‘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– and which also provide a clear framework for the job that has to be done in challenging our established, outmoded, outdated, limiting and (unfortunately) most cherished and comforting  notions of what art was or could be.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 Walter Benjamin, in conversation with David Morris, goes so far as to claim that ‘art’, as we know it, is obsolete, which chimes with Bruguera’s emphasis on social transformation over more traditional artistic concerns.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”.