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A love letter from Paris

DEAR LOVERS,

I write this to you as a hot sweaty love letter from Paris, the city of romance and adults who are allowed to stay out late at night. As you gather in Sydney I am meeting with a large group of dreamers and makers who are part of a growing movement of discontent with the economy. This is a global movement variously called the solidarity economy, peer to peer, or transition, post-growth economies, or simply ‘the commons’. It is not called the share economy because some dickheads from Silicon valley ruined that word already. Although as I scribe from this venue bedecked in an astro turfed and bamboo veneer decor, I am not 100 per cent convinced the viral bandwagon of collaborative consumption and positive capitalism hasn’t already entered the building. It feels a bit like Vivid and TEDX combined their event and asked Hillsong if they could do the catering and the lighting/Sound in a big circus tent at Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbour. ANYHOO the message is pretty clear: we need some new models. 

From bitcoin to data commons to ride share to co-working, many conventional business providers are looking to cooperatives and social enterprises to help support or to benefit their communities. They speak of a things like triple bottom line, and collaboration, and social engagement. To those of us who are barely make their living from the arts, these are not novel ideas. But their rapid uptake by the corporate sector is interesting to reflect on.

Why are other sectors and business having this conversation about changing the business model, and the arts isn’t? Especially when it never worked for us in the first place. So in my recent suite of works exploring art and economy, I have been pondering the following questions:

1. What specific elements of the conventional business model don’t work for the arts?

2. What do artists in the small to medium sector already do well when organising their own production and distribution?

3. How can we shape our economy with the particular language we use to describe what we do as specific and important?

4. Who is speaking for artists and art workers and is their decision making informed by their practice?

MONEY LAUNDERING

These questions have helped shape MONEY LAUNDERING which is the obvious name you give to a quest to build the worlds first artist run laundromat. The idea is pretty simple but as yet untested. But in theory it is being designed to fit the business model to the practice—not the other way around. The artist run laundromat is a response to the feast and famine which is characteristic of the gig-economy. It will result in a functional commercial enterprise, governed by a shared equity model, that will prioritise the artist’s working life as a practising artist by offering unconditional flexible paid work (as a laundromat attendant) to cover living costs during periods where the artist is in between gigs or selectively inactive. The physical space of the laundromat will also function as a hub for artist activity and presentations, as well as being an ongoing site for experimentation in artist led practice and fair-share economic models.

This idea is a practical idea underpinned by some serious reflection about no longer wanting to simply do the best we can within the sad and limited prospects of an economy designed by a handful of people with terrible imaginations and suspect motives. Artists need to come up with new models to survive, but these models need to come from a thorough overhaul and redesign of the entire economy.

AN ARTIST LED ECONOMY

I want to propose a set of principles for a practice-led economy; this an idea that ties decision making to the bodies that will enact them and/or be impacted by them. It a design that eliminates the role of the manager/middleman, as the man who stands outside of the embodied practice, whose decisions are executed by others, and whose body will not be affected by any adverse fallout but instead benefit from the negative impact it has on others. We need to consider an alternative to this where the body and the practice are tethered to decision making.

HOW AN ARTIST LED ECONOMY BEHAVES

Here are some elements that I have started to write about as forming a set of values and ideas to articulate how an artist led economy would behave.

Interdependence

It recognises that its spheres of labour and social are messy and conflated, and bound up in reproducing each other.

Relational

The bee produces honey but this is many ways a by product to its real function which is to pollinate. The artists economy works better when it is considered as a conduit and fertiliser of relations.

Movement: Processual, Flux, Flow

We don’t capture but momentarily apprehend, and we flourish when we keep the the gift in circulation

Indeterminacy (becoming-unbecoming)

Along with keeping things in flux, we also understand things as constantly forming, like who we are, and we create the conditions to allow this to happen.

Open Source

Ideas and knowledge grow best through sharing.

Mutual Aid

No hands held out for charity. We consider the contributions we make according to the values that we decide on.

Spectrum—Non-binary

Our identities shift across a spectrum, and we enjoy the benefits of a proliferation of constantly differentiating binaries. Never a full stop static binary which is the logic of cancer.

Nothing about us without us

We represent ourselves and all decisions are made by those who will be affected by them

Practice-led

The shape of our production and distribution is shaped by the practice and the needs of those who practice it.

Custodian/stewardship

First nations people were right. You can not own the land, you can only belong to the land.

Design models where care and roles and responsibility are embedded into legal structures governing the care of shared resources such as land, air and water.

Anti-monopoly

It is possible for people to own too much to control too many things, to be too busy. No more franchises. If you have an idea, don’t replicate it. Give your idea to someone else and see what they do to it.

Generative not Reductive – Abundance not Scarcity – Distribution not Accumulation

Spread it round, spread it open and release it into circulation. Keep it moving!

Writings

A Very Beautiful Laundromat Explained

The following piece was published by NAVA here.

A Very Beautiful Laundromat

A few years back when contemplating the feast and famine economy of the artist-freelancer, I started thinking about the possibilities of an artist-led laundromat. The laundromat is a sound business model; it never goes out of fashion, you don’t have to convince anyone to use it—and you can get a 24 hour licence to run it.

More than this, the idea of ‘folding into’ and symbiotically hosting an arts practice and arts space within a functioning artist-run business brings with it all the interesting complications and connotations that come with gendered labour, the rise of affective and intangible capital, and the entrepreneurial zeal that is rampant neoliberalism.

Founding and managing artist led spaces in Sydney over the past decade, I became irritated observing the peculiar rise of the business model for arts organisations. I would torture myself attending various business art seminars just so I could confirm the terrible and ill-fitting advice being dished out by economists and business people, some of whom brandished the credentials of working with such infamous finance cowboys as Enron and the Lehman Brothers. I thought this was bunk—and their snake oil was starting to burn. Struggling to survive in a political economy where our artistic process and practices are squeezed into square holes on a spreadsheet—things just never seemed to balance. And not just for artists: for an overwhelming majority of the planets support systems and its climate, the ‘business as usual’ cancerous growth model, is literally killing us.

Taking care of business

Earlier this year I took a job at a laundromat in the urban renewal precinct of inner South Sydney to become familiar with the operation, and to see if it really was in reality everything I had theoretically dreamt about. In theory, the laundromat will be run off 100 per cent artistic labour and would have a rostering system designed to handle the comings and goings of artists who needed a few shifts in-between gigs and residencies; it would pay $22 per hour which, when you crunch the figures, is an above average wage when you take into consideration much of the ‘unkind’ labour involved in artistic work. In addition, I became interested in how the physical uncomplicated labour of the doing the laundry could provide some cognitive relief, and stand against the more messy and complicated and abstract labour of the artist. I also know for a fact that ironing can be practiced as a kind of mindfulness whilst listening to a podcast by Eckart Tolle.

The ‘care industries’ which includes the outsourcing of domestic labour from the household, along with the needs of a growing elderly population and increased participation in the workforce by female parents has expanded the service sector in the Australian economy—it now takes up over 75 percent of employment, up from 50 percent in 1960. Neatly complimenting this is a rise in what is referred to as emotional or affective labour, in a growing ‘experience economy’ of lifestyle products, where the worker’s personal interaction with the consumer constitutes much of the service—from the smile upon greeting, and the presentation of self, to the performance of intimacy to generate a unique experience.

At the same time labour across all sectors has become increasingly more flexible, precarious and casualised. For the artist or creative worker, whose rising star also corresponds with the advent of the knowledge/creative industries, these conditions have merely placed the artist centre stage as the poster-child of neoliberalism. In addition, the place-based accumulation of capital through urban renewal strategies and ‘creative cities’ programs have further implicated the artist in the economic engine and discourse of the nation, as entrepreneur and driver of innovation, and subsequently dispersed the role of creativity beyond the elite confines of the ‘Art Market’.

Imbricated practice: Parasitising the business world as art

The most familiar and unfortunate model for public art is usually one that involves an object rudely imposed on council or state owned land. Typically it involves death by committee, and if it survives that, it is then shat upon from great heights by ‘the public’ who ‘just can’t handle it’. More recently, site based works that engage audiences temporarily, most of which are festival commissions to enliven urban precincts, have taken hold in cities across the globe, and are deeply implicated in the normalisation of gentrification processes.

I am interested in a third option: Art-works manifesting as fluid encounters that self-righteously intrude in public spaces as private enterprise, without necessarily drawing attention to the artistic framework that sets it apart from that which it occupies/mimics. Using a combination of mimesis and trojan strategies, these art-works manifest by inserting themselves into the everyday economic operations of the city, essentially parasitising the cellular properties of the capitalist machinery.

I am referring to this as an imbricated practice, where the overlapping or thatching of practices knit together in a working solidarity to provide a function or purpose. And possibly where the pattern of overlay itself disguises the separate components resulting in the sum of its parts.

Yurt-Empire_Workshop-Day-2_0158-as-Smart-Object-1

[Yurt Empire: Lab 3, Green Square. Photo Credit: Mat Venables]

Occupation and mimesis as public art

For me, the first iteration of this kind came out of group art project I initiated in 2012 called Space Rangers. Our intentions were to mimic the strategies of the data survey to provoke some deliberately outrageous responses to city-making. I posed the idea of mining the city for data relating to land title and building use; a kind of military survey of the land before planning an invasion and occupation. The second experiment with imbricated practice was the site based intervention work Yurt Empire. Disguised as a rogue housing project, this ‘art-work’ intended to use the mimetic framework of installation art to install and playfully occupy an urban renewal site in the city of Sydney. Along the way we used the process of site brokering to open up conversation about affordable housing and land use permissions in the design and behaviour of cities.

Our aim was to smuggle 6 hand-made interpretative yurts onto an urban wasteland currently undergoing renewal in the City of Sydney, with the intention of living in them for three months as affordable housing. To gain access to sites, we would adapt the language of the project—switching from ‘art’ to ‘place-making’ to ‘community engagement’. For these purposes we even made a promotional video for a fake company, that promised to “listen to the heart beat of the city” and “inject a unique and vibrant harmonic into the urban fabric”. [See video here]

_MG_9504

[Space Rangers: Teik Kim Pok, Rebecca Conroy, Chris Fox and Sumugan Sivanesan (pictured) Karl Khoe and Tessa Zettel. 2012. Photo Credit: Matt Venables]

Stealth outfits

To dissolve the work into the everyday where the audience or stakeholders are not entirely clear what parts are art and what parts are serious intervention, deliberately straddles a playful line between the deceitful and the provocative. But I am more interested in its purposefulness. How can art that is produced within the public sphere, occupy and provoke and actually transform the economy that produces the conditions of its existence? Is it possible for art to avoid capture by market forces, by remaining nimble, charming and just a little bit cheeky?

I would argue that stealth infiltration of the economy with art is the most productive and most ‘useful’ kind of public art. Not only does it provide an unusual encounter for an accidental audience, it can also be a useful income generating device for artists. If we have to be more business-like, than its time to do business our way. And just maybe, the values shared by artists and cultural producers based on a desire to practice being more-than-human, might just correlate with the values of humans in general. And just maybe, doing the laundry might shift from the tedious and oppressive to the purposeful and sublime.

A Very Beautiful Laundromat is in development this year, starting with a series of dinner dates with economists in the UK, Canada and USA. The 100% artist-led laundromat intends to be operational in October 2016. More information here: http://averybeautifullaundromat.tumblr.com/

Rebecca Conroy is an interdisciplinary creature working across site, community engagement, and performative interventions through artist led activity. She has previously worked in the role of Festival Director (Gang Festival), Associate Director (Performance Space); Provocateur (Splendid Arts Lab & Artist Wants a Life) and has been the co-founder and co-director of two artist run spaces in Sydney, The Wedding Circle and Bill+George.  From 2011 – 2014 she was conductor of The Yurt Empire, a rogue housing project and encounter in the inner city of Sydney.  She has been widely published on topics ranging from artist led initiatives, site based practice, and contemporary performance. Currently Rebecca is researching and developing a project involving an international network of artist run libraries and alternative economics in the shape of a laundromat for 2016.

News

MSE + Money Laundering + Iron Lady is heading over the seas!

So much excitement!

Marrickville School of Economics has been selected to present a module as part of the Live Art Development Agency (London) DIY artist series in August 2017 and then presenting at the Folkestone Fringe in Sept, 2017.

Walking to the Laundromat audio walk will be presented as a practice-based paper at the New Materialisms conference in Paris.

Money Laundering will be taking part in the Synergia Institute  in Tuscany in July 2017 to connect with leaders in the P2P economy.

Iron Lady will be in development at PAF for the Everywhere & Elsewhere residency just outside of Paris.

And as if that wasn’t enough excitement, I will presenting all these projects at OuiShare in Paris July 5-7.

We are running a small fundraising campaign to cover the costs. We have made some beautiful Teatowels please visit here to place your order: http://marrickvilleschoolofeconomics.tumblr.com/fundraiser

Or simply fill out your order here!

News

The Artist’s Exceptional Labouring Body – MCA/Artbar

Sumugan Sivanesan and I performed a lecture of sorts as an experiment in the artist’s exceptional labouring body in 3D! As part of Artbar at the Museum of Contemporary Art July 29 curated by Wade Marynowsky.

The introductory text:

This event is a work in progress in the sense that the artist work is never done. These conceptual nuggets are paraded here as raw material, half baked and unfolding. In a state of becoming. In a state of human. And as a performative resistance to becoming human capital.

We will present a number of resonant statements. Accompanied by images. We will try to resist becoming human capital by drawing attention to the human capital.  This might be reminiscent of the ways in which one draws attention to their fears in order to diminish them.

For these purposes we want to draw attention to our artist fee, as singular coins encased in these two display jars in front here. Each jar contains 200 x one dollar coins.

Your participation can happen in several ways. You can shift this capital from one jar to the other, in a simple act of making capital flow. You can extract capital from this act if you feel you have expended time and have not been compensated in other more intangible forms either through your enjoyment or knowledge gained. And finally you can add to this capital by departing with some of your own capital into one of the jars, and in this way contribute to the further extension of these ideas by expanding the bank accounts of the presenting artists. 

You have been given an opportunity to bear witness to what will follow, and you will exert energy in participating, attempting to decode and reassemble in your own mind and inside your own exceptional body what takes place here.

Our focus here is on the artist’s exceptional labouring body. These are bodies we describe as excessive bodies, or bodies that both exceed the capture by capital, and at the same time are increasingly marinated in and absorbed by capital.

At various points as we labour through this presentation, we may inject moments of ourselves and our own personal experiences in the pursuit of this open autopsy of artistic process.

We have prepared some images, and we have prepared some devices for viewing these images. We have prepared some notes, but our intention tonight is to unfold these thoughts, not necessarily in the order they were conceived, and as other ideas occur to us—triggered by our corporeal presence here tonight in the presence of other exceptional bodies—we take pause and reflect where necessary, or where possible, we may interact as two bodies in dialogue.

 

Conversations

Conversations unleashed in July 2016

During May – September (2015) I trawled through North America and Yurope at a cracking pace to meet with a bunch of artists/thinkers/doers whose work intersected with economy. This July I will (finally) have an opportunity to digest and transcribe these interesting recorded and interesting conversations. So, watch this space. [Thanks to Jocelyn Hungerford for a residency space in the Blue Mountains to do this—muchos gracias]

Conversations include: Jess Dobkin (Artist Run Newsagency, Toronto) Steve Lambert (NY), Antonio Hirsch (Surplus Library) Marina Vishmidt (UK) Michelle Kasprzak (NL) Lise Soskolne (W.A.G.E – NYC) Haben und Brachen (Berlin) Jubilee (Amsterdam) Kate Rich (Feral Trade- Bristol) and more to come.

Projects

Marrickville School of Economics

The Marrickville School of Economics* is a creative accounting and artist-led curriculum for studying and developing new ways to do economy.

The School is free to attend and open to all and its syllabus will evolve in a manner that responds to the practical needs of the community.

It will function as a stink-tank for the forensic investigation of the systemic inadequacies of the current neoliberal economic model. Drawing on radical research and experimentation in other parts of the world, and empirical research from our own backyard, it will seek to enrich those with the desire to unfuck the economy, with the knowledge and skills to speak confidently about ideas to implement a new one.

ENROLLMENTS LINK HERE

Initial Preliminary Course outline

101 Fuck your Economy: An introduction

102 Value: How to do know if you got it

103 Carving up the Pie Chart (Culinary wisdom)

104 Entanglements and Intangibles (body based improv)

105 Rich White Men: Forensic ethnographic research

106 Trickle Down A/Effect (data visualisation)

107 Feast and Famine Economy (a boat building exercise)

108 Corporate Welfare – how to identify it

109 Mapping Capital Flow (hip hop workshop)

110 Ninja Economics (parkour combat workshop) 

You can find the current course outlines on the tumblr site (while we wait for our official site development)

If you are interested in attending/dropping in send an email with a brief introduction to Bek Conroy – bek@bekconroy.com

Internationals and long distance learning units catered for!

*The name of the school takes its geographic location as preemptive infamous moniker, very much in the spirit of the Chicago School, and the London School of Economics. Marrickville is a Local Government Area in New South Wales, Australia, with a high concentration of artists and creatives working in the small to medium sector.

Projects

Dating an Economist

[A series of performative dinner dates and audio recordings]

 

During 2015 Rebecca Conroy went on a series of dates with economic philosophers and finance dudes across North America and Europe and called it an art project. The result is a series of recorded conversations and thoughts on the subject of finance capitalism, power, intimacy, and the intangibility of how we create value. Part radio documentary, part experimental fiction, this work is ongoing and will appear finally as a four-part experimental audio documentary in 2016. First audio edition commissioned by Radio National (Creative Audio Unit) in June, 2016.

The intention of this work is to provoke and ponder the relationship between capital and the artists labouring body, different imaginings of currency, and to explore the poetry of finance algorithms and acts of self-determination for a possible post-capitalist future.

Follow the dates here

Listen to a radio interview about the project here

Hear the commissioned radio piece here

Writings

A Going Concern

All money is laundered in some way.

Sometimes it is accidentally laundered when you forget to take your wallet out of your pants. But mostly this laundering of currency occurs through the mundane machinery of capitalism—through bodies and spaces and goods and services. The DNA of capital necessitates that it must cycle through and accumulate; be redirected and captured and released into an ever maddening twisted accumulation of cesspools in the arteries of those whose power mandates its extraction. But it always remains dirty. Currency is rarely clean. It always tainted with pathogens of previous lovers; it is never unsoiled. We are vibrating with its biome and it covers us all—we are merely conduits for its viral contagions.

Unlike the clean straightforward ways of the laundromat, and despite currencies apparent tangible hand-held form, capital is mostly speculative and derivative. Like art, economy is connected to form, but its values and formulas are subjective, intangible, and fictitious. We are, reluctant partners in grime. 

There’s something suspiciously wholesome about a laundromat (certainly nothing conventionally beautiful). And yet [….and yet.] There is something deceptive about the humble washing machine that makes it hide in plain sight. Is it the manner in which something dirty and experienced with life could be returned to its owner with a sweet smelling new lease on life; a fresh start, sans stains—a new you? The same threaded garment, now with micro particles of soil extracted, ready to start again. Each time, less innocent than before. 

It is this appearance of the laundromat that perhaps made it an appealing figure and front for the mafia. And speakeasies. 

Urban myths accumulate like dirty capital from the association of the mafia with money laundering which first emerged during prohibition. When the flow is interrupted, things find a way to go underground.

Where all irrigation begins and ends.

Recycling and recirculation. All economy is about flows, circulation and cycling. A diverting and channeling; an irrigating that, depending on design and purpose, inheres desire for control through its diversions and pooling and accumulations.

A tumour of undifferentiated cells. 

[And all economy is about fiction]

And the narratives contain and restrain, just as much as they remain unfettered and unimagined. Just look at where we are now. Not too long ago, a bottle was just a bottle. A container. But now, it’s a vessel for dreams, it’s the elixir of life, it’s a recycled dream that can lead to sustainable futures. It’s a personal water bottle that says a hydrated body is a good self-caring bottle of filtered water drawn from the springs of some indigenous water hole. A bottle that ignores how we destroy water catchment areas; a bottle that forgets waste production and colonisation. A bottle that says I am life, whilst destroying the life support system upon which its expression depends. A bottle that says anthropocene and high vis, pacific waste circle and bodies of contaminated tailings.

It is through the body as threshold, as porous transition point for liquids and liquidity, that the economy performs such miracles.

It’s a threshold of private/public – where the domestic labour and personal hygiene self maintenance crosses over to the non-private strange intimacy of the outside commercial trade. Like sex on premises. LOL. 

The laundromat as site for the circulation of currency has many useful applications.

Gendered labour – memories of my father’s search for his freshly washed jeans – the piles and piles of unearned clothing in baskets overflowing – the cleaning the domestic labour – {If my father ever did the washing, he might know where his jeans were}. 

Service economy – the contracting out of domestic work – the domestic workers overseas Filipino maids – Indonesian pembantu – migrant workers – ‘chinese cleaners’ – invisible fucking labour. 

So potentially this project takes the artisanal hand washed garment and turns it into yet another niche within a niche within a niche market – “hand washed by a starving artist”

The laundromat as front for an artist led operation to re-circulate money back into the artist economy – as an experimental business model that could be hijacked for other anti-capitalist purposes.

LET’S DO IT.

Projects

Walking To The Laundromat

[Audio Walk]

 

Life can sometimes feel like a long laundry list that you struggle to get through. *Sigh. If this is you, doing the laundry can be a great opportunity to refocus on your core strengths and build resilience into your day.

Walking to the Laundromat is an audio walk that combines mindfulness practice with doing the laundry in an attempt to explain the interconnections between service economy, emotional capital, and affective labour from the perspective of the artists exceptional labouring body.

EVENT#1: Sunday May 1, 2016 at Washingdone Laundromat (209 Enmore rd. Enmore)

BYO 1 bag of dirty laundry as this is required in the piece.

You will need to download the track onto a hand held device, from the website www.walkinglab.org and also have your own headphones to participate.

Listen to audio here: https://soundcloud.com/rebecca-conroy-1/walking-to-the-laundromat

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[Walking to the Laundromat is an Audio Walk and Laundromat Service commissioned by Walking Lab. Concept and narrative by Rebecca Conroy, Sound design by Dan McHugh]

(Image credit:  Katie Weilbacher)

This walk is commissioned through Walking Lab by Performing Lines

Performing Lines: Innovations in walking and sensory research methodologies is an International research project with a goal to create a collaborative network and partnership between artists, arts organizations, activists, scholars and educators interested in walking, movement, and sensory knowledge.

http://walkinglab.org/