Artists as Commoners in the Years of Indebtedness

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* Article: Artists as Commoners in the Years of Indebtedness. Daphne Dragona. Springerin, issue 4/13: Art of Indebtedness



From the introduction:

"This „strange sensation of living in a society without time, without possibility, without foreseeable rupture, is debt“ writes Lazzarato (2011: 35). Debt relies on promises being made between debtors and creditors which establish power relationships not only for the present but also for the future. What is really being borrowed therefore is not money but time and for this reason indebtedness is connected to temporality as well as to morality. But what happens when indebtedness concerns the many and not a few? Over the last few years, more and more individuals, populations and countries are judged on the basis of debt. Indebtedness now ‚cuts across the whole of society’ as Lazzarato mentions, being abstract, diffused and deterritorialised. And while it might seem impossible to confront, this very condition makes one thing clear; that new solidarities and new co-operations are needed in order to find new modes of living and being and to face not only the economy of debt but also the morality of guilt and fear (ibid: 162, 164). On the other hand, as Graeber puts it, how to speak about morals and debts when language itself is shaped by the market? How to stop or to ignore the calculation of debts and credits? If debt is the ‚perversion of a promise, corrupted by math and violence’, what – if any – are the mechanisms that can confront it? (2011: 391)

At the other side of today’s progressive indebtedness lies the continuous strengthening of the contemporary commons. The older and newer forms of common wealth that are being introduced anew in today’s metropoleis are seen by the city inhabitants as a way to confront the asymmetries of indebtedness and to counterbalance its effects. This does not come as a surprise. As Massimo de Angelis writes, the emergence of the commons is to be expected when questions of livelihood come to the foreground. Such was the case in Britain during the crisis in the 80s when an increase in squatting, alternative markets and local exchange trading systems was noted and the situation in Argentina in 2001 was similar (De Angelis 2010).

When the myth of growth is abandoned, a need for new networks and services becomes apparent in order to enable new forms of wealth distribution and guarantee its sustainability (Berardi, 2011: 119). And so it happens today in most countries hit by the financial crisis. The numerous self-managed parks and agricultural areas, the collectively run cultural spaces and kitchens, the exchange economy markets and the urban mesh networks are distinctive examples of forms of contemporary common wealth that one can find in metropoleis today. The list is wide and growing, it is diverse, multifaceted and such that no one can pretend not to see that a new bottom up movement is actually being formed. Inhabitants around different countries turn towards the commons in order to apply a new model for living and sharing resources and ultimately to produce new forms of life (Condorelli 2009, Hardt 2012: 52). To a great extent, as Bifo clarifies, this is based on necessity, not on will or voluntarism (ibid: 118). The commons constitute a response to the impasse of post-Fordist capitalism.

Within this context, in the years of indebtedness – but also of connectedness –, a great number of artists in collaboration with theorists, programmers, cultural workers, skillful users and competent citizens have started developing their work and research on the basis of the commons. Their work, which varies greatly, touches upon different aspects of the common wealth. Detached from the market and close to the multitude’s needs and desires, their practices seem to play an active role in the formation of new ways of producing and sharing. But to examine the significance of art in relation to the commons, it is necessary to revisit the very framework of the commons itself."