SUPER MARKET As part of Always Moving: A Performance Laboratory in Several Parts Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne Saturday 3 July 2010
In an environment where, despite recent shakiness, capitalism seems as infallible as ever, instances of rebellion like SUPER MARKET can feel tokenistic. But perhaps in this time of reduced public space and emaciated political agency, art adopts a greater substitutive function. The question, as Jacques Rancière frames it, is whether such substitutions can recompose political space or must be content to parody it.1 In SUPER MARKET the question is framed by whether, as participants, we rehearsed or reshaped our acts of commerce.
SUPER MARKET was a one day event, as part of the Fluxus-styled Always Moving, emphasising the informal, lo-fi and temporal in a barter-only market, involving twenty predominantly Melbourne-based artists and artist collectives. The exchanges on offer ranged from the esoteric to the pragmatic. The Telepathy Project traded three minutes of telepathic sex — à la Jane Fonda in Barbarella — for fruit, cigarettes, incense and fake money; whereas Grant Nimmo swapped his drawings for homemade lemonade and a knitted scarf. These exchanges negotiated the shadowy relationship between use value and aesthetic value. This uneasy duality of utility and contemplation reoccurred throughout the exhibition, with many artists offering practical ‘art-services’. The Hotham Street Ladies gave handy share-house advice and Agents of Proximity humbly promised simple acts of friendship.
With a similar bent toward service provision, As You Were Saying asked ‘customers’ about their future plans in exchange for drawings depicting the possible outcomes. This work nicely complicates the consumer / creator dynamic by requiring the participant to make a creative investment in their own product consumption. The notable predominance of artist collectives as stallholders and the number of relational works offered for trade in SUPER MARKET spoke of a desire to replace the alienation of commerce with sociability.
By indulging in a micro-topia of inclusivity, which has very little to do with the wider community, SUPER MARKET was in danger of pacifying what Žižek calls the important trauma of the political.2 This is the inherently disruptive characteristic of the political that reveals the discontents of society. Striving to achieve a harmonious community of participants in relational art can silence these difficult or inconvenient undercurrents. Attributing politics to art on the basis of an analogy between collective artwork and inclusive society, fails to encapsulate the benefit of drawing art and life closer together, that is, the interruption of normalised activity. This interruption, Claire Bishop writes, is delivered by the antagonism of a work and prevents art from retreating into self-satisfied comfort.3
The incisiveness of SUPER MARKET was enacted discretely, rather than collectively, in the many encounters between artists and viewers — negotiations underpinned by inconsistent valuations, idiosyncratic estimations and awkward compromises. At times during the bartering process, there was a detectable tension that seemed to bring participants face-to-face with the conundrum of consumption: the fact that the exchange value of commodities is vastly detached from labour value and that this detachment allows the spectre of finance to overshadow our sober, day-to-day experience of late-capitalism. While the moments of uncomfortable exchange fractured the pleasant communality of the day, they embodied the event’s liberating potential. It was here, through antagonism, that SUPER MARKET abandoned mimesis and made an incursion into political space.
SUPER MARKET was part of Always Moving: A Performance Laboratory in Several Parts, an exhibition and program of events curated by Jared Davis at Gertrude Contemporary, 18 June – 17 July 2010.
Pip Wallis is a writer and curator.