“I am not interested in group therapy as performance, but I am still interested in performance. […] Maybe fuck it.”
—Yvonne Rainer, catalog Information (1970) exhibition
“The content of my work is the strategy employed to insure that there is no content other than the strategy.”
—Keith Arnatt, catalog Information (1970) exhibition
In the virtual exhibition Explore, Experience, Enjoy (2013-2015) a wall text fleetingly appears onscreen. It reads as follows:
“The beginning of the 21st century saw the long night of the museums unfold throughout the world. These were the sleepless nights of the unemployed and the intermittent, populated by images of art and culture as a common good to save the depressed economies of the so-called developed world. Culture was made to perform in the speculative space between intellectual property, ideals of public access, and emancipated creativity.”
This two-channel video installation was made in 2013 as a response to the financial crisis that struck Portugal and motivated my emigration to the United States. End User focuses on what was only implicit in the original exhibition in which the piece was included, Environments, at e-flux in New York in 2013, co-authored with Pedro Neves Marques. At the time, Explore, Experience, Enjoy was a dispatch of sorts from what I perceived to be the eye of the storm, the center to the economic crisis whose shrapnel, toxic assets, and debt wreaked havoc as they fell back home in Lisbon. And as unexpectedly as the fall of the Berlin Wall must have been to my parents’ generation, the end of the European Union as we had known it growing up was discussed everywhere, from newspapers to cashiers at the local supermarket alike—something that since 2012 I follow from the remove of the other side of the Atlantic.
Returning six years later to this video means to unfold some of its elements both in respect to the time that has since passed and what its presentation in Lisbon means. Environments focused, through a few historic references, on the 1970s and the beginning of the neoliberal and financial turn. Despite representing the birth of environmentalism and questioning the limits of resource extraction, this period also helped form the cohesive bond of data, statistics, and economic forecasting that will most likely outlive, in the form of technocracy, the carbon economies that still subsist in our day. Explore, Experience, Enjoy looks obliquely the rise of Conceptual Art as parallel history to this neoliberal and financial turn. The virtual exhibition appropriates the floorplan of the seminal exhibition Information (1970), while artworks of the original exhibition are swapped by CGI objects developed in collaboration with Lisbon-based animator João Cáceres Costa.
Conceptual Art, in its lightweight portability, as noted by MoMA curator Kynaston McShine in the exhibition catalog, promised a circulation of the art object then only reserved to mail art. It also promised a global art world—it is noteworthy how the exhibition showcased many Latin American conceptual artists. Global flows of information have since become central to our contemporary world, with art increasingly turned into an asset like any other commodity, traveling ever more smoothly than the humans who make it and those for whom it is made. End User expands the link between an exhibition like Information and how art circulates today. Beyond academic discourse, it embraces the porousness and contamination of economics, speculation bubbles, dematerialization, and digitization. As if, in their historical unraveling, the borders between these phenomena have become definitively inextricable.
The point here is not to get into a chicken or egg exercise of establishing an origin or influence between neoliberalism and conceptual art or vice-versa. It is rather to question if the emphasis on conceptual in Conceptual Art has obfuscated the role that the then-rising concept of information played in the development of the de-materialized object: “information has detached itself from such solid commodities as stone and papyrus.” (1) Could the term information have been a double agent between contemporary art and this changing society? Do we attribute the connecting idea of information its due importance, and what changes when we do so?
End User extends Explore, Experience, Enjoy beyond its frame borders by making available the files of five of the main CGI models (pen drives and online file transfers are already how many of my works, as well as many other data-based artworks such as video files, travel). By providing these CGI models as multiples, another aspect of the 1960 and 1970s comes to the fore—the use of print publications and multiples as media for artworks. Here, the concept of information and its accelerated circulation was also structural in their adoption (2). In the rear room of the gallery, I expand on the portability of inflatable furniture and the inflatable utopia evoked in the 1968 Aerospace collection by designer Quasar Khanh into museum displays. Finally, the speculative link between an exhibition like Information and today’s global art world described above is further contextualized in a series of UV-printed panels.
Since 2013, many things have changed: Kynaston McShine and Quasar Khanh have died; the documents I used to reconstruct Information’s floorplan with the assistance of a MoMA librarian are now available online; since the financial and EU crisis, Lisbon has imported a version of the gentrification formula for which New York City was a test tube in the 1970s, when the then bankrupt city was bailed from debt (3). To return to the wall text, it reads:
“Institutions were slowly recognized as also possessing psychological states. As the hybrid nature of objects unfolded, their displacement inside the exhibition walls was recognized as the beginning of all museological sentences. This displacement became an historical artifact in itself. It defined representation, setting forth the violence of all theories of representation to be found within such spaces.”
However, what has not changed since 2013 is also significant. Just like other debt-ridden countries, the now mainstream notion of the precariat class was central to the 2011 anti-austerity protests in Lisbon. Universal basic income—referenced in Explore, Experience, Enjoy as a mural—has since resurfaced as an idea again and again, both to the Left and Right of the political spectrum.
Countering the tech concept of user experience, who or what then is the end user of these forms of speculation within and outside the walls of museums? What is the chain of circulation and consumption that we are referring to and at who’s feet does it stop? Who exactly does it serve and where does it end?
(1) McLuhan, Understanding Media, 89. As cited in Ursula Anna Frohne “Art In-Formation: American Art under the Impact of New Media Culture” American Art, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Summer 2013), 38-43. McLuhan was an important theorist for both McShine and Lucy Lippard.
(2) “With an art world that knows more readily about current work, through reproductions and the wide dissemination of information via periodicals, and that has been altered by television, films, and satellites, as well as the “jet”, it is now possible for artists to be truly international; exchange with their peers is now comparatively simple.” Kynaston L. McShine, “Essay,” in Information, ed. McShine (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1970), 140.
(3) It is necessary however, to safeguard that these narratives also take into account the local specificities of each city. In the case of Lisbon, gentrification is strongly prompted by the 2012 deregulation of the rent law, more so than a capitalization on the role that culture and arts have in the city, as is the case of New York.