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This text emerged specifically through reflection on Copenhagen based art collective Diakron and their project Primer. The following pages can be read as a preamble to a developing research on the different opportunities and politics of speaking to capital.

Art and business. Both come in many flavours and intersect at different points along their respective axes. The conjuncture can be one of benevolence, critique, animosity, tolerance or opportunism. Taking position in this metric means dealing with an arbitrary set of principles and anomalies to those principles, determined by aspiration (exercising ideals), practicality (necessity of income) and image (social recognition) - certainly from the perspective of an individual artist, for whom the nexus of art and business is often one of presumptions (all business is commercial but some business is more commercial than others) and strategy (so how do I survive in an artistic way). The issue here is not fund + biennale + teaching position versus sales + art fair + marketing, nor the critical deconstruction of the moral economy of art. The point is to formulate a mission that understands the essential differences between business and art as much as it understands that the all-encompassing nature of systemic conditions demands rethinking this chart in a way that synthesises the potentiality of both, rather than sorting out an art proper. As such, perhaps to address capital is to speak to capital and rethink audience.

In general, by audience we mean a quantity of visitors with subjective experiences and ideally a work of art gathers a critical mass or generates a diverse multitude that can act as a tipping point for some form of change. Such is the engagement of many an artistic strategy and the predicate of many a contract between artwork and audience. The realization of such prospect, however, often breaks down into the maximization of experience related to the event - the exhibition, community project or performance - and is expressed in visitor numbers and directly related units of effect; a poetic idealism audited by modernist administration. Taking into account the scale and complexity of the manifold simultaneous forces that are disrupting global registers, I would argue that it is necessary to develop a strategy that allows for intervention beyond this transient contract.

In the vernacular of the art world ‘speaking to capital’ is likely to be framed in a system of binaries, as either patronage or activism. Institutions unable to cover their costs from funding alone, ‘speak to capital’ for sponsorships or patronage. Critical discourse on capitalism ‘speaks to capital’ as activism. Such a system of binaries in the front end allows and enables the back end of the art world to be murky. The obvious example is the biennale and its critical rhetoric on capitalism while simultaneously reproducing the object of critique through its financial dependence on corporations (all the while facilitating gentrification, exclusivity and ambiguous labour conditions). What I mean by ‘speaking to capital’ is neither patronage, nor activism, nor the murky land between the two. It is meant as speaking to a different audience, an audience situated in the midst of the disruptive forces of capital and within the position to influence those forces: the CEO. To be certain, this is but one of several suggestions of ‘speaking to capital’, all of which hold opportunities and possibilities to be mapped and instantiated as a politics.

Regardless of individual character, the function of chief executive officer signifies the primary concentration of power in an economic, social or technological site. In that capacity, the gravitational agency of the CEO is apparent to many external parties that wish to catalyse their objectives. To suggest an artist-as-lobbyist, however, would amount to little other than addressing specific concerns and instrumentalize the company as leverage to get things done. Certainly there are thinkable scenarios that would benefit from short-term action and direct implementation, however, to envision something that exceeds the temporality and specificity of such a demand implies thinking in terms of a sustainable and transformative relation. That is, an artist-CEO relationship aimed at creating an understanding of the impact of the company and the complexity of it.

Insofar we can distinguish a marginal tradition of the artist-in-consultance [1], found for instance in the work of the Artist Placement Group, LACMA’s Art and Technology Program and the Ocean Earth Development Corporation, then the above mentioned project Primer, by art collective Diakron stands out from these historic examples, particularly because it operates neither as adviser, nor from the objective of art production. Primer is embedded conceptually and integrated physically into the site of biotech company Aquaporin by means of a working station and by using the space to organize exhibitions. More than finding thematic overlaps or reconceptualising the work of the company in metaphorical ways, the aim of the collaboration is to evolve into a sort of in-house artistic research department.

If we were to speculate on what such collaboration could come to imply, it is that, to put it bluntly, the question of audience is turned into a reconsideration of aims. From an audience keen on being affirmed in their collective concerns, to an audience in proximity to specific switches, traditionally mistrusted for that reason. The object of this mistrust is power; its subjects are business and corporations. For the majority of ‘critical’ actors in the art world whose practice is informed by and premised upon the explication of power relations, we could say that their position is defined in juxtaposition to power. Meaning that, conversely, business and corporations by nature of what they represent, are primarily indexed as the negative of art. The concern here is not to doubt the validity of this mistrust – the facts are often self-evident, but to prevent it from becoming a truism that merely serves to justify a withdrawal into our own echo chambers. Mistrust is different from criticality. One thing that the artist has learnt throughout history is its repeated identification as the weak actor amidst a surrounding of strong actors. If churches, collectors, directors and lately gallery owners and curators are anything but reciprocal neutral interlocutors to the artist, then weakness becomes a trope to be appropriated and mistrust a modality of insurrection. By all means this has resulted in respected artworks, from diacritics of alterity to institutional critique, but often also artworks that bounce off against their seal of autonomy, that depend on external legitimization, or that shatter into bits after disclaiming their indeterminacy. In contrast, criticality is a mode of informed participation that looks beyond the hermetic signifiers that position the artist and its audience. At the same time, such a shift of audience implies a move away from an art that primarily represents or reflects the world, towards an art that can contribute to forms of progress.

Just as the artworld is a prism of diverging ethics, so CEOs and their businesses come with manifold intentions. In other words, rechanneling our focus to the CEO as a new audience would be little other than yet another fashion of (neo- / post- / trans-) artistic nonconformity if it were to lack a proper mapping of the conditions, parameters and dexterities that delicately scaffold the relationship. To imagine some form of tandem of art and business is close to an invocation of the creative industries. So how to distinguish and evaluate types of business and their potentialities and impact? How to prioritize progress over innovation in a field where profit is norm? And as much as a singular relationship (artist-CEO in stead of artist-crowd) might gain in efficacy, it risks becoming vulnerable and dependent too. So how to turn this centralized relationship into something of a protocol, transmittable and unhinged from a single CEO and its character? If one thing is clear, it is that the proposition of this short essay can easily become a slippery one and that these questions demand further theorization and practical research.

[1] A term I borrow from Elvia Wilk, from her article ‘The Artist The Artist-in-Consultance: Welcome to the New Management’. e-flux Journal June 2016.

On Speaking to Capital: Understanding the Concerns and Motivations of a CEO in Opening Up to Art Differently (2016)
Capital is the only real subject, for it has the power to change life
– joke by Karl Marx