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Five Unfinished Notes* on Social Class in the Art World and Two Gestures to Embrace


04 April 2022
This month's topic: Abolish NaivetyResident Editor: Daniel Gasol This month's topic: Labor Fascism

Five Unfinished Notes* on Social Class in the Art World and Two Gestures to Embrace

You came off so pushy and pompous when you dropped your usual veneer. Usual, that is, among friends who support you, friends of friends, colleagues, acquaintances from casual encounters, pre- or post-inauguration beers, presentations, workshops, performances, visits and activations. Different moments of socialization that, however, give you only a false sense of community, both strange and uncomfortable. Moments where you check out (looking askance) to see who is carrying the tote bag from the coolest art center, when you discuss in passing a hot topic of current politics or try to come up with person who quotes the most complicated or unknown authors. What are you up to these days? What are you doing do after this? Conversations for the socialization of research, agendas, proposals and other vectors and ramifications of art projectiles. You know them well. Or rather, you suffer from them. Moments of atomization that art brings together. In them, subjects fly over or sneak under the radar in feverish latency or corrosive loneliness. The same little subject as always. The same grand subject as always. Vibrating in sync with the future of global capitalism in its paradoxical dimension as a precarious rhythmic engine of a cultural context. You wouldn’t have dared to do so before, but you can’t take it anymore. You’re fed up. You feel like you’re going to suffocate, like you’re going to burst. If it doesn’t come up, you’ll have to make it come up. Literally. Materially. There it goes: How much are you paying for the workshop? How much is your rent? How much do you make for those classes? Do you have any help? Who helps you? How did you get that grant? Who finances your thesis? How much do they pay you? How do you make ends meet? How the hell do you do it?

And here it comes: Damn, girl! That’s enough! How can you ask that! What do you care? You’re so lame. You’re boring! You make people uncomfortable. Don’t you realize that it’s ugly to talk about money? Why are you so pissed off always? What does it matter! Besides, look at you, you’re not doing so bad! Always so pretty and all dressed up. And here you are!

Working Class Excellence [1]Here I take up and reformulate from the class matrix the notion of “black excellence” that refers to the disproportionately high level of achievement or ability that black people individually or … Continue reading or The Other Face of the Operational Complex of the Intellectual Class Entitlement

When you began to apply for grants you always had the feeling that you were going to be considered an impostor, an intruder who thought they were authorized to carry out certain activities, enter certain areas and make certain speeches. Even today, you still doubt your own voice, even when you collect (or hide behind) those of women authors and theorists, and you still experience the shame of lacking the tools that give people with an academic education an elaborate, weaponized air, while you see them and struggle to find the words with which to order your thoughts. And when you find them, words just don’t seem to be good enough. “How can words not be good enough?” Maggie Nelson wondered. “Words change depending on who says them, there is no cure for that.”[2]Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts, 2015..

Preserving, Caring, Subsuming

Cures, treatments, emotions. Don’t forget about yourself! Capitalism encourages, if not forces, its subjects to ignore their own needs. That’s nothing new. The production of knowledge and technology unfolds in a privatized corporate space, disconnected from the needs of bodies and brains, which responds only to the economic demands of maximizing profits throughout an endless work day. It is no accident that Audre Lorde understood “self-preservation”[3]Audre, Lorde, A Burst of Lightas an act of political warfare and that much of the discursive work on caring as a critical part of sustained radical engagement has been done primarily by people from subaltern communities who experience discrimination that drastically increases the structural inequalities of capitalism. You also turn to Marxist theory whenever you can. Sometimes, you study old concepts such as “alienation” and “fetishism,” although the one you turn to most frequently is “subsumption.” How you like that little word! Nonetheless, you’re astonished how the theories of Audre Lorde and other authors who enlighten and embrace you have been reduced to lifestyle advice for an era of diminished expectations where care and self-care are displayed everywhere and are used to inject an appearance of “radicality” into any activity just to sell products and to justify the dismantling of public health and social care infrastructures. A possible epitome: Isabel Díaz Ayuso appealing[4] to the culture of self-care as an institutional response to lessen the effects of the health crisis caused by Covid.

“Artistic Realism” and Other Ghosts

If the cure for cures is no cure, it’s hard for you to see how that refers to “artistic realism.” You are obviously paraphrasing Mark Fisher and his capitalist realism to refer to the harassment and obstinacy of cultural imaginaries, despite (or precisely because of) sociotechnical revisions and updates of cultural work. Artistic realism serves to name the phenomenon by which isolated, individualized and precarious work, and the concomitant process of privatization and precariousness, becomes so accepted and common that it is almost impossible to imagine cultural work in any other way. This occurs despite the fact that the shared experiences, pressures and difficulties that accompany cultural work as it is currently organized only serves to sink deeper into in a lacerating, sickening and painful way. Under this “generalized atmosphere,” the structural separation of the public economy and the private economy of art is coincidentally and constantly reaffirmed and increased.

Habitats and habitus

You return from spending a few days of vacation time on the Costa Brava at the home of some friends of a friend. Your friend’s friends are a film director and a producer. They plan to make a film together located in l’Empordà to tell the story of a woman who works in an apple orchard. The mother of another friend who is also a friend of these friends works collecting apples in l’Empordà for a juice cooperative. You don’t know why, but all this reminds you of that book by Tom Wolfe about the “exquisite left” in which he portrayed when the New York upper class invited the Black Panthers to a mansion on Fifth Avenue. From New York, you head back to Barcelona and consult Wikipedia about Catalan gauche divine fashion and its fascination with the working-class of the 1970s. “The attitude of European-Western civilization towards the cultural forms of the subaltern world, that is, of the colonial peoples and of the worker and peasant proletariat of the hegemonic nations, reflects in the crudest way the needs, the interests and the complete humanist limitation of the ruling class: the bourgeoisie.”[5]Ernesto de Martino, En torno a una historia del mundo popular subalterno (A History of the Subaltern World), 1949. You can’t stop typing this entire sentence from De Martino. You reread diagonally some of Lutheran Letters by your venerated Pasolini and take Gramsci’s anthology down from the shelf. In this day and age! Oh girl, you’re so lame!

The One-Dimensionality of Agnès Varda’s Meme[6]Borrowed from Choyarchischa – memesdelartisteo. Precarious artists making memes.

Job insecurity. The feminization of poverty. The insistent division between productive and reproductive work. Or, reproductive work subjected to producing symbolic capital. Vertical and horizontal segregation of the labor market. Adam-like ageism. Wage gaps and infrastructural cliffs. Combining the old and the new forms of the heteropatriarchal capitalist regime. General and specific forms of inequality, connected by hidden conditions of vulnerability that isolate you behind the screen. Depression and stress are the other face of the “one-dimensional women” that Nina Power wrote about, in the Marcusian[7]Herbert Marcuse published The One-Dimensional Man in 1964, in which he focused on the crucial role of intellectual labor not as an emancipatory force but rather as a tool for control and domination. … Continue reading monument of an almost classic text in which she reviewed the contributions of Cristina Morini and Paolo Virno regarding the feminization of work in cognitive capitalism. One can also think of the disembodied Sibyl of Remedios Zafra.[8]Remedios Zafra, El entusiasmo (Enthusiasm), 2017.
Conceptual images for material bodies. Exploited and self-exploited people, who are expected not to disappoint the context, not to disappoint themselves, by not showing enough dedication, availability or complacency. Stop complaining so much, you’re an artist! A system fed by enthusiasm and immaterial payment which promotes resignation and is based on the idealization of vocational, emotional, caring and generosity practices. You create, you program, you prosume, you text.[9]Remedios Zafra, (h)adas: Mujeres que crean, programan, prosumen, teclean (Women Who Create, Program, Prosume, Text), 2013.Prosumption, a combination of production and consumption, functions as a digital euphemism to disguise the unpaid work that is essential for the functioning of the cultural machinery. You are an object and subject of consumption in a new libidinal economy of artists-robots/robots-artists, always visible, monitorized and photographable. It’s not clear if you should envy them, admire them or pity them. This drive is a very profitable way to produce a state of anguish that will generate a frenzy that will lead you to satisfy the incoherent demands that bring you closer to the promise of your “career.” Your career, that aspirational semantic field that works like a “suffocating anesthetic.”[10]Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, 2019 You know how it is: happiness and joy, that is, condescending ambition, score double in the material and symbolic economies of art. But you, who came off so pushy and pompous trying to be “a cheerful cultural worker,” ended up in the end as a meme.


This text was going to end here, but before its ended two gestures appeared.

The first, Marc Vives swimming every day at the beach. You heard a recent podcast of his on Radio Web MACBA. Starting from the premise that making a living from art is impossible, Marc talks about money, material and emotional misery, being lost, about visibility and invisibility, of peeling paint off the floor of a gallery, of nerves, of ways of stay afloat when you can’t even stand.

The second, the opening and closing of a curtain, an endless solo choreography, in A movie Without any Intention: After Chantal Akerman, by Cabello/Carceller at the Elba Benítez gallery in Madrid. On the wall text, they use this phrase from Hannah Arendt: “Life is a process that everywhere consumes what is durable, wears it out, makes it disappear, until finally dead matter, the result of small, singular and cyclical processes of life, returns to the total and gigantic circle of nature itself, in which there is no beginning or end and where all natural things revolve in immutable and immortal repetition.”

Two gestures, two impasses, that come with others (the one and the Other, one with another) that appear and allow you to appear. You manage to take a breath and move forward. Wandering paths of negotiations in permanent transit, full of wounds and relentless assaults of pleasure. Gestures of apparent simplicity, full of intimacy and hospitality that create contact and tension, caused by a lurch or a slip. You remember that after all, and before anything else, art is based on rehearsing these gestures; maneuvers and gaps of intervention and experimentation in the least dense areas of your inscription. In the ways of doing things by obstinate force, of stalking, and a fierce drive for collapse, for disappointment, which barely leave a scratch, a caress, a bite. Practices that put the body at the heart of the question of doing. Work based on distances, on being in the present, the hand gesture, the ability to inhabit a discontinuous time, to trigger disidentification processes in order to work above, with, and against a cultural form/norm. Open interruptions where another relationship with the world is revealed: another vulnerability and another implication. The possibility of touching and being touched by the world. The condition of a possibility of intervention to dispute the power relations that are at the heart of the production of subjects and objects of this world constantly reconfigured. You cling to these gestures that make you feel like we could do it differently, and which, actually, we can.

*These notes follow others and will follow others. They follow some notes that were written while talking, inside out and outside in. Notes as resonances that are written between the text and its voice, between a text and its multiple voices. Voices that slip between different tones to make the meanings of the words tremble. Voices that are recomposed in their silences, their ellipses, and in unsaid words.

1 Here I take up and reformulate from the class matrix the notion of “black excellence” that refers to the disproportionately high level of achievement or ability that black people individually or collectively have to reach to occupy spaces of visibility.
2 Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts, 2015.
3 Audre, Lorde, A Burst of Light
5 Ernesto de Martino, En torno a una historia del mundo popular subalterno (A History of the Subaltern World), 1949.
6 Borrowed from Choyarchischa – memesdelartisteo. Precarious artists making memes.
7 Herbert Marcuse published The One-Dimensional Man in 1964, in which he focused on the crucial role of intellectual labor not as an emancipatory force but rather as a tool for control and domination. Technology takes the place of terror in the organization of social control and man becomes one-dimensional.
8 Remedios Zafra, El entusiasmo (Enthusiasm), 2017
9 Remedios Zafra, (h)adas: Mujeres que crean, programan, prosumen, teclean (Women Who Create, Program, Prosume, Text), 2013
10 Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, 2019

Carolina Jiménez is a curator and researcher.

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