dispatches

Call for Contributions

The urgent need for new institutional imaginaries preceded MARCH, and these timelines are much longer than our present pandemic and protest movements. This fall, we aim to look above and beyond our current situations to consider the structural issues already (and continuing) to be at play as we consider propositions for the future in ideas, actions and form. Appropriately, our inaugural print edition will occupy the first issue of October in its form and purview. In response to October’s originally stated mission to propose “radical departures articulating the historical movement which enclosed them,” this print edition and corresponding online content will consider what the urgencies and possible expanded forms of art criticism at present may be.

We invite proposals for new or unpublished essays of approximately 2,500 words to be considered for publication. You are welcome to send us pitches and/or drafts (including experimental writing and adaptive new forms) at any time, but the final drafts to be considered for print (and priority consideration for online publishing) will be due July 15.


The Theft of Time

Busy Bee. Bergman Salinas. Portland, April 2020

The Theft of Time

As we sit, observing the abundant early spring bloom of the undisturbed cherry tree in our backyard, reality is real. Reality is hard to believe, and yet there is evidence. Manufactured reality industries cannot generate its bullshit fast enough to keep up.

A striking fact, at home in isolation from each other, is that the most effective form of fight is rest. This is extremely so during COVID-19, but rest from manic growth will also lower C02, N02, high blood-pressure, slow illness, halt deforestation and glacier melt. Right now, we are taking the largest Sabbath in the history of the earth.1 Never before has there been a collective chill-out like this. There has never been such observance at once: around two billion people have paused their quotidian hustle. What will the world look like after this? Will society permanently adjust anthropocentric rhythms, spending long, unproductive hours staring into the advancing flora? Will we finally be in solidarity with each other — and with ourselves —  by working in solidarity with nature?

Louis van Houtte: Flore des Serres et des Jardins de l’Europe. 1865. Public Domain

To sing to a plant is to care for the animal that feeds on this plant and for all the unborn children whose totemic becomings will be the Dreaming of this plant, or the animal which feeds on it.2

As much of humanity lurches foolishly to maintain the illusion of infinite growth, Rabbi Heschel’s observations from 1951 weigh even more now: “How proud we often are of our victories in the war with nature, proud of the multitude of instruments we have succeeded in inventing, of the abundance of commodities we have been able to produce. Yet our victories have come to resemble defeats… it is as if the forces we had conquered have conquered us.”3

The Week-end

The three Abrahamic religions set time aside for observance, and this became part of secular work life after the labor struggles of the early 20th century won the right to the weekend. Islam does Jumu’ah on Friday, Jews take Shabbat from Friday night to Saturday night, and Christians do Sabbath on Sunday. All faiths set aside sacred time away from work life: Hinduism and Shintoism take time out every day, (as do more observant Abrahamics) and, like Buddhists, take full days out each month following lunar cycles. When observance is a command to comply, it is a classic form of oppression, to bow down before a central authority, no questions allowed. However, observance also takes the form of the awareness of nature and its gradual cycles of renewal and decay. Ritual observance suggests a path to value time itself, to reconnect with nature and contract life away from the abuse of time as a base commodity.

Boring Solutions

Design for a gilt table clock. Lefebvre Manufactory, Tournai, Belgium. 1800–1825 Smithsonian Institution, Public Domain.

In a typical action narrative, the main character leaps from one extreme event to another, punctuated by wise-cracks and non-stop, sequenced jump-cuts. However, in a real disaster, we find mostly stillness, a sense of slowed time. Once an event occurs and then sinks in, extreme action happens in flashes, followed by calm. Most time spent on lock-down is down-time. Soldiers experience disturbing boredom while waiting for action, senses heightened with potential, then deadened with monotony, in a psychological spiral leaving few veterans well in the aftermath. A well-filmed narrative where a good person fights and wins justice is a great escape from a reality in which the opposite is usually true. However, reclaiming time (precious in our one-and-only life) is an act of observance. We observe that we are part of nature, mindful that we are also alone.

Interconnectedness

Mindfulness marketed as an individual coping mechanism against bio-busy-ness-as-usual is tenuous and temporary. Cosmo-awareness, corporate yoga backbends, and woke, narcissistic productivity mantras offer individualistic, topical salves against the horrors inflicted by non-stop hustling. Heal thyself by thine own bootstraps! Be “mindful” of private profit!  While “interconnectedness” is a cheap, new-age buzzword, there is one clear connection between ecosystem collapse, massive political violence, and rolling social disintegration: the extreme busy-ness of capitalism.

4/4 On the Floor

John Cage declared that percussive music is “future music” enabling escape from the chains of western notation and oppressive classical traditions in music. The future has arrived bearing new chains: dance music is among the most popular genres of music appearing with local twists in almost every corner of the world. The brutal, unceasing 4/4 beat of most dance music matches a heartbeat in stress. Potentially exciting, evoking physical exertion and mental sharpness, the effects of extreme sports or sex, dance music’s unceasing world party has become a death march. Today’s overtaxed heart suffers from hyper competitive overconsumption, hypertension, toxic air and water, toxic human relations and wholesale stress. A highly disturbing method of torture is loud, upbeat music that never turns off. Too much of a good thing quickly becomes horror: sex is great, but forced non-stop sex is abject terror. To be trapped in a pounding nightclub, forever, dancing exhausted, barely standing, while the security staff brutally beats random (disproportionately black and brown) people who try to stop dancing or escape, fires filling up the place with smoke, walls, roof and floor groaning with impending implosion: this is capitalism. These words may have appeared hyperbolic a few years ago, but now even the average taxpayer is beginning to feel something is amiss with their death dance and so they vote for conjurors who promise respite while accelerating the BPM.

Time is measured by natural forces and orbits, and as such is ultimately beyond human influence. However, time is felt by humans in psychological terms of awareness and consciousness. Performances of Bach have sped up 30% in the last half-century.4 Average length of shots in film has been decreasing, increasing jump-cuts.5 Time is decimal decimated by round-the-clock, just-in-time drudgery. Time became a tool of absolute oppression: a 24/7 system of extreme bondage, of oppressive and total compliance. Capitalism’s overreach has automated time into ruthless hurry where priorities are instilled from tyranny. Tech tycoon Jack Ma promotes the merciless 9-9-6 work schedule: 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week, etc. etc.

All, All, All Of Them. Bergman Salinas. April 2020 Portland, OR

If the forced “observation” of 24/7 capitalism sounds like the forced observation of an extremist religion, it is because that is exactly what it is. Capitalism is the largest religion in the history of humanity.6 Walter Benjamin’s reflections from 1921 are even more urgent a century later:

In the first place, capitalism is a purely cultic religion, perhaps the most extreme that ever existed.”7

The market is worshiped and revered like a malevolent, anthropomorphic god. It casts a spell to labor compulsively,  devouring time. Benjamin wrote in his unpublished notes that in Capitalism there are no weekdays, or in other words, every day must be filled with the obligations of piety. “There is no day that is not a feast day, in the terrible sense that all its sacred pomp is unfolded before us; each day commands the utter fealty of each worshipper.”8 Market worship fills every day of the week, month, and year.

שָׁבַת Shabbat?

The word Shabbat שַׁבָּת means “rest” or “cessation” and it is related to the modern Hebrew shevita שביתת which means strike, as in labor strike. Rabbi Hershel wrote “Time is like a wasteland. It has grandeur but no beauty. Its strange, frightful power is always feared but rarely cheered.”9 In global capitalism, time and space lurch barren. Shabbat asks of us instead to lay down the “clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil.”10 The sacred (a human decision to value something) is often a place, an object, however since “time is the heart of existence,”11 Shabbat is thus a “palace in time.”12 In Judaism the rhythms of time are observed, and observance is sacred, celebrated by stillness.

All, All, All Of Them. Bergman Salinas. April 2020 Portland, OR

What does it mean to observe? Time is an essential element of observation: settling into a position, taking note, reflecting on meaning, and then, in science, forming experiments to test hypotheses that lead to further observation. Animals continuously scan and track time and space by instinct, enabling them to find food while avoiding becoming food themselves. Humans may also have the innate capacity of observance, however, it is a skill that is inconvenient to capitalism, so there are entire industries developed to wash this ability away in an opioid haze for those who have any free time remaining after toil. Extrapolation of reality through time-based observation of facts is undermined by self-interested industries. Observation is subject to manipulation and obscurantism via the false-narratives of capitalism. Observance to capitalism is snow blindness.

Time and resources on earth appear infinite to human perception. A walk through the Amazon, and a sail over the Pacific is an experience so overwhelming that a human being can barely comprehend the volume of water, and the abundance of life. Geologic time is even further beyond what humans can fully imagine.13 It was incomprehensible that humans could affect such vastness, however, human civilization has become a cataclysmic event itself. But unlike the great Missoula Floods at the end of the last ice age, the anthropocene will not leave fertile valleys behind. Capitalism spurs growth and development as though it could happen infinitely, but it cannot. While the earth is large beyond our faculties, it is finite.

צמצום Tzimtzum?

This section gets even more uncomfortably esoteric, but in the spirit of free time and free improvisation free from the goose stepping of productivity, we assert that this kind of reflection is among the suppressed fundamental joys of living.

Universal Wheel. Savoy, France. Magic lantern slide, optical toy. 1780. Smithsonian Design Museums. Public Domain

In the Kabbalah, the concept צמצום tzimtzum speculates on the moment in creation where HaShem (‘The Name’ one of many Hebrew words for ‘the universe known and unknown’ — sometimes known as G*d) holds back, contracts, from infinity in order to create something finite. Creation, also known as the universe, is a mystery: why does matter exist? Galaxies, planets, and living rooms are finite, though there may or may not be an infinite number of them.14 According to Torah, Shabbat is the day HaShem rested from creative work. But if HaShem is infinite, (the opposite of an object), rest is an anthropomorphic concept, a placeholder symbol for something else. What rest means for HaShem is to revert back to infinity, implying that infinity is a state of rest. Contracting inwards, away from infinity, is necessary for finite matter such as life to exist. (A hammer is a hammer, it is not an infinity, although it is potentially part of infinity, and is made up of mind bogglingly smaller particles, but is recognized as a hammer nonetheless.) Objects therefore are contractions of infinity, they are tiny pieces of infinity that are no longer infinite. What makes objects finite is the perception (possibly and quite probably mistaken) of them as separate and discrete objects from everything else. The Earth is thus a finite object, unfathomably large for perception, but radically smaller than the Solar System, the Milky Way Galaxy, and mind-bogglingly smaller, almost (but not quite) infinitely smaller than the Universe itself. The Earth is an object contracted — at rest — from infinity.

Plein Air Painting, John Riepenhoff. Painted at night, under only the ambient light from stars and the moon, from our backyard, Portland 2018

Contraction

Humans imagine that Earth’s resources are infinite, but in behaving this way, crash headlong into its limits. It is telling that Musk, Bezos, and others, have shifted their obsessions to space travel, having contributed their share towards depleting Earth’s resources, they look to the cosmos for more fuel.

However, when humans rest, when we contract into ourselves, into our families and friends, into time and place, contracting away from productive and creative labor, we experience suggestions of, whispers of, the infinite. Observation shifts both downwards into our own unknowable selves, and outwards into the unknowable universe. Total horror of looking at the infinite and unknown is one reason why humanity prefers to stay endlessly busy. This fear must be dealt with because endless busy-ness is self-negating. Capitalism is a humanity-wide machine to keep busy and avoid reflecting on infinity, that is, to avoid awareness of death. During no other time during its existence has homo sapiens had to work this endlessly for subsistence. Most hunter gatherers worked a few hours a day and spent the rest of their time playing around. Capitalism forces us to work longer hours to survive, and then we hustle even more in order to avoid reflecting on anything uncomfortable. Shabbat is a beautiful device that allows us to come to terms with the infinite: we are asked to sit with it, and ease the body and mind into the peaceful acceptance that we are profoundly small. We reflect that we are in fact alive, a contemplation that only fully blossoms when we understand that this is for a limited time only. To contract from the busy-ness of business, opens us up to the contemplation of nothingness, the infinite and of death, and this improves the quality of life on Earth. Time out spent in contemplation of death (and other abstractions on the infinite) improves life.

Pre-programmed Free-Time

¡Ay, ay, ay! La muerte ya viene Y a toditos nos agarra, Hay que suerte tan chaparra, Pues creo que ni madre tiene. José Guadalupe Posada. Woodcut. 1913. Public Domain

Those lucky enough to enjoy small amounts of free time are compelled to do leisure activities that are productive for capitalism. Sports, arts and entertainment, hiking, gardening, etc are all encouraged as healthy activities, pre-programmed yet again for more productivity. “Free time” is further compartmentalized into total environments called “campuses” at tech companies and universities where amusements such as ping-pong tables and climbing walls are provided within the workspace in order to appear fun and anarchic, but this is still serious busy-ness. Adorno noticed this already in the 1960’s writing “…free time should in no way whatsoever suggest work, presumably so that one can work that much more effectively afterward. This is the reason for the idiocy of many leisure time activities.”15 Furthermore, boredom according to Adorno, does not happen when one has actual free time to choose among meaningful activities. Therefore, activities such as art, philosophy, poetry, and science, when not employed by the market, tinkering, and other “useless” activities (that may in fact offer an alternative focus to production and consumption) are condescendingly called “passions” and then systematically marginalized until they can be reincorporated as packaged commodities again.16

Theft of Time

Clock. Citizens Savings and Trust Company, Nashville, Tennessee, US. 1920. Public Domain Collection of National Museum of African American History and Culture.

In addition to the loss of our natural environment, time itself has been stolen by its just-in-time commodification. The essence of capitalism is logical abstraction, that is, of the symbolic complexity of value formed by social process, wealth, commodity and time. Marx defines labor time like this: “What exclusively determines the magnitude of the value of any article is therefore the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time socially necessary for its production.”17 This “natural” and generalized way of determining normative value is quasi-objective in that it tries to assign a value of life through time, of existence itself. Value produced through labor does not recognize any individual life, rather individuals are subsumed as abstractions of commodity. Marx calls this a moving contradiction “in that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary.”18 This condition, named the “social division of time” by Moishe Postone, highlights the absurdity of “necessary” labor vs “surplus” labor.19 Profit is made by exploiting the surplus, in other words, by exploiting people’s time, that is, their lives, by paying as little as possible in exchange. The exploitation of labor is a shocking theft of people’s time on earth, of people’s lives. This theft is rationalized by market-based systems of “value” (capital + variable + surplus = value). The theft of time is justified by the mantra that “profit” is reinvested back into the system, however, the existence of billionaires and their infinitely absurd purchases (a Tesla orbiting Mars? a Russian doll of yachts parked inside larger yachts?) is evidence that this theory was developed in the trash bin of “free market” think-tanks. Market-based systems of value obfuscate the main aspect of the formation of such value, that is, “surplus” aka profit, aka the theft of time.

Time Poverty

The problem is generalized when we realize that the problem of a life wasted to generate or pursue profit is equal among all classes. There are very few individuals who do not spend the majority of their lives working for capitalism.20 No one is winning when the unquestioned expectation is that everyone should toss their lives into the supposed never-ending growth of capital, and the accompanying liquidation of nature. Of course rich people enjoy extraordinary pleasures and could opt to enjoy free time, however, rich people also pride themselves in the overwork necessary to build and oversee power.

Everyone is hustling, rich and poor. Minimum-wage workers must work many jobs to survive. High power lawyers also put in 60-70 hours per week and take an expensive, stressful “vacation” somewhere tasteless once or twice a year. Everyone is solving workplace problems at all hours of the day and night. The absurdly rich hustle to amass even more wealth and power. Some people fight on behalf of this system, and others fight against it, everyone wasting the precious time of their lives.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg has spent most of her life, day in and day out, fighting for what is right, and while we thank her for giving up the majority of her time for the benefit of humanity, we mourn the loss of her freedom. Charles Koch on the other hand, spent all his time fighting for what is wrong (ironically in the name of “freedom” which of course means the “freedom of the tyrant to exploit”). We all suffer because Koch spent his free time towards normalizing the consumption of ours. Both lives, like most lives, are characterized by extreme time poverty. This situation has grown beyond Marx’s concepts of alienated versus unalienated labor, exploited vs exploiter. Capitalism developed into a hyper-complex system where everyone works primarily for the system itself, absorbing its needs, conforming to the mores, morals, norms, movements, and demand for self-sacrifice on behalf of the holy market. More extreme than medieval Europe, no one escapes its dogma: even the lives of those fighting against capitalism are conditioned by it.

We only have one life, no matter how much power we have. Koch fought to amass power and resources of mind-boggling potential, but he died just the same, leaving behind a dramatically worse world by all measurements, and it is very unlikely he found peace in his lifetime. The political malevolence he wrought was beyond biblical, contributing single-handedly to the destruction of Earth’s resources to an unimaginably huge, superhuman degree. Koch’s actions are difficult to fully comprehend, but a simple way to to explain his drive is the human need for control (the illusion of control) magnified exponentially. The human need for control is driven by fear of the unknown and uncontrollable, especially death. This explains the ongoing war against nature itself, where humanity does battle with nature to increase its own safety, predictability and comfort.  Despite the power and wealth Koch hoarded, Koch died just the same, a finite object disappearing into infinity again, leaving behind sky-darkening industrial works and labyrinthine political machineries. While Koch as an object has disappeared, the world suffers, and would have been much better, much healthier, had Koch never existed, or if he would have lived a humble life. Koch the great industrialist, the great libertarian, the great political strategist, instead railed against death, all but guaranteeing the leviathan rise of nature — climate change puts in jeopardy all life on earth. Nature inflicts collective punishment on all of us because of this man, and those like him. There are unfortunately dozens of Koch clones, and thousands of mini-Kochs, and countless millions of Koch apologists, how are they to be denied before Earth stamps humanity out?

Eternity Again

Shrine (Malmö), Mikko Kuorinki, 2013

During COVID-19, most workers are more afraid of the economic consequences of being out of work, and paying for hospital care, than the consequences of actually contracting the virus. When the threat of disease is less impressive than the threat of unemployment then capitalism is the more terrifying plague.

Funny or sad — or perhaps both — the best chance we have to prevent mass death is to retreat to our monk’s cells, with vows of isolation. Freedom does not come in the terms that have been packaged and sold by capitalism: true freedom is wrapped with time.

Boredom

Busy-ness as usual in the artworld has been disrupted, yet art itself emerges stronger. The artworld is a small part of a society made in the miserable image of neoliberal capitalism: art and artists are exploited as any other resource. This could change. This needs to change. But while artists struggle to survive in the psychopathic marketplace, art itself can and does rise out. One important and overlooked strategy among innumerable possibilities is to strengthen the power of “boredom.” When art is not compelled to fulfill the impetuous demands of the creative economy, it opens towards humanity instead, and defragments time. Observation of time can be decelerated and savored, allowing the perception of slow movement. Art like this is sometimes called “boring” but those who choose to engage are rewarded. The act of engagement, of course, is observation. This power is not to be underestimated, and artworks that communicate on this spectrum play with and celebrate one of the most precious resources: free time.

The morning after
my death
we will sit in cafés
but I will not
be there
I will not be

-Etel Adnan

Cosmic Background Radiation, (the oldest light in the universe) ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/T. Kitayama (Toho University, Japan)/ESA/Hubble & NASA 2017. Public Domain

This essay is available to download as a tabloid PDF.



Art After the Future

Jose Joaquin Figueroa. 04/28/2020 "An experiment" from Drawing Archive 2005-ongoing. Commissioned by MARCH.

Art After the Future

Dear X,

How are you doing today? How is your breathing? Have you checked the news yet? Is this what you expected from your year? Do you think we’ll still have elections by the end of it? What have you been cooking? Are you taking the appropriate number of supplements? Are you getting in your steps? Are we living in a failed state? Do you like my YSL knockoff mask my friend sent? What art is bringing you solace? Are you still consolable? Do you want to share a cocktail over FaceTime later? When are we anyway? Are we already too late?

With Care,
Andrea and James


On March 4th, 2020, the Venice Architecture Biennale sent a mass email announcing the postponement of its intended opening date until the fall. Followed by a second letter on May 18th, 2020 delaying the exhibition until 2021, these deferral letters are the perfect artifact of the art world we knew before. Inadvertently cataloguing the acute derangement of the contemporary art world, the letters trace a persistent belief that both art and the world will be able to return more or less unchanged. They assume an after in which the Collateral Event21 of COVID-19 will be footnoted as a temporary inconvenience to be conceptually recuperated and otherwise overcome. Titled “How Will We Live Together?,” the exhibition’s theme and it’s too-timely deferral arrived at a moment in which perhaps the more proper question is: Will We Live? 

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Read the letters with comments on this open document.

This early postponement was an opening salvo for an indefinite and unprecedented sequence of closures, cancellations, delays, transitions, translations, and digitizations of presence that have marked the art world since. In subsequent weeks, most of the world’s museums went dark and Zoom became the primary medium of social persistence. Artists stayed home, submitted applications for emergency relief funding, and filed for unemployment. They made zines, made sourdough, made performances for Twitch, publications for emails, paintings for eventual outside walls, masks for themselves and mass deployment. The museums scrambled to digitize everything, started reading groups, activated the archives, led remote walkthroughs for maybe no one, wrote us all emails about These Uncertain Times and This Moment; about how Now More Than Ever Art will help lead us through. Art school went on, sort of. Degrees and debt were extended. Learning, in theory, occurred.

Wait, why are we using past tense? When is our present? Where is our future?

We write from within an ongoing all-world event. We began this essay when Andrea arrived in St. Louis for a residency at The Luminary (where James is the director) just as the Venice Architecture Biennale was first postponed in early March 2020. As long-time collaborators, we met at the train station, exchanged hugs, and headed to an event in St. Louis where dozens of people crammed into a classroom, chanted Assata and ate from shared pizza boxes while organizing to shut down the city’s medium security prison. That night, we caught up over drinks and tacos at a busy bar, easy among strangers. We shared some early concerns about coronavirus, playing out worst case scenarios that felt like science fiction. Within a week, our easy proximity gave way to cloistered communications from a few blocks away as distancing procedures set the pace of our days. This text began as a conversation, a shared air, and then moved to mediated sessions from one iMessage to another, from one bunker to another—much in the way that it circulates now between all too many screens.

Within the acute body of the art world, it is increasingly clear that beyond and around the coronavirus the market collapse and global uncertainty threatens an unprecedented slowdown—the proper economic concept for our confused time. Many of the impacts of this pandemic are unthinkable: the sudden global isolation into quarantine, the sheer volume of lost lives, lost time, losses of all kinds. Yet, within the art field, this moment has revealed structural fault lines that have been present for years, underlying conditions that require a rethinking of its core assumptions of normalcy and what worlds to which we will be able to return. As we enter a period of uneven reopenings in the coming weeks and months, into what future are we entering, and which art worlds will persist?

***

In a much-circulated speculation, Americans for the Arts projected that perhaps one third of the museums that temporarily suspend operations during the coronavirus outbreak will never reopen. Another major funder reportedly stated that, given the widespread collapse likely coming within the field, they were waiting to see which institutions would survive before infusing more cash. In other words, they would be there to lend support, but only to the survivors on the other side of this extinction event. Regardless of any stimulus offered now or later, thousands of museums may not reopen. Maybe even more than predicted. Closures will be delayed six, twelve, twenty-four months, as admissions disappear, contributors divert funds to other relief efforts, hotel tax funds dry up, and corporate giving and state support recedes.

Many Cities, States and Universities in the United States and elsewhere are already entering austerity procedures, shutting down Arts and Culture Departments and shifting funds to make up for shortfalls in other areas like healthcare and unemployment.22 Austerity is increasingly becoming a long-lasting assumption. In a well-researched article in The Art Newspaper, the president of the International Council of Museums (Icom), Suay Aksoy, warned, “This crisis has put numerous cultural institutions around the world on the verge of economic collapse,” and reports are dire everywhere. The pandemic’s impact is uniquely cutting across many sectors, forcing shortfalls in earned income as attendance plummets and tourism comes to a complete stop, impacting philanthropy of all kinds, and initiating cuts on a State level in most nations.

Even with emergency stabilization, hundreds of already overleveraged and underfunded organizations are teetering at best, resisting their own impossibility. However, these closures will inevitably affect the most fragile first: un-institutions, artist-run and DIY spaces running on volunteer staff and side gigs, rural organizations, and QTPOC+ run spaces already barely able to survive. In other words, survival will be unevenly distributed, as always.

Those with enough cash reserves and donor connections will sustain, for a time, absorbing a disproportionate share of bailout funds while rarely reaching down to support those more fragile (in art as everywhere), but even reserves can only go so far, as is already becoming clear. The existence of endowments and government funding to sustain institutions in the midst of a crisis is a myth that disappears as soon as austerity is socially acceptable. The museum director retains their full salary as the hundreds below them are on hold with the unemployment helpline.23 The building project goes on (or gets torn down), even as there is no one to enter the galleries. The losses aren’t indexed by the virus, but by the ways the virus manifests the inequities and brutalities of the systems we’ve enabled to exist. In this reordering of resources, which continues to play out on a global scale, a rearticulation of demands for other art worlds is now more urgent than ever.

Amidst these dramatic impacts of an economic slowdown, what we are not seeing is a corresponding personal or institutional slowdown. Instead, many artists and organizations are in the throes of an exhausting pivot to overproduction, including a scramble to new platforms. The current explosion of online content in our field feels frantic. In an opportunistic rush to capture quarantined attention spans, platforms are flooded with new chances to log on, participate, passively consume, and, of course, purchase. Most institutions, which are extensions of our anxious selves, only know how to just keep going. The organizational machine keeps making its way.

The silence, the strike or stoppage too closely reveals oneself to be non-essential—for a budget, to be sure, but also often for a public. Art institutions are built on perpetual motion. The inertia of activity always assumes a next: the next exhibition is announced as the previous one opens, the grant deliverables are always eighteen months out. Now, the programs are rarely cancelled, just shifted online, or indefinitely deferred. These crises at the institutional level inevitably fall on artists, who are asked to show up and reorient their work for a changed world no matter how their bodies or minds are managing. The moving assembly line of deadlines and mechanics of alienated hyper-productivity are at odds with pause, silence—or illness.

From within this truly exceptional moment, we are asking: can we not? Within a rupture in which the overwhelming waves of illness, of stoppage, of death is palpable, can we embrace silence for a moment? The rush to produce refuses the space to reflect on possibilities. Can we step back and witness the vectors of force that keep us in perpetual motion: the pressures from above and outside to perform, overproduce, and appear essential?

Another art world is inevitable. Which art worlds will emerge is not.

Jose Joaquin Figueroa. 05/2020 "Room -don't take hugging for granted" from Drawing Archive 2005-ongoing. Commissioned by MARCH.

COVID-19 is a serial link in a concatenated crisis of which any number of viruses could stand in as some shadow line of no return. These conditions, though heightened into a frenzy as COVID-19 has quickly spread globally across borders and bodies and markets and imaginaries, are not new. From the crisis of capitalism to its resultant climate disaster, any assumptions about how life and art go on a fixed timeline with infinite futures under continuous inflation should have been questioned for decades. If anything, the rapid insertion of quarantines, deferrals, cancellations and generalized shutdowns into our previously assumed near futures helps clarify where we actually were—and still are.

In this suspended state, it is clear how precarious any idea of the future is, as well as how much of our work’s meaning is dependent on some future that finally justifies it. The speculative structures of contemporary art and its institutions are a pinnacle of forever futuring that take the most fragile of forms, gestures, and ephemeral marks and attempt to extend them for posterity. This future is embedded into our economy, our institutions and societies, our daily rituals and artistic practices. Institutionalization of future economic opportunities and risks through debt structures, like the student loan pyramid or the many forms of market production, competition, and scarcity, is fundamental to our orientation towards work and reward: a capitalist imaginary foundationally about the future and the possibility of growth.

The infrastructures of the art world require the world to continue as it has been, supported by extreme income inequality and aspirational spectacles for prestige patronage, subsidized by artists willing to take on unsustainable debt to enter graduate programs, and enabled by assumptions of freedom of motion and frictionless exchange. Nowhere is this more clear than in the art world’s dependence on overwhelming resource burns: infinite oil for sprinter van shipments and freights and flights, coal for the climate controlled crates and precise air control in the museum, relentless data kept in cold server warehouses, Frigidaires the size of five football fields chilling our iClouds out in the desert.

How long are we keeping things locked in bunkers and for whom? What are we willing to burn to preserve these conditions? Coal and oil, of course, but what about its after-effects? The Australian bush, old growth forests, our backyards, an eventual future? The assumption of permanence actually creates the conditions for collapse. It seems cruel to single out individual institutions and artworks as not worth saving, yet simple to assess the entire system as unsustainable. We are living in the tension between impossible decisions. Haunting the edges of the art world’s obsession with futurity is the reality that this perceived future no longer exists.

What, instead, is an art that embraces no future? How does the understanding of the creation, circulation, and care of artwork, and support of the individuals, collectives and institutions that make up the art world shift when conceptions of deferred worth are removed? Certainly, artists and the infrastructures of art would have to account for the carbon footprint for all of the making, shipping, preserving, and flying that has defined the contemporary art world. Endowments and cash reserves would be suddenly loosened to support the thousands of already suffering fired and furloughed workers. Adjustments for accessibilities for immuno-compromised and disabled participants and audiences finally accelerated in this time would be made permanent.24 Artistic platforms would embrace slowdowns and refusals as form, and differing abilities were assumed at all times and spaces prioritize many other forms of expression and experience.

Some of these particular pivots precede the COVID-19 pandemic, and many have been working towards this groundshift. Numerous artists, curators, and organizations have been orienting to a more holistic relationship with the environment, the land, and the tentative commons we already inhabit to embrace this changed horizon in which no future can be assumed.25

To work amidst and beyond the virus is to embrace an art with no future, an art of the now.

Art after the future remains an open question —and our time requires a response.

Jose Joaquin Figueroa. 05/13/2020 "Indexical me" from Drawing Archive 2005-ongoing. Commissioned by MARCH.

When I wake up, where should my body be?

“If I survive, it is only because my life is nothing without the life that exceeds me, that refers to some indexical you, without whom I cannot be.” (Judith Butler, Frames of War26)

Coronavirus, perhaps like good art or film or fiction, has done incredible work on the collective imagination, and is rewiring our conception of what is possible. The acceptance of this rapidly shifting world requires us to process a lot of grief. Amidst the grief, there seems to be a new openness to change, and a renewed urgency to remake our systems and relationships to better care for people and the ecosystems we inhabit. What are our infrastructures and institutions capable of caring for this grief while creating space for communal mourning and communal meaning? Can we take time to feel our losses? For now, every day, we are asking simple questions: When we wake up, where should our bodies be? What do we owe each other just for surviving? How are we caring for one another through our own fragility?

What COVID-19 has urgently exposed is our interconnectedness—the sinuous bonds that keep us alive and truly living. This text has many we’s. It also carries interrelated I’s and you’s without whom we cannot continue.27 Just as the virus quickly became borderless and our social bodies were suddenly seen to be porous, both illness and recovery are intimately intertwined—community and immunity returning to their joint root. As the art world emerges from this restless slowdown, can it begin to operate out of the mutuality necessary in this moment?

Art after the future starts to see the world as it is: a fragile, contingent ecosystem in which we are never singular. This un-futured art understands that one’s survival is not in spite of another but with one another. How artists and arts organizations are reorienting now offers some grasp on what will be needed not just now, but what will be needed next. Care collectives, rent strikes, and coalitions of all kinds will be required, as well as an insistence on structural shifts for how work is funded, circulated and shared. The mutual aid and direct support for artists and vulnerable organizations arising now will need to be normalized by grantors, foundations, and the public as immanent life is prioritized. As the social body remains ill and unworkable, artists will need to embrace inoperability. Not-working for once. What work does emerge out of this time will need to not just be conceptually responsive, but materially and structurally responsive to a changed world.

After the reserves and emergency funds are gone, art institutions will need to embrace nestings within one another, and other collective forms of support such as shared infrastructure, space, and staff. Any ethical nonprofit attempting to sustain through this time will need to merge and morph into unfamiliar forms both within and beyond art, perhaps adapting strategies from public spaces like libraries to provide more services and shelter, absorbing more fragile organizations and artistic practices within one another, or abandoning their buildings in favor of grafted publics and partnerships. These recombinations may be necessary practically as funding dissipates, but also represent a moral position of taking up less space in the world: less physical space, fewer resources, reduced carbon consumption, but also making way for other voices to emerge as old forms necessarily change.

Within the unavoidable closures to come (and those already here) how will we embrace ethical endings that seed other futures through the redistribution of not just money, but space, equipment and expertise? Who are the institutional death doulas ready to guide graceful and inevitable exits, to preserve these fragile histories?28 As we take a step (and then the next), as we allocate our time, attention, stimulus checks, ourselves to the tasks on their way we must also ask: What forms of slowness or non-functioning should we preserve from this time? What do we learn from our own sudden emptiness? Inertness? Alertness to our limits? What institutions are worth supporting? What practices are worth preserving? What work is worth making?

We are loosened from time right now in the Great Deferral of 2020. As artists and arts institutions, we can rush in to fill the silence and occupy the time as we are trained to do from decades of over-production. Or, we can let some candles gutter, the fluorescents flicker, and go out. We can let artworks have life cycles, bodied like we are. We can let institutions age. We can take care of the lives they lead, serve as nurses in their illness, as caretakers in a plague. We can make work out of what is at hand. We can say no when our bodies need to. We can say sorry to the earth and each other. We can make space for loss and grief. We can continue to learn from contingency, fragility, slowness and impermanence. We don’t assume a future, but still we support one another today, and the next day, and the next, knowing that our survival is connected in a commons we already inhabit. This is how we will continue to live—together.


MARCH: a journal of art & strategy

We are proud to announce the outlines of our new platform MARCH, even as it arrives at an unprecedented moment.

As a “journal of art and strategy,” our mark and motion is to consider art and art criticism’s capacity to intervene in the world. MARCH is meant as a durational platform with singular purpose: to gather urgent thinking and writing with ideas, actions and forms that embody how we can better be together.

MARCH embraces publishing as an act of protest with which to
address the critical social and political issues of our time.

We have anticipated this announcement for over a year since sharing the closure of our previous project, Temporary Art Review, in March of 2019. However, we could not have foreseen the ways in which the world would encircle this moment with a global crisis that underscores the failures of our capacity to care, as well as the collectivities that are – and have been – forming in the cracks. What we did know is that the world had changed dramatically since we founded our previous publication back in 2011, and that the impending changes moving forward would require a new and extended form, balancing the concerns of the local and regional with those on a decidedly global level.

During this uncertain moment, and the ruptures it is making visible across a spectrum of spheres, our statement drafted months ago proposing that “MARCH emerges at a moment of deepening institutional crisis and is intent on advancing new forms of publication, critique and public action,” is only more true. This is not a manifesto in a moment of crisis, but an opening to a much longer procession.

We are con-temporary, with and of our time – an archive of the present and proposition for a future in which our ideas, actions and form embody this insurrection.

As our name’s multiple meanings imply, we are both noun and verb; idea and movement; located yet open; a borderland between territories in which new possibilities take root. MARCH will act as a gathering place for expansive thinking towards other art worlds, mapping global perspectives, and offering a site for deep and embodied institutional thinking. You may read more information on our introductory website and follow us on instagram, facebook and twitter.

As we announce this project publicly, MARCH is now not just ours, but yours. We invite your thinking and support as we build this platform as a ‘collective research group’ and begin responding to current global events as they unfold, as we can and in whatever forms are available to us. Yet, more urgently, in this moment we resist virality and aim to build deeper roots and quietly stitch together solidarities. In its many tendrils, MARCH is an invitation and a speculation: What is needed now? What is needed next? Who are we, collectively, and what will we make – in the days, months, and years to come?

Sarrita Hunn and James McAnally
Founders and Editors, MARCH: a journal of art & strategy