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ArtLeaks Gazette # 6: “There is No ‘Back to Normal’ – Art Workers in Times of (Post)Pandemic Crisis” / 18th Tallinn Print Triennial

February 23, 2022

Ten years ago, international members of ArtLeaks decided to launch an open call for the ArtLeaks Gazette, a new publication, in addition to the archive of leaked cases that can be read and debated on our website. Why? Through our Gazette, we wanted to give more dimension to the urgency of transforming art workers’ relationships with institutions, networks, and economies involved in the production, reproduction, and consumption of art and culture. Since the first release “Breaking the Silence – Towards Justice, Solidarity and Mobilization” (which came out in early 2013) we have pursued this goal by testing and developing new approaches to institutional critique in this and that context and challenging certain discourses of engagement and criticality which coopt or tame creative forces. Through gazette issues such as “Demanding Justice: Social Rights and Radical Art Practices” (2017) we also sought to link art workers’ struggles with similar ones from other fields of human activity. Also a decade ago, together with The May Congress of Creative Workers, we have raised the question “What art system do we need?” during the Moscow Assembly, a question which continues to bear relevance and urgency today.

Today, compared to the existential threats societies are exposed to during the pandemic crisis, the problems of the art world seem less important. We witnessed the virulent spread of Trumpism, the reestablishment of right-wing governments in Europe, and threats of global hostilities and continual precarity of life. A wave of aggressive commercialization coupled with massive layoffs has swept the art field, driven by the process of speculative financialization during the crisis. Nevertheless, the climate of social disintegration and political confrontation also forged new forms of struggle and alliances online and off.

The authors in this special edition of the Gazette – Mike Watson, Alphabet Collection (Mohammad Salemy and Rômulo Moraes), Vida Knežević, Dmitry Vilensky, Anna Ehrenstein, ZIP Group, Federico Geller, Su Wei, Kafe-Morozhenoe, Maria Helen Känd and Dorian Batycka – have bravely managed to cope with all these dire problems of today (despite the fading of criticality in the post-pandemic context), and have reflected on the new paradigm of artistic production we live in. Vida Knežević, Dmitry Vilensky and Maria Helen Känd highlight strategies, new alliances and actions are taken to counter the new heightened problems art workers are facing related to their subsistence, new forms of censorship and repression in countries such as Serbia, Russia and Estonia respectively. In his contribution, Mike Watson takes into account that the extended online communication goes together with the increased isolation of the individual – albeit having enabled a new era of do-it-yourself publishing and the rise of the left internet. Dorian Batycka poses the question of how art can respond during moments of profound crisis and calls for a pragmatic shift in the way how art engages in social and political affairs. How do artists get involved in such an (online) counter-culture? Mohammad Salemy and Rômulo Moraes of Alphabet Collection claim that the post-pandemic world of art will be shaped by four, already visible trends. Su Wei writes about the rise of nationalism and the phenomenon of an even greater detachment of reality and bubblification of contemporary art in post-pandemic China. Artistic contributions by Anna Ehrenstein, ZIP Group, Federico Geller and visualization of the situation of art workers by Kafe-Morozhenoe from Russia tells us much more about how it is possible to communicate post-pandemic conditions of art workers at the periphery.

Thanks to curator Rona Kopeczky and her invitation to the 18th Tallinn Print Triennial entitled “Warm. Checking Temperature in Three Acts”, we were able to publish this current issue of the ArtLeaks Gazette. We invited artists and other cultural workers to contribute by tackling the multiple crises in cultural and artistic production in recent years. The consolidation of nationalist cultural politics, the pandemic-related condition to work and communicate through online platforms, localization of art events, migration to non-art related spheres, substantial changes of the meaning of art and its economy, hate speech attacks by right-wing actors on social media platforms or government media are just a few aspects of this crisis. It is a crisis much more complex and harder than one in 2008 when the ArtLeaks platform was established; it follows that the questions and answers given by our contributors are indeed more timely and distinctive from those anti-austerity and Occupy movements had in the 2010s. The shift of the art world during the pandemic and its changes have occupied our space and new critical voices have to struggle even more to make meaning of our reality. Perhaps we see digital and virtual private spaces offer new possibilities for art workers and producers, to join the flow of uncertainty as the new strains of virus and cryptocurrencies appear and become part of art production and reproduction.

Corina L. Apostol, Rena Rädle & Vladan Jeremić

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