeks into our teaching schedules.  This weekend represents a departure of a huge portion of the attendees to ISEA and the arrival of a second group.  We cannot take two weeks off from our teaching duties to participate in such a conference!  Thus the organizers have essentially chosen to bifurcate ISEA.  Very frustrating as our $500+ conference fee seems a waste for being able to participate in roughly 1/2 of a conference.
>>>>> All the best and hope everyone coming in this weekend or remaining for the full term of the conference h,
>>>>> Joseph DeLappe
>>>>> Professor
>>>>> Digital Media Studio
>>>>> Department of Art/224
>>>>> University of Nevada, Reno
>>>>> Reno, Nevada 89557
>>>>> 775-784-6624
>>>>> delappe at unr.edu
>>>>> http://www.delappe.net
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>> Simon Biggs
>> simon at littlepig.org.uk www.littlepig.org.uk @SimonBiggsUK skype: simonbiggsuk
>> s.biggs at ed.ac.uk Edinburgh College of Art University of Edinburgh
>> www.eca.ac.uk/circle www.elmcip.net www.movingtargets.co.uk
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Simon Biggs
simon at littlepig.org.uk www.littlepig.org.uk @SimonBiggsUK skype: simonbiggsuk

s.biggs at ed.ac.uk Edinburgh College of Art University of Edinburgh
www.eca.ac.uk/circle www.elmcip.net www.movingtargets.co.uk

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