‘Social Autonomy and the Use Value of Art’ – Afterall Autumn/Winter 2016

Afterall Autumn/Winter 2016

My most recent article on art, use value, and the work (or labour) of art ‘Social Autonomy and the Use Value of Art’ has been published in the Autumn/Winter 2016 volume of Afterall. Many thanks to editor David Morris for working so closely and collaboratively on this with me and to Afterall – for allowing myself and others included in the Journal to contribute toward this growing debate. Please find a link to the Journal here on Afterall Autumn/Winter Information 2016 webpage

I have also copied, below, the first two paragraphs of the Editorial which outline the scope of this Journal – and which also provide a clear framework for the job that has to be done in challenging our established, outmoded, outdated, limiting and (unfortunately) most cherished and comforting  notions of what art was or could be.

“Recently a group of artists, academics, curators and activists gathered in the north of England at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima) to discuss the possible futures of Arte Útil.1 A concept and set of working practices initiated by the artist Tania Bruguera, Arte Útil proposes that art can be directly useful as a tool for social and political change. One moment from this summit feels especially relevant to this issue of Afterall. It occurred during a discussion of the Arte Útil archive, itself an evolving compendium of global projects that fall within the concept’s rubric. To date, the archive has taken various forms, from an online database to physical presentations within museum exhibitions – fairly effective ways to convey the purpose and potential of Arte Útil to a dispersed audience, but nonetheless fraught. Unlike other forms of art, even other forms of socially engaged or political art, Arte Útil is always meant to move beyond the realm of the symbolic and into the space of action. This, of course, poses an explicit challenge to the inherited conventions of art institutions. Addressing this, at one point mima director Alistair Hudson noted that ‘whenever the Arte Útil archive becomes a display mechanism or orthodoxy it dies. We lose the argument.

This tension, between art’s established modes of engagement and an impetus towards alternative forms of action, appears repeatedly across the coming pages. Walter Benjamin, in conversation with David Morris, goes so far as to claim that ‘art’, as we know it, is obsolete, which chimes with Bruguera’s emphasis on social transformation over more traditional artistic concerns. In a wide-ranging conversation with W.J.T. Mitchell, Bruguera discusses the development of Arte Útil; and John Byrne offers an astute analysis of the broader movement around it, from grass-roots community organising to international art museums, and the issues Arte Útil must grapple with as it continues to evolve”.


On Thursday 13th and Friday 14th October 2016 I took part in the ‘Curating The Alps” curatorial workshop, hosted by  ECAV in Switzerland. This gave me the opportunity to talk and discuss some of the ideas that I have recently developed around The Association of Arte Útil and also for the article ‘Social Autonomy and the Use Value of Art’ that I have recently written for the Autumn/Winter 2016 volume of Afterall. Being in Switzerland with, again, a wonderful group of people brought together by Benoit Antille, provided a real opportunity to continue thinking some things through and for developing ideas around use, use-value and the work, or labour of art. It was also really good to see Adam Sutherland, Director of Grizedale Arts, again. As always, Adam’s insights have provided some challenges and further food for thought around these ideas and issues. Also, the second issue of the ‘Creative Villages’ journal, came out (I have a short article in this – The Work of Labour of Art – on page 25). I’ve posted the .pdf of this journal in the writing section of this site and there is also a link here.

Creative Villages Journal 02_05-10-16

Constituencies at mima

From Thursday 8th September until Saturday 10th September 2016 mima hosted the ‘Working with Constituents’ event. This conference, developed by Elinor Morgan and the editorial team of the forthcoming L’Internationale publication ‘The Constituent Museum’ invited speakers and contributors including Anthony Gardner, Jesús Carrillo Castillo, Archivos en Uso, Alina Müller (The Silent University), Kristine Khouri,  Nikos Papastergiadis, Bini Araia, Céline Condorelli, Igor Španjol, pantxo ramas, Daniela Ortiz  and Burak Arıkan ( Graph Commons) to think around and further discuss the idea, concept and usefulness of the term ‘Constituencies’. The event itself intended to address the key question ‘What would happen if museums put relationships at the centre of their operations?’. However, the incredible discussions then ensued began to make us think that perhaps the title of the event should have been ‘Becoming Constituent’ rather than ‘Working with Constituencies’. After all, the premise of the event was to ask ‘What would happen if museums put relationships at the centre of their work?’ and to ‘explore the possibility of a museum in which the visitor is not a passive receiver of predefined content, but a member of a constituent body, who provokes, informs and co-produces programmes’. This, of course, was made particularly pertinent in the light of mima’s recent mission statement which is as follows:

‘Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, part of Teesside University, is moving forward with a vision of itself as a “useful museum,” or “museum 3.0,” under the directorship of Alistair Hudson and with programming by Miguel Amado and Elinor Morgan. The “useful museum” is a civic institution that promotes art as a tool for social change and is created by the sum of the actions of its users. The “museum 3.0″ establishes the gallery as a public site, beyond representation and participation and based on use value, with its meaning defined by its constituents’.

Granby 4 Streets ‘Office of Useful Art’ Open for Business

On a rainy Saturday 3 September, Michael Simon (Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust member and Social Activist) threw open the doors on the new Granby 4 Streets Office of Useful Art. The plan for this exciting project is simple – to be the first truly ground-up, constituency led ‘Office of Useful Art’ which will use the existing Association of Arte Útil archive – amongst other available resources- to both partake in, and contribute to, the next steps of the Association of Arte Útil. As well as this, the Granby Office of Useful Art also marks an opportunity for LJMU to work closely with constituents from the Granby area as a means to use art as a vehicle for collaboratively producing, and re-thinking, forms of ground up education and access.

mima Arte Útil Summit

From 22 to 25th July  the Association of Arte Útil Summit took place at mima. Amongst the speakers over the weekend were Stephen Wright, Tania Bruguera, Charles Esche, Núria Güell, Kuba Szreder, Sebastian Cichocki, Gemma Medina, Alessandra Saviotti, Annie Fletcher, Michael Simon (Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust) and myself. The Summit opened up a very broad range of debates and allowed everybody present to begin opening up ideas and new pathways forward for the Association of Arte Util. On Monday 25th July a final, and open, Association of Arte Útil Board meeting was held and a range of ideas and proposals for the development of the AAU were discussed.

Principal amongst these were the proposal to develop the next years of the AAU around the three areas of people (constituencies), Places (discussions of real and virtual exchange including those of ‘Museum 3.0’) and Methods (the development of a rigorous critical and theoretical framework for the practices developed by the AAU which could ‘beyond’ the current museological methodologies of neo-Kantian aesthetics. One of the key proposals was to develop an Office of Useful Art in Granby, Liverpool, as the first example of a ‘ground-up’ and constituency led Office of Useful Art which would, in turn, use the AAU archive in new, productive and useful ways.

The other key motion was for ‘Broadcasting the Archive’ to contact the artists and projects that are currently ‘live’ on the archive and to ask whether or not (and to what degree) they would be happy for other constituencies to take their ideas and develop them as independent projects. This, in turn, will lead to a rigorous debate around an alternative ‘creative commons’ of ownership and rights for the AAU which may begin to point to ways in which forms of adequate remuneration can be provided to artists and constituencies outside of the usual ‘object ownership’ of the current art market.

It was also agreed that the next AAU Summit will happen in the Summer of 2017 in San Francisco, at the Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts  and will form part of a developing Syllabus for an AAU Summer School that will take place during this time as part of a broader Tania Bruguera show/retrospective. It is also hoped that LJMU and Granby 4 Streets Office of Useful Art will be able to collaborate on developing deliverable material for this Summer School as part of their collaboration around the development of ground-up forms of constituent education and the uses of art. In addition to this, and after an incredibly helpful conversation with Tania Bruguera, I committed the next five years of my research to thinking through issues of use, use-value and the work or labour of art via my involvement the Association of Arte Útil network.

Mima have kindly recorded the proceedings of the Summit discussions from and I will post a link when they are finalized and up online.