Zanny Begg, Gordon Matta-Clark, Agnes Denes, Sean Dockray, Francesco Finizio, Micah Hesse, Callum Morton, Ishai Shapira Kalter & Anna Witt
Curated by Liang Luscombe & Joshua Simon
West Space, Melbourne
13 November – 12 December 2015
Factory Fetish explores the all too usual trend and the uncomfortable proximity between artists’ attraction to underdeveloped urban spaces and their eventual discovery, commercialisation and development by real-estate speculators. Through the development of cultural capital we see a translation into market value, in which sites of culture are holding bays for property development. In this way, art practice is regarded as a resource that can be used positively and, on the other hand, sustains exploitative systems, including forms of self-exploitation through social networks and gentrification.
The double meaning of the economic term ‘creative destruction’, denotesa process of mutation that revolutionises the economic structure from within, destroying the old one and incessantly creating a new one. It is also the embodiment of actual destruction that those in the creative fields experience within this process. In the forms of gentrification we experience in our neighborhoods – our factory so to speak – the site of the creative process of production is fetishised and becomes a site for real-estate speculation.
As Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan identified in their seminal 1984 essay ‘The Fine Art of Gentrification’, 1 Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan, ‘The Fine Art of Gentrification’ in October, Vol. 31, (Winter 1984) pp.91-111. it is of urgent importance that the art community understand what the process of gentrification is – and our role within it – in order to respond in a meaningful way. ‘Gentrification’ was coined in 1964 by sociologist Ruth Glass to describe the movement of affluent individuals into lower class areas. 2 Josephine Berry Slater and Anthony Iles, ‘No room to move: radical art and the regenerate city’, in Mute, 24 November 2009, http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/no-room-to-move-radical-art-and-regenerate-city. Artists are often a pawn in the process of gentrification; our investment of labour into disused and unwanted real estate connects beauty with function: we make visible the vitality of these properties. Art’s colonisation of urban space is a stratification that includes an important layer of cultural and symbolic capital that is used as an asset that the market exploits to find new ‘marks of distinction’ for its urban territories. 3 Matteo Pasquinelli, ‘ Sabotage of Debt’,’ Undoing Property?, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013, p.31. As Matteo Pasqunelli writes, gentrification is the exploitation of an immaterial domain by a material domain.4 ibid., p.33.
In the past, we used to call some of our art spaces ‘alternative spaces’. These were on the fringes, on the periphery, and were experiments with different forms of values. Later, when commercial galleries opened next door we changed this to ‘artist-run spaces’, and now we simply settle for ‘not-for-profit’. Having turned derelict places into art spaces, these then transform into potential condos, trendy lofts and pop-up boutiques. Far from the founding and idealistic belief that space can be alternative, the artistic community realised that we are in fact agents of processes that monetise space into real estate. While these spaces are the generators of the most challenging ideas in the field, we internalised this conclusion to the extent that, now, these art spaces are simply defined by the article that describes them under taxation regulations.
So, in moving from ‘alternative’ to ‘not-for-profit’ as part of the gentrification process, the original inhabitants of neighborhoods are not only pushed out but we, the artistic community, also impoverish ourselves, as we are the next ones to be kicked out of the district. This process, which is experienced spatially, is part of an array of manifestations of the precarious life of artists today. Since the 1970s, we can observe how contemporary art was useful in urban renewal of urban space in post-industrial cities. New York City’s SoHo and the Lower East Side are dotted with iconic projects of recent art history – including Gordon Matta-Clark’s restaurant FOOD and his numerous site-specific interventions – that proved to have direct effect on real estate activity.
Berlin also manifests this urban process – a vast ‘no-man’s-land’ in the center between East and West Berlin had to be re-occupied since its unification in 1990. This moment involved a paradigmatic economic and political shift in which the outcome of artistic activity is made manifest. We see a shift from production-based capitalism to asset-based capitalism. Rents and loans, rather than production and job creation became the core profit-driven economic activity. With financial markets booming thanks to debt-speculation derivatives, now everything is on FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate).
Under these conditions of monetised living spaces, we experience our own creativity as our two-faced foe: that which makes us who we are is that which brings us down time and time again.5 Paolo Virno, ‘Wit and Innovation’ in Critique of Creativity: Precarity, Subjectivity and Resistance in the ‘Creative Industries’, May Fly Books, 2011, pp.101-105. From social media to paying rent, from video platforms to real estate, it is our creativity, and especially our collective creativity – the ways we do things together – that is the means of the intensification of our own exploitation. How do we collectively shift this structure in order to change this process?To some extent we are all aware that we carry the burden of gentrification as the process of valorisation that then impoverishes us. This realisation makes us believe that art itself is part of the problem. However a possible solution is simple and political – and art has little to do with it. In cities where there is public housing, where the local council is the owner of most domestic space, art does not operate this way. Only where living space is in the market and is subject to speculation, art, like any other human agency (sociability, communicability, creativity, etc.), encourages such processes. Actualising these conditions, counter-speculating on them and contextualising them are some of the artistic strategies employed by the artists exhibiting in Factory Fetish and offer up some means of reflection on this current and highly pressurised context.
Joshua Simon & Liang Luscombe