THE ARTIST AS RES(IDEN)T

If we think about the meaning of the word residence, a strange mathematical problem emerges. We could call it the problem of the residue. But what is this? There is always a difference between the number of people who reside in a certain place and those who are being taken into account. The mere residents are usually in excess over the others. While the former simply happen to live there, the latter are being woven into a network of nation, representation and benefits. While the former are just subjects, the latter are politically represented. The former reside everywhere without necessarily belonging anywhere. Their residence doesn’t lead to representation. They belong to the people and at the same time they don’t. Seen from this perspective, they form a structural leftover, a rest, a surplus of people, which throws the whole concept of a people into crisis. As Giorgio Agamben has demonstrated in his treatise on St. Paul’s letters, the figure of the rest is of extreme political importance. In this context, the rest is something which escapes the relation of majority and minority, it is neither Greek nor Jew, but something which suspends that partition and undermines the identity of any imagined community. The rest is the figure of the people if it is not seen under ethnic or even class categories: the people as such. The rest is not the product of a subtraction of political subjects from the crowd as such. But it is rather the excess produced by this operation, the impossibility for any people to ever be identical with itself. The concept of residence thus immediately leads to the notion of the residue, or the rest.

The perspective of the rest: this is the position from which we have to think through the condition of so-called residencies. But residents are not identical with the rest. The condition of residency just creates a space, where the problem of the rest is highlighted and the dynamics of residence and residue unfold. Not primarily because residencies are usually temporary and encourage mobile and flexible subjectivities. And neither because they induce migration and often cater to non-citizens. Not even because they would prevent any people from being identical with itself if such a thing were possible. But because they condense the tensions between different forms of the common – both in a positive and negative way. In an optimistic perspective we might say, that they open up new forms of connection between people, which are no longer formatted by nation or origin and create forms of relation beyond identity. In a more realistic perspective they are spaces, where the deterritorialized conditions of global culture industries crash head on into the politics of national representation. The conditions of residencies express exactly that crash.

This is the reason, why residencies are no containers of the rest. They may refer to this condition but rather by accident. They create ambivalent spaces, hubs, which on the one hand hover in a sort of extraterritorial no-man’s-land. But simultaneously, this also is the kind of extraterrioriality, which is assumed by embassies. Embassies create some sort of territorial confusion, they fold one national space within another. Obviously, they are not a no-man’s-land, but rather express a condensed excess of national representation. The space of residencies is thus ambivalent. They are at the same time spatially overdetermined and lost, they are nowhere and elsewhere, they represent locality but simulaneously produce deterritorialisation.

Mobilisation

Lets now unfold the first aspect of the dynamic of residency: the aspect of deterritorialization. Residencies create trans-national sets of relations: like space stations for upwardly mobile self-entrepreneurs they function as accelerators for self-marketing and as training grounds for the lifestyle of highly mobile cultural operators. They shape slightly eccentric subjectivities, which are perfectly aligned to the rhythm of global cultural industries. Residencies are an integral part of those industries, whose ideology is one of competition, relentless creativity and almost mandatory openness to cooperation and mobility. This is the material reality for many artists in a certain stage of their professional life, and it is set within a certain limbo. Because there is hardly any way to jointly influence those conditions of production, to organise or to change them. Just as St. Paul´s rest is at the mercy of God, this secular rest is at the mercy of immigration agencies, employers, commissioners, curators. Colleagues are usually always already competitors. There is no union, no lobby, no party, no parliament, no embassy, no delegates, not even priests or shepherds to take up the case of this constituency. Although it works on and with representation, it is not represented or even representable. In addition, there is hardly any public debate, which might discuss or even attempt to organise these trans-national forms of the common. Organisations like the French „Intermittents du spectacle“, which campaigned for better conditions for precarious cultural workers thus invariably focus on the nation state as the exclusive target of their claims and face the danger of becoming entangled in protectionist and conservative rhetoric. On the other hand there are no forms of organisation either, which could keep up with the fluid and extremely volatile characteristics of the rest. The rest is stubbornly individual, it is connected, but not in permanence. No stable mass can be forged out of this constituency, and no coordinated movement either, since its members all move into different directions. It constantly changes its internal composition, as well as its external appearance. It is mean, charming, treacherous, brave and eagerly participates in its own exploitation.

Moreover, the type of production within artist residencies has been radically altered. This type of production is very contemporary in the sense that its results are not primarily products or objects but in fact relations between people. While artists may or may not produce art works, this is quite unimportant for many types of residency. The „product“ which is expected is performative, not object-based: it implies the creation of relations, of communication, of networks. Thus „residency work“ belongs to a type of affective and symbolic labour, which is becoming increasingly important today. It consists of meetings, greetings, small talk, exchange of e-mail addresses, networking, in short it is in a sense political work already – without any other consequences then replicating itself. The relational „product“ is the creation of a networked space, which sustains, changes and enlarges itself gradually. It is created by a sort of labour, which is no longer separated from an autonomous sphere of politics but has pervaded it. „Residency work“ thus closely resembles sex work, care work, or other feminised form of so-called reproductive labour. That artistic labour is not far from prostitution has been clear since the days of the bohème. But at no point has this connection become more substantial than now, when the artist no longer paints the prostitute in order to conceal that he is a prostitute himself, but when he or she engages in the production of affectivity on all conceivable levels. Especially within a constellation of contemporary art, in which the creation of relation and sensation is the main product expected from artists. Even though the superstructure of residencies is clearly formatted in national categories, the production, which takes place there is directly subjected to the conditions of a global market, where affect, sensation and relation have become some of the most coveted commodities. The artistic practice is now the sustainance of the residency itself with all of its conditions of structural precarity. This leaves artists in a weird position. They are themselves the creators of their own conditions of existence: temporal and spatial fragmentation, and structural insecurity.

Because of these circumstances, and not because they create structural nomadism, do artist residencies concentrate the conditions of the residue or rest. On the one hand, they facilitate this type of dispersed and even distracted connection of people, which is becoming more and more common, and which leaves behind the exclusionary mathematics of nation and origin, by providing institutions, which are so to speak permanently temporary. But on the other hand this type of relations is located beyond traditional representation. It cannot be expressed in terms of a democratic representation of people, because it undermines the very principles of this representation. Residencies thus highlight the blank of awareness of the reality of the rest, and a lack of vocabulary and tools to address the issues of new forms of the common. They express the difficulty to think beyond representation. As residents, we have most things in common, but very few ways to act in common. And the articulation of the common is also certainly not what is expected, because singularity and difference are the most precious commodities in this circuit.

Zooming in

But this global pull is not the only element of the dynamics of residence and residue. There is an equally strong push in the other direction. Artist residencies are in many cases heavily embedded into a national representation, which is articulated as a purely cultural one. This type of representation is not by delegation or mandate, it is not synecdochic like the political mechanisms of representative democracy, but heavily influenced by the illusion of origin. A large number of residency programmes openly represent a certain nation. Many programmes provide special opportunities for citizens, who are selected to represent their nation in big international events. Those programmes function like a sort of diplomatic organisation, except that they don’t have a political mandate. The rules of this type of cultural representation are nonexistent, arbitrary and fluctuate. They create sets of artists and bureaucrats who assume the role of unappointed and often involuntary ambassadors of states, localities or even „scenes“. Especially people with ties to disadvantaged or less known regions are expected to performatively represent those places internationally. Just think of Balkan or Middle East exhibitions, which produce, to put it with St. Paul „Jews“ and „Greeks“ in substantial quantities.

In one sense this type of representation is impotent – it doesn’t come with the limited empowerment of political representation. But in another sense it is extremely powerful, and political in a different sense, since it informs the mechanism of art displays and exhibits as such. It is a component of what Jacques Rancière calls the distribution of the sensible: it is a factor, which decides over visibility and invisibility of certain types of artist production. And this visibility or invisibility is strongly defined by allocation of origin or cultural background. The more remote any artistic production seems, the more culturally representative it has got to be to become visible. Even though the space of residency is located in a trans-national limbo when we speak about the conditions of everyday life, it is also firmly located within the logic of territorial cultural representation. It assigns identities to residents, who often couldn’t care less about them. Others are quite happy to take on the role of local representatives. Thus, artists become ambassadors, very often of dubious entities like cultures or even races. They produce location, cultural identity and national pride or at least entertainment.

Representation or expression

But the question is not how to get rid of the different burdens of representation imposed on residents, or to transform them in to a more just distribution of visibilities? While this question may be important for individuals, no future perspective can emerge from these debates. Concepts, which are still entangled in the logic of origin and identity, like the concepts of third space or hybridity, or within the liberal logic of inclusion into representation and visibility will never manage to leave these logics behind. They are useless when it comes to exploring new forms of the common, which follow the logic of amorphous and temporary association, a logic, which is no longer representable within the existing order anyway. The question raised is not a question of representation any more, but a question of common expression.

But how could we express or even address those conditions in common? One possible response: they represent a shortcoming, some sort of anomaly, which has to be corrected. This implies trying to create an institutional framework, where those conditions could be reintegrated into the principles of representative politics. This would mean to reclaim the limbo of the residency or of trans-national articulation as such for the principles of representative democracy, to create mandates, delegations, authorised speakers and so on. On the other hand, this simply means to try to reterritorialize an excess which might be disturbing and uncomfortable, but which also presents us with the potentiality to create an arena of discussion which is appropriate to the conditions of globalisation, a sphere in which the common can be reinvented and liberated from the principles of (national, cultural, linguistic and aesthetic) representation, which have fragmented it into sedated and institutionalised blocks of power in the first place. Facing this condition instead of trying to normalise it might lead us to a different place, a place, from which we could perceive the condition of the rest differently from its current commodity form. This place is opened up by a shift in temporal perspective. In his booklet about the coming community, Agamben dramatically rearticulates the role of the rest. In messianic prophecy, the rest consists of the ones who are left over on the day of judgement, the day, when history expires. The rest are those who will be redeemed on this day. But since history is over already, we all are in the position of this rest unknowingly, stranded in a time, which is saturated with presence, but mistakes it for real time. We have survived history, we have even survived the future with its splendid and crushing visions of identity, progress, productivity and kingdom to come. Only if we allow ourselves to assume the perspective of this rest can we understand, that the empty networking and objectless productivity that comes with residencies is in fact the idle speed of time, a wheelspinning of a manic ideology of creativity, which is running empty, aiming for a future, which deceived us many times, before it simply disintegrated. It might represent the old forms of politics as well as the absence of new ones. But where, how, or more concretely, on what political terms?

The rest is future

At this place there is obviously no way to avoid the old modernist notion of public space. For, what we still call common – having not yet found a more appropriate word for what is at stake here – had been once conceptualized in the notion of public space: a space of common good, common interest, common will, common values, etc; a space of collective rationality, of normativity and universality; a space where the social character of human life was articulated, in short, where society as such could have raised its own voice and become visible. Of course, we are talking about a public space shaped entirely by its political framework – a Westphalian nation state in its late modernist democratic form. Only within a democratic nation state can public space fulfil its twofold political task, to generate democracy and fiercely guard it from all the enemies, before all from a regression into some sort of totalitarianism.

Artists have always been part of a public space. Sometimes occupying only one of its segments, a sphere of culture believed to be autonomous and clearly distinguishable from other social spheres, like the sphere of labour and production or the sphere of politics. Sometimes, however, they broke out from this cultural domain (re)claiming the entire public space and taking part in its re-articulation aiming at a radical change of society as a whole. These were the times of revolutions, deep social crises, upheavals and wars, which have decisively marked modern age. But again, regardless of form artists have always been a public phenomenon. There is no art outside of a public sphere and there are no artists who are publicly not visible and not heard of. Art, at least according to the traditional modernist vocabulary, cannot be a private matter.

But let’s ask now: to what public space belongs an artist in residence? It seems very easy to answer this question as long as we imagine a trans-national public space as a sort of mechanical extension of a national public. But the condition of residency – as we have indicated above – doesn’t simply displace the public space of artist’s national origin, nor does it simply enlarge the residential public space in terms of adding to it some sort of trans-national quality. Its impact is much deeper. It hybridizes both public spaces and blurs the very boundary between them, thus between a national and a trans-national public space. Moreover, it makes almost all of the termini technici of the traditional public space – the crucial distinction between public and private, its differentiation into separate spheres of culture, material production, politics, etc, its normativity, the very idea of authorship, etc. – obsolete. But what is even more important, the condition of residency challenges the traditional idea of artist’s political engagement. Becoming political meant for an artist before all his or her ability to make an impact on the public and thus on political decisions, which are in a democratic society supposed to be made in accordance with common will, articulated, again, through the public space. But residency participates in, and simultaneously creates, a public space, which has lost its crucial connection with the monopoly of political decision, that is, with the place where the sovereign (more or less democratically elected political representatives of the people/nation) makes these decisions.

Residency is, therefore, a manifestation of the irreducible liminality of a new public space, which transcends all forms of traditional political subjectification and goes even beyond the very idea of political democracy and beyond the way of life it generates. It is a space of an experience, which hasn’t learned yet to speak and articulate itself. Thus the artist in residency is both a living embodiment of this experience and an authentic witness to it, its non-authorized, silent speaker, a subject-object of a new noise without shape and origin, in short, a messenger without message to deliver. The rest is future.

© Hito Steyerl & Boris Buden








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