The Corporate Alternative
Symposium co-organized with Pablo Larios (frieze d/e)
How are corporate and alternative practices linked today – from company branding to artistic practices to community-making efforts? What’s the corporate alternative?
Unlike many of the inclusions in the current exhibition at mumok, to expose, to show, to demonstrate, to offer: artistic practices around 1990 – which take critique, self-organization and resistance as common poles of positive aesthetic and theoretical advancement – the participants in this symposium probably grew up with hybrid/schizoid relationships to ideas of alternative practices. In some cases – in the wake of our digital ‘nativity’ – resistant, avant-garde or self-organized micro-communities were not always seen as politically or aesthetically desirable, or even possible; but neither was a full assimilation into the corporate sphere. At times, resistance was laughed at, like someone’s ‘cool’ dad at a punk bar; corporate was sometimes preferable: waterproof, more clear in its limits, with the (bought, aspirational) look of advancement. ‘We don’t listen to indie – we listen to Top 40’ an artist told me during a 2011 visit to his Berlin studio, an echo of Margaret Thatcher’s slogan: ‘there is no alternative’.
At the same time, after the failure of post-2008 reforms, corporations continued to recruit younger and younger ‘cool-hunters’ for insider’s perspectives onto authentic culture. Who could afford to say no? Or yes? Some of us made a kind of refuge or escape in the old-school, vestigial structures of the European art network (as long as it lasts). Others had our youth capitalized upon, again, or actively sold it, under the guise of a generational shift, a la 89+. Whether as a long troll, or just a short opportunity, we watched many retreat into a new, bohemian-bourgeoisie. For most, the freelance economy that once promised to liberate us as ‘independent creatives’ felt closer to a neoliberal imperative to promote yourself as your work, to ‘prosume’ your way to happiness, to turn every waking hour into a smirking unit of project-to-project labour. The artist as entrepreneur – if you made it that far. In short, we all became members of the Lumpenprekariat, a creative class that even seems annoying to self-designate as such. As often as such questions have been posed for some years now, perhaps these contexts have already changed sufficiently to merit their re-assessment. What comes after ‘mass indie’ (K-Hole)? Well, we do what we do – but what do we do now?
Ironically, many of the self-organization initiatives of the 1990’s have congealed into territorialism and self-canonization – who can speak for such a thing, such a history, today? And who cares?
Unlike after-the-fact curatorial or canonical projects of inclusion/exclusion, which must deal with their own structural parallels to the inclusions/exclusions of the communities on which they are grounded, I have organized this symposium with deliberate exclusions in mind. Territorially, geographically and even generationally foreign to many of the artists on display, we are somewhat relieved of the burden of addressing ourselves through or against (foster) parents. Whether this is Oedipal blindness or simple solipsism, or the tough love of an outsider, I can’t yet say. I can only speak for myself.
Concept by Pablo Larios, frieze d/e
Jesse Darling is an artist based in London. JD has recently shown at the Serpentine Gallery, London, and has forthcoming projects at MoMA Warsaw and Arcadia_Missa. Darling also teaches at the Sandberg Instituut and is an editor at The New Inquiry.
Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff are artists based in Berlin, where they ran the New Theater from 2013 to 2015.
Pablo Larios is a writer and an editor of frieze d/e magazine. He lives in Berlin.
Huw Lemmey is an artist, writer and publisher. He is the author of Chubz: The Demonization of my Working Arse and director at Zed Books. From 2008 to 2014 he directed the project space Limazulu in London. He lives in London.
Emily Segal is an artist and writer, and former Creative Director of Genius. She co-founded K-Hole, the trend forecasting group and art collective. She lives in New York.