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Danilo Maldonado Machado, also known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth) is a graffiti artist in Cuba, imprisoned since December 25, 2014 for attempting to perform an artistic action in a public space.
Danilo has spent 9 months in the Valle Grande prison, charged with the crime of Contempt, and is waiting for a judicial process, where he faces a possible sentence of 1 to 3 years imprisonment.
For six years Danilo has suffered police harassment, successive arbitrary arrests, detentions for more than 72 hours, searches of his home and confiscation of his works and his working materials. He suffers from bronchial asthma and has been affected by pneumonia.
- We remind the Cuban authorities that the right to freedom is indispensable for expression and artistic creation in virtue of Articles 19 and 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; protected by Article 15 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory and both of which are considered binding.
- We insist that the authorities eliminate the restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
- We express our concern because Danilo Maldonado has been detained solely for exercising his artistic activity, and urge that he be released immediately and without conditions, because he is a prisoner of conscience; he has been confined for his peaceful activism in the rescue of fundamental freedoms in Cuba.
- We insist that the Cuban authorities drop the case immediately.
- We ask the Cuban authorities to stop harassing and intimidating all the rest of the citizens who peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful association.
- We insist that the Cuban authorities promote and protect the right to freedom of artistic creation, and the right to participate in the cultural life, to access culture and respect for cultural diversity.
The graffiti artist and activist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth), was arrested on December 25, 2014, when he took two animals painted with the names of Fidel and Raul and was about to drop them off in Havana’s Central Park, usually crowded, for a street intervention. He is formally charged with “Contempt”  and is awaiting trial. He faces a sentence of 1 to 3 years in prison.
The right to participate in public demonstrations is not recognized in the Cuban Constitution nor is it legally developed. The Penal Code, protecting individual rights  includes the right to demonstrate and sanctions anyone who, in violation of the law, impedes the holding of a lawful meeting or demonstration, or a person from attending them. If the crime is committed by a public official, it is an abuse of office and the penalty is doubled.
However, the legal body  itself considers that a crime is committed against public order by anyone who participates in meetings or demonstrations held in violation of the dispositions that regulate the exercise of this right, dispositions that do not exist. Sanctions are tripled for the organizers.
There is no procedure to notify or solicit authorization to hold a protest, nor legal recourses to appeal the refusal. However, there are frequently marches along central avenues, called and organized by the government itself, with a marked political-ideological character. The restrictions imposed on this right by the state, are not provided in law.
The situation of human rights in Cuba has deteriorated sharply in recent months, with ever more repressive practices entrenched mainly against the Ladies in White dissident movement and the activists who support them, and the government’s contempt has become ever more flagrant toward the recommendations made by the States parties before the Universal Human Rights Council during the periodic review, in which the priorities are the ratification and implementation of the Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and their optional protocols.
In Cuba, “The educational and cultural policy is based on the Marxist ideology” and is tied to the “promotion of patriotic education and the communist training of new generations and the preparation of children, young people and adults for social life. The State, in order to raise the culture of the people, concerns itself with promotion and developing artistic education, the vocation for creation and the cultivation of art and the capacity to appreciate it.” 
In 1961 Fidel Castro marked a limit for the full enjoyment and realization of the cultural rights of Cubans. In his speech “Words to the Intellectuals” his iconic phrase, “Within the Revolution, everything, outside the Revolution, no rights,” paraphrased the dictator Mussolini.
Our Constitution says, “Artistic creativity is free as long as its content is not contrary to the Revolution,” contradicting itself as it continues: “The forms of expression in art are free.” 
We believe that the imprisonment of the artist is an excessive punitive measure in response to the peaceful expression of the politically critical art of Danilo Maldonado and it is an attempt to silence and censor even more the artistic scene within the country.
We believe that society has the right for its public spaces to be spaces for creativity, for artistic expression; because they are also collective spaces of knowledge and debate. The public space belongs to civil society and not to governments, corporations or religious institutions.
We believe that it is the duty of the State to protect artists as key actors in social change and to defend their right to dissent, instead of gagging them, persecuting them and imprisoning them, when they have a critical attitude toward the government, which is also part of their role as artists: to question the reality that surrounds them and to be an active part of its evolutionary transformation.
Other government practices that threaten the enjoyment and full exercise of cultural rights and artistic-creative freedom in Cuba are:
- Institutional censorship with regard to almost all artistic manifestations.
- The theft of artist identity (in the case of independent festivals) by the State.
- The right of admission to cinemas, theaters, museums, galleries, theoretical lectures, denying entrance and participation in public spaces to people labeled as dissidents or Human Rights activists.
- The use of aesthetic criteria as political conditions through official censors charged with justifying censorship.
- Manipulation of artists and intellectuals committing them to position themselves with exclusively political measures like the execution of three young men who hijacked a boat (2003).
- The social isolation of the artistic guild from smear campaigns and the intimidation of others.
- The State monopoly on public spaces and institutions that give authorization to engage in public activities.
- Discrimination and social cancellation of a person as reprisal for their critical attitude.
- With all institutions controlled by the State, if there is forced expulsion there is no other institution than can take in the person.
- Limitations on the freedom of movement: people are blocked from moving to alternative spaces when they suffer from police harassment. Refusal of permission to leave or enter the country, confiscation of passports, arbitrary detentions, etc.
- Expulsion from schools, workplaces, institutions that protect artists, for political reasons.
- The application of self-censorship to daily behavior. (People naturally assume it: censorship is ordinary.)
- Physical violence in arbitrary arrests, home detentions, threats, home searches, confiscation of works and the means of work, police interrogations, prison, aggression against the family.
- Lack of official response to legal demands and citizen complaints that permit the exhaustion of domestic legal recourses.
- The right the authorities take for themselves to impose a single interpretation on an artistic work.
- The lack of legal recourses that permit the public recognition of initiatives independent of or alternative to the Ministry of Culture.
- Participation in political activities and military training is compulsory in the Cuban educational system.
- Ideological conditioning in arts education. Forced expulsions.
- The impact of the Ministry of the Interior in the development and implementation of cultural policies and in the behavior of arts institutions.
- The use of artist and intellectuals in the spaces of political repression.
- The promotion and support of the professional careers of artists and intellectuals is conditioned by their demonstrated compliance with official policy (policies related to publication, movie production, exhibition spaces).
- Independent NGOs are not entitled to receive funding under the “New Law of Cultural Investment,” requiring all financing to pass through the Ministry of Culture.
- Demonization of financing secured by artists officially discriminated against.
- Use of art as popular recreation and not as a method of critical questioning and a space for promoting freedom.
Raúl Modesto Castro Ruz
President of the Republic of Cuba Havana,
Cuba E-mail .: firstname.lastname@example.org
email@example.com (c / o Mission of Cuba to the UN)
Fax: +53 33 085 July 83 (via Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Salutation: Your Excellency
General Abelardo Colome Ibarra
Minister of the Interior and Prisons
Ministry of Interior, Plaza de la Revolution, Havana, Cuba
Fax: +537 85 56 621 (pressed “send” when you hear the voice in Spanish)
Email .: firstname.lastname@example.org
Salutation: Your Excellency
Dr. Dario Delgado Cura
Attorney General of the Republic
Attorney General’s Office, Amistad 552, e/ Monte and Estrella,
Fax: + 537 669485 / + 537 333164
Salutation: Dear Attorney General
Maria Esther Reus González
Minister of Justice
Salutation: Ms. Minister of Justice
Hon. Mr. Alejandro Gonzalez GALEANO
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Paseo. de la Habana, 194, 28036 – MADRID
Phone: 91 359 25 00 Fax: 91 359 61 45
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cuba to the United Nations Office at Geneva
100 chemin de Valérie, Chambésy 1292
Fax: +41 22 758 9431
Diplomatic Mission of the Republic of Cuba in Brussels
77 rue Roberts Jones
1180 Uccle, Belgium
Fax: + 32 2 344 9661
 Article 144.1 and 144.2 of the Criminal Code, Section Three:
- Anyone who threatens, slanders, defames, insults or in any way outrages or offends, orally or in writing, the dignity or decorum of a public authority, public official, or their agents or auxiliaries, in the exercise of their functions or on the occasion or by reason of them, shall be punished by imprisonment of three months to one year or a fine of one hundred to three hundred shares, or both.
- If the action described in the preceding paragraph is committed against the President of the State Council, the President of the National Assembly of People’s Power, members of the State Council or the Council of Ministers or the Deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power, the penalty is imprisonment of one to three years.
 Article 292 Penal Code
 Article 209 Penal Code
 Constitution of the Republic of Cuba. Chapter V. Education and Culture, Article 39
 Constitution of the Republic of Cuba. Chapter V. Education and Culture, Article 39
Amnesty International: Cuba must release graffiti artist jailed for painting Castros’ names on pigs’ back
In October 2014 I opened an independent gallery in Moscow with a friend. It closed this summer after attempting to show an exhibition about LGBT youth (Be yourself: stories of LGBT teenagers). I say attempted to show because the police turned up before the photos had even been installed, a little reminder of just how ridiculous things are getting over here and how much more ridiculous they will probably get. I learned a lesson from this story, but it wasn’t about queer exhibitions in the Putin era.
The Russian art community has taken part in a string of clashes between cultural institutions and the government in the past decade. One of the most famous cases happened in 2006, when Andrei Erofeev and Yuri Samodurov curated “Forbidden Art” at the Sakharov Center, an exhibition containing images that the Russian Orthodox Church found blasphemous and of the “inciting religious hatred” variety. Erofeev and Samodurov were fined in a highly-publicized trial. The pattern became all too familiar: certain ideas, themes and concepts inevitably drew attention from the patriarchal authoritative figures, religion topping the charts. These run-ins started happening sporadically and gradually leaked into other cultural territories as well, such as contemporary theatre.
The dialogues around such events typically subordinate to several binary positions: the liberal, Western-oriented claim to artistic freedom as the basic right of the cultural worker, and the conservative, right-wing rhetoric of the aggressors. When an exhibition is closed or attacked by radical Orthodox protesters, the Russian artistic community rallies around a set of principles that have become, over the years, somewhat of a manifest of the artists, filmmakers, theorists and activists working in the country today. These principles can be traced through the various letters and petitions that have been signed in collective unison in response to the aforementioned clashes. What I feel is missing from this conversation are bodies.
When I wanted to open my independent exhibition space, all in the name of “artistic freedom”, I was faced with the fact that it would have to be funded without the help of external financing. This meant that I needed a stable job with at least an average income that would allow me to pay rent for the space, my own rent and living expenses. That was how I found myself working for Digital October, an educational startup at one of Moscow’s creative hubs in a former chocolate factory. “It’s very bohemian,” my mother remarked when she came there for the first (and last) time. The sealing deal for me was that this was a job from the real world. No longer would I have to be an unemployed artist, instead I could have the best of both worlds: creativity that isn’t alienated or objectified and a regular income and employment benefits. My tasks at my new job consisted of organizing a short educational program about digital producing, which didn’t even seem that bad. The program finished just as my probationary period did. I was told to continue doing this and that; marketing, video production, curating new courses. I was also told by the company’s boss that I would be fired on the spot for failing to produce content that would generate money for the business. A few people were. Life continued as normal.
It’s hard to say what exactly was wrong with this relationship, because often the line between work, life, and in this case, art, is blurred. Labor relations weave in and out of friendships, personal growth, the sense of stability, attempts at escaping loneliness, small achievements. Sometimes you stop distinguishing between doing well at the place where you are employed and you doing well. In this case, I curated a couple of exhibitions that were very important to me, using the money I earned at my day-time job, and this was certainly much higher on my list of priorities than my relationship with my employer.
Immaterial labour, the term coined by Maurizio Lazzarato, describes a new kind of labour in the post-Fordist economy, one which slips between alienating and empowering. The experience of artistic labour is characterized by terms such as networking, temporary contracts, irregular paychecks, freelance, and the belief that you are talented enough to one day wind up the recipient of a career-boosting Art Prize or in a good Biennale (or, at least, the Moscow Biennale). Working for the creative industries, there are the perks that come with packaging the wonderful human ability to strike the right nerves in people’s hearts into products and services. When the same type of instability and labour relations bleed into the office, into the normal blue-collar world, there just isn’t as much meaning to hold on to.
When something is not going right at that place where you produce surplus value for your boss, you dream of the power of physicality. I’m probably the only person who savored the moment everyone at the office came to present the boss with a gift for his newborn daughter, jokingly chorusing that they had all decided to simultaneously quit. Of course, organizing a strike or occupying the physical space where capital is produced to demand your rights isn’t something that seems feasible in an office in a trendy downtown red brick-walled factory. It’s strange because other things seem just as unfeasible: when you are repeatedly asked each month by the well-meaning secretary to donate money for your co-worker’s birthdays, but your boss is, of course, missing from the mailing list. The designer is walking home today because he just maxed out his credit card, chipping in on a gift for Anna. You just wish the boss was on the list too.
One day I was told the company wasn’t doing well and I probably should start looking for a new job. This happened a few weeks after the police came to my gallery. Bizarrely, my first reaction was to start questioning my apparent complete failure as an artist. Where, I thought, will I go when I’m depressed and can’t talk to anyone but just need to sit around people? How does not having a stable salary after having one categorize me as a person? Good thing the gallery closed, what would I be doing if I had to pay rent for it now? On a whim, I went to a lawyer specializing in trade law.
Some of my friends found this all to be terribly entertaining. Apparently, I was one of the only people in the cultural industry in Moscow who had never been cheated out of money. Everyone had a collection of stories to tell about the time they were paid 50 dollars whilst assisting on a movie for weeks on end or exhibited their work in a prestigious exhibition where the artist’s fee was spent on champagne for the opening night. The only problem was that I wasn’t even employed in the cultural industry. I had been fucked over in the real world. I had become, without even noticing, an independent contractor.
The scheme my employer working by was simple, and quite common in Russia. Instead of hiring me in accordance with the Russian Labour Code, which guarantees all workers 28 days of paid vacation, a probation period not exceeding 3 months, paid overtime, paid sick leave and protections against dismissal, I was hired as a temporary contractor, with a civil law contract. These type of contracts have special criteria that sets them apart from full-time contracts, and specifically regulate temporary work. Employees get none of the aforementioned benefits, but do not have to comply with a company’s internal policies, do not come into the office, and only work on a certain task within an agreed timeframe.
According to Russian law, companies are not allowed to sign a civil law contract with a worker when the employer/employee relationship is in fact of an employment nature. However, a lot of businesses in Russia don’t follow this rule, as this allows them to save money on worker benefits and, basically, fire people whenever and however they want. With the Russian economy slipping further and further into recession due to the Putin government’s increasingly bizarre foreign and local policymaking, a lot of people are glad to have any sort of job at all. Which, of course, is the reason why companies like Digital October can get away with this sort of treatment. Recent attempts at creating independent trade unions have illustrated just how dangerous it is to be involved in the labour movement in Russia today. The media has all but ignored the story of the Sheremetevo Trade Union of Airline Pilots, who were set to win a case against Aeroflot which would result in over one billion rubles being paid to overworked Aeroflot employees. Three of the key figures in the organization were jailed before the ruling.
The gallery I ran for a whole year, a space that was supposed to foster critical thought and artistic freedom, turned out to be a lesson on the painful relationship between politics and art. Trying to escape the under-funded Russian arts industry, and the consequent state of fear, uncertainty and instability that stems from precarious artistic labour, as well as needing to be independent from sources of funding that would potentially restrict certain artwork from being shown created a very narrow definition of the political; concerned with representation, dialogue, exhibition-making and the materialization of progressive ideological discourses. The political should have first and foremost been concerned with bodies, not ideas, and how these bodies are forced to function in capitalist structures without protection or political awareness.
The trade lawyer I went to told me that although my situation is widespread and the government recently toughened laws that target businesses refusing to properly employ their workers, courts in Moscow generally side with the employee, and taking your boss to court is expensive. This is a struggle outside of the current ideological war tearing Russia up into Pro-Putin and Pro-Freedom camps, where every single person becomes a target for their beliefs. Maybe Russian cultural workers and activists should start looking past ideologies for a new definition of “acting politically”, looking for a way to unite society, rather than divide it further. Beyond political beliefs, we are all actually in the same position.
ArtLeaks Gazette No. 3 “Artists Against Precarity and Violence” – Public Presentations and Discussions
We will be presenting our new gazette issue “Artists Against Precarity and Violence – Resistance Strategies, Unionizing, and Coalition Building in a Time of Global Conflict and Contradiction,” and would like to invite you to attend the events below. Some of the gazette’s editors and authors, together with other artists, activists and theorists will facilitate the discussions.
Friday, September 18th
King’s College London
Led by Aria Spinelli, Vlad Morariu and Stevphen Shukaitis. With Vladan Jeremic (Belgrade).This session is a combined presentation and discussion format based around histories of art strikes and artists unions. The presentation will introduce the history of the art strike through its multiple iterations and mutations, and union organizing by artists. These histories show how both the art strike and artists union expand from a focus on art institutions to the role of the artist, and then more generally to interrupting the role of the arts and artistic labour in the cultural economy and creative city. Both the art strike and artists unions provide ways to ferment new antagonistic subjectivities. This will be used to introduce a series of questions for discussion and reflection. What is the use and value of art strikes and artists unions for rethinking and reworking the relationship between art and labour today? How is it possible to ‘down tools’ for cultural and artistic labour when such tools are compromised by critical portions of our ability to think, communicate and relate? If you went out on an art strike, what would your art strike be? If you wanted to unionize your artistic labours, what form would this take?
Full program here.
Sunday, September 20th
Corina L. Apostol and Brett A. Bloom will be presenting the gazette at the 10th New York Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1. Look for us in the Friendly Fire section, at the Half Letter Press/ Temporary Services booth.
September 24th – November 22nd
Mestna Galerija Ljubljana
The general aim of the Inside Out project is to analyze the existing theoretical and critical art practices proposed by artists, art collectives, researchers, or institutions from Central and South-Eastern Europe that focus on critiquing the existing models of institutions, their programs, and the work conditions in art production.
ArtLeaks will take part in the project with the ArtLeaks Wall Newspaper, a format made for print and online distribution. We invite institutions and artist organizations to share it widely. The first issue of the ALWN brings together a collection of texts related to the censorship, distraction of artworks and structural racism against artist Marika Schmiedt, and her struggle to fight these problems. In the dire situation refugees face today at the hands of neo-fascist forces in Hungary and Europe in general, we have to fight against all reactionary processes and forces- not only in the field of art and culture, but also in the society in Europe.
Friday, October 9th
Can the concept of social class be the basis of artistic practices that produce new agencies towards economic and social change? It has constantly been said that artists and other actors of the art field are model examples of perfect entrepreneurship and self-employment at the current phase of immaterial and cognitive capitalism. Supposedly, artists can efficiently control and capitalise their cultural properties. Are there models of counter-organisation and struggle based on the new understanding of social class? Can artistic and curatorial activities build up classed selves for subjects under the ultimate precarity and flexibility?
Friday, October 9th
Vladan Jeremic will take part in the public workshop:
This session takes the form of a public seminar with the aim to discuss the particular problems related to the conditions of labor in the field of art and the techniques of art-related activism.
Saturday, October 10th
Corina L. Apostol will present on the panel:
Taking the Free/Slow University of Warsaw’s report,The Art Factory (2014), as a case study, this panel focuses on the notion of labor and distribution within the artworld from a number of perspectives, such as the organization of labor, and the politics of art and work. Looking at notions of affective and invisible labor—drawing upon the lessons of feminism, and also taking into consideration the structuring device of precarity itself, and its historical role within the arts—this session considers if these features provide a “political economy of the former West,” and following this, show how the ways of production and division of labor within the artworld can be said to be indicative of the proposed “former-ness” of the West and its institutions.
A group of activists made a blockade at the Hungarian pavilion at the Venice Biennale on Sunday, August 30th.
The group that calls itself #fenceforeurope was demonstrating against the razor-wire ‘fence’ that is under construction by the Hungarian government at the Southern border of Hungary keeping the refugees coming mostly from Syria, Libya and Eritrea away.
Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime-minister, recently announced that the fence was going to be completed by the 31st of August, and that the government will send a special border patrol to the area.
Sunday’s action appeared in a contemporary art context, and the action itself was partly political, partly artistic. #fenceforeurope used exactly the same instruments that the government did during its campaign against the refugees: street posters and questionnaires that were sent out to millions of Hungarian citizens under the campaign called “National Consultation”. (The government wanted to legitimize its policy with this direct “consultation” but in fact very few people sent the letters back.)
The group also used the Hungarian government’s rhetoric – meanwhile also criticizing the EU’s policies regarding the refugees.
“Our response is clear: we’d like to keep Europe for the Europeans”
An intervention at the 2015 Venice Biennale
At the end of July Viktor Orbán, prime minister of Hungary, announced that Hungary would close its border to Serbia. The 110-mile-long, 13-foot-tall fence, which will physically prevent any movement between the two countries other than through legal checkpoints, will be completed by the 31st August.
We, as Hungarian citizens of Fortress Europe, and also as individuals who genuinely love their privileges, decided that on the day before the official handover of the border-fence we’ll physically block the entrance to the Hungarian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In order to help support the separation of our country and our citizens more clearly, on the 30th August we won’t let anybody enter the exhibition space. We’d like a Europe, which is proud of its colonial past and builds its present on this heritage.
We’d like a Europe, which – after centuries of conquests and expansion – now closes its gates before the refugees from the countries she colonized and exploited.
We’d like a Europe, which will define the homo europensis as a race in its own right and which will be led by this race of the unworthy.
We’d like a Europe, which will put join efforts to fulfill this race’s unmerited and exorbitant needs without a care for any other people in the entire world till eternity. Or at least until our resources and the resources of the Earth will run out.
Today Hungary today shows Europe the right way.
Europe sees this and is eager to agree.
Let’s build an isolated, locked Fortress together until we are terminated by the simple law of entropy!
Join to the action, share and spread your ideas with using the #fenceforeurope hashtag!
Art Production in Restriction. Possibilities of Transformative Art Production and Coalition-Building (Trondheim, Norway)
Seminar, 4-7 September 2015
Mini Book Fair, 5-6 September 2015
Nova Kino / Nova Hotell
Since the neoliberal attack on public institutions of art and art education, artistic work has become an entrepreneurial activity within a restrictive framework conditioned by the expanding art market and hegemonic political agendas prescribing the usefulness of art.
The division of labor in the creative and knowledge industries has formed huge masses of artists that serve as a “reserve army” for cheap creative labor.
In recent years artists have organized themselves in new ways, developing strategies to agitate for better labor conditions and certain standards of payment for artistic work.
Major discussions dealing with the conditions of artistic production address the precarity that artistic labor has in common with other branches of “immaterial” and reproductive, or “invisible,” labor. In this context, artistic work is seen as a model for highly-exploitative working relations in late capitalism. To understand what kind of precarity is at stake one needs to take into account the whole process of production and the position of the artist within it.
Obviously, we should distinguish between the precarity of Thai berry pickers working in the forests of Finland and Norway and the position of artists that, believing in the idea of liberated work, have to labor under precarious conditions. Less obvious, but no less real, are the different levels of precarity due to the social stratification of the art world. This encompasses artists producing pieces for the art market, artists working in art management and administration, and community and non-profit-oriented art practices.
In examining these differences and contradictions, with conditions varying considerably between the peripheries and centers of capital, between the global South and North, can the general precarity of art production be seen to function as a common denominator in artists’ struggles for better working conditions? Or, do we need a different political basis for coalition-building that would be realized in a different model of production? How can this different production model support coalition-building? In such a setting, can the autonomy of artistic production become an emancipatory force, or should artists join social movements and political parties of the new left that aim for non-capitalist transformation?
This seminar brings together artists, writers, critics, and curators from Europe and the United States who are active in groups that are struggling for better working conditions in the arts and society at large. The aim of the seminar is to come up with a common method for organizing and coalition-building in the art world and beyond. Read more about the topic of the seminar and find the online compendium of the participating artists, writers, critics, and curators on the seminar webpage at:
You can register to attend the plenary sessions of the seminar on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. If you are interested, please contact email@example.com before September 3rd.
A Mini Book Fair featuring publications and artists’ editions dealing with the topics of art and work will be open to the public 5&6 September 2015, 18-20h at Nova hotel. On Sunday, the 6th September seminar participants will present their publications to the audience.
Airi Triisberg (Tallinn), Corina L. Apostol (ArtLeaks, Bucharest), Danilo Prnjat (DeMaterijalizacija umetnosti, Belgrade), Gregory Sholette (New York), Ivor Stodolsky (Perpetuum Mobile, Berlin), Jean-Baptiste Naudy (Ateliers Populaires de Paris), Jelena Vesić (Belgrade), Jesper Alvær (Oslo), Jochen Becker (metroZones, Berlin), Kuba Szreder (Warsaw), Lise Skou (Aarhus), Lise Soskolne (W.A.G.E., New York), Marina Vishmidt (London), Marita Muukkonen (Perpetuum Mobile, Helsinki), Marius Lervåg Aasprong (Trondheim), Minna Henriksson (Helsinki), Mourad El Garouge (Ateliers Populaires de Paris), Noah Fischer (Occupy Museums, New York), Raluca Voinea (ArtLeaks, Bucharest), Sissel M Bergh (Trøndelag Bildende Kunstnere, Trondheim)
A REAL WORK OF ART
2nd – 20th September 2015
RAM Galleri, Kongens gate 3, 0153 Oslo, Norway
Featuring: Corina L. Apostol (ArtLeaks), Federico Geller, Fokus Grupa, Nikolay Oleynikov (Chto Delat?), Iulia Toma
Curated by: Rena Rädle & Vladan Jeremić (ArtLeaks)
Opening program, 2nd September 2015
RAM Gallery, Kongens gate 3, 0153 Oslo, Norway
18h Promotion of the ArtLeaks Gazette #3 and lecture Art Workers Between Precarity and Resistance: A Genealogy by Corina L. Apostol (ArtLeaks).
18:30h Talks by Hilde Tørdal (Norske Billedkunstnere / Norwegian Association of Visual Artists) and curators Rena Rädle & Vladan Jeremić (ArtLeaks).
19h A mise-en-scène of “Circus Melodrama” – a sketch for a theatre fable for cultural workers, with the participation of the audience
19:30h music and drinks
A Real Work of Art – art, work, and solidarity structures
Although we live in a time of creative industries, which implies the emergence of a new proletariat of cultural workers, artistic work is not yet considered ‘real’ work. Artists and art critics alike nurture the utopian idea of artistic practice as a form of liberated, non-alienating work. Nevertheless, platforms like ArtLeaks and other initiatives publish ‘Stories from the Production Line’, to quote the famous title by the dramatist Heiner Müller, highlighting working conditions in the global art system, the corporatization of art financing and the precarious livelihoods of artists, unpaid labour, problematic sponsors – all the problems that now plague the art world.
“A Real Work of Art” is less about the presentation of artworks and more about the organization of art workers. The exhibition’s ‘raw material’ consists of the experiences of artists who have tried to organize themselves into associations promoting improved working conditions for artists. Such initiatives are as old as the labour movement itself, and they can be said to form the backbone of today’s positions and initiatives. The participating artists share important ideas about art and work, organizational structures and solidarity.
The aim of the exhibition is to generate a temporary ‘hot spot’ for these issues – one that can be useful for Norwegian artists and artist organizations who are grappling with cuts in public funding and other factors affecting the conditions for artists today.
On October 22 2014, my site-specific video installation Murs aveugles (Blind Walls) was withdrawn from La Biennale de Montréal. The work had been launched two weeks earlier and was supposed to have been shown until November 23 – as per the contract I had signed with the organization. Since this projection had been designed specifically for the site where it was presented, its withdrawal meant the work has been totally lossed.
After several unsuccessful meetings in view of getting some compensation, I filed a suit at the Small Claims Division of the Civil Division of the Court of Quebec. I was supported in my actions by the Regroupement des artistes en arts visuels du Québec (RAAV), the professional association representing and collectively defending the interests of Quebec artists.
This withdrawal without notice was done the very evening of the official opening of this art event. I first heard about it during the opening, through journalists who wanted to film the work and were wondering why it wasn’t there anymore. This decision was made by the Biennale management; neither the artist, nor the curators were consulted.
This original work was a commission from La Biennale de Montréal: I designed it especially for this art event. I worked on it from the winter of 2014 and I finished it towards the end of the summer. Many tests were made in the presence of the organizers and its content was approved before the beginning of projections.
Murs aveugles was shown on the Esplanade of Saint-Laurent metro station, in partnership with the Quartier des spectacles de Montréal. This public square is a permanent projection site: videos and animations have been featured there for many years already. The work was put together on that square, like a canvas or a mural. The video was fashioned with a template to fit the wall’s shape with its particulars and textures, but also with specific, non-standard video equipment. Relocating it would have been impossible.
The unilateral, hasty decision to withdraw the work was taken following a complaint from the owner of the building on which the video was projected. The lady in question had agreed that these videos be projected onto her wall and had never demanded a right to oversee the content of projections. On the other hand, I was perfectly willing to meet her to try and find a solution.
Following the work’s withdrawal, a week went by before a meeting between the Biennale, the Quartier des spectacles and myself was set up in order to consider alternatives. In a crisis situation, this is much too long. I was being told there was nothing to do, that the projection could not be put back, that it was an unforeseen situation and that the owner refused to meet us to discuss it. I came out of this meeting somewhat perplexed.
Following this, I published a text through my personal newsletter to announce to the public the withdrawal of my work. Without this text, there would have been no official press release, nor any mentions on social networks. On two occasions, in the course of phone conversations with people at the Quartier des spectacles, I was criticized for publishing this text. As for the Biennale, it preferred to put a rather vaguely worded mention on a low-visibility page of its Internet site (to reach it, you have to click on the list of artists, and then on my name). Clearly, hushing up the whole affair was the preferred course of action.
Living outside the city, I had to get to Montréal on many occasions to try to settle the situation as well as to meet journalists. On November 27 2014, coming out of the offices of CIBL community radio station, I passed in front Mrs. Chow’s shop and I entered. I was expecting her not to want to talk with me, but it was quite the opposite. When a meeting had been suggested to her, she just was not available, but another day would have been possible for her. She also told me that a slight alteration to the work would have suited her, something I would have agreed to. To my knowledge, I am the only person to have met her.
Since that time, I have written a letter to the Biennale’s Board members, I have met some of them, the RAAV has circulated a petition to reinstate the projection and has proceeded to send this organization a letter of formal notice; a mediation session was finally set up by the Small Claims Court in July 2015. La Biennale still stubbornly refuses to acknowledge having done any wrong – without giving any reason or acceptable arguments.
Murs aveugles was my fourteenth project of its kind. I have done public works in Canada, but also in the United States and in Europe. The more significant works were commissioned by the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, Nuit Blanche Toronto 2011 and Denver International Airport (2012). I have had problems in the past in connection with the presentation of public works, but the organizations settled this type of situation correctly; they always checked beforehand and knew how to manage crisis situations. What I have gone through on account of La Biennale de Montréal is quite unusual. What is an art organization’s role and mandate? La Biennale should have honored its contract by defending the work and the artist.
It is normal for an art presenter to expect an artist to hand in projects in time, to provide images and explanatory texts, and to be available for interviews. In return, an artist can legitimately expect a presenter to give her respect and to make the arrangements needed for her work to be adequately shown.
The work Murs aveugles / Blind Walls may be viewed on the Internet at this address: https://vimeo.com/104032665
La Biennale de Montréal responded to the artist’s intention to sue their institution:
La Biennale de Montréal is a non-profit organization.
In October 2014, La Biennale de Montréal signed a contract with the artist to show four of her works in total.
This exhibition lasted for 10 weeks, from October 8 to January 4, 2015.
The artist has received the amount of 2000$ for the works exhibited which exceeded the minimum fare recommended by CARFAC.
Two weeks after the beginning of the exhibition, the owner of the building on which the work “Murs aveugles” was shown asked that it be removed. This was the decision of the owner of the building, not that of La Biennale de Montréal, and it represents a case of “force majeure.” La Biennale de Montréal cannot be held responsible for it.
Moreover, the right to present a work does not imply an obligation to do so, if the circumstances warrant it.
La Biennale de Montréal has proposed other alternatives to Isabelle Hayeur. Isabelle Hayeur has had more visibility in the media than the other artists.
La Biennale de Montréal has paid Isabelle Hayeur and if someone has suffered damage, it was La Biennale de Montréal, not Isabelle Hayeur. Isabelle Hayeur didn’t suffer any damage to her reputation, therefore her appeal is unfounded.
Finally, this legal action against the biennale is inadmissible, because Ms. Hayeur waived her right to sue by signing the contract, as mentioned in Clause 11.
Christian Bédard, general director of the Regroupement des artistes en arts visuels du Québec (“RAAV”) gave this statement:
For its part the Biennale does not recognize its mistakes and says it was confronted with a case of “force majeure under the Civil Code”, preventing it to respect its contract. La Biennale de Montréal added that the artist was well paid and the contract signed with the artist does not require the organizers to present the work during the 10 weeks. La Biennale de Montréal blames this withdrawal to the owner of the building who “unilaterally and without notice, withdrew their consent to the work of the projection home.”
From the perspective of RAAV, which supports the artist in this case, it is a breach of contract affecting the reputation of the artist, restricting her right to freedom of expression and depriving the visibility of the work, which she was entitled to expect under the contract. This situation seems to have been rather badly managed by the Biennale. The Biennale should defend a work that it had not only controlled but also pre-approved, with the risk of suffering the wrath of the owner and the Quartier des spectacles, which would have been unlikely.
For more information please read:
Boyce, Maryse, “La projection Murs aveugles est suspendue”, BaronMag, October 28, 2014
Clément, Éric, “Biennale de Montréal: une œuvre retirée”, La Presse, October 31, 2014
Fortier, Marco, “L’art qui dérange a-t-il encore sa place?”, Le Devoir, October 31, 2014
Sutton, Benjamin, “Occupy-Themed Light Projection Removed from Montreal Biennale“, Hyperallergic, October 31, 2014
Bédard, Christian, “Cas de censure politique au Quartier des spectacles?”, RAAV, November 5, 2014
MFX, “Le Quartier des spectacles complice de la censure d’une œuvre d’art?”, 99%Media, November 6, 2014
Ledoux, Julie, “Aux frontières de l’espace privé et de la liberté d’expression”, Voir, November 6, 2014
Petrowski, Nathalie, “Le mur, le feu et Mme Chow”, La Presse, November 15, 2014
Clément, Éric, “Biennale de Montréal: bilan positif… mais peut mieux faire”, La Presse, January 7, 2015
Lelarge, Isabelle, “Art et illusions”, ETC Média, February 15 – June 15 , 2015
Delgado, Jérôme, “La Biennale de Montréal menée en cour”, Le Devoir, July 24, 2015