Adventures in Capitalism 

John Kelsey

First published in 'Carey Young, Incorporated', published by Film & Video Umbrella, London, 2002

While art has no monopoly on creativity, it remains our ‘change agent’ par excellence, prized less for the objects or images it produces than for the flexibility of its processes, its playfulness, and its capacity to conjure up difference where everything is the same. But what if art chose to stop being different, or attempted to experience sameness in a different way? This is how we start to imagine an art that negotiates away the last traces of its otherness in order to become imperceptible and integrate itself all the more insidiously into the operations of the economy at large. And as it negotiates, as it starts to work and lose itself all at the same time, it is suddenly picking up speed, opening up new subjective territories we’ve never seen before, and contaminating all the other processes it engages.

When we speak into a cell phone, log on to the internet, or walk into a corporate brainstorming session, we enter into a kind of negotiation which puts our very being at stake. We discover a new acrobatics of presence, a metaphysical on/off-ness. We learn to make ourselves everywhere and nowhere at once, becoming adaptive, fluid, intuitive, risky, deterritorialized — everything an artist shares with every business in an information-based economy that works by constantly overcoming its own limits.  These are our new skills and maybe the symptoms of a new psychosis — in any case, they are the things we use to navigate the permanent flow of money, information and bodies we call global capitalism. It is an adventure logged in real-time — in memos, emails, caller ID interfaces, but also on credit card receipts, by surveillance cameras, in corporate annual reports, databases and marketing studies. Scattered along a chain of communicating devices, this adventure discovers no outside, only different degrees of mobility or immobility on the endless inside. From now on, it is a question of tactical engagements with an occupied territory, as open as it is controlled, where our presence is determined as much by how we enter the processes which identify us as productive individuals as by our capacity to either overload or short-circuit these at the right moment. So we produce brand identities, testing the marketplace of ideas with provisional or virtual selves, replacing our face with a complex of interfaces or with a blank, company face. Thinking outside the box is also a question of our ability to abandon our position at a moment’s notice.

Negotiation heightens our awareness of how circulation and control work together. Before we can be controlled, or control something else, we have to flow. We have to flow in order to pass through all the devices - linguistic as well as technological - that capital installs across its networks in order to manage its own chaos and make it profitable. Devices identify us, count us, track our movements, and gauge our productivity or lack of. They are like subway turn-styles - we pass through them at rush hour. This is how everything that moves and lives is put to work, every step of the way.  Imagine an artist who locates her work precisely there where the global citizen is most put to work anyway. In the turnstile, in the training seminar, within the very processes that produce standardized, normative subjectivity, integrated go-getters, all the most advanced productivity-producing devices. Going for it right there.

Can we now start to imagine an art stripped bare, that casts off all the qualities - rebelliousness, outsider chic, critical distance, romantic genius, transgressive vulgarity etc -  that have always allowed it to continue to show up as art?  An art without qualities, seeking to integrate itself more effectively within the space-time of the global city it inhabits.  This would be a supremely devious art that becomes in every way possible the thing that most wants to snatch its identity and put it to work, an art that makes itself happen on the verge of disappearance.  But unlike the traditional conceptual practices it references, and whose tactics have already been absorbed by advertising and mass media, this upgraded version follows its immateriality all the way to the limit, to the point where it can no longer be distinguished from business, the old enemy it now doubles in turn. Business and culture: the uncanny experience of two processes disappearing into each other, exchanging places. And at the crossroads of this merger, the subject abandons fixed identity in the very act of self-actualization.

When drowning, become a diver.  Becoming-corporate in this way is to actively produce a zone where the processes of art and business lose their distinction. It is a zone of undecideability where what is business is always already the possibility of art and vice versa, where neither of these categories is ever completely present or absent (true or false), and where the negotiation between them is exhibited as such. And the game is to keep this space of negotiation - where lateral or transversal connections are provoked - shifting and intense, to make the work happen in this middle where things pick up speed. When there is no more escape from the marketplace, no more outside, subjectivity must continuously reinvent itself through negotiation and a proliferation of interfaces, emerging at the horizon of multiple, heterogeneous processes - economic, institutional, technological - where it can be exposed to the creative potentials that traverse them all. Always keeping an eye open to the unforeseeable, mutant territories this overlap might engender. Negotiation itself is foregrounded as a creative zone — creative precisely to the degree that whatever enters into it is always undecideable and always at risk.

We enter the corporate world as a kind of giant, walk-in ready-made. And to preserve our mobility there, on the inside, we will need to invent a new, rhythmic presence, an on/off music. Not only must we flow through the devices, we must enter them with an agile undecideability. So it becomes a game of taking and losing advantage. A tactical taking and losing of positions and identities. By repeating or doubling the (normative, controlling) processes that try to make us repeat ourselves, we make them repeat differently.  The difference is that we are no longer powerless before them.  We have made them follow us into this zone of negotiation where everything that enters enters at its own risk.

What we see is this pin-striped body performing its own neutralization by Empire, as deep into the trap as it could go. Passing through the lobby of a glass office tower, under broad daylight and security cameras, training manual in hand, it couldn’t be more exposed. It has taken on the words, the clothes, the gestures.  And this is how it constantly escapes: by showing up. She passes, she gains access, she mingles, she negotiates in all of these ways, an almost imperceptible art emerges, an art armed with the leading-edge of capitalist schizophrenia.

© Copyright John Kelsey, 2001