On an Artist
‘There is no such thing as society’1
— Margaret Thatcher
As I begin ticking the boxes on the ‘fax transaction’ of Estonian-based entrepreneurial collective Visible Solutions, the deadpan sincerity of this Limited Liability Company’s contact form seems deliberately reminiscent of any stock-standard interaction with a capitalist liberal state authority. Such impersonal and dogmatic interactions were adopted by the collective in 2010 when its three members — Taaniel Raudsepp, Karel Koplimets and Sigrid Viir — completed their Masters of Fine Art in Photography at the Estonian Academy of Arts.
Visible Solutions was established with the aim of investigating and infiltrating the Estonian Ministry of Culture’s ‘Creative Industries Initiatives’. Following research into this state-created body, Visible Solutions concluded that visual culture was becoming less of a priority in contemporary Estonian culture in contrast to the common capitalist agenda of propelling creative industries founded in the idea that economic growth depends and feeds on the creation and expansion of new creative sectors.
As a speculative solution, the artists undertook an exercise in economic policy with a clear mission: to launch a capitalist company in a neoliberal climate, make art products, and earn profit.2 Worst case scenario, they would provide the world with a ‘secondhand ideological critique’.3
The sanctimonious, didactic and dictatorial tone of the material Visible Solutions publishes from their office headquarters in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, constitutes their dogmatic modus operandi. Their commitment to the evolution of the company’s professional practice is absolute. This is their language, and we are forced to play by their rules. The actions of the artists sit strikingly against the tumultuous political and economic backdrop of the last thirty years during which Estonia claimed full independence from the USSR during the August 1991 coup. Visible Solution’s work is striking in its unflinching dedication to critiquing the (relatively) new economic environment that de-values its own workers. With the foundation and independence of Estonia came the eventual deregulation of the country’s market, which has since forced contemporary artists to become drastically marginalised by their own government. This marginalisation, of which Creative Industries Initiatives contributes, means that the artists’ focus on profit and saleable products goes beyond the historical commodified expectations of the free market. Visible Solutions propose an idea of art that is a ‘speculative, reﬂective and free individual activity’ where an ‘outmoded socialist luxury has been replaced by the surge of production in immaterial goods and services sluiced through the “ﬂexible job structure”’, turning ‘young “Bohemians” into a reserve army of unemployed freelancers’.4 The result? An entire culture that values more and more the rules and implications of the economic direction, at the mercy of the commercialisation of the cultural ﬁeld.
Visible Solutions reject battling the social and economic barriers contemporary ‘freelancers’ face, as well as opposing what Isabell Lorey describes as ‘former alternative living and working techniques [that] will become socially hegemonic’.5 The collective identiﬁes with what it describes as the ‘creativariat: the new intellectual class at the service of the schizophrenic capitalist freedom,6 which consists of absolute submission to market forces’.7
As peculiar and spectacular as the economy of art in the twenty-first century is, Visible Solutions’ commitment to ‘schizophrenic capitalism’ a violent turning away from the road blocks that young creatives have experienced in the last thirty years. Deregulated capitalism has dominated the global economy resulting in vast masses of the modern western population ﬁnding themselves an under, or better put, unemployed surplus that exceeds the grandest outdated political ideal of a reserve army of labor. Over-qualiﬁed postgraduates living in inner cities are forced into professional work to survive. This is not necessary to the efficacy of functioning capital. It is a hangover of the deregulated economy.
Visible Solutions completely embrace enterprise culture (they propose that creative industries propagate the commodification of emerging artistic pursuits), which forces an idiosyncratic and bizarre kind of creativity bleeding across all ﬁelds of the free market. Workers (who are artists who are workers) no longer ﬁnd themselves with the illusion of a state-backed welfare scheme to support themselves. Instead, they are forever retraining, re-applying, up-skilling and cross-checking their own commodities and skills at their own expense (and most commonly, their own signiﬁcant debt).8 With this constant frenzy to up-skill and sell oneself comes the pressure to be constantly ‘thinking outside the box’ as a creative person, bringing the traditional view of the ‘artist’ as a solitary, studio-bound genius to business in a performative and collaborative capacity for the feeding of what Visible Solutions would deem ‘schizophrenia’ in our enterprise culture as seen in the work International Sales Campaign 2011 which saw the artists turn a gallery space into their own traditional corporate office workplace. It is schizophrenic in the urgent and involuntary demand for artists to be constantly elevating modes of art making into frantic commodiﬁed skill sets ready at any moment of the day or night to begin a labour transaction.
The spread of information technologies continues to propel the urgency placed on the copying, printing, distributing, uploading, seeding, making and sharing of images and information which has become almost everyone’s privilege, and to others, a social responsibility.9 This is perhaps the key to understanding the available-at-all-times labour transactions and the proposed non-position of the contemporary artist. It is a vice that is unique and speciﬁc to the cultural and economic epoch of our lifetime. Workers desperately working forever onwards.10
In 2011, Visible Solutions LLC launched an international sales campaign from its new sales office in Monumentaal Gallery, Tartu, and offered forty-nine of (what the company subjectively deduced through non-disclosed criteria) the most important people working in the ﬁelds of art and commerce the chance to acquire one artwork-product through an artwork transaction. This transaction took the form of artwork swaps where the use of money as currency was disallowed. Visible Solutions would not package and send their artwork-product until the complying party’s artwork had arrived safely to them. Sales were strictly by invitation only, and included the likes of Charles Saatchi, Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Jenny Holzer, Laurie Anderson, Mark Zuckerberg, Rupert Murdoch, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore and Richard Branson. Visible Solutions see any ‘creative industries’ initiatives as enterprises to be critiqued: the company designed a Company Flag 2010, containing the symbol of a hand, to hoist as they conquered new exhibiting frontiers. The symbol of the hand references the workers whose hands work for and against, and in tandem with and against, the Creative Industries machine. Its historical and symbolic weight adds to the dramatic and irreverent cynicism needed for the flag to exist as an artwork. This self-reflexive analysis of a machine devouring Visible Solutions became a crucial performance-based transaction for the company. Visible Solutions received a response from Gerhard Richter, who painted one of their artwork-products; the installation titled Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand In A Cage 2010 was then traded — Ritcher’s painting for their product.
Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand In A Cage Manufacturers code: 1776-B4C2P9 has a warranty of two years and its tongue-in-cheek selling points are led by a promise that it was spawned from the ‘symbiosis of entrepreneurship and creativity’. The somewhat holy conception of the artwork-product is its relationship with the collective genius. Visible Solutions promote their artwork-products by pontiﬁcating about the powers of creative mystique. The installation consists of one large wooden cage on wheels, a TV set, one ﬂuorescent lamp, one exercise wheel, one thermal imaging camera, and a medium-sized invisible hand. Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand is one of the most widely discussed metaphors in sociological and economic theory. Millions of faceless workers who keep the free market churning along, and the Greek Goddess Fortuna’s wheel of fortune spinning, (this wheel is kept spinning by the Estonian Ministry of Culture’s initiatives and incentives) onwards. Its clearly legible metaphor speaks to the masses — the TV monitor shows a video of a hand walking in Fortuna’s wheel, the ‘everything’ or contemporary enterprise, as it does the emptiness, or futile joke critiquing the system. This emptiness comes back to the instability of the position of the artists who made this work; their employment and opportunities are unstable, and, in the literal sense, as in the artwork, the hand must be imagined to be seen. Jan Verwoert in his lecture Thoughts on trauma and transference pinpoints the sinister creeping metaphor of the hand over time by considering, ‘the hands and the eyes are the medium of empathy and corruption. It’s all about what we do with our hands when our eyes wander. When the gaze travels and is returned in strange ways. And what we do with our hands, how the hands play between different bodies, as things, demons, spirits, power, sex and money becomes exchanged above the table and under the table.’11 These sleights of hands between bodies, a focal point in the work, are demonstrative of where Visible Solutions’ actions become violent in their simplicity. In the work, the stalking, pouncing, viral hand lurches forward in monotonous and invincible consistency. The hand lives only in the imagination of the viewer, the willing participant, the giving witness.
After I check the box that I am writing to the company in relation to offering ‘money, labor, ideas, time, investment’, I write in the ‘proposal’ box, ‘How has your relationship with work and labour changed in the last twenty years?’ I hit send and listen to my fax grind its way to the Visible Solutions Limited Liability Headquarters for processing and a potential response. All of this corporate rhetoric seems to be visual trickery drowning out what cannot be ignored: the presence of a vast zone of cultural enterprise and economic initiatives that lead to a non-position of emerging artists. Emerging artists who possess formidable creative power. It is perhaps with this re-programming that we can view Visible Solutions as social, economical, theoretical, phenomenological and political entrepreneurs as well. It is their power that employs the hand to open up creative industries for critique. And for that, we are thankful.
Beth Rose Caird is an emerging artist and writer living in Melbourne.
This is part of a slightly larger quote from an extensive interview done for Women’s Own magazine, however the tone of the individualist liberal message is relevant decades later. ↩
This term ‘profit’ is used loosely, or as the artists themselves phrase it, ‘self-defined cultural practices operate by providing material and symbolic rewards, generating real and imagined revenue’. From the collective’s catalogue, with an opening letter written from the perspective of the company. LLC, Visible Solutions. Visible Solutions exhibition catalogue, Tallinn, 2010 p. 42–43. ↩
See head curator of Manifesta9 Cuauhtemoc Medina’s short introductory article on Visible Solutions. Cuauhtémoc Medina, Manifesta9, the Deep of the Modern: A Subcyclopaedia. Genk, Limburg, 2012 ↩
Isabell Lorey, ‘Governmentality and Self-Precarization: On the Normalization of Cultural Producers’, Simon Sheikh (ed.), Capital (It Fails Us Now), b-books, Berlin, 2006. ↩
It is important to clarify the use of the word ‘schizophrenic’, as often it’s use is conjoined with a misconception that schizophrenia causes the individual to exist in a perpetual state of ﬂux — drifting in and out of psychotic states with seemingly random, paranoid or violent actions an accepted consequence. While often the reality of those afflicted with schizophrenia is a far more managed life. It seems Visible Solutions are using the word in correlation to its indiscriminate features, that the presentation and episodic nature of the illness can also been seen in the indiscriminate and unpredictable neoliberal agenda, in which ﬂuctuations in free markets or government intervention in creative industries are seemingly sporadic. Paul D. Steinhauer, Quentin Rae-Grant, Psychological Problems of the Child in the Family, Vol. 2, Macmillan, Canada, 1977. ↩
Cuauhtémoc Medina, op. cit., p. 279. ↩
Gregory Sholette, Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture, Pluto Press, London, 2011, p. 7. ↩
Ibid., p. 7. ↩
Visible Solutions have an ethos of constantly being ‘open for business’. If you are willing to part with your commodity, they will part with their artwork. ↩
Jan Verwoert, ‘Breaking the Chain: Thoughts on Trauma and Transference’, Monash University Museum of Art Boiler Room Lecture Series, 6 March 2012. ↩