In their introduction to Being an Artist in Post-Fordist Times, editors Pascal Gielen and Paul De Bruyne express concern over the transformation of economic, political, and cultural spheres and the way such transformations reflect on art production (Gielen and De Bruyne, 10). This Could be the Place starts from Gielen’ s and De Bruyne’s premiseacknowledging that the transformational shift into a new economy takes the form of a ruthless rule of neo-liberal capitalism that has been built on elements of precariousness (such as increase in short-term employment, self-employment, flexible and uneven working hours, cuts in benefits, use of technology to extend workers’ productivity during holidays and weekends, and increase in unpaid internships to name a few). Our project points to the fact that such precarious work conditions used to be a characteristic of creative labour (as artists from all fields always had to negotiate work on contractual basis) but are now implemented at all levels of social structures. Although transformation towards greater precariousness might seem progressive, stemming as it does from a genuine critique of Fordist economy (an economic model based on building heavy industrial mass production that is standardized, highly rationalized, broken into smaller sections through assembly-line organization of labour, and based on non-skilled industrial labour) by the labour movements of the 1970s, the active production of growing insecurity as a form of management has become a major problem (see De Grazia, Banta, and Antonio). In a recent article on the transformation of the American university system Noam Chomsky points out the twenty-year trajectory of neo-liberal precarious management. Chomsky mentions Alan Greenspan’s 1997 testimony in front of the Congress as a particularly worrisome example, in which Greenspan overtly called for an increase in “greater worker insecurity” as a competitive, and desirable form of management (10). Greenspan’s call for optimization of the corporate sector through turning all jobs into precarious jobs, and tapping into workers’ creativity and flexibility as ways to enhance corporate competitiveness is exactly the problem that Gielen and De Bruyne highlight in Being an Artist (10).
These types of concerns take on a new meaning in the Canadian context as they involve not just questions of colonization of creativity, but also questions of actual colonization of indigenous land and resources. Precariousness in Canada is therefore implicated in capitalist relationships to labour, and more broadly to natural resources, and to those who have rights to such resources (namely indigenous ancestral lands, treaty rights, and their ongoing battle for sovereignty, respect, dignity, or simply survival as ongoing humanitarian disaster on some Aboriginal Reserves still continue). Recent political and cultural movements such as Idle no More speak to these concerns and open up a new field of possibility to create spaces outside of the overwhelming neo-liberal cultural, political and economic production. Artists need to take heed.
Culture’s vitality, creativity, individuality and flexibility have become major elements of new capitalism, as workers are expected to behave creatively in their workplaces and at home, and to be ‘on’ at all times via the ubiquitous technologies that serve as forms of surveillance at a distance. Although art has a celebrated, elevated status in today’s rising creative industries, such status comes with a caveat –– art’s key values of autonomy, creativity, vitality and flexibility can also be used for spreading insecurity. The challenge facing the contemporary artistic community, subsequently, is a constructive search “for artistic spaces that fuel an artistic as well as ethical, political, and economic sense of possibilities”( Gielen and De Bruyne 7). The question we ask is, ‘Where can such spaces be found?’ The theoretical and cultural signposts of the past have proven shaky at best, or at worst just plain wrong. Modernist and postmodernist aesthetic, political, cultural, and material signposts tend to be confusing and misleading. This Could be the Place asks, ‘Where are the new spaces of engagement in Canadian contemporary art?’ Some answers can be found in aesthetic practices that evade the laws of new capitalism, those that seek to propose ‘other worlds’ and other modes of being. The events proposed for This Could be the Place seek to find new theories and signposts for our engagement with the world. These signposts could take the guise of performative actions and installations, or interventions in the here and now, proposing the ways in which artists have always opened up possibilities of new modes of engaging with our reality.
The colonization of the artistic space of creativity by the capitalist machine is therefore an important question that contemporary art needs to address. And since its most basic characteristics have been colonized, where does it leave the artist? Where are the signposts for this time of creativity and productive overload? The choice of the title This Could be the Place deliberately points to something that perhaps capitalism cannot colonize: art’s capacity to revel and flourish in a context of complete confusion, to make some kind of sense of misrepresentations, failures, and to operate in dead-end streets. So the title This Could be the Place (a statement as much as it is a question) poses a challenge: to see if art’s methodology based on failure, unpredictability, confusion, laziness, disorientation, aimlessness, etc. could also be the way to propose spaces and situations outside of the current economic system.