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30-PART V-LETTER TO, FROM, AND ABOUT PRE(CARE)IOUSNESS:
ongoing correspondence from [me]
dear rich artists & institutions,
this is a letter to and about precarious artists, and a questioning of “care” which is everywhere in our nicey-arts-talks; what does care mean when it is care in pursuit of self-promotion, career-self, and self-commodification? the notion of “care” is a concept that we hear and know a-lot about now; however, this letter is concerned with the idea of caring in (perhaps) a non-academic way. but more in terms as a type of intimate-little-marxisms, or real-time mutual-aid: a type of class-care-imperative: that those with kinds of capital ought to look after those without – maybe a sentiment which is a bit abrahamically-religioned, but without the obvious nasty stuff. this is ultimately a letter to you my little ones (the underclass, the socioeconomically disadvantaged) across all intersections, who are still struggling later in life than your peers, who won’t inherit a house or land and who are feeling isolated a lot of the times. who don’t speak the right speech, who code-switch to stay afloat, and who move and think in different ways than those middle-managed-middle-class minds of your colleagues. the ideas in this letter are nothing new, and people are already talking about this stuff, but it is important that i send this letter to you, so we can be reminded again.
when we talk about the idea of “cares,” we realise some of these professional-care-agendas only seem to have real value when framed within an ascendent-professional-network-schema. and despite our dearest altruistic projections, it seems our values as “professionals” are spillin’ all round the discourse in encoded ways and at risk of muddying the nice shoes: think about how many times we tell ourselves: “i care about this opportunity”; i care about meeting this “high-up” and so forth,”; “i care about this funding round,” “i care about my ideas and my practice.” this is all good. it’s ok. but i truly think it is important to also care about those who also care about making art - but who really don’t get a chance to talk about what they care about: a caring laterally – rather than upwardly – a caring for those outside the network; a caring for precarious artists. and despite the many protestations from nice people who live in gentrified prog-suburbs, underclass people aren’t really a(loud) into galleries, or even those little middle-class radical community spaces – which are seldom as accessible as they would like, or hope to be: you need a bloomin’ bachelor of arts to gain admission with your donation; as well as the right (read: left) configuration of politics and the ability to not speak too much through the nose or say “somethink; somethink.” sure. yes. ok. there are inclusive spaces (mostly activist, or online ones) but are there really inclusive classed-high-art spaces? ones not fused to the coccyx of commodo-knowledge factories formerly known as universities? yeah. nah. yeah. nah. yeah. nah. not really.
my father writes in block letters. to compliment him, i write in lower case here. he finished high-school in year 8. later he had a tafe education which formed his later-literacies. he has always been working-embodied-under aspirational-spiritual deadlock with a rich inner life springing forth from hard times in his outer-life; a philosophical immediacy springs from his tactile connection with physically and emotionally being-in-the-world; his intimate knowledge of surviving and moving within precarity. i borrow from this still-living methodology as he is now writing his life story in his room during this time and i am turning 30 soon, so i will write some of my life-care-concerns at the moment. as a low-s-e-s, artist who has experienced precarity in lots of ways (unemployment, debt, illness, itinerancy, poverty etc.) i have seen from the bottom up – in this way i am so very proudly biased; i am a polemicist.
in fact, ya know, sociologists often talk of how lower-classed people have the ability to isolate social structures and see the world as a hurdle to try and overcome; as opposed to a floaty-free feeling of fluid-opportunity and ascension. when talking about these things, i use language structures as my little power to speak upwardly so you (those with capital) will come downwardly, and perhaps even listen in a lowering way.
this is not a mean letter but it will not be subjugated by the tyranny of bourgeois professional niceness; or by privately educated people who try to tell the disadvantaged how to be and think. we do not deny that precariousness is all round for us humans and non-humans alike - but actual precarity is not distributed equally, as judith butler reminds us. this letter does not believe in class-essentialism and the idea that clever words are for rich people and simple words are for poor. you see: within the seeds of our networks also belies a desire to be loved. these things in my letter are really there and i am so very tired of repeating, grating, traumatic stories for people to actually believe me that there is a class disparity in this country - specifically one that intersects heavily with gender and race. so. yeah. this is a letter that goes down a forked-road; to think about what cares we really value, and how as artists we can’t afford to be “users” at this late-stage. you know exactly what i mean.
i. what is it to care, to really care? (oft spoken within arts discourse and grant-language today) – derived from feminist ethics to importantly describe and illuminate processes regarding unpaid, unrecognised, gendered caring labours, as well as the morality of interpersonal benevolences - but now, in academic art circles, these ideas are not always used as situationally or acutely as they ought to be, and i suspect used by those who don’t give two shits about the poor and precarious; what do we mean when we say we care: does this mean to care abruptly, provisionally, holistically, unconditionally? and if care is important, then what do words like altruism, ethics and solidarity ultimately engender within artistic communities within our “late-stage” - who really cares about artists from low-ses, disadvantaged or precarious circumstances? they mess up the place, anyhow. how do we begin to disentangle and cutaway those capitalist-bio-chemical-industrial-politiks that inhibit our impetus to care for those outside of our self-hoods; egoic extensions; families; and networks? outside of our parasitic practices? and what does it mean to be an artist/practitioner of precarity within an increasingly incredulously professionalised; neo-liberal, socio-economic-cultural (special-cult) milieu, riddled with hidden help-labours from rich mummy/daddies; capital; clandestine maps and codes; free rent; hidden-nepotisms and network pre-ups (already provided pre-utero) and all those other critical privileges, such as white privileges? i mean: some artists’ parents still help them with the rent? and poor-artists are meant to compete for grants with these pre-helped-artists? merry meritocracy! what are we to do with all of this excessive discourse that spills around the lexicon of “ professional networks”? which of fucking course unfurls from the ironed-laps of the business world; which we know is always upwardly ascendant, nay cryptically trancendent - rarely lateral. think about how this language affects and inhibits our ability to be really concerned about poor artists (or people in general) when there is a cherry for your ascension motions? for your deep-labours, for our sublime art transfigurations?
a computer network shares/circulates/exchanges information in the network (for various porno-purposes and promo-operations, nowadays) through the internet service providers, which is connected to other nodes i.e. storage servers. a professional network shares information strategically and advantageously. what i call the network-aspiration-complex is that which inhibits mutual-aid, altruism, within our late-stage: and we forget, and are panicked, to look down at the horrors, abjecting below. the ascendant network impels and compels us to always look upwards always; and always scares us with ideas about scarcity by impaling and burning our toes off; and as we breathlessly scramble up those gesticulating quivering branches, there are others knocked off; others whose feet and legs are completely cauterised; or even those without any hands at all. all this clambering nonsense! fuck this mark zuckerberg discursive-subtext – which is that networks supposedly enable and support us for our very own social good: you know the phrases: we are now “more connected than ever; we are a connected “community”: check in on one another during tough times etc. social-media-networks attempt to territorialize, capitalise, and disrupt the realm of signs (replacing it with their own). these networks thus destroy and delimit the sprawling thick potentiality of the internet, which is too nebulous, and oscillating to come to really know what it is capable of as an extension of our packeted imaginaries. the language of social-network propaganda, tech company ads and fine-art-cultural platitudes alike are all along the friggin same white lines. why are so many speaking of an ethics of radical care with no material benefits? theory or writing is not care? surely citational practice is not care when you have lots of money from your university job? middle-class professional networking practices are not care-full.
ii. what is it to care, to really care?, to love in an arts community? love is sometimes thrown about in lots of these professional spheres as the presumed underlying basis or motivation for our lovely words, as the bread-text. i really love the marginalised. i love the poor. i love this person whom i work with. i love this friend whom i work with. i love my colleague whom i work with. i love my employer whom i work for. i love this institution in which i study. i love this performing arts company which gave me a little-chancey. i love my career. i love (my) art. i love this aesthetically encoded exclusive encrypted chimeric commodity – (more or less or, at least, comparable with the love i have for you my dearest–dreary-fatty liver). i really care, ya know? love is thought to be enough. but how can we love when our actions say otherwise; when we participate in discursive practices that reinforce in their very delusion of doing forwardly or upwardly reinforce false capitalist-patriarchal-colonial notions about “excellence”, ascension, and success from hard-work - as if the private school and good nutrition had nothing to do with it. how can we continue to be so aspirational, when we carelessly reproduce (through our inaction and perverse linguistic inversions) the stigma marked on those thought to be not-doing-capital consciously, or properly-enough, or at all?
by speaking in our riddled ways, we end up riding on the backs of those stigmatised by general capitalist wickedness: this way, we end up giddying up, on the:
people of colour
underclass men and women (trans and cis)
sexually and gender diverse in various working/underclass cultural contexts
those in resource states or developing countries
underpaid factory and migrant workers
the international proletariat, and precariat
animals, insects, plants, pollen etc.
those suffering from myriad mental illnesses
the neuro diverse
the ocean and the sand.
prisoners in jails.
the earth’s deep ecologies etc. etc.
this means that by doing and making in unquestioned and particular ways (business-art as usual), we end up digging, destructive and cavernous holes, as we take up more upward space.
into these holes, we cast those that we end up to excluding, or stigmatising as a by-product of our ascension motions.
“i made this good work because i am able-bodied and have enough capital and education to make it happen”; “ i even got a grant for doing it cleverly and goodly!” me happy!
“too bad for those who don’t do goodly and grantly.” i’m sad for them, ya know? it sucks. but my project will make the world better. i will make the world better through my project - at least that’s what i told the arts councils (and my friends).
you didn't get the grant because:
you didn’t work hard enough.
you were not educated enough.
or you weren't excellent or innovative or socially conscious enough! (in the cryptic ways necessary).
you didn’t know enough people.
you did not shimmy in the right circles!
your thoughts were not organised or sophisticated enough.
your concept was not viable and/or or too ambitious.
you are not aware that this has all be done before and you are a daggy frump thinker!
so: how by refusing to act and utter in the ways we have been acting and uttering; by opening up more spaces of not-doing in those older or precise ways do these spaces become places of shared ontology and being? places where if you exist, and if you have an earnest desire to create, then you are facilitated in doing so. no prerequisite for technical skill, and no sexy, language acrobatics.
iii. what is it to care, love, in an arts community? but really: on what terms and conditions are we really in an artistic community? how are we bound, entangled, connected, affected, afforded, or stratified? is this transparent at all? who is keeping an eye on all of this? neo-liberalism has drastically changed the relational qualities of this notion of radical care, and community (formerly similar to the idea of commune, with altruistic connotations) towards the mythic construct of the individual as go-getter. but what support is there really for the precarious artist within a primarily middle-or-upper-middle class “community,” which is really better described as a milieu, or idealistic imaginary? of course: these professional spheres may align on axis’ of marginalisation; this has its constructive positives without doubt. however, these axes are also engendered and enabled by particular forms of (silenced) and cryptic capital, all the time; encoded by the reconfiguration of the-modern-individual-as-node-in-network (primarily within professional or digital orbits, which overlap more and more these days). ultimately, this node-work, is the result of lots of classist-work, and requires the hidden work of classed-cleaved-bodies; either, those who are forced to professionalise and perform in a slick non-agitative ways, to gain access to the node-work; or those who, say, clean performance or intellectual labour spaces so we can sit around and think or “make”; or merely those who supply the precious metals for our art-spinning-computers by risking their lives in actually precarious-mines; or who work 12-hour days in non-unionised chinese factories run by rich Western billionaire companies; or those who deliver your uber eats, who are forced to speed while driving/riding, risking accidents, to meet fatal kpis, who are hungry themselves, to feed their children or study for a better life while we sit at home and glut ourselves on our ideas and our “art practice as research” woe-projects. yes. those who lubricate the node-work are already acquainted/indoctrinated with its ways of conducting one’s body-mind; speech; behaviours, codes, and semiotic allusions. this en-classed-node-work is really not accessible as its proponents like to idealise or espouse: it is not as agential-tangential as it purports to be; and i see little difference between the node works of aspirational companies, and the professional art world; one wears flared-jeans sincerely, and the other ironically.
iv. what is it to care, love, in an arts community, when there is precariousness? of course, to be alive is to be precarious; as judith butler reminds us, once more: precariousness is to be at the whims of inertia; to be febrile connective tissue in sanguine assemblages, held together by imaginative-patriotic glue. this is a condition of being embedded within the flux and dynamo of living; our small kettle skinned soft-bodies; our sad and taut fluids; we are susceptible to the smallest amoeba; the largest hyper objects; our bodies are split and splayed at so many flesh-axis and data-vectors, and they tear so easily when cleaved by the fragile bonds and networks, and systems that hold our so-called societies together. at current (early 2020). the past four months have been occupied by deeply unnerving and unfathomable damages: the first was horror-fires, whose smoke, like the unwelcomed intruder raps at the shaking windows before forcing their way in; and the sounds of the screams of a billion perishing animals, like shivering pink cartoons; and the inverted, subaltern frequencies of their nerve-ending-hurtings; and interior-bodies expelled from their skins - alike hands breaking through over-excited and dilapidating sock puppets.
yes. our avocado dreams insulate us from this horror; organs boiling and pressured flesh-steam pummelling its way through exhausted, coral-like clavicles; farmers in what seemed like slow motion, defending their cauterised homes, walls collapsing inwards, and rib cages following shortly afterwards; the old woman (not on the news) doubled over coughing up specks of blood; and now coronavirus; with its glimmering, crown-like transmuting surface, which found its way from the nucleus housed in animal saliva, to undermine the concerted efforts of neo-liberal governmentality; where government's lazily-inaction around the world is literally killing thousands - particularly the poor, and the black, and the brown bodies abroad and here as well; where deeply evil-satanic policemen step on young african-american necks, from which they are forced to cry for the inalienable right to breathe. where mining companies blow up 40,000 year old indigeous sites and offer a reluctant twitter apology. where an isreali soldier shoots an unarmed, autistic palestinian boy. where an exacerbated cry barely escapes, like a feeble white ghost from my parched, dishonest lips. is this is all there really is? is that all there is? on loop? a remix of the abject sorrow of hatred. we are traumatised and isolated within this precarious state-hood (of affairs). trauma is not the exception, but one of the defining criteria of our era; for we are constantly traumatised; the emetic state of contemporary capitalist society is not exposed to us, within frameworks of healing, or therapy, but an onslaught; an assault from behind, below, above and between the oppressed already overburdened, paper-mache ribs; of those shivering uncertain questions and the breakdown of systems, convenient rules, signs and archetypes. basically is this what it really feels like to be at the end of history.
v. what is it to care, love, in an arts community, when there is precariousness and precarity abound? precarity is a further burden resultant from precariousness. it is unequally distributed, the shadow; the inverse of wealth. it is the near-jobless and joblessness; the perpetually and impoverished and ill; it is the mothers and fathers, who will live less longer than yours. precarity is that which results from the neoliberal cult of individual emphasis; of the evisceration of the welfare state; the use of bodies for our bodies; for our celebratory art-and-personalactualisations. to not experience precarity in these always precarious times for some, is unfathomable. in this melancholic way, i am reminded of the beautiful poems of the foxconn worker poet xu lizhi (worked at factory who makes our smartphones). these poems were made with near no resources; no leisure time, and no luxury of bourgeois, psycho-subjective actualisation. he wrote a collection of poems while working at the factory: in his poem " i swallowed an iron moon” he says so friggin tenderly:
“i swallowed an iron moon, they called it a screw, i swallowed industrial wastewater and unemployment forms, bent over machines, our youth died young, i swallowed labour, i swallowed poverty.”
he is one but the multitude of precarious artists locally and around the world; this international precarious artist is one i am always worried about and one that we should care about. radically. when you use your computer for your techno-art-work, they sit in factories, not dreaming of biennales; or kisses-on-the-cheek-by-high-ups; art fairs; or grants; but rather, trying to avoid the pitfalls of dreaming, because if they fall asleep on the job - dreams are punished with punitive damages. and i cried a lot when i heard about the suicides of all of these beautiful, foxconn workers.
vi. what is it to care, love, in an arts community, when there is precariousness and precarity abound in the network? the network system (the fly-ridden stinky oil-painted fruits at the top of which are all those artificial metal-strawed, cross-pollinators; universities, arts council funding; professional appointments; publications; those private donors and patrons. this coke-can mound does not legitimise. intersectional-class-struggle-hardships, it denies precarious artists the [albeit alcaline] breath of life needed to practice: because it is an infrastructure of value-architectures predicated on the attendant exclusions (racial, gendered, classed) associated with the class-capitalist-value system: why would it give sustenance to that which it defines itself against? in opposition to? that is like sharing your birthday cake with the concrete; and one cannot eat a cake solely, on the ground, with their gaping mouth, without grinding their teeth away.
the network values the aesthetics of the ivory-keyed-teeth-speaker - but these cult-notions should be contested. shouldn't they be? Are they not abhorrent for any sensitive person?
its values are those which typically correspond with enabling particular bodies, times, places, milieus and class-gendered-colonial constructs: the bitter sweet, sweats of its values are only extended (extracted for) to others when the network agents deem it so fit on their terms: excellence, innovation, ability, competence, and professionalism. these are grand enthroned, vista-ideas that perpetuate classed-oppressive structures; and these are replicated on every level of our western society.
for when one is adopted, or is encumbered by other-highups-in-the-network, and clothed in these metric-terms: they make you feel special and different and, yes, yes, superior in ways you have been yearning for now that you cannot be a bigot anymore - or, at least, in a public forum.
yes. we say(secretly):
“i am superior, I deserve it.”
“i worked and entrepreneuriated and innovated hard.”
“ i am disciplined: i am professional, effective, and easy to work with.”
“i am resilient” (against what? this is vastly different for different people: the damages of trauma, or overwork, or casualization. of fucking what? resilient to a bee-sting?)
“i am easy, flexible, and adaptable (but i also believe in emotional boundaries, because my psychologist said so!) i am hard-working, polite and considerate. oh, and also critical, accountable and lo and behold: reflexive.”
how these beaut-platitudes and currency-words are not so easy to disentangle from those given by billionaires such as bill gates and oprah winfrey - who nicole aschoff refers to as the “new prophets of capitalism”:
“we worked hard, and we innovated they say. we were resilient in pursuit of more and more for me! we are maybe like maybelline © : we’re the ones who are worth it!”
but we all know it, don’t we? these are sickly-trickle-down discourses and imperatives: and are only able to be really explained by luck; opportunity and/or socio-structural-economic privilege.
the logic is that those who didn’t work hard:
have failed: are failed artists: are non-artists: are failed-humans who don’t have the grit or the resilience to succeed: who don’t possess the correct application of subaltern-hidden labour; who don’t have the apparent work-ethics. because ethics themselves are not thought to be enough. mutual-care is not thought to be enough.
vii. this idea of the profesh network arose within the rise of hyper-business- cultures in the early part of the 20th century. however, within the artistic spheres, it is more contemporaneously conditioned by the policy/and rhetorical changes advocated and legitimized by “new labour”; the late-nineties/early 2000s, uk labour party. new labour created an arts policy which was discursively neoliberal and economically rational. in the space of increasingly conservative attacks on public arts funding, new labour sought to protect public funding by reconfiguring the way in which government arts and cultural policy was legally and economically discussed and enacted within the polity. these changes also arose at the time wherein the party was becoming less-class and social-justice oriented and began to adopt the discourse of neo-liberalism, as a way to re-legitimise itself in the face of conservatives’ attacks. to renew its policies, and the arts culture at large: thus spawning the rise of the “creative industries”: quantifiable art making in economically beneficial terms – and even impactful and quantifiable, socially beneficial terms. so now, due to the ways in which we discuss making and policy and funding, my art project cannot be merely to feed the homeless: it must spread awareness about it and produce an ‘object” actual or virtual: it must generate capital in this act; albeit, i doubt there is arts funding available to feed the homeless in this way: unless an artist decided to “improve” (through social practice and aesthetic-irritation) the circumstances of these people via the revolutionary potential of the great social-leveller that is art!
viii. enter the creative industries (lights, camera, sound, action, innovation, networking, sustainability, new social awareness, active listening, active and very phallo-centric skin tugging) . this is the theatre-arena wherein the arts industry (comprising organisations, individuals, stakeholders, intergovernmental and nongovernmental structures) were pressured/willing to adopt the rhetoric and organisational structures that were formerly associated with businesses and companies. now, art is quantified and justified in terms of its productive economic benefits: its multiplier values; its ability to generate excess, run off chemical residue and coat/lubricate other industries; as having data-quantifiable fiscal-social benefits... as being ultimately justified. the language of the creative industries – manifest in the highest degree within the codes and aesthetics of modern “design” culture, which have permeated, so heavily, our social imaginaries in this regard: and more devastatingly our little practices. indeed, i among you also embody this network-consciousness 24/7.
ix. the tracings of neo-liberal-creative-industries is highly apparent in the attendant language and rubrics of arts funding grants (now more and more performatively socially progressive) espousing accessibility and social awareness, and all kinds of inclusion: but these wonderful aspirations do not nullify the fact that the mechanisms that engender the grants system is still incredibly competitive and elite; always, always, speaking in terms of “excellence,” of “innovation”; the scabrous buzzwords of the post-care age; a logic emboldened and justified by the presence of the supposed natural logic market. alas, fine-art, theatre, dance, and art-music have been long enshrined (yet sometimes deluded) that they exist within the “market” (pop-music and other fields, such as advertising have no illusions in this regard).
fuck all of this: i instead turn to and champion a new mediocrity - and, in this regard, believe we ought to question all those who are good at being ontologically-market-driven; who do well to succeed in the markets. those artists from more professionalised, family backgrounds (business owners, ceos, investment bankers; owners of real estates; those within university professions etc.) view their parents, families, and their parents’ associates engaging within vast networks and they thus emulate accordingly to get what they want later in their careers. they view it as fine, and good to relate and operate in this way; and when they come into being as artists, they import this profesh-naturalised way of interaction into everything they do and make; thus reproducing the stilted cult of professionalism which has a very narrow band of operation and has left many behind, standing in torn shirts on the plastic polluted beaches of my childhood, which is the film metaphor equivalent of the remains of a:
cgi gladiatorial battle
air crash where only the beautiful survive
the residue of some heroic war film starring tom hanks
the ever more compromised movie-scene wreckage of everyday neoliberalism
this, funnily, brings back a memory when i was at liveworks (an australian progressive arts festival with the chosen few) at a discussion with a bunch of bougies with jobs, who were whinging about the lack of arts funding in australia.
and in all of this circular-masterbatory, well-enunciated and well-considered self-pity: a bold queer artist suddenly spoke about how it is well and good that artists bemoan the loss of funding, whilst still being able to practice: but that we should remember that there were those artists in the 80s and 90s who fell by the wayside, because they couldn’t understand, or work, or keep up appearences with the obtuse language and writing requirements of the grants - in tandem with all of the viscious competition abound in the arts, generally.
i understand this desolation, and feeling of being left behind, because the scramble through so many thorny hoops for these life-saving “grants” will induce fear in any feeling person; the competitive funding rounds are highly-problematic; because they are provisional and scarce; as well as being rigidly apex structured;
in the creative industries (just like any other corporate industry), humans are now recast as resource-materials; as capital-accumulation-enablers; as para-social-nodes within the upward airy trajectories; and as a complementary force to this, the social-networks enable further grasping appendages to these competitive arts’ cultures; networks such as facebook are perfect sandwiches for competitive middle-class artists; they were created to implode both flesh-data and network at elite universities - designed for hungry young, aspirational, upper-middle class male professionals to have sex-relations that are network friendly (however, no doubt disadvantaging woman, and queer folk, in more ways than one).
x. but social media isn’t solely responsible, or the progenitor of this type of being and thinking; merely the technological curator of it in the sloppy post-post-modern age; like a friend who enables an alcoholic. we are willing (and unpaid) interns in a corporate playpen of spectacle; and the network has recast our relationships, familial, sexual, and interpersonal, in pursuit of more capital, as commodity and quartered-photo-flesh; as the swarming locusts of representation; death in this new milieu is for many irrelevance, deactivation or deletion: or the purgatorial performative state of cancellation. and these associated logics, and discourses, and fervour, and imperatives are the very consecration of our networks:
how to make the most out of your friends?
how to win and influence others?
if your friend or acquaintance has a skill or ability or connection: fucking; draw from it: nay use it!
if you see someone high up in the network; seek them: and transcend your wet-bodily-obfuscated-situation and become lovely and beautiful;
become autoluminescent but not too transparent;
lest you be truly vulnerable;
lest you legitimise your little place in the network:
and always, always work to hide the labour or privilege that has enabled your ascension in this way!