[-empyre-] Welcome to May on EMPYRE: Social Practice and Social Reproduction

kyle mckinley bicirider at gmail.com
Sat May 7 10:59:17 AEST 2016

hi everyone,
I have spent a lot of this week mulling on and digesting the insights
provided by Dont and Cara, which have left me with a number of open
questions, some of which I’ve attempt to flesh out below as propositions.
These questions, and the very terminology on which they rest, are very much
in flux for me, personally, and I look forward to working them out together
on this list.

Dont has said that he and the other members of Ultra-red “would insist that
“social practice” art contributes to the gentrification of social
practices” in the sense that such artworks tend to ascribe authorship, and
authorship is a function which reproduces and imposes petite-bourgeois
values — i.e. gentrification in the core sense. This statement appears to
me as much more provocative than the oft-quoted claim of Rick Lowe that
social practice is the gentrification of community arts. While Lowe’s claim
seeks to defend the legacy of community arts in marginalized communities
from the deleterious forces of disproportionately white and wealthy art
world types seeking to cash in on perceived authenticity, Ultra-red’s
analysis encompasses such critiques but extends them to suggest that social
practice art represents the colonization and appropriation of the concrete
social practices by which communities reproduce themselves.

Key to my own understanding of Dont’s comments is the sentence “Resisting
displacement entails (but is not limited to) recognizing “social practices”
as non-specialized and non-entrepreneurial.” For it is precisely those
tasks which have historically appeared as “non-specialized” which are most
central to social reproduction, and thus most likely to go un-waged and
un-valorized. In other words, Ultra-red’s critique of the mechanisms by
which social practice art can tend to appropriate a value-form of
participation from communities is very much in keeping with critiques of
social reproduction which highlight un-waged character of the labors of
social reproduction (childcare among other forms of affective labor).

That point of resonance should not be seen as contradicting Cara’s
observation that these critiques diverge in terms of their view of the
emancipatory possibilities of participation. It may well be the case that
there are multiple forms of participation at hand here, for example, and
that not all forms of participation are equally available for appropriation
as a form of value. Dont’s question about which social practices transform
social conditions would seem to point to such a differentiation. The
prominence of critiques of social reproduction within the legacy of
revolutionary feminism would seem to suggest that in certain contexts the
call for “wages for housework” can itself function as a transitional demand
by highlighting the central role of women’s work / social reproduction in
the maintenance of the capitalist order. If this is the case (and this may
be an open question), then are there analogs to be found in the work of
social practice? That is, can socially engaged artists work to highlight
the role of participation in maintaining and reproducing the contemporary
capitalist order? If so, can such increased ‘visibility’ function as a
challenge to that order? What are the points moments at which we see
something like such a challenge appearing in the art of social practice?

My own hunch is that struggles against gentrification — by which I mean
struggles for physical spaces within the lived environment — will offer the
best lens for viewing such moments, precisely because the needs of artists
for such physical space, and the history of critical spatial practices
within arts communities, lend a degree of necessity to the best intentions
of artists to articulate solidarity with marginalized communities. This is
not to say that artists do not continue to contribute to the gentrification
of poor and working class neighborhoods, but merely that recent waves of
development and displacement have provided a moment of shared class
interest that might unite petit-bourgeois artist types with working class
folks in unexpected, or even explosive, ways.

On Wed, May 4, 2016 at 12:55 PM, ME Cara Baldwin <carabaldwin13 at gmail.com>
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> In reflecting on the many ways in which social practice(s) within the
context of cultural production and the expanded field of art practice, both
historically and in recent years, leads us inevitably to reflect on, and
interrogate, the function of socially engaged practices; what are the
qualities and points of engagement, and what are they directed to? This is
a question that is posed both formally and conceptually. In the former
case, we consider the institutional and material compositions are engaged
through the work itself. Conceptually, and in terms of content, we consider
the various ways these formal, material and, finally sociocultural
compositions lead us to discernment of meaning and intention.
> Dont’s involvement in the HIV/AIDS justice movement and organizing in the
L.A. Tenants Union, as well as the extensive (both in terms of time and
scale) of the involvement of contributing and collective members of
Ultrared in work that, finally, inform and form their work together in
aggregate and as a whole, are meaningful places to start in discussing what
might be useful points of departure for what is at stake in socially
engaged critical cultural practices, both in the arts and in fields of
activism across multiple registers.
> What strikes me, personally, about this field of inquiry and generaly and
any query around the work of Ultrared in particular, is a focus in the body
of work toward social practices that tend to support the survival of
subjects in relation to objects. Whatever we might say about socially
engaged cultural practices, in general, I think it’s safe to say that the
focus in the work of Ultrared, both formally and conceptually, is aligned
with corporeal and material struggles to survive that occur both
objectively and subjectively; collectively and individually. This focus, in
turn, seems to inform the questions put forward as those demanding response
and engagement:
> 1. What crises does the community of poor and working people face?
> 2. What is the analysis of the structural causes of those crises?
> 3. What strategies have emerged out of the struggle for transforming
those causes—or, at the very least, for testing the analysis?
> 4. What tactics embody that strategy and test it in practice?
> 5. And last, who are we in relation to those tactics, that strategy, that
analysis, and those who struggle amidst the crises?
> For my part, I consider the urgency of these questions, as demands of the
work, equally important. They might also provide us with a set of tools for
examining the many ways in which work that is put forward as socially
engaged but fails to consider the material conditions of subjects and
objects it engages with, might be critiqued. This critique could occur at
both the level of institutions and individual cultural and/or artistic
> Another point of departure for our conversation might be yielded in
consideration of the value-form of participation as it is related and
related to from the Marxist perspectives outlined in the text Dont is
providing us with her (as well as in the writings of Ultrared at large) and
that provided by Kyle and by way of Maya Gonzales in Endnotes here
https://endnotes.org.uk/en/endnotes-the-logic-of-gender both critically and
from a Marxist feminist perspective:
> [If we were to compare the production of labour-power with the production
of any other commodity, we would see that the “raw materials” used for this
production process, i.e. the means of subsistence, transmit their value to
the end product, while the new labour needed to turn these commodities into
a functioning labour-power adds no value to this commodity. If we were to
push this analogy further, we could say that — in terms of value —
labour-power consists only of dead labour.]
> What emerges, in contrast, as I read these two perspectives is a
divergent view on the emancipatory possibilities inherent in participation,
while, at the same time, some convergence or overlap in terms of a
perspective that includes participation and participatory labor,
critically, as producing of value. To revisit these terms from the
perspective of the practices of Ultrared, these are understood to be as
follows: the value-form of participation as the extraction of value from
participation in state apparatuses.
> I welcome any thoughts on this, and am so grateful, again, to all who
care to consider any or all of these questions, and hope that my comments
and these lines of inquiry are clear.
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

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