Still, it isn’t always so easy to offer trust in a nasty, competitive, and impoverished art world. Precarious artists, students, interns, and adjuncts are always taken advantage of by more successful artists, institutions, professors, and others. It is here that things began to get a bit rocky – at this juncture, where all these loosely tied-together strangers around the table were asked to offer their trust to the artist and their vulnerability to one another. The video camera was the primary object of contestation. It was brought up that people were frustrated with being filmed without prior approval. Things got tense and the conversation turned toward Sam’s power as the artist and the ostensible valorisation of us participants for his career. It wasn’t just about the video camera, of course, but the conversation revolved around the video nonetheless. That irritating documentation, necessary for our art practices, always poses a problem. In this case it was the thing most visibly in danger of being recuperated by the artist for his own practice, for his success. From many participants’ perspective, it was his video, his project, and his relationship to the exhibition that brought us all together around this table. A cynical conclusion? Yes. A fair question to bring to the table? Yes. So we arrive at an impasse for the logic Occupy Yr. Home follows. Where Sam sees a document that allows for the establishing of a public, some participants see a document that commodifies their participation. This gets right down to the crux of it: is an autonomous artistic practice possible? Is art possible outside the state, outside capitalist relations? Can a ‘commons’ be common if it is brokered by capital, ego, and competition?
Sam was challenged multiple times: ‘Why film the event? We never consented to being filmed. Aren’t you just using our thoughts and participation in your event? You are the artist, after all.’ These are legitimate questions that often revolve around ‘participatory art’. Quite often, participants prop up a project for which someone else receives professional or financial accolades – a common criticism that is often correct. However, our inability to surpass it to talk more honestly about our precariousness, why we are frustrated by potentially being taken advantage of, and what, as artists, we might do about it together remains a perennially missed opportunity. How can we inhabit the situation to ask, What are the conditions that put us here and how can we work against it? The participants’ frustrations and cynicism are precisely the ethos that Red76 is interested in experientially contesting at the table. This attempt to blow up these toxic social relations is one aspect of occupying the home.
I don’t want to re-enact the entire conversation (perhaps by the time this essay sees the light of day it will be on the Red76 Vimeo site ) because we have heard it before. Instead, I want to think through the frictions that exist in ‘socially engaged art’ and, more importantly, how we can find ways of working collaboratively despite those frictions. If ‘to occupy the home’ is to begin to pull what is personal to us out into a common space where our shared experiences, struggles, and vulnerabilities can be interrogated, we must struggle against a home that is already occupied. It is a site of intimacy that is exploited on a daily basis. This is evidenced by every job applied to on our own time, every time we log into Gmail, Facebook, Netflix and whatever else, every time we enact patriarchy in our homes, every time we are mean to our lovers because work was terrible, and on and on. This is one of the struggles latent in socially engaged art: to bring the in/visible power relations and the disciplinary and competitive logic of the neoliberal and capitalist art world into the home is also to render the intimate as a site of struggle in a new light. To reappropriate one’s home is a logical response – what we as a collective body who share a common intimate space do with this occupation, this reappropriation of the intimate, is the question OYH asks us to engage with. To a large degree, I think it is fair to say that, as a critic, I’m unable to speak to the successes or failures of Occupy Yr. Home. Not because Red76 is outside the field of criticism, but because the success of OYH would unfold outside itself, proliferated further not by Sam but by the respective participants. Sam states in his introduction to OYH at a dinner held in Brooklyn (linked above):
rather than politics invading the home, how can we start thinking about our political selves fermenting at the table and moving outwards? We start with us here and move across the table to the people we care about and want to have in our home. How do we move from the table to the living room to the front yard, to the sidewalk, to the streets? […] If there are other people who find these ideas resonant, how can we, collectively, conjoin those tables and create a discursive space from table to tale across state lines, across international lines, and through documentation make these attempts at articulation public. When you make it public the table grows because people can bring it to other tables, other relations.
If Red76, Sam, can be faulted, it is not because of a lack of awareness about the recuperative power of institutions, but rather his belief that our optimism, our volition, can overcome this recuperative power. This is where Sam and I are likely to diverge. We have equal distaste for institutions and yet Red76’s projects often suggest we are able to act within and simultaneously outside them. Or more accurately, Occupy Yr. Home assumes that we can be brought together under the auspices of an institutionally supported artwork and find an autonomous pocket within it, together. OYH relies on funding from hosting institutions – museums – to exist at all and I understand Sam’s position to be that we can choose whether to be affected by that mediation. We sit down at the table and we can trust we’re all coming to the table as equals, without agenda, or we don’t. This is how volition can take OYH outside the institution while being materially supported by it. Silvia Federici suggests that this is what a feminist reconstruction of the commons might look like: a transformation of everyday life despite the social division of labour that capitalism and the neoliberal paradigm use to crush us. Is it possible that this volition, the possible clinamen of our zombified brains and hearts, can ever find its autonomy?
That which holds the bodies together are those who remain – those of us who return to one another outside the prying eyes of the administrators of capital.