Museum of Non-Participation
Institutions by Artists
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  • We would like to start by thank people we have been speaking to ahead of this talk including Amy from Vivo, China Mieville, Haema from SAVAC and the Precarious Workers Brigade.

    Institutions by Artists:

    Conferences on these sorts of topics tend to combine possibilities, intentions, and dreaded outcomes, sometimes in one sentence. For those of you engaged with future analysis there's a feedback loop between the Said, Said, Unsaid, Sayable, both bet, aspiration and warning. For those of us presenting our Institutions as artwork or artwork as Institution, the conference has named the imagined slim space of possibility between the state and the market. And for those addressing our local contexts, there are brutal truths here which are so very visible where we live in London, London, is a post Thatcherite, post conceptual, neoliberal testing ground, we cannot even claim that our most influential Art hero was a "former" Marxist. So today we have chosen not to talk you through a history of our recent art practice. Instead we stand here and talk to you as cultural workers from inside the Museum of non Participation, anguished optimists who are also implicated, instead what we want to talk about are a set of conditions that we have been experiencing, situations we would like to see changed, at least one of which is a demand.


    So Art, what do we want from it? The question what is Art we tend to duck. What do we want from it? Many things. For many people Art is still circulating as an expression of something otherwise inexpressible. An ineffability, by which you don't at all have to be a person of faith to have your breath taken away, .... For us though in London, we tend to experience Art as a market driven by distortion of real estate, unregulated, unaccountable, unelected. Yes, there are many admirable artworks made within the market, and conversely there've always been artists playing with form, etcetera. But two things remain key.

    i) The culturally dominant strains of Art commerce and even Art education tend to separate Art from the people.

    ii) The question remains, what is really at stake .... because we believe that today it is not quite business as usual....

  • Now, of course there are contexts in which particular artworks become politically important, and a few artists exhibit astonishing bravery in the face of oppression. For the most part we're not talking about that. Instead can we admit something to ourselves? that the majority of art - which, yes, we all do and should love - is at best only moderately important?. That our strenuous declarations about subversive artworks are, mostly, kind of cute in the wider scheme of things? We are not saying that anyone can write the Aesthetics of Resistance or paint Guernica, but the model of the artist elite as an Elect is at best wrong, at worst, a bit patronising to everyone else. And it is these hierarchies that we are also addressing with this phrase 'non participation'. Contemporary Art sure, but Contemporary with what? ... (continued next page)

    Documentation of this talk starts 34minutes into this video....

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  • Non participation

    One aspect of Non Participation is to acknowledge that it is a life condition in which we are all embedded. It is both conscious and unconsciously exercised in each of our lives. Internationally it exists in the excess of one's own society often gained at the expense of another's nameless plight elsewhere. Locally it is recognisable when, for example, a person encounters an issue (or even a social practice) that is agreed is necessary or even a necessity, and in that simultaneous moment ignore it or reject it. How can we understand the place of the Non and more importantly how can we understand the Non as both a noun and a verb - a performative utterance of folded contested spaces. We feel this is much more complicated than just apathy. It needs processes of unlearning, de-schooling, the decolonisation of knowledge and an awareness of the forcible frames that direct what can be seen, read, said and heard. This is why we do not view non participation as a binary negation, it is not the in between rather it is a threshold - a political plastic - that expands and contracts, is unstable and malleable. Instead we frame the non as a lack of connections, as well as new connections to be made between power and its interests that might otherwise stay unseen. Of course, non participation is also set in relation to the museum / institution in order to speak about it not just as a condition, but also as a structure including a series of government and corporate agendas filtered through Art or Art funding. Museums already interrelate exclusion, social critique and (post) colonisation, and the museum of non participation in its title refers to an embedded institutional critique, it is released from being an actual museum, and with its ability to travel as a place, a site, a slogan, a banner, a performance, a newspaper, a film, an intervention, an occupation, also allows for this museum to 'act'. Thus each artwork, event, or constituency of the Museum of non Participation is agent. It acts, is re-enacted. It becomes animated beyond the authors intentionally, more so because neither artist nor the Museum itself possesses sole authorship. The Museum of Non Participation assembles multiplicity and a multiplicity of readings, a multiplicity of authors, a multiplicity of voices that inhabit a common stage through the place of the Non.

  • "The conflict over the lack of a common stage" ... a conflict revealed "When those who are denied the right to be counted as speaking beings make themselves of some account" is from a text Police and Wrong from Disagreement, Ranciere. This concept of the common stage and the lack of a common stage is a useful concept in communicating how we are employing the non in relation to participation. We advocate the writings of Judith Butler such as Frames of war in which she interrogates images of Abu Ghraib ... As she says ... "Although restriction is necessary for focus, and there is no seeing without selection, the restrictions we are asked to live with impose constraints on what can be heard, read, seen, felt and known and so works to undermine a sensate understanding of war. This not seeing in the midst of seeing, this not seeing that is the condition of seeing, became the visual norm, a norm that has been a national norm.

    We view this condition of not seeing within the midst of seeing as a key aspect of non participation, This is more than a process of exclusion as Butler says, learning to see the frame that blinds us is no easy matter. In our practice we also link this through to processes of visioning which are particularly potent obviously in media (how we consume images, the images we carry in our minds, how certain types of knowledge come to appear more meaningful than others) and we also find these issues often clearly visible in anthropology, a practice steeped in the visioning of others. In particular we have been interrogating a principle put forward by the anthropologist Anna Grimshaw: that what we see is inseparable from how we see. This how we see is not just a process of vision, visioning, collecting or objectifying, it is also a process of the politics of cultural and linguistic translation. It is important to us that the term Museum of non Participation does not translate easily into Urdu, the national language of Pakistan which is where the Museum of non Participation was first conceived. The term Museum itself is a western imported word, whilst the exhaustive discourse on art and participation policies and practices is also not carried across the translation. The result of our working through vernacular translations rests upon the phrase L'ata Luki ka Ajaib Ghar which re-translates from Urdu back into english as The House of the Unexpected.

    So the Museum of non Participation aligns itself with the legacy of the dematerialized art object working with systems of distribution, strategies of intervention, overlapping in various registers traversing urban geographies and media contexts appropriating text as image, image as text, text as action. We do not completely disavow the object of art but we are driven to dislodge its centralising position within the field of art, our concerns are taken up by the equivalencing of the re-materilaisation of social relations, a nexus of objects and sets of social affinities, ... collections and collectivitity. For us this is urgent. We strongly believe that a major success of a generation of civil rights movements of the 60's ... that speaking truth to power will elicit change ... this is no longer enough in the face of the neoliberal project, truth is not enough of a weapon to force change, when our very language, imagination and bodies are colonized, and as the K-Punk blogger and theorist Mark Fischer eloquently advocates, It is easier to imagine the end of the world, than the end of capitalism. In truth Karen and I have not worked in North America since Bush and Blair invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and we never speak for places we have not stood ourselves for long durations. But we phrase our position in London as both a struggle to speak and an attempt to teach languages of resistance. This short extract is from a work called Hold Your Ground and it was contextually made for a public space in Canary Wharf tube Station, at the heart the UKs banking Industry. The political conditions of inserting a work of art into a public space that calls out in solidarity for the workers to assemble and strike, at a time when the corporation of Canary Wharf enforced an indefinite injunction against protest following their fears that the Occupy London movement would target the most symbolically powerful site of banking de-regulation and financial crisis in the UK.


    [KAREN Speaks fro the position of the audience the demands]

    So where do we place our bodies, where to stand, who to stand with, who to stand against, what do we want, how to work?

    The Museum of non Participation desires museums that Act. Thus each artwork, event, or constituency of the Museum of non Participation (including this talk) is an ACT, though we frequently (abstr)act this term, act, act(s), act(ion), act(ivist), act(uality), speech(act)

    We want to develop a differentiated approach to (self-)organising that neither consists in organising others nor in just reflecting on ourselves. Many of the ways we work in the Museum of non Participation reflect this want, through the initiation of any project any set of concerns a temporary constituency forms around individual projects, this notion of community is not a predetermined desire of us the artists to work with identified groups but through the process and development of each project a community forms for example after a year working with migrant and non migrant people meeting weekly to practice Theatre of the Oppressed our group has collectivised, our expert role as artists has dissolved and the group announced its new name and vision: Implicated Theatre. Implicated Theatre is an experimental performance workshop exploring the relationships between political speech and action, the self and the collective, voice and silence.

    To paraphrase a comment describing the workshops, the experience of collectivity defines a space from which to speak in different languages with no subtitles in this situation, collectivity is not necessarily defined by what a group of people might have in common, but describes a coming together to form alliances through difference. Recently, Implicated Theatre has collaborated with the Anti-raids Campaign and the Latin American Workers Association to develop theatre so that individuals know their rights and possibilities for solidarity in situations of raids and detention.

  • We want to practice solidarity, not in a rhetorical perjoritive sense but to ask the difficult question of what is at stake, what does one have to risk to give up in order to struggle together?

    We desire to return objects to their original etymolgy, the word object comes from the Latin Obicere meaning to present, oppose, cast or throw in the way of, to bring forward in opposition. Next April our exhibition at the Walker Arts Centre will be titled the Museum of non Participation The New Deal. for two reasons. Firstly it refers to both the history of Roosevelts Works Projects Administration, Relief, Recovery, and Reform. That was, Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system from which the Walker grew from its origin as a community centre. Secondly it refers to a work we are making for the Walker based on four UN Resolutions on Iraq dated 1990(x2), one 2002 and 2003. From these legal documents we track the actual consequences that resulted from the occupation, a process of self education on the scale, desolation and vast level of corruption engaged by the author, authorities of this sociocide, the US and UK. In particular we will focus on Bremers 100 orders, an unfettered vision of neo-conservative free market principles. This is the contemporary New Deal, private security firms with full immunity from Iraqs laws, no unions, privatization of Iraqs 200 state-owned enterprises, 100% foreign ownership of Iraqi businesses; no preferences for local over foreign businesses; unrestricted, tax-free remittance of all profits and other funds; and 40-year ownership licenses. A contemporary vision of US imperial neocolonial economy.

    Alongside the Museum of non Participation, we also founded the artists run space in East London which supports critical theory, radical pedagogy and production around marginal and political film practices. One of our core values at is that a subsidized membership of 10 a month, provides unlimited access to all the resources, we view one of the key pressure points in the UK is the freedom to produce one's work without having to first articulate the final product in order to receive funding - we value the precarious status of a work of art as unproductive labour, risk, process, research, and the potential for failure. During the recent re-structuring of the arts through the contested defunding of the Welfare State, all National cultural organisations large and small were pitted against each other competing for a smaller pot of money. Our reply during the arts council meetings was that we would do well to stand together with the nurses, teachers, students and pensioners. The Arts council officer replied that "we are not militants" and the arts community went with the campaign "Cut us Don't kill us".

  • So who do we stand with, to name just a few:
    Mosireen in Cairo
    Vasl artists collective in Karachi
    The Precarious Workers Brigade
    The Centre for Possible Studies
    Liberate Tate
    Artists against Extradition
    Talha Hasan

    We demand
    De-corporatisation of the Arts Council.

    EQUAL PAY: no more free labour; guaranteed income for all

    DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS: cut unelected, unaccountable and unmandated leaders

    THE COMMONS: shared ownership of space, ideas, and resources

    We desire
    The art of the future is performing high ethics

    The end of cultural institutions collaborating with structurally violent corporate organizations like BP in the UK or GoldCorp here in Vancouver

    How can we make our withdrawal visible, our non participation active and critical?