DIY Culture Industry: Signifying Practices, Social Networks and Other Instrumentalizations of Everyday Art

From Your Everyday Art World:

The subject of D.I.Y. is not an autonomous individual; rather it’s a “free agent” or networker who, by being so thoroughly defined in her or his predisposition to “doing” and making connections, is always situated and contextualized, externalized and performative. And yet this agent remains “free” despite being context-dependent because the new context is not thought to be the all-determining social structure or the rigid bureaucratic institution or the brainwashing ideological apparatus. It’s the temporary project.

The dual emphasis on networked connectivity and D.I.Y. agency helps account for the unique spatial template of today’s art: extremely proximate performances staged against a backdrop of seemingly unimpeded international travel. Both are equally crucial to the art world now that prestige is measured in communicational terms, according to which the only thing more valuable than extensive reach is complex, intimate feedback. Providing the pivot between the two is the short-term contract or informal work agreement, which allows for both engagement in specific productive situations and quick disengagement so that productive units will return constantly to the circulatory movement of the market. Because the contract facilitates embeddedness-for-hire, or employment agreements heavy with subjective performance and investment, it is both the means by which artists enter into socially and contextually embedded projects and at the very same time the means by which they just as easily become disembedded from context, free of social ties.

But this is also where myriad problems arise. In charting the world in this way, with focus shifted onto individual actors and their immediate and intimate connections and, at the same time, the indeterminate and immeasurable space of international mobility in which those contexts and connections unfold, how do mid-range issues of modern social organization not get displaced and obscured? Don’t constantly fluctuating networks threaten certain conditions necessary for bringing about social justice, such as the stability and enclosure required for determining collectivities or “wholes” that can be measured by, and held accountable to, the yardstick of across-the-board fairness? Doesn’t the ideal of equal distribution of resources prohibit the amount of asymmetry of connections and access that is the a priori assumption of network models? (This asymmetry often goes unremarked in all the hoopla about networks, about how, in their horizontality, they are supposedly non-hierarchical and egalitarian, even though the period of their rise has also been marked by dramatic increases in all sorts of inequality.)

“The number of American workers who don’t have traditional jobs — who instead work as independent contractors, through temporary services or on-call — rose 9.4 million from 2005 to 2015. That was greater than the rise in overall employment, meaning there was a small net decline in the number of workers with conventional jobs. That, in turn, raises still bigger questions about how employers have succeeded at shifting much the burden of providing social insurance onto workers…” – New York Times 31 March 2016

“Availability is now a major form of human capital, in both high-powered salaried positions and low-level hourly jobs. Low-wage workers need to be available at all hours or risk not having work. Professionals are expected to remain electronically tethered to their jobs day and night or risk forgoing coveted opportunities.” – New York Times 20 September 2012

“No longer are workers tethered to a desk, or even to an office; we are all toting around laptops, tablets and smartphones to make every place a workplace. And so office software is changing. These days, what is important is collaboration, small screens, fast turnarounds, social media and, most of all, mobility.” – New York Times 30 July 2013

“Today, some 42 million people — about a third of the United States work force — do not have jobs in the traditional sense. They fall into a catchall category the government calls “contingent” workers. These people — independent contractors, freelancers, temp workers, part-timers, people between jobs — typically work on a project-to-project basis for a variety of clients, and most are outcasts from the traditional system of benefits that provide economic security to Americans.” – New York Times 1 December 2011

“The combination of three trends — automation; the emergence of a trade-based international labor force; and the movement of jobs offshore — has polarized the job market.  There is growth at the high and low ends, but the middle collapses.” – New York Times 19 February 2012

“There’s a lot less money in serving ‘an entire and diverse community’ than there used to be.” – 15 August 2013

“Today, where the triumph of more utopian theories of mass culture seems complete and virtually hegemonic, we need the corrective of some new theory of manipulation, and of a properly postmodern commodification, which couldn’t in any case be the same as Adorno and Horkheimer’s now historical one.” – Fredric Jameson

“I believe the use of the term ‘industry’ for the entire range of activities of those who are employed or working on a freelance basis in the art field has a salutary effect. With one stroke that term cuts through the romantic clouds that envelop the often misleading and mythical notions widely held about the production, distribution, and consumption of art.” – Hans Haacke


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