The Artist is Present (or Do you believe in Ghosts)
Institutional Capture: How We Do It
My father was a screw. He started with seemingly impossible ideals of social change in the Joh era and ended a very cynical, tough as nails, one-punch man. Thirty plus years later in 2014, we find ourselves in a ‘social turn’ of contemporary art, where art is trending towards activism and our conservative governments are selling/leasing off public interests to private concerns. A private company working for profit could soon operate the jail my father worked in. I find myself unable to share my father’s righteous belief in the Law when the Law and (other Institutions like Art Institutions) are increasingly serving private interests and the accumulation of value. Working towards the contrary, other artists and I produce our art within the context of this ‘social turn’ to disseminate ‘the power over’ hegemony into ‘the power with’ community. Without the technocratic skills of hacking, I wish to interrupt the surveillance technology with community concentration. In doing so I ask Art to take a look at itself: what does activism from within the Institution look like, what does it hope to achieve and how can it do so without serving private interests.
Artists in the 2014 Sydney Biennale did the seemingly impossible task of removing a private sector investor, Transfield, due to its parallel management of Refugee Detention Centres. The ‘power over’ which funded the Biennale as well as the inhumane detention of asylum seeking refugees, suddenly became a ‘power with’ as artists worked together, writing letters and boycotting the Biennale finally resulting in a seemingly impossible de-accumulation/divestment of value for the institution of the Sydney Biennale. ‘The Artist is Present’ examines this ‘power with’ as I sit with other artists of the OtherFilm Festival in a state of intense concentration. This exercise is designed to communicate our ‘power with’ each other, in respect to the ‘power over’ structure of the Jail’s architecture, the ‘power over’ status of government Arts funding and the ‘power to’ the artist-run organisation, OtherFilm Festival.
In addition to the political elite, there now exists a technical elite – a technocracy, people with skills relating to science and technology. One visit to San Francisco would show you how this new form of elite is exercising their ‘power over’ fringe communities. I reject the idea of elitism by inviting anyone to join me in a psychic concentration exercise. Anyone who can sit and stare, has the seemingly impossible ability to cause a post-recording disturbance or digital artefact. I have previously tested a group’s ability to manifest a psychic interference in technology and ‘The Artist is Present’ continues this investigation further.
‘The Artist is Present’ asks the artist to look at another artist within the Institution. Not only is it a state of ‘us,’ the artists and ‘them,’ the institution, we are also the ‘us’ inside ‘them.’ So what does activism within the Institution look like? I formerly thought creating post-object art was the ideal answer to the commodification of art, however I find it increasingly creeping into the Art Institution as commodity and entertainment. So therefore, I present a somewhat disturbed reflection of perfomer extraordinaire Marina Abramovic’s 2010 ‘The Artist is Present’ performance at MOMA. Gone are the stalwarts of our culture commodity; gone are one of the wealthiest Art Institutions in the world and the hyper-staging of the artist as celebrity – replaced with artist-run organisations and the staging of the artist in jail – ever-present is the state of intense mental and physical concentration between two bodies . In addition to the former changes, the crazy murmurs of a psychic ‘power with’ energy, recontextualises Abramovic’s performance and certainly alludes to the difference of a ‘psycho sub-tropic’ environment.
Before the Joh-era, my father also exercised his ideals in his work in indigenous remote communities but it was his stint as a screw that left him cynical. He could not find social change working within the confines of a large monolithic institution. I believe the key to social change in large institutions is mobilising the ‘power with.’ Artists have shown their ‘power with’ each other circumscribes the power of a large institution whilst even detracting dollar value from said institution. My work aims to continue keeping art socialised within art communities in order to enable the ‘power with’ to become visible between artists, rather than promoting artists as celebrity, elite, and commodities. We are on our way to capturing institutions.
 Anne Marsh. Performance Ritual Document (Melbourne: MacMillan, 2014), 20.
 Alana Lentin and Javed de Costa “Sydney Biennale boycott victory shows divestment works” The Guardian March 11, 2014.http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/11/sydney-biennale-boycott-victory-shows-that-divestment-works
 ‘Expressions of Power’ Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. Accessed Nov 24, 2014 http://www.powercube.net/other-forms-of-power/expressions-of-power/
 Andrew Umbel “San Francisco’s guerilla protest at Google buses swells to Revolt” The Observer January 26, 2014http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/25/google-bus-protest-swells-to-revolt-san-francisco
 Nicola Morton ‘The Spider in the Machine’ Freerange Vol.8 (2014: 56-64)
 Reilley Bishop-Stall and Natalie Zayne Bussey “Putting the “Cult” Back in Culture: Power and Performance in Marina Abramovic’s New World Order”Passengerart June 28, 2013 http://passengerart.com/2013/06/28/putting-the-cult-back-in-culture-marina-abramovics-new-world-order/