Welcome to the Third World Art World
via Tanja Ostojic / Art & Economics Group
I attended a meeting with the head of visual arts, film and media in the House of World Cultures in Berlin, yesterday. She invited me to take part in a group show – that will open in the HKW Labor Berlin exhibition room on December 14 this year – as a kind of compensation, since my solo show that was scheduled to be open in the same space in January 2012 was canceled 5 months prior to the date, since the exhibition rooms were rented out to the Transmediale, as I was informed.
I accepted the invitation for the group show and brought with me the “No Fee Statement”, that I downloaded from ArtLeaks web site and asked kindly the curator who is in the same time the director of the visual arts, to sign it. Information that I filed in, I copied from the letter I got by the assistant of the curator one day before, and they are the following:
“I Valerie Smith, the undersigned, hereby certify that the
– artistic work
– other type of work: production costs for the art work
of Ms. Tanja Ostojic
Further more, in the frame of this show:
1. Haus der Kulturen der Welt can’t cover any production expenses for the art works that will be exhibited.
2. The artists will deliver the art works to the team members of Haus der Kulturen der Welt ready to be displayed. Haus der Kulturen der Welt cannot be in charge of framing art work.
3. The exhibition – like all the exhibitions in the Labor Berlin series – will not be watched by security personnel. Haus der Kulturen der Welt cannot cover any insurance for the art work. This includes the transportation of the work to HKW.
4. Haus der Kulturen der Welt cannot pay fees to the artists.
I believe that the state funded, representative institutions such as House of World Cultures in Berlin should not compromise with the exhibitions that are not properly funded and are based on unpaid artist labour and private investments of the invited artists whose are works and not subject of insurance while no exhibition guards are employed in the frame of the show.
It seems that they are not willing to sign the paper, but i would like to advice my artist colleagues to please download the form “NO FEE STATEMENT”
and ask the unpaid job offers to be filed and signed and distributed on the growing international artist syndicate web site:
“For us, performance artists who have operated in a culture of extreme crisis all these years, (the current financial crisis) is not a big deal. We just have to get slightly more creative, bold and resourceful. Our calendar is consistently full and we are always busy. We are just working with half of the budgets we used to 5 years ago. We are more worried by our chic painter and sculptor colleagues who depend more on the commercial gallery circuit or by the big dance and theater organizations whose yearly budgets are 5 times larger than ours. Our heart goes for them. We can be flexible and adapt because we are small and permanent reinvention is the machinery of performance.”
GP as “Unemployed Artist,” working the streets of downtown, Mexico City, 1995
1.-There was a time when it was desirable for our wild performance troupe (La Pocha Nostra) to be located in the US, and particularly in San Francisco. The US was still an open society (remember?) and San Francisco, a welcoming, affordable and eccentric city with a robust funding structure and a palpable hangover from a 1960’s spirit of social, sexual & aesthetic experimentation. But something went profoundly wrong in the process…
Re-caping for those with short term memory: First came the dot com era with its imaginary wealth displacing the working class and the arts community; then came the Bush administration followed by 9/11 and the zeitgeist of the country dramatically shifted overnight to a culture of paranoid nationalism and high security. After a brief utopian dance party with Obama’s election, came the sudden collapse of the US economy and the resurgence of a virulent far right. But the financial despair soon proved to be a global phenomenon (the end of Western capitalism?). There were many casualties, including social programs, public education and the arts.
Nowadays, we just don’t know anymore how good of an idea it is to remain in San Francisco, or even in the US at all. In the map of our desires, suddenly Surinam and Paraguay become exciting prospects for relocation.
2.-Nowadays you will find just two full-time members in the “Pocha International Operational Center” located in San Francisco. The 8 other core troupe members are spread throughout the US, Canada, Portugal, Spain, Brasil, Mexico or wherever they can find a temporary job. Not to mention the more than 30 “Pocha associates” living in 10 other countries.
We are your a/typical global/anti-global performance troupe. We handle most of our projects online through Google documents, Skype, photo blogs and email, and then we meet on the road. It’s a semi-functional model in a dysfunctional art world. And the crucial decisions often have to be made overnight. For example, when a grant does not come through, it may affect the amount of members participating in a portion of a tour. When a producer or curator tells us two months before the project, they have been substantially defunded, this can be heart wrenching for our troupe and our humble month-to-month economy. Last minute cancellations due to the changing political and financial climate are customary but keep us constantly on our toes! We are resilient, stubborn and will maintain our sense of humor with a fierce (and somewhat naive) passion. Que otra? Puro performance!
3.-What follows is an account from an archetypal week in the life of an experimental art troupe in 2012 America. We have omitted names of people and organizations out of chivalry (okay, and to protect their $#%^&%^$#@ identities). Enjoy the telenovela:
a)- We have recently changed the location of our headquarters from downtown SF back to the heart of the bohemian Mission District. Our new location is funky, exciting …. and hopefully not temporary. Everytime we see a tall white male in a suit roaming around the space or talking to the owner of the building…we get nervous. Can our new landlords survive the rampant defunding of the arts and overwhelming gentrification? We are all in the same boat and pray every night to the holy madonna of critical art. Besides, we are willing to dance for as long as the party lasts around here and then, when the party is over, we are ready to pack up and move to Senegal or Borneo. Nowadays, history starts when you wake up and ends when you go to sleep. The rest is…academic discourse.
b)- Recently we received the news that an extremely important continental gathering of artists that was to take place in Mexico City has been cancelled due to “security” concerns. Our troupe was an integral part of it. Later on, an insider tells us that “the Mexican government was worried about the upcoming pope’s visit coinciding with the aquelarre (gathering of dangerous brujos).” it’ pure Chicano sci -fi que no?
c)- The excitement continues: The day before we are about to ship a commissioned installation to a major museum, the curator tells us by phone. “Sorry, but we have lost all our funding. We won’t be able to pay you for the commission. I hope you understand. (Dramatic pause) Can you still send us the stuff?” (Dramatic pause) We are not lacking in understanding and we are certainly not stupid. ( Like most of our peers, we are fighting for basic funding in a time and place where art has become the last priority and the art world is showing its ugliest face. It’s every man/woman for him/herself. We are skilled now at compromising but don’t always see that reciprocated by major institutions). We ended up sending a much smaller version of the commissioned installation just to help them save face. They didn’t even thank us.
d)- The case of the disappearing chic curator: Sometimes, even if it feels like a contract has been signed in blood many months in advance, it turns out to have been….well, fake theater blood. Case in point: We had been planning for months an epic performance project in Amsterdam involving the whole troupe and 20 European-based Arab artists. Just 2 weeks before departure the curator falls completely out of communication and sends a “Sorry, its just gotten too complex for me. We are postponing the project for next year…” sort of email. With the help of another organization based in the same city we are able to save the project but just barely & for a much smaller budget. We may never understand what truly went wrong (did the curator have a nervous breakdown?) Unfortunately, in this rarified climate it seems that some people have simply lost their manners…and bravado.
e)- Sometimes its difficult to assess which projects we should wisely dedicate our time to before the contract gets signed. i.e. For one year, La Pocha Nostra was working closely with a festival in Europe we had a long standing relationship. Our role was to curate an exciting group of performance artists from the Americas and coordinate their participation in performances, film screenings and lectures as part of the larger festival. We engaged for months in detailed conversations both with the artists and festival organizers.
To everyone’s surprise the festival cancelled only one month before between 40 to 50 artists and curators were scheduled to travel from all parts of the world. The details of the decision to cancel the well-respected festival eventually led to police investigation. La Pocha was never paid for one year of curatorial, production and coordination work. Looks like a case for the special experimental arts division of Scotland Yard! Not only did this impact our small organization’s cash flow for months but it impacted the plans of numerous individual artists. A positive outcome? We have a kick ass, ready to go, performance festival featuring some of the best performance artists from the Americas! Anyone interested?
f)- These days we expect the unexpected in a daily basis. Today X Institution calls us to confess they won’t be able to host our upcoming winter school because they “were just expelled from their current site by a local politician.” The next day, we receive another phone call from Greece or Portugal stating how excited they would be to host a summer school next year but they don’t have any funds. What’s our response? “No problem, we just need to call the Chicano National Bank and get a big loan.”
g)- We are constantly reminded by local arts funding sources that they are also trying to stay afloat in the same troubled financial currents. Our heart goes for them. We have been told by crestfallen funders: “In the meantime, try Kickstarter. Everyone is doing it!” Then we think to ourselves: “How many Kickstarter campaigns can one undertake in a year and isn’t it backwards for funders to recommend this format as an alternative?” Other funders suggest politely: “Have you tried corporate sponsors?” Sure, we think to ourselves. Coca-cola or Nike would love to fund a Pocha Nostra extravaganza involving politicized acupuncture, transvestite shamans & mariachi butoh – thanks for the advice! While we are at it, we should see if Lady Gaga wants to host one of our international performance schools so she can further develop her Pocha-inspired aesthetic?
4.- Last minute surprises and cancellations are sometimes putting La Pocha in red numbers for a few months, and to whom are we going to complain? Is there a complaint board for performance artists in Reality #4? But we certainly do not mean to sound like we are complaining. We are wonderfully swamped with invitations to perform in extremely unusual contexts and exotic countries. One after the other, the invitations arrive. But many of these have one thing in common: “Our budget is humble. You understand. Times are tough. Can you guys fundraise your airplane tickets?” Sure, do you also want us to pay your dentist bill?
More phone calls and email invitations come in: “Can you perform at our fundraiser next week?” “Can you donate an artwork for our upcoming auction?” “We are organizing a major conference on performance archives at X Museum and would love for you to be the keynote speaker. We can offer you $50 and a parking pass.” “Sure-Gomez-Peña thinks to himself: Do you also want me to bartender during the gala night?”
Operating in the experimental art world, at times feels like being in a casino; other times it feels like the proletarian Wall Street or a low-rider roller-coaster. It’s certainly never dull…but our landlords and doctors tend to not agree with us.
What seems different from past financial crises is that the economic conditions of the so-called first world and those of the third world institutions are being leveled. And now, Brazil or Colombia may be more reliable than the US, Germany or the UK. In fact, this year for the first time in 8 years, 90% of the international participants of our summer school in Oaxaca came from developing countries, places like Nigeria, Colombia, Chile, Brasil…and yes, there were a few brave gringos and canadians who still haven’t succumb to the fear of violence in Mexico.
For us, performance artists who have operated in a culture of extreme crisis all these years, it’s not a big deal. We just have to get slightly more creative, bold and resourceful. Our calendar is still full, we are just working with half of the budgets we used to 5 years ago. We are more worried by our chic painter and sculptor colleagues whose depend more on the commercial gallery circuit or by the big dance and theater organizations whose yearly budgets are 5 times larger than ours. Our heart goes for them. We can be flexible and adapt because we are small and permanent reinvention is the machinery of performance..
5.- Conclusions: These are clearly times for radical reinvention. For the moment all we can do is keep discussing and looking for new models of funding, distribution and presentation of our ideas that acknowledge the volatile and unpredictable political and economic changes of our collapsing world. And we are considering relocating partime to a new place in the world where a new bohemia is thriving and rents are considerably lower: Oaxaca, Istambul, Rio, Sao Paolo, Warsaw, Lisbon…any suggestions? Personal and national economies may change over night in dramatic ways but one thing we can never afford to lose is…our sense of humor and imagination.
So dear chic First world colleagues from London, New York, Berlin, Paris, Milan y anexas, welcome to the Third World Art World!! It’s exciting and dangerous down here. We’ll get you a place to stay in our family’s basement and a place to rehearse in a beauty parlor or butcher shop…after hours. We’ll perform at the local “Occupy” location and later on we can crash the local Modern Art Museum fundraiser to bring Matthew Barney or Marina Abramovic to town.
Gómez-Peña and Tramposch
San Francisco, 2012
PS: Do you have similar travel notes from the Third World Art World to share with us? Please send us a postcard from your journey!
LA POCHA NOSTRA
2857 24TH STREET
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
UPDATE via Tanja Ostojic
Late this evening, while playing with my kid at home, I got unexpectedly a call from HKW. They explained that there is a general feeling that they do not like my blog and the “no fee statement” letter in it and that I should remove it. They argued that the HKW does not operate normally in such a way and that they do pay fees to the artists they collaborate with. I gladly offered to publish their statement about the issue but they are not interested in that so far. They would like me to remove “the letter”. I explain that they should not get it personally and that I have only wrote facts without sentiments and that for my artistic positioning it is crucial to speak truth and there for I can not accept the censorship proposal.